Melaka surrounds (Melaka)

On the same day as we went to the Melaka Bird Sanctuary and the Melaka Butterfly and Reptile Park, we also drove around to see some of the areas around Melaka city. We saw a lot of palm trees. But we also discovered some lovely little gems.
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The Melaka Bee Farm is located out near the Bird Sanctuary, Zoo and Botanic Gardens. Paul has a habit of buying fresh honey from roadside stalls and markets back home so it was only natural that he would suggest we stop and check this place out. It’s only a small tourist attraction comprised of two rooms in which the story of honey is told. Entry is free, which is always a bonus. A young lady greeted us at the door and guided us through the display. We got to see inside the hive of stingless bees. The taste of the honey straight out of the hive was delicious. Inside we saw some hornets nests complete with dead hornets. The hornets were massive! I never want to be chased by any of them. Some were the size of my thumb. We tasted a heap of different varieties of honey, ranging from honey with ginger to honey with apple and vinegar. Naturally, we were taken to the area where they sell the honey and bought a small bottle to eat for breakfast. The prices were actually cheap compared with the price of honey at home so it was still a cheap museum trip.
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Honey eaten it was time for a drive. We started by following some inland roads southwards but all we saw were palm oil plantations, which are quite boring to drive through. I should mention that I’m glad I decided not to cycle tour Malaysia because I think the miles and miles of palm oil plantations would have done my head in. At least in a car you can escape quickly to the next town or to other landscapes. Today we escaped to the coast where we drove through rice paddies being prepared for planting and small plots where people grew fruit trees while warding off the encroaching jungle. I am struck by how tough it must be to farm here with the jungle constantly trying to take over. Everywhere there are trees and vines creeping into cracks in concrete or filling bare land.
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The coast here around Melaka is largely tidal swamp. Out at the edges of the mud flats there are these house things on stilts. We can’t see them clearly enough to determine whether they are houses or just fishing platforms. They look rickety but have probably stood there for a long time.
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It’s low tide and the creeks leading into the Melaka Straits are almost dry. All along the waterfront, Malaysian walking fish slide through the mud on their strange leg-fins. I’ve never seen a walking fish before so spend a good half hour just watching then from a small bridge. They leave a strange trail of foot-fin prints and a channel where their body has slid. The fish are seriously ugly but also proof that anything can adapt to it’s living space.
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Another animal that has adapted is the monkey. Wherever there is a dump of food, there are monkeys stealing it. We pass a big rubbish pile where a colony of monkeys are greedily devouring all the edible items. There are probably half a dozen adults and a dozen infants. I wonder whether the locals think it strange to see foreigners taking lots of photos of these local pests. They sure did give us strange looks as they rode past on the scooters. But hey, we don’t have monkeys at home in Australia so it was pretty fun to watch them (and discover there is a reason for the saying “cheeky monkey”).
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The sun sets late here in Malaysia. It was about 7pm when I took this photo. But once it starts to set, the sun drops quickly and before long everything is dark.
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We head back to Melaka. It’s about 8pm when we return home. We take a short rest then head out to walk around the city. Mostly we are looking for an ATM because I’m low on cash. We find an ATM but it doesn’t accept my Mastercard and I have temporarily locked myself out of my Visa card account by forgetting the PIN (I have remembered it now though). The walk gives us a chance to experience Melaka at night.
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We walk past the main historic tourists sites that we missed the other day.
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I am more interested in the cute cats that come to say hello (i.e. beg for food) than the history. The cats are adorable.
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We climb the stairs to St Paul’s, which offers an amazing contrasting view between old and new Melaka because you can see the lights on the new highrise buildings through the archways of the ruined church.
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Back down in the Jonker Street area the night lights make things look very beautiful. There’s red lanterns for the Chinese Buddhist temples.
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And green lights on the mosque.
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The lighting even picks up the colours in this cool piece of graffiti art.
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On the way back to our hotel we pass a carnival. It looks like a permanent fixture in Melaka. There are some rides that I don’t like the idea of going on and many carnival games. We try our hand at one where you have to roll balls to score points and win a prize. We play twice and win a soft toy. Sure, we could have bought the soft toy in a shop for about RM5 and we paid RM8 to play two games but it was fun playing anyway. Nearby, a group of people are gambling hard at a sort of roulette game. It’s fun to watch them but the house is definitely winning and doing so with a gleeful smile on his face.
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It’s after 12:30am (yes, after midnight) when we finally decide it’s time for dinner. We’ve seen Restaurant Pak Putra across the road from our hostel is always busy so decide to try it. It’s an Indian and Pakistani restaurant three large tandoors out the front in which they cook chicken and naan bread. The restaurant is officially open until 1am but we are there until after 1:30am and still more customers are coming to eat here. And there’s not just one or two tables occupied at this ridiculous time of night; there are at least a dozen, maybe more. The food is delicious and it’s just a short stroll across the road to our hotel for a well-earned sleep.

