Malaysia: Malacca Museums

For a fairly compact city, Malacca is full of museums! I have never seen so many museums in such a small place. You won’t have time to visit all of them on a short trip, especially since there is so much else to do. So read on and take your pick of the Malacca museums.

We visited the Governor’s House Museum, the Sultan’s Palace Museum, the Independence Monument Museum, and Villa Sentosa Malay Living Museum.

We did not visit the History and Ethnography Museum, which is closed for renovation until February 2014. We also passed on the Democracy Museum, the Baba-Nyonya Museumm the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum and the Islam Museum.  As you can see there are so many to choose from!

Governor’s House Museum

Governor's House Museum

The living room area

Having been previously used by Dutch and British governors, the house continued its role as a home for Malaysian governors after independence. It was actually in use as the governor’s house until 1996. We paid RM 5 each to enter the grounds and we had the museum to ourselves. A spacious white house on the hillside, the museum displays possessions of previous governors, with many gifts given to them by overseas dignitaries.


We saw the upstairs living room, with sofas, and a barrier to stop visitors entering. There is also an inspiration room where the governor would apparently engage in hobbies and recreational activities, and a dining room set up as if for a big dinner. Strangely, however, we were unable to find the bedroom. Usually a centrepiece in house-style museums, there was no room done up as the bedroom. Perhaps the governor wanted to take his bed with him.


Sultan’s Palace Museum

Sultan's Palace Museum

This museum, which costs RM 2 per person, is built in a replica Malay-style wooden palace and traces the history of the Melaka sultanate which lasted from the 1400s until the arrival of the Portuguese in 1511. The building is impressive and reminded me of the Minangkabau Museum in Bukittinggi, Sumatra, Indonesia, another museum in a replica traditional building. Apparently the Melaka Sultan’s Palace Museum was designed according to accounts in the Malay chronicles, and they don’t actually know what it looked like exactly.

Diorama at Sultan's Palace Museum

The museum features models and pictures of other palaces around Malaysia, traditional costumes, and a bedroom area upstairs which was considered private – apparently even the Sultan’s wife had to ask permission to enter. There is also a lifesize diorama of the Sultan in session with his courtiers receiving guests from elsewhere. Models of traders from Java, China, Gujarat and Siam remind us that the Melaka Sultanate played an important role in international trade, before colonisation of the area.


Independence Monument Museum Independence Monument Museum

At the Independence Monument Museum (free entry) we learnt about the struggle for Malaysian independence, and the development of the nation, presented in a to-be-expected nationalistic style. The displays contained so much detail that it was somewhat overwhelming. However, I didn’t know before visiting this museum that independence was actually announced in Malacca first, before being declared in Kuala Lumpur. We enjoyed watching an original film of the independence celebrations.


Villa Sentosa Malay Living Museum Villa Sentosa

The Malay Living Museum at Villa Sentosa (donation after the tour) was another kind of museum altogether. Located in a 1920s wooden Malay stilt-house, which is still inhabited, the aim of the museum is to preserve Malay heritage in a rapidly developing area. Kampung Sentosa is a whole neighbourhood of old-style Malay houses, outside the old city area of Malacca, with a backdrop of building sites and new blocks of condominiums. Many of the houses operate homestays, and if it wasn’t for the construction noise it would be a pleasant place to stay, right by the river.

Malay marriage chairs

Malay marriage chairs

The elderly owners and their relatives showed us around Villa Sentosa, where they display all sorts of objects collected by their family over the years. My husband and I were encouraged to try out the Malay marriage chairs, and another guest was shown how to hit a gong. They have china tea sets from England and Japan, and gifts from various important guests who’ve visited them. The décor is, for course, very much Malay style, with a great 1960s three-piece suite in the living room. We enjoyed looking round the house-cum-museum, but it did feel like nosing around someone’s home!

Kitchen at Villa Sentosa

The kitchen at Villa Sentosa



Penang: A Wander Through Georgetown

Penang, a Malaysian island, is a popular tourist destination. I spent a few days looking around, following in the footsteps of my grandfather, Peter Allen, who often spent holiday time there. He frequently travelled to Southeast Asia for his work as a scientist in the rubber industry, and I remember receiving postcards from Penang (he also visited Bogor, Indonesia).

Temple rooftopsGeorgetown was the first place the British arrived in Malaysia, the beginning of Britain as a coloniser in Southeast Asia, and it’s full of colonial era architecture. Now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are more colonial buildings in Georgetown than anywhere else I have visited so far in Southeast Asia.

Although it rained almost constantly throughout my entire trip, I didn’t want to waste time sitting in my hotel. Wandering through the streets of Georgetown and visiting some of the tourist attractions was still bearable, even if my hand ached from holding an umbrella for several days!

Fort Cornwallis

Fort Cornwallis (RM2 per person) is the site of the first British entry into this region. It is amazing to imagine Francis Light arriving here on his ship and building the original fort, made of nipah palm, and then remember that a palm tree fort was the start of hundreds of years of British rule in the Malay archipelago.

Gunpowder StoreAt Fort Cornwallis today, there are the remains of the old stone fort walls (that were built after the initial nipah palm construction), as well as the gunpowder store. Cannons point out to sea. Some of the tunnel-like rooms have been made into a museum that traces the history of the fort.


