First Impressions of Malaysia in Melaka

After getting into town on our massage bus from Singapore, I was first hit by the dramatic shift in culture in this country.  I knew Malaysia was declared a Muslim country (even though only about 60% of the population practices Islam), but until seeing women walking in the streets with abayas, hijabs, and some nikhabs, it hadn’t hit me.  Going to have to think twice about clothing here.

However, the more time I spent in Malaysia, the more I came to understand and love the variety in the people.  Women covered head-to-toe walk chatting happily to friends in shorts and T-shirts, hair shining in the sun.  Girls with hijabs covering their hair and wearing short-sleeved tops, tight jeans and heels.  Women and men talking and doing business regardless of attire.

Of course when it comes to religious places, such as temples, clothing rules do apply, but most people appear to follow their own chosen rules—as stringent or relaxed as they may be—and not worry about it.

After a few days of trying to always cover myself with long pants and T-shirts (regardless of the 35+ weather with ungodly amounts of humidity) and looking longingly at the local girls in shorts, I gave in.  And I didn’t feel overly awkward—though I did find Melaka to feel more conservative than other areas of the country.  Sure I got a few looks from a couple of people, but I get the same looks from people at home, because no matter what you do, there will be someone who disagrees with something you do.

All in all, we spent a few days in Melaka, ate delicious Indian food, chatted with the great owner of our hostel, Alan (if you’re there, check out Discovery Café hostel, it’s pretty great).  We also did a boat tour down the river, which gave us a chance to see more of the city than we ever would have just walking around.  Another fantastic thing to check out in Melaka is the trishaws.  It’s like 16-year-olds at home with their old cars; they pimp them out will lights and anything flashy they can get their hands on.  But these are middle-aged men biking people around town, blasting music from their huge stereos and blinding everyone nearby.

Here’s a collection of photos from our few days in Melaka.

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3 responses to “First Impressions of Malaysia in Melaka

  1. Brilliant write up – Melaka is a lovely little city with lots to discover. I also liked that you picked up on how everyone pretty much wears whatever they are comfortable with in Malaysia. Some Muslims prefer to be covered completely, others will wear a headscarf and some will go uncovered. Generally it is better to lean towards the conservative side in Malaysia, especially, as you noted, near religious sites.

    • Thanks! Yes at first I was a bit afraid of what to wear so as not to offend anyone, but it was a nice relief that everyone kind of goes by their own preference. I still err on the side of caution when unsure.

  2. Melaka was an interesting one and probably one of the best introduction cities to Malaysia. And the odd niche museums it has certainly will appeal to some. After a couple days, though, I was quickly bored in Melaka.

    Still, it’s microcosm of ethnic diversity is a great indicator of what you can expect in the rest of the country. And some people are worried about Islamic conservativism in the country, but I never felt it overwhelming at all.

    Hope you had a good time.

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