Melaka Butterfly and Reptile Park (Melaka)

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After being slightly disappointed by the Melaka Bird Sanctuary, I didn’t have much hope for the Melaka Butterfly and Reptile Park. But I needn’t have worried. This attraction is really cool. For a start, you get to walk inside these big enclosed gardens that are filled with butterflies.
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There are so many butterflies and they brush against you as they fly past or, if you are lucky, even chose to land on your skin or shirt. This is something magical like in a fairy tale. Butterflies here are in all stages of life from fluttering around the leaves to mating and even death (not surprising really given that butterflies live short lives after they come out of their crystalis).
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The park also has a range of reptiles and insects including these scary scorpions.
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And some big crocodile and alligators (yes, they have both). Actually, come to think of it, most of the non-butterfly animals in the park are either dangerous or disgusting. There is a huge collection of snakes (including an aviary where you can walk inside with some mangrove snakes), ugly toads, lizards and spiders. There was also a cage with huge rabbits but I can’t help but wonder whether they are actually being bread as food for the reptiles.
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There’s also a koi fish pond. The fish come swimming quickly towards any person who walks past. I guess they are used to being fed. I was surprised at how quickly they swim, having only seen sluggish koi before. The fish leave a big wake behind them as they race in search of the next mouthful (again, we disappointed the local residents by failing to come prepared with food).
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But the butterflies remain the stars of the show.

We spent about two hours at the park, taking our time to slowly enjoy all the animals. The only reason we left so soon was because we were both so hungry for lunch (it being after 3pm already).

Melaka Bird Sanctuary (Melaka)

Melacca has an almost ridiculous abundance of attractions for tourists. There are museums about almost every nuance of Malaysian life from the history of youth to Islam, from Chinese art to the navy. There are also a plethora of animal parks and amusement parks to choose from. It was difficult to decide what to do. In the end we decided to take a drive out to the Bird Sanctuary.
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The Melaka Bird Sanctuary is situated about twenty minutes drive from the main city area. The website says there is no public transport available but that was okay for us because we a car. The bird sanctuary is essentially a really large aviary. It has pedestrian walkways at ground and tree top level. There are some trees in the aviary but the leaves have been stripped from all that are more than about 1m (3″) tall. While the company’s website claims there are at least 400 species of bird in the aviary, there are probably less than 50 birds in total, a good proportion of which are cockatiels and a small orange and black variety of parrot.
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However, that’s not to say that it isn’t really nice to be in the aviary with the birds that are there. This cute ring neck kept following us around wherever we went. I don’t know whether it was being friendly or greedy. We didn’t bring any food with us so if it was greedy then it would be disappointed.
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I liked these pretty yellow birds that were making out in a tree. Paul spotted them first (he’s much better at noticing things like this than I am). I probably wouldn’t get to see them in the wild.
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All in all the bird sanctuary was a lovely experience. At RM24 ($10) per person it is over priced for what it is so if you are on a tight budget you probably will want to skip it and go to the Butterfly and Reptile Park (see next post) instead. But if you are into birds and want to be close to them, it is worthwhile.
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Oh and of course, they will put the big birds on your shoulders so you can take a photo. I reckon that’s pretty cool (cool enough that I made this my Facebook profile pic).

A day in Melaka (Melaka)