Across from Fort Cornwallis is the Padang, or “field”, a large open grassy area. There is a foodcourt here, called Medan Selera Lapangan Kota, where we enjoyed a tasty mee goreng (fried noodles) and coconut shake. On the opposite side of the Padang are some large and impressive colonial buildings, including the town hall.

the Town Hall buildingPenang Museum

Another short walk and we arrived at the Penang Museum (RM1 each). This was actually very interesting, adding to the knowledge we had gleaned from the Fort about Penang’s history. Each ethnic group has its own room displaying cultural items, furniture, clothes and so on, that are considered to represent the ethnicity. Upstairs are displays about old Penang. Outside in the museum courtyard is a real old-style funicular train carriage, that was used at the Penang Hill funicular railway.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

Then we walked on to Pinang Peranakan Mansion (RM10 each). Peranakans are found in Malaysia and Singapore, and are mixed-race people. The term is most often used to describe people of Chinese-Malay mixed race ancestry. Peranakans have their own distinctive culture, from wedding traditions to home décor. The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is indeed a mansion house, where items of peranakan furniture, clothing and household items are displayed. The furniture is stunningly elaborate and highly ornamented with mother-of-pearl details and it fills an opulent house. There was not much information available about the items on display, but it was worth a visit to experience such extravagance.

mother-of-pearl benchEthnic Enclaves

Penang has its own ethnic enclaves, and we wandered through Little India, filled with colourful fabric shops. A man rushed up to us, trying to sell us a Bollywood DVD. We saw Sri Mariamman temple, but it was closed by that time.

We did see an interesting Chinese ancestor temple which had been recently refurbished and had amazing detail in its brightly painted carvings. Chulia Street and Campbell Street, parts of Chinatown, were filled with Chinese writing on shop signs.

Chinese temple paintingGeorgetown is a great place for randomly finding yourself somewhere interesting. It’s small enough to walk around in a day, including visits to museums and temples. And it’s bearable in the rain.

Chinatown in Singapore: Museums, Temples and Cheap Souvenirs

We stepped out of the MRT station on to Pagoda Street, right in the centre of Chinatown in Singapore. This pedestrianised street is lined with souvenir shops in the ground floor of colonial buildings. The atmosphere is instantly different to other parts of Singapore I have visited, touristy, yes but in a fun way.

Pagoda Street

Pagoda Street

Despite having visited Singapore several times, I had never been to Chinatown. Perhaps I assumed it would be the same as the Chinatowns in other cities around the world, and of course there are similarities. However, Chinatown in Singapore has a great atmosphere and is a fun place for wandering around, browsing for very cheap and tacky Singapore souvenirs, and cultural tourism.

Chinatown Heritage Centre

A little way down Pagoda Street is the Chinatown Heritage Centre. This museum, set in two adjoining colonial buildings, tells the history of Chinese people in Singapore, from the hardships endured by the first immigrants to the success stories of Singapore’s Chinese business people. Combining personal biographies with historical reconstructions of living conditions it was fascinating to think that we were standing in the very area being described.

I learnt a lot about Chinese culture in Singapore, from clan names and their significance to Chinese foods and festivals. The authentic reconstructions of cubicle living and shophouses also reminded me that in other parts of the world, people still live in these conditions, that here in Singapore can be shown as a museum’s historical exhibit.

Me in a historical kitchen reconstruction

Me in a historical kitchen reconstruction, but outside Singapore this is not so different to the kitchens people use every day.

At S$10 per adult the Chinatown Heritage Centre is not cheap but we felt it was worth the ticket price.

Perfect for a Wander

Walking back out on to Pagoda Street the old buildings around us had a new significance thanks to what we had learnt at the museum. We wandered around for a while and came upon a public dance aerobics session with people of all ages joining in.

Food stalls and endless souvenir shops continued to line our path, and there were a fair number of Chinese medicine shops selling remedies for everything as well as traditional Chinese teas.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Although I don’t know much about Buddhism, I had been intrigued by this temple since I first heard its name, and as we approached from a side street, passing table upon table piled high with offerings, we knew we would see something special. In my brief temple-visiting experience, the peaceful but friendly atmosphere is a welcome retreat from a bustling cityscape.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Fortunately we were not wearing very short shorts or hats and so we were allowed to enter the temple. Chinese Buddhists were arriving for a ceremony, mingling with tourists like us. We walked around the sides, where thousands of Buddhas are displayed. Information about the displays is given in English as well as Chinese.

We learnt about the Imperial Life Protectors who protect followers according to the animal of the year of birth. For example, I was born in the year of the pig so mine is Amitabha Buddha. Followers can pay to consecrate their Imperial Life Protector.

Upstairs in the Temple

We went upstairs to the top floor where we saw the Buddha Tooth Relic, which the temple is named after, along with many other Buddhas. To enter this room we slipped off our shoes. Platforms on either side were reserved for meditation and there were some people meditating, despite the tourists coming to see the relic.

Climbing the last flight of stairs we came out at the roof garden, a square with lush, green plants and in the centre, a prayer wheel. We watched the people in front of us walk round, pulling the prayer wheel until it had rung three times, and we did the same.

Buddhist Prayer Wheel

Buddhist Prayer Wheel

A Buddhist Ceremony

There are more floors in the temple, between the ground floor and the tooth relic, but it was closing time. We made our way back down to the ground floor and were just in time to watch a ceremony taking place in the front courtyard.

Buddhist monks chanted and played percussion instruments and the congregation, wearing black robes, joined in at certain point. The rich aroma of incense filled the air.

Temple Ceremony

Temple Ceremony

Heritage and Religion of Chinatown

The combination of visiting the Chinatown Heritage Centre and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, although the most touristic places of Chinatown in Singapore, really gave a flavour of the area, showing us the history and religion of the area.

Wandering around the narrow streets and alleyways gave us a taste of modern Chinatown in Singapore, and now we know where to go for cheap souvenirs!