A journey to Melaka from Singapore

In January 1967 my father drove us to Malacca for a short stay.  Here my mother describes it in her diary:-
Thursday January 5th 1967
Setting off from Tanglin at 7.15 in drizzly weather, we were glad that at the Causeway border they just gave a quick glance at our Singapore ID cards.  Almost as soon as we were on the mainland of Malaya, the pace was slower and the villages more colourful.  There were houses frequently dotted along the main road to Batu Pahat.  Each Malay house is built on stilts, with carved woodwork and on many, the steps are made up of patterned tiles.  Round every house, a patch has been cleared and planted with flowering shrubs and orchids.  The villages seem permeated with a green and friendly atmosphere.  At the roadside water buffalo are tied up and there are humped back cows and sweet little black and white goats.  There were many ducks waddling across the road at their own pace and areas where lots of chickens could be seen.

When we reached Ayer Hitam we had to turn towards the coast onto a smaller road to Batu Pahat.  Batu Pahat means chiselled stone, perhaps because of the nearby quarries but it is also known by its old name Bandar Penggaram which means town of salt makers.  The ferry was a small flat barge which was nudged across the river by an ancient motor boat.  Luckily it was a short distance as I kept wondering if there were crocodiles in the murky water.

At one point we saw a huge black and yellow striped snake stretched out right across the road where it had been run over.  We decided not to use the bushes but to keep on towards the Rest House at Muar before answering the call of nature.  Muar is probably named after Muara, the Malay name for wide open estuary but it was also given the name Bandar Maharani after Maharani Fatimah who attended the inauguration of the new town in 1887.  This time we had to queue for the ferry for two hours as each ferry could only take six cars or two lorries. 

Reaching the Malacca Rest House at 2 pm we were grateful that they were happy to give us lunch.  The climate in Malacca seems drier and hotter than Singapore in the daytime and cooler with the sea breeze in the evening.

Government Rest Houses were the places to stay for foreign visitors in the 1950s and 1960s as there were no modern hotels in most towns in Malaya.  My parents’ large bedroom with en-suite bathroom had an airy balcony.  My room out in an annexe was hot and stuffy with many cockroaches so I hid inside the mosquito nets over the bed!

After lunch we walked round the old town, going to the top of St Paul’s hill to see the view of the sea on one side and the town on the other.  Before dinner we walked along the seafront and the sunset was glorious.  As we sat in the bar with our friends in the evening a large rat ran across the floor and under the bar.  We told the barman but he just laughed.  Perhaps it was his pet.

Melaka was once a thriving port as it is at the narrowest part of the Malacca Strait and was always accessible.  The historic city centre was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2008.  It was named Melaka after a tree of that name by Parameswara, the last Sultan of Singapura, who had fled the island after it was invaded.  In Melaka he set up his new stronghold in 1402.  In 1511 it was conquered by the Portuguese but almost a hundred years later, the Dutch attacked the port and they ruled Melaka until 1798.  The city was ceded to the British as part of the Anglo-Dutch treaty in 1824 in exchange for Bencoolen in Sumatra.  In 1948 Malacca became part of the Federation of Malaya.

Friday January 6th 1967
Today we explored the busy streets.  They are very narrow which makes it difficult to drive a car especially if you meet a bullock cart.  Most of the shops are Chinese or Indian and prices are high due to the tax which we don’t pay in Singapore.
Bullock Cart
The Chinese temple, the oldest and most ornate in Malaya, was well worth the visit.  The gold work on the outside and colourful figures on the roof must be constantly repainted.  Along the eaves are many paintings depicting scenes from legends.  The temple is called Cheng Hoon Teng, Abode of the Green (Merciful) Clouds and is used for the worship of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.  It is 300 years old.  Nearby is a simple white mosque which gave us a good view of the town from the top of its tower.
Cheng Hoon Temple
The old Fort on St John’s Hill commanded the harbour and was a climb to reach in the intense heat.  We drove down to the old Portuguese settlement and the garden city.  The old part is picturesque with houses on stilts, ducks swimming in the ponds and goats and cattle about.  The garden city is made up of modern bungalows with gardens full of flowers.  We could see several teenagers enthusiastically playing badminton in their gardens.

Mum at St John's Fort
In the evening, as we sat in the open bar area, I saw an old Indian man walk in behind Jim.  He had a small spear through his tongue which he therefore had to stick out.  He touched Jim’s arm to beg for money which gave him quite a shock.

Saturday January 7th 1967
As members of the Tanglin Club in Singapore we were allowed to use the Malacca club.  Its swimming pool is about 7 miles out of the town right on the seashore.  The pool is filled with seawater and it was glorious sitting under the thatched sunshades looking out to sea, as the palm trees swayed in the breeze.  Most of the time we were the only people there apart from the barman and pool attendant.  Liz and I wandered along the shore where we saw a sand lizard and some wee fish jumping around on the surface of the water.

A modern photo of the Malacca Club
Our last evening at the Rest house has been very sociable, talking to a naval officer and his wife who were recently living in my home town (Helensburgh in Scotland).

Sunday January 8th 1967
We took the long road home to avoid the two ferries, so first we had to drive north towards Tampin, then east to Gemas.  From Segamat the road turned southwards.  The route was through jungle and palm and rubber plantations.  All the rubber trees are in straight rows from whatever angle you look at them and we could see the little cups attached to the trunks.  At one place, at the side of the road, we saw a dead cat, smaller than a leopard but similar in colouring.  There was also a dead lorus. 

The 216 mile journey was entirely through forest land and tiny villages.  We were pleased to arrive in Johore Bahru in time for the usual Sunday lunch of curried chicken and Gula Malacca.  This included a ginger kitten which jumped on Liz’s lap so that she could feed it with her chicken.  Lee Heng had tea at the ready when we arrived home and Sherry gave us a great welcome.
Betty Ware


  1. Lovely - feel I was there. Do you remember the ginger kitten?

  2. Strangely enough I don't but then there's always a kitten. Mum also didn't mention that I felt really ill on the journey as a result of the malaria tablets so I stopped taking them.

  3. Wonderful atmosphere. It is great that your mother kept a diary! The photos are lovely. What a great time it must have been to travel in Malaysia. Ann

    1. Although I have been back to Singapore 3 times since 2004 I have never been back to mainland Malaysia. I think I am more afraid of regretting the changes there than in Singapore.

  4. What a wonderful, evocative post, Liz. It's fantastic that your mother preserved it all in a diary. The photos are lovely too and how lucky to have been on that journey and to have those memories!