Chinese, Malaysian, Javanese, Indian, mixed-race: we are all people of the Strait,” says Colin Goh, who works on the conservation plans of Unesco, which added the Malaysian towns of Malacca and Georgetown to the World Heritage List in 2008. “We are all touched by the same spirit, the spirit of harbour cities and commercial hubs.”
Goh points out a vague area beyond the rows of colonial houses and kongsi – the meeting halls of the Chinese clan associations – in Malacca. Beyond, the Indian Ocean is channelled between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, forming the Strait of Malacca. For centuries, this strait has been one of the busiest shipping lanes on the planet, connecting routes between Europe, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. A view of the Strait unfurls from the windows of the Majestic Malacca Hotel, situated on the banks of the river which in yesteryear teemed with Chinese junks and spice-laden vessels. The hotel is an integral part of Malacca’s history, and of its unique culture centred on the Babas (males) and Nyonyas (females) of the Peranakan community, descendants of the Chinese who migrated to the British Straits Settlements and adopted Malay culture. The original mansion, dating back to the 1920s, remains at the heart of the hotel. A new building has also been created, mirroring the original architecture, to house 54 spacious rooms and suites.
From the Baba colour – a shade of aquamarine – to the original porcelain flooring, teakwood fittings, intricate artwork and antiques, every aspect echoes the history of the region. Each room is sumptuously appointed, in an elegant combination of luxury, tradition and modernity. Bespoke furnishings call to mind the glory days of old Malacca, while floor to ceiling windows framed by silk drapes bathe the room in soft light. Standing on warm timber floors is an inviting four-poster bed finished in rich teak and dressed in cool cottons with an ornate silk runner. A matching silk-upholstered chaise longue provides a cosy spot to gaze out over the river and let your imagination take you back in time, or to simply curl up with a book. If the latter is your preference, dip into a fascinating essay by François Gipouloux: The Asian Mediterranean: Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, 13th-21st Century.
The Baba and Nyonya
The Baba-Nyonya Heritage Museum (48 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock) relates everything you need to know about the local culture. Beautifully recreated interiors invite visitors to walk through the daily life of a wealthy 19th century Peranakan family.
For the love of art
In the centre of Malacca, FWU Chang Trading (87 Jalan Hang Kasturi) engages in “gold lettering signboard”. Imported gold leaf of 99.9% purity is fixed to the sculptured lettering and patterns through a time-consuming and painstaking traditional handmade process. The final result is a piece of sculptured handicraft of collectible and decorative value.
Nyonya recipes are complicated affairs, often requiring hours of preparation, and finding good Nyonya food is increasingly difficult. Many restaurants in the old town are tourist traps. However, the Majestic’s restaurant, The Mansion, is recommended. The menu combines dishes from the Portuguese, Dutch, English and Baba-Nyonya cultures.
Website: majesticmalacca.com Address: 188 Jalan Bunga Raya
Tel: +60 327 831 000 Reservations and enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org Rates: $150 for a deluxe room, from $640 for a suite Local tourist information: melaka.net