10 Essential and Helpful Tips on the Melaka River Cruise
The Melaka River Cruise is one of the main tourism attractions of Melaka. The city of Melaka is one of Malaysia’s top tourist destinations because of its heritage from the 15th Century. The Melaka River Cruise is the only river journey in South East Asia that takes you back through these 600 years of history. Melaka is also known by the historic name of Malacca.
Melaka started as a trading post in 1403 to serve the hinterland. By the late 15th Century, Melaka was an established trading hub known as the “Venice of the East with people coming from far and wide to trade. It was said that there were 84 languages spoken in its heyday. The river was filled with merchant ships large and small. The buildings that lined the river in the city were for commerce and houses further away.
Although it started out as a Malay sultanate, Melaka was subsequently ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch and English at various times but peoples from different parts of the world settled here. The Chinese came and intermarried with the locals. They are known as the Peranakan (or Baba for men; Nonya for women). The Portuguese also integrated with the locals through marriage and the marital union gave rise to the Kristang community.
Melaka is a UNESCO World Heritage listed city. A focal point of this heritage city is the Melaka River – this was where the trading ships docked and the goods traded. Taking a Melaka River Cruise will allow you to experience part of the history that goes back 600 years.
Why the Melaka River Cruise?
It was the Melaka River that offered a safe harbour for the ships and it became a thriving trading hub from the 15th Century.
The trip on the river goes through the heart of the UNESCO heritage site. The river cruises are frequent with a pre-recorded commentary. It gives visitors a different and exclusive riverscape view of the city in safe and comfortable boats. It is an enjoyable and relaxing experience for about 45 minutes and the cruise covers about 9km.
Ben van Wijnen (Malaysiasite.nl) mentioned that the Melaka River cruise has become a main attraction now that the river has been cleaned up and the historical and modern buildings along the banks have been restored and spruced up. I have noticed more wildlife especially among the mangrove trees along the river bank. Along both sides of the River is the Melaka River Walk where there is a walkway along the route of the Melaka River Cruise. This is modelled on the San Antonio River Walk in Texas, USA.
UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The historic city of Melaka together with George Town in Penang is listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites in Malaysia. These 2 cities have over 600 years of trading and cultural exchanges between East and West. The influences of both Asia and Europe have endowed these two cities with specific multicultural heritage both tangible and intangible aspects.
The river cuts through the centre of the UNESCO heritage site. On the North side, the culture of the Peranakan is showcased in Joncker Street (renamed as Jalan Hang Jebat). This area is largely made up of shop houses built during the “Dutch” period. They are long and narrow as the property tax was based on the width of the property.
This is the commercial tourist area with shops and street food. However, there are the intangibles or cultural aspects like the Melaka museums (Cheng Ho Cultural Museum and the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum), Peranakan Restaurants and the oldest Chinese Temple built in 1645. Melaka is well known for artisans who craft beaded shoes.
The South side of the river is dedicated to the heritage buildings. The Dutch Square is the centre for visitor activity with food stalls, street artists and a pick up point for the flamboyantly decorated Melaka trishaw taxi. This end is where the tangible aspects of the heritage are – Queen Victoria’s Fountain, Christ Church and the old town hall (The Stadhuys) which are painted in terracotta colour. This is also the starting point for walking routes to the Sultanate Palace, St Paul’s Hill, A’ Famosa Fort and others.
The Melaka River Cruise Jetty
The departure area is near the replica of the Flora de la Mar, a Portuguese galleon that sank off the coast. This replica is so prominent that it can hardly be missed.
There is a ticketing counter and a covered waiting area that can hold about 80 people. That is 2 boat loads. There is no set timetable but I was told that the frequency of the trips is dependent on the demand or the number of people waiting.
The boat goes to the other terminus at Taman Rempah jetty and turns around. There is a large car park where you can park and ride on the boat to Melaka as finding a parking space in town is difficult.
The Cruise boats
The boat seats 40 passengers. Most of the seats are under cover but not the front row seats which have the best views. People in the front row seats are however, subject to splashes from the bow wave.
In our trips, we were not offered life jackets but they were stowed at prominent locations. There is a pre-recorded commentary in Malay and English.
