Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Guang Ming Daily
MELAKA -- There are no modern shopping malls here; nor any particular attraction or theme park, but to some foreigners, this place is simply luring with its old world charms.
An old village seeing dwindling population with rows of dilapidated shophouses along the historical Melaka River, adorned with a few colourful ancient Chinese temples here have made indescribable draws for many a fascinated tourist.
It is just a hardly known hamlet of Kampung Pengkalan Rama Pantai which used to be a gathering place for the garbage trucks in town.
Pengkalan Rama Pantai, nestled within the historic city of Melaka, is a tiny settlement of under a hundred households along the river. The village preserves much of its old look since its founding and the unique kampung ambience here makes it a perfect hangout for backpack travellers.
So when the first guest house was opened here about a year ago, the place has instantly drawn the attention of backpackers. Cowboy Lim, the double-storey wooden establishment, boasts a very "kampung" feel in its deco and set-up.
The 65-year-old proprietor used to be a trishaw rider of 40 years. He lived in this simple wooden house some 30 years ago, but later moved out as his children grew older.
Three years ago, Lim came back to Pengkalan Rama Pantai, and rented the same house from the landlord for the following one year.
It was at that time that he mooted the idea of setting up a guest house. So he took over the property from the Malay landlord and launched its plans to convert the building into a guest house.
Among the tourists who have stayed with Cowboy Lim are Japanese, Germans, French, English, Taiwanese, Indians as well as local tourists, and these guests would recommend the place on Facebook after they leave.
"I used to open a guest house in Melaka Raya. Since my nickname is Cowboy Lim, an English guest drew this CocaCola-like logo on the wall and asked me how it looked. I told him it was not bad and since then I have been using it as my logo."
Cowboy Lim, who used to ferry tourists to places of interest in Melaka, was told that they were not really interested in modern infrastructure and imposing highrises. On the contrary, they would prefer nature, forests, beaches, orchards, rubber and oil palm estates.
"Sometimes they would disembark from their tourist boats and walked into our village. The old wooden houses here are their favourite subjects for photo shooting.
"I often send them to the nearby Kampung Morten, a Malay village along the Melaka River. The government has put in a lot of effort to beautify the area, such as lighting and new coats of paint to make the village truly neat and beautiful."
Cowboy Lim said although Pengkalan Rama Pantai, further up the river, has never been included in the government's tourism development plan, the village is imbued with its own unique characteristics and has vast potentials.
The houses in Pengkalan Rama Pantai, mostly double-storey wooden structures, are very unique with external staircase leading up to the upper floor. According to the older residents here, such a design is to facilitate movement and also because this place is flood-prone.
Most of the inhabitants here are Chinese, with Malays and Indians making up the rest. They live in self-constructed houses on plots belonging to Malay landlords.
They don't pay rentals, but rather under-RM100 land taxes to their landlords depending on the sizes of their plots.
48-year-old villager Zhan Liping, who has been living here for three decades, told Guang Ming Daily attap trees used to be found in the village during the olden days but are rare nowadays.
"In the past, the ground floor was used to store things while bedrooms were upstairs. Later residents started to build concrete walls around their houses.
"Most of the houses here have only two bedrooms upstairs but modified ones have three. Upstairs could be very hot during the day and as such, we would only go upstairs at night."
Hostels for council workers
A 55-year-old resident told us the village used to house the hostels of municipal council workers and as such all the garbage trucks and dung tubs were put here.
"Most of the council workers living here were Indians and an Indian temple (Sri Mahamariaman Alayam) was set up in the village just beside the hostels.
"About 30 years ago, the municipal government sold the land and tore down the hostels. The land was supposed to be developed into a commercial complex but the project never materialised.
"The council workers were relocated to the Bukit Baru flats. However, they would still return to pay their homage to the deity here."
Besides the Indian temple, Pengkalan Rama Pantai also boasts several Chinese temples, some visited by both the Chinese as well as Indian devotees, like Sri Mahamariaman Alayam Temple.