Going Strait in Malacca

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For those visiting Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, Malacca's location — two hours by coach from the Malaysian capital, or 3 1/2 hours across the border from the Lion City — make it a no-brainer overnight excursion (or a long day trip, if you've got the stamina). The charming town is brimming with edifices that nod to a complicated colonial history on the Malacca Strait, while the narrow streets and traditional homes offer a peek into the culture of the Peranakans, or Malay Chinese, who lived there in great numbers. Here are three (of many) must-dos. See websites like melaka.net for more.

1 St. Paul's
The hilltop ruins of this church turned mausoleum turned armory, tel: (60-6) 282 0685, are like a crash course in Malaccan history. Originally a Portuguese chapel, it was taken over by the Dutch in the 17th century and used as a place of burial. When the British arrived in 1825, they added a lighthouse and converted the original building into a munitions and gunpowder store. Wander through the arresting stone structure, which is open to the sky, then sit on the cool floor and gaze out at the Strait.

2 The Baba and Nyona Heritage Museum
There aren't any dusty glass cases or velvet ropes at this museum, tel: (60-6) 283 1273. Instead, beautifully recreated interiors invite you to walk through the daily life of a rich 19th century Peranakan family, led by guides in period costume. You'll feel like you're snooping around in someone's home and that the residents have merely wandered upstairs or into a back room for a moment. What other museum insists you take off your shoes before exploring?

3 Restoran Famosa Chicken Rice-Ball
The owners of this hugely popular establishment, tel: (60-6) 286 0121, may not have been having the most creative of days when it came to naming it, but the food makes up for that. Housed in adjoining century-old shophouses, it serves the balls of rice with chicken, bean sprouts and soy sauce that are the local specialty, with plenty of other Peranakan dishes besides. Mealtimes are cacophonous, but in a good way. A location just around the corner from the Jalan Hang Jebat shopping street (or Jonker Street, as it's also called in commemoration of Malacca's former Dutch masters) makes it a perfect pit stop.