May 29, 2011

'Typical' Travel Day: Hanoi to Melaka

Changing countries has become synonymous for us with long traveling days, filled with unexpected outcomes.  The day we left Hanoi and Vietnam was no exception.  Fourteen hours later after passing through 3 countries, 2 sets of immigration entry and exit formalities, 2 taxi rides, 2 planes, 2 buses, 1 train and 1 time zone change, we arrived in Melaka in south Malaysia.  And we were in for a bit of a shock to our pocketbook.

Although we landed at the LCCT airport in Kuala Lumpur, we chose to bypass the city based on our previous difficulty in finding good inexpensive accommodation there.  On our last visit, we paid $33 USD/per night for a room in Chinatown, which was the cheapest part of town.  The room was clean but nothing spectacular although the price we paid was actually about average for the area.  So we had hoped that Melaka would be different, but we were wrong.  We discovered that rooms on the budget end in a guest house, would cost about RM48-75 per night, which is about $16-25 USD, and that's with a shared bathroom and towels were extra!  If you wanted your own 'attached' bathroom, it would be upwards of RM90/$30USD.  To make matters worse, we arrived on a Friday night, when the city was already flooding with tourists from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and also with Sikhs from all over SEA here for a special pilgrimage.  We found many places were either 1) surcharging for the weekend by up to 50% of the normal rate, 2) already full, or 3) did not allow children under 12yrs.  By 9:30pm, we finally negotiated a cozy room with a view of the river, but it was the size of a shoebox and the girls had barely enough room to sleep on the floor.  We had to use the shared bathroom which was down 1 steep flight of stairs.  Initially they wanted RM75/$25 USD per night but we ended up paying RM120 for 3 nights ($13.35 USD per night).
Our 'cozy' room

The river behind our guest house

Melaka itself is very charming, particularly Chinatown, which was designated an UNESCO World Heritage city in 2009.  Some of its buildings date back to the mid-1800s and are very 'Chinese' in character.  At night, spotlights illuminate their facades to accentuate their beauty in light and shadow.  Behind where we stayed was the newly refurbished river boardwalk--boats of tourists were ferried up and down the river especially at night.  The streets in Chinatown were all very narrow and mostly one-way.  On Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, its main street, Jonker Street (aka Junk Street), was closed to traffic and hosted a night market filled with local wares, tacky tourist fare, and lots of yummy street food. 

In fact besides its architecture, Melaka is also known for its culinary offerings.  They specialize in their own interpretation of traditional Malaysian food, most notably Melakan Laksa and Cendol, which is a delicious dessert made with shaved ice, palm sugar, coconut milk, red bean and the cendol, which is a jelly-like noodle.  You can also find Chinese-style dishes like dim-sum, congee, and wonton soup.  And the best part was that food and in particular drinks, were very inexpensive.  'Bubble tea' and iced coffee could be had for around RM2/0.75 cents USD and fresh mango, coconut or orange juice for RM3/$1.00 USD.

Preparing Cendol
Dinner at Jonker Street Night Market
We spent 3 days in Melaka, taking in the sights as well as doing a bit of camera shopping.  As we had an early morning flight to the Philippines, we decided to spend our last night at the Tune Hotel located across the carpark from the airport.  Tune Hotels are structured like a low-cost airline--you pay a base rate, in this case RM149/$47 USD and you get 1 double bed and a bathroom.  You then pay for extras like AC (+RM15/$3), towel and toiletries (RM14), wifi and tv.  With the first 2 extras, we ended up paying $63USD for a night in a matchbox.  It was so ridiculously tiny, we had to put Maddy in bed with us while Yasmine barely squeezed in on the floor after we moved the bed aside.  We wouldn't have been able to fit both kids on the floor and have room for our 2 backpacks and still be able to open the door in case of emergency.  As it was, we had to put our daybags in the bathroom!  The sad part was that it still was the best option considering our early morning flight and given the cost of the room in KL, plus another $30USD for a taxi (with the early morning surcharge and no buses run at that time either), and also we saved time for extra sleep (theoretically) as the airport is 1hr from KL city centre.  The girls ended up having a pretty good night sleep; unfortunately Jim and I did not as Maddy is a bed hog!

Our matchbox room--this is really all there was to it!

While we found Melaka's friendliness, orderliness and cleanliness very freshing, after 4 months of travel through Bali, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam we'd been spoiled with low cost, high quality budget accommodation.  The most we've ever had to spend was $30USD and that was only once or twice; usually we only had to pay $15-20USD per night.  In Cambodia and Vietnam in particular, we usually got a newish hotel with 2 beds, good European fittings and fixtures, and tv, AC, and wifi mostly standard, and often we even got a pool.  We knew KL was expensive for accommodation but we'd hoped that Melaka would be different--we were wrong.  For now, we've got 3 weeks in the Philippines, then another 2.5 weeks in Malaysia.  Hopefully we will find better accommodation choices then.

On the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia

That's a Melaka tree in the foreground

The 'Amazing Tea House Show'


  1. It was great to read your experience of Melaka. We loved it and stayed about 10 days. We paid 60 ringits per night for our guesthouse and it is still one of our favorite places.

    Now I am looking forward to the cheap accommodation in Cambodia and Vietnam. I have to see if you have any recommendations...

  2. hi
    i know you guys really enjoyed melaka (but i didn't know that you stayed 10 days!). it was just a shock to our system for accommodation having come from the likes of cambodia and vietnam (check our posts for recommendations as a few did stand out, although on the whole, all were good), where we were spoiled with great value. arriving on a weekend in melaka didn't help either as most places were surcharging and/or full. should have asked you where you stayed! thanks for visiting us!

  3. Yes, on the weekend it was crazy with the Singaporian tourists.
    Tomorrow or the next day we are off to Cambodia. I will have to visit that beach area I read you went to. After skipping the south of Thailand, we would love some beach time.

  4. Yes, we still think Sihanoukville is a great 'all-rounder' of a beach stop--affordable, great food, massages on the beach, nothing to do but sun and swim! have fun, and be sure to check out battenbang too.