Melaka or Melacca. However you spell it, the place is the same heady mix of Chinese and Western influence, both now and in the past. It’s a place where tradition and modernity co-exist as though the circular concept of time is real and the linear one false. Our hostel is just behind the famous Jonker Street so we don’t have to walk far to see the city’s famous sites. Though the heat and humidity made walking quite challenging, even for we who have just come from a subtropical summer.
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We start our exploration by walking through the Jonker Street area, which is heavily influenced by Chinese culture and Buddhism. Red lanterns are hung across streets and outside the terrace houses that line said streets.
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We found shops that sold the cardboard luxury items that we saw people burning at Sam Poh Tong a few days ago. You can buy motorbikes, houses, treasure chests, bicycles, cardboard cans of beer (no beer obviously), electric razors and even food items all made out of cardboard. Oh and you can even buy a massage chair made of cardboard. It really is something different that I’ve never seen before.
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One of the Chinese Buddhist temples was full of people burning incense and making offerings of fruit. We walked in to see what was going on and also to experience the temple atmosphere. I like that the Buddhist temples are open to the public, whether or not you are one of the Buddhist faithful. It makes the religion accessible to the curious and shows that there is nothing to hide. It is a stark contrast to the mosques and some Christian churches where non-believers are prohibited from entering either parts of or the whole place of worship. It shows that Buddhism as a practice has a sense of security about it. To me it shows a knowledge that non-believers cannot damage the faith of believers. It shows that the sanctity of Buddhist practice relies not on place but on intention and effort. And it sends a message that Buddhism is open to new believers and that those new believers can take baby steps to learn more without having to give up all their old beliefs in an “all or nothing” decision.
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Back outside the temple I find the architecture of the Jonker Street area interesting and attractive despite (or perhaps because of) its age. The circular portal windows open through from one verandah to the next showing slightly different decorative styles. Square shuttered windows allow those inside the buildings to look out on the world with the option of closing themselves in for privacy. There are many art galleries here and it’s no surprise given the creative atmosphere that exists here and the historic stories from which the artists can draw inspiration.
 photo IMG_5409_zpslnhjepk4.jpgWe walk over to Melaka Old Town where the main historic buildings and museums are located. The art gallery in the old red buildings is worth a look but we found the plethora of museums a little overwhelming, both in the sheer number of museums to chose from and the volume of content in each museum. Someone really needs to come here and curate this hot mess down into a manageable story line rather than the current “let’s try to include everything” approach. Or maybe that’s just the instructional designer in me that cannot stand it when educators (museum curators are educators) try to tell people what the educator wants to tell rather than thinking “what do the people reading this need to do with the information”. Perhaps I was just spoiled by the high quality of museums in South Korea so now I expect everything to be of that standard.
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Everything in Melaka is geared towards tourism. There are highly decorated trishaws, more hostels and guesthouses than you can poke a stick at, and plenty of places to eat. A lot of the tourists seem to be either Chinese or domestic tourists though we have seen a few dreadlocked Western backpackers congregating in the streets talking loudly with each other about the places they have been or are going to next. This is where modern Chinese and Western people still influence the city’s design and lifestyle showing again that time here is working in circular motion.
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That’s not to say there aren’t local moments: like this fisherman diving for a catch in the river. And the young people filling the movie theatres to see the latest block buster movies. Later in the evening we went to see The Fast and Furious 7 and the cinema was totally packed. As was each of the 25+ sittings of the movie as it showed in three theatres at two cinema complexes in Melaka starting at 10am and ending at 12:50am. Actually, seatings for almost every movie showing were full all day long because we walked into the cinemas twice during the day before deciding to actually see something.
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Before we went to the movies, though, we went out to see the Melaka Straits Mosque. This building is beautiful in it’s design and location overlooking the Melaka Straits. It is desperately in need of a paint job because the paint is flaking from all sides of the mosque, possibly due to the effects of the salty Melaka Straits sea spray. The mosque is quite isolated out on an island connected to the mainland by a bridge. There is a lot of construction happening out there though so it won’t be isolated for long. A massive commercial and residential complex is being built on both the mainland and island. It will be made of glass and steel with shops on the lower three floors, residential areas in the upper areas and an indoor amusement park. It’s not just one building but a complex made up of four or five huge structures that look like they will all be connected somehow.
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The good thing about mosques is that there is usually a good Malaysian restaurant near them. We are finding that Chinese cuisine has been dominant in the places we have visited so far and we much prefer Malaysian food to Chinese (the Chinese food tastes like Chinese takeaway at home in Australia). Tonight we found a place where you get given a plate of rice and can select the meat and vegetable dishes from a buffet-style arrangement. I like these places because you don’t need to know what menu items are. You can see for yourself that this is ayam kunyit (tumeric chicken) or that is daging rendang (Malaysian curried meat) or that something else is unknown in name but looks delicious. The food at these places tends to be good honest food with delicious local flavour and a cheap price tag (we paid RM20 or $7.20 for two meals including hot drinks) and that was without budgeting ourselves to just one topping.

As for the movie experience later that night. I can tell you that once again the Malaysian cinemas are of excellent quality with comfortable seating. You don’t need to have seen any previous Fast and Furious franchise movies to understand what’s happening in the 7th edition because the film tells you what you need to know and is then just a fast-paced action movie. It was okay for what it was and we enjoyed the cultural experience. There were many young couples who were cuddled up to each other who obviously had not yet had the opportunity to take their relationships further than dating, which is something that we don’t see so often at home. I was almost uncomfortable by the pre-pubescent style displays of affection going on around me by couples in their mid-20s. Mind you, every time scantily clad women came onto the screen the men in the audience cheered like teenagers who had never seen a woman dressed in a bikini before. Perhaps we in the West are so used to women wearing bikinis at the beach and sexuality on our television and movie screens that we don’t get so excited about it. Or maybe we are too repressed to make audible our excitement. Either way, it was a different and new experience to have this going on around me. I guess some people will think that it is better that no women are shown in any movie wearing bikinis or skimpy clothing. But that’s not the point of my observation. I am merely observing that the men were very open in their awe at the half-naked women in the film and that the only other time I’ve heard this kind of awe at such things is when I was in primary school and snuck in to see Pretty Woman.