As Monsieur had selected most of the hotels for our Malaysian holiday, I decided to find something a bit different for our time in Melaka. Trawling tripadvisor, I found repeated reference to the Hotel Puri, its fabulous antiques and themed rooms and the über-efficient Madame Jo who ran front desk. If the five-star hotels we’d stayed in so far were cheap by London standards and therefore spoiling us due to a hugely favourable exchange rate, then this was to be a bit more real and a complete bargain.
It was therefore with some anticipation that we arrived at the Hotel Puri. Just as we walked through the doors, a couple burst out, visibly angry. “Take us to another hotel. A better hotel,” the woman instructed the taxi driver struggling with their bags. “This place is horrible. Nothing like the website!” Not exactly the best of omens for incoming guests.
We never saw the famous Madame Jo, instead being checked in, eventually, by slow and surly staff who really couldn’t be bothered with us or the people ahead of us. The lobby was a large tiled rectangle with cane seating around the sunken centre, where it felt like there should have been a pond or water feature. It all looked tired, but had character and would be nice contrast to the generic interiors of the international hotel groups. Or so I thought.
As we followed directions to our room, it was to be one disappointment after another. First we passed through a room full of antiques and reproductions of antiques all bundled together. None of the styles matched and nothing had been dusted in quite a long time. Then we exited a door into an outdoor courtyard, past a communal loo and up some stairs to a long, sterile corridor, where the only sign of local colour was a lizard scurrying around a plant by our door. Surely our room would be interesting? Especially after all those great photos on the hotel website. But no. It was small, boring, looked as if it belonged in a hostel and had a single window looking straight out at bricks and a smelly alleyway. To give credit where it’s due, everything was spotlessly clean, but dark and anonymous. None of the promised Perykanan accents seen on the website were present. We could have been anywhere in the world. My face fell. I had been charged with choosing one hotel for this trip and I’d failed. Miserably.
“Never mind, darling,” soothed Monsieur, “it’s only for one night.” That much was true. Thank goodness. Playing Pollyanna for a moment, we could be glad that we were centrally located and that things were clean. Besides, a change in environment wouldn’t be a bad thing; it would keep us real.
Travel always makes us hungry, so at the risk of sounding repetitive, we scuttled off down the street for a late lunch at The Coconut House, an eatery recommended by The Rough Guide:
“Art gallery, bookshop, art-film venue and woodfire pizzeria all in a tastefully renovated Chinese townhouse. Mid-range prices, good atmosphere, great pizzas, recommended.”
Hmmm. By the looks of the peeling walls and rusty old bike leaning against one wall, we were a few years out of date with our information. Still, the pizza was going to be good, right? The waitress came over with a couple of well-worn menus. Mine had half the words rubbed off so I had to ask the waitress to return fill in the gaps to help me choose.
Once we’d ordered, I looked around. There was the famous pizza oven at the back, with an open drain in the floor and a long-deceased cockroach of some notable size smeared across the wall. On another wall was painted the following saying:
‘Whoever is the lord of Melakka has his hand on the throat of Venice.’ harking back to the battles of spice trade routes, apparently.
On a specials blackboard was written: ‘Fried Calzone, Fried My Pocket, Fried Little Prince.’ I’m always keen to try new things, but eating a pocket or a Little Prince wasn’t one of them. The pocket turned out to be a small, folded over pizza, somewhat like a calzone, but regarding the Fried Little Prince, I figured that at his burial spot in Carqueiranne, St Exupéry must have been spinning a little to think that his beloved creation was on a menu in Malaysia. The Coconut House may have been a tired old haunt, but it certainly wasn’t boring.
The service was a bit eclectic as Monsieur had almost finished his pizza by the time mine arrived, but we couldn’t say they were bad. In fact, for anyone tiring of local cuisine, this was a good choice. Just don’t visit unless your OCD has been treated successfully and you can deal with indifferent service, otherwise you might find yourself back to scrubbing your hands fifty times before and after eating, and throwing your cutlery to get the waitress’s attention.
Back outside on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, we walked in the sun, intrigued by the local colonial architecture and occasional house stuffed full of expensive looking antiques. As we doubled back to the hotel, we spotted a couple of rickshaws parked in front of an important looking ancestral home behind firmly closed gates. The rickshaws were a riot of plastic flowers and other items intended to accessorise them; the sort of thing that makes me giggle involuntarily. Then we had an idea: how about taking a rickshaw tour of Melaka? So off we skipped to the rickshaw pick-up point of Dutch Square.
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