The Sights along the Melaka River.
The cruise starts off in the UNESCO heritage site. On the North side are the old commercial buildings where many have been converted to riverside bars, café and hotels. There are murals of street art with many depicting the history of the Sultanate of Melaka. On the South side are the Heritage buildings and a Church of Gothic design – Church of St Francis Xavier.
The boat passes under a number of historic bridges reflecting the history of Melaka including a foot bridge that resembles the Rialto Bridge of Venice. Further down the river is the Pirate Park, a conventional amusement park with Ferris wheel, bungee trampoline and a rocking pirate ship. After the river bend is Kampong Morton, a Malay village that has been spruced up and illuminated at night making quite a beautiful sight.
The Best time for the Melaka River Cruise:
Many people have found the best time to take the Melaka River Cruise is in the evening when it is cooler. The buildings and murals are lit up to highlight their best features. During the day, the strong tropical sun appears to bleach the colour of the walls.
There is usually a queue for the Melaka River Cruise. It is cooler at night but also, you can be entertained by the brightly lit trishaws blaring with loud music and street entertainers which I found quite amusing. Our wait was no more than 30 minutes for about 280 people (7 boat loads of 40 people). These conditions would have been unbearable in the mid-day sun.
The people taking the evening tours are mainly family and friends. On day trips, I noticed that tour groups who did not understand the language of the pre-record commentaries, the tour leader would shout over the commentary. Also, disinterested passengers would talk loudly amongst themselves. I found this behaviour disruptive.
Where and What to eat:
When we visit a destination, we would specifically look for the food that is unique or characteristic of that place. In Melaka, it is Peranakan food. This is a local speciality where the local ingredients are cooked using Chinese techniques. We tried a number of restaurants in Melaka and would recommend dining at The Mansion at The Majestic Malacca. We found the dishes not only taste authentic but consistently good. When I am dining, I just want to enjoy the food in a conducive environment. I do not want to be concerned with dramas in the restaurant or staff missing orders. This restaurant has excellent service in a lovely and air conditioned room. The humidity can be stifling without air condition. It would make a very pleasant evening by combining the Melaka River Cruise with dinner at The Mansion.
There is much to see in Melaka as it has a history going back some 600 years. A tour guide would be useful to show and explain the main attractions. Melaka can be divided into 2 parts – the tangible and the intangible. It is straight forward to get explanations of the tangible parts – the ruins of A’formosa fort gate, the church at St Pauls Hill and the Malay Sultanate Palace. However, it is more difficult to explain the intangible – Peranakan culture, which is characteristic of Melaka.
We have used 2 tour companies many times and found them to be reliable, trustworthy and attentive to our needs as well as providing a good and helpful service – Discovery Overland and AOS. Even though they operate throughout the country, they have specialist guides on Melaka.
The cruise operates everyday of the year and the time of service is between 9am to 11pm.
Frequency – it depends on the demand. The intervals can vary between 10 to 30 minutes.
Return Fare: Overseas Tourist: RM15 (equivalent to £3 or USD$4), Child RM10; Malaysian (MyCard): RM10 Child RM5
Duration of Boat Ride – A return journey of about 45 minutes of a distance of 9km.
The Melaka River Cruise is certainly a worthwhile trip for your visit to the historic city of Melaka. It is a river that is embedded in history and made this city a success in the first place.
The River Cruise is a simple and energy saving way to see the city.
I would certainly recommend taking this cruise in the evening as part of winding down the day’s activities.
- The Start Point of the Melaka River Cruise: By the Maritime Museum next to the replica Portuguese Galleon. This can be easily seen in the town.
- The Melaka River Cruise route is to be lighted up in 2017.
- Wikipedia on Malacca River
- Wikitravel on Malacca
- Google Map of the Melaka River Cruise.
- UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Ben van Wijen’s The Malaysia Site
Related Posts on Malaysia
- Penang Street Art – The Story behind the Success (in 10 parts).
- Call Of The Wild On Gaya Island Resort
- The Blue Mansion in George Town – A Feng Shui Analysis.
- Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur
- Wild About Pangkor Laut
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Version 1.3 updated 27 Jun 2017
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