Rolling through the heart of Malacca is the Malacca River. This waterway is one of the main features that has made Malacca, Malaysia a significant trading port throughout history. It narrows near downtown providing a strategic defensive position and there are remnants of antique walls and forts in multiple spots in the area. While no longer needed for defense, the river is still important to the current economy. It’s become a main tourist draw as the city transformed the banks into a renowned riverwalk. Most of the street art in Malacca can be found hugging the river as well. The combination of a traffic-free path and colorful artistry makes this riverwalk a wonderful spot to stroll.
For the most part, the riverwalk begins at the Jonker Street bridge on the edge of Chinatown. Heading north there are restaurants, cafes, and bars dotting the edges of the paved path. Many of these are adorned with street art. Moving away from downtown, the commercial buildings are gradually replaced with more residential ones. Luckily, they participate in the street art scene as well. Or maybe it’s more accurate to call it a river art scene, since there’s only a walking path with no street. Whatever the title chosen, both sides of the river are pleasing to the eye.
Much of the riverwalk is shaded by trees and a few taller buildings. This is important during the day in the Malaysian heat. If one side is too sunny or the art looks better on the other, it’s easy to cross on one of the many pedestrian bridges. Combined with a gentle breeze, the shade is usually enough to keep things pleasant. At night the sun stops beating down, but we found that the breeze normally dissipated too. As such, it was generally more pleasant during the day for most of our strolls.
About a mile from Jonker Street, the concrete sidewalk gives way to a raised wooden walkway that rises above the natural muddy banks. Allowing the river to form its natural borders means wildlife flourishes here. We saw many monitor lizards along this stretch. Not as many as in Bangkok, but there were still plenty to be found. There were also thousands of small crabs that live in holes in the mud. They would scurry for cover as we walked above them. We even found a few mudskippers, which are quite an evolutionary marvel. These fish can breathe air and will hang out in the mud along the river’s edge.
Eventually, the raised walkway turns back into a paved path and the river back into having an artificial 90 degree edge. There are more plants and flowering bushes along this area, and it’s much more residential. Many locals take their evening stroll here and we were often met with surprised looks during our walks. That’s not to say that we felt unwelcome. The initial curious looks were nearly always followed by large smiles. The vast majority of tourists in this town are day-trippers arriving by tour bus. And judging by the signs on those buses, the vast majority of those are Chinese tourists. So seeing a couple of white people in a residential area late in the evening is probably a very rare event. But of course, we are not your normal tourists.
After having been in Malacca for 3 weeks now, I can confidently declare that the riverwalk is the best feature of this city. It’s great for exercise or slow romantic strolls. While we preferred walking during the day, I think we were in the minority as it was normally even busier at night. Both sides light up with colorful LED lights and add a whimsical feeling. All things considered, enjoying the riverwalk day or night is a must during any visit to Malacca.