If you have not been to Malacca in a while, perhaps it is time to do so — the once-sleepy state has come into its own, with plenty to rediscover and a charming hotel at the heart of the town to sweeten the deal.
Something about Liu Men feels like home the moment you step inside its spacious, art deco-inspired lobby — well, if your home were a gorgeous pre-war heritage building, that is. There is a warmth that is immediately obvious, from the staff who greet you with a cheerful smile, to the comfortable and plush antique chairs placed everywhere.
This five-star boutique hotel, which opened early 2019, is named for the six former shop-lots which the building once housed – hence, Liu Men, which means ‘six doors’ in Mandarin. The previous occupants both lived and worked within this row of shophouses up until about late 2014 when the building was bought over by the proudly-Malaccan Pang family (of Malaysia’s the Mamee-Double Decker group, which makes the popular Mamee snacks).
It is this Malaccan pride that perhaps led to Liu Men’s homey, cosy feel. Co-founder and representative of the owners, Jason Pang, tells Options that Liu Men was truly a labour of love which took nearly three years to complete. The building, having been granted a Unesco heritage status, meant that there were strict regulations to be followed, and any renovations will have to be approved by the National Heritage Board. “The courtyard we see today was separated by six putty walls, which we had to break down with the approval of the Board. While the building was not dilapidated, it was certainly very basic and very old. One of the trickier things we had to resolve was that the ground was very [water-logged]. The black soil foundation meant we had to do a lot of water-proofing to address the seepage,” Pang says.
Furthermore, there were merely wooden slabs between floors of the shoplots, which had to also be rebuilt. Approval from the Board was also a challenge, due to the historical status of the building. “They’ve seen so many hotels built around Malacca, but we were going to create something different, to give Malacca something it has never seen before,” the former investment banker adds. The design of the hotel strikes a nice balance between heritage and modernity.
We stayed in the Hang Tuah room, which is one of the three types of rooms they have (the others are Jebat and Kapitan, named after the historical figures and titles in Malacca’s history), and from the brass accents of the bathroom fixtures to the four-poster bed, it was clear great attention has been paid to detail. In fact, we were told that Pang and his team (including the architects and designers) personally sought out all the furniture, fixtures and decorations we see in the hotel.
The rooms are spacious and bright, and comes with a free minibar — yes, you read that correctly, free minibar. All the snacks and non-alcoholic drinks are free and refilled daily. Location-wise, you’d be hard-pressed to find better; Liu Men is just a three-minute walk away from the popular Jonker Street, where a weekend night market has become both a local and tourist fixture for food and souvenirs. It is also a 10-minute (or so) walk away from the historic Stadthuys, a former Dutch government site, featuring a clock tower and regional history exhibits. Built in 1650, it is the oldest Dutch building in Southeast Asia. It is also close by to other historical buildings and museums located just along the river, as well as dozens of bars and cafes.
However, the only minor criticism is that being located so close to Jonker Street means that the rooms bear the full brunt of noise at night, especially during the weekends when the market is in full swing. The noise dies down only around midnight.
Still, if you’ve not been to Malacca in a while, perhaps it is time to revisit it. The once-sleepy little state sandwiched between the capital of Kuala Lumpur and (more familiar to Singaporeans) Johor Bahru has come into its own. Jonker Street is more vibrant than ever, with crowds practically cheek-to-cheek as they throng the narrow street for street food, souvenirs and unique gifts.
A surprising find is The Baboon House, a burger-and-beers gastropub tucked away on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock (parallel