Melaka's Jonker Street is the Place to Go

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No two tourists would give you a similar description of Jonker Street, even if they visited on the same night.Located in the heart of Melaka, Jonker Street is famous for its long line of tiny stalls selling all sorts of trinkets and street food. From quirky, egg-shaped ice creams and local designer t-shirts to local desserts such as Nyonya cendol; you name it, everything is available along the same street! Each visit promises a new experience as the look and pace of the busy street is constantly evolving and expanding. Every now and then, new stalls will sprout up to offer customers more quirky and creative products.

Barely 10 years ago, Jonker Street was a quaint little street with shops selling antique furniture to local collectors, dotted with just one or two coffee houses that residents would frequent. When a local minister declared Jonker Street to be one of Melaka’s most iconic spots, the once-quiet street transformed in short order into a bustling hotspot for locals and tourists to visit. Centuries-old colonial houses were transformed into upscale boutique hotels for tourists to experience a taste of the “authentic traditional lifestyle” of the Baba and Nyonya community that once populated the street back in the 50s and 60s. Other buildings have been turned into restaurants selling famous local foods that have given Melaka a strong identity; namely, the famous chicken rice balls and Nyonya laksa. There are also colonial houses that have been turned into art galleries, backpacker lodges for budget-conscious tourists, and gift shops selling souvenirs, handicrafts, and jewellry.

On weekdays, Jonker Street is open to vehicles, and shops along the street run their businesses as usual. Even on off-peak days, Jonker Street is routinely jammed with slow traffic, as the road is rather narrow. On Friday evenings and weekends, however, a transformation takes place. As the sun drops from the sky on Friday, the road is closed to vehicles and all the roadside stalls quickly start their weekend business. In a matter of hours, the whole stretch of street is thronged with people, both local and tourists. Red lanterns brighten up the street when dusk falls, and the street remains a chaotic hive of activity until midnight when the shops and stalls close.

When you visit Jonker Street, you can expect to spend hours on the stretch of street without getting bored. Drop by at dinner time to savour various types of street food to your heart’s content, or dine in a café if you prefer peace and quiet. Take a stroll along the street and see what it has to offer; with luck, you may just find something you fancy for a few ringgits! Once your dinner has been properly digested, drop by a dessert shop and try out Melaka’s must-have after-dinner treats, Nyonya cendol and ais kacang. Nowadays, even these traditional desserts have been upgraded with a huge variety of different flavours, all tailored to suit your taste buds: durian cendol for the more adventurous, or plain malt sugar flavour for those who love to keep it original.

Once you’re done with dessert, head to the clubs just around the bend of the street and paint the town red! There are a few notable clubs on and near Jonker Street that come alive with great music, and most serve a blend of Western cocktails and local thirst quenchers. Whether you’re keen to shake your bon-bon on the dance floor or just chill out at an upstairs terrace while enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the buzzing street, the pubs are the perfect place to end the evening! Among the more popular pubs located on Jonker Street are Geographer Café and the Eleven Bistro.

Aside from its busy tourist activities, Jonker Street is also a famous place of worship. Some of the state’s oldest Buddhist temples are located in the heart of Jonker Street, and these venues still serve their original purpose on religious dates. In fact, there is a side street along the main road that has made a name for itself: look out for Jalan Tokong and you will see a true manifestation of Malaysia’s multicultural identity. Jalan Tokong (Temple Street) is the only place in the country where you can find a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple, and a Muslim mosque within the same stretch of street! Even a Methodist church is nearby!

On days when there are no ceremonial affairs going on, drop by at the doorstep of one of the temples and you’ll be more tickled than surprised to see retired locals practicing line dancing to tunes from Lady Gaga and Katy Perry! Mind you, these retired dancers mean business when it comes to achieving perfection. The line dancers form a local club and these retirees come faithfully to rehearsals every week, dancing with doors wide open to the delight of curious onlookers. On ceremonial dates such as Chinese New Year or Christmas, they deliver their performance on a stage at the end of Jonker Street that has recently been made permanent. Performances are free to everyone, so do have a seat and show some support for the elderly folks who perform with so much passion!

All in all, Jonker Street is a spot not be missed if you ever drop by the colourful and historical port city of Melaka. It’s the one place where you can enjoy the contrast of the state’s historical architecture as a backdrop to all sorts of modern trades. It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 80, Jonker Street is guaranteed to charm!

This article was written by Ivan Lee for Senses of Malaysia.
Source: Senses of Malaysia July-Augt 2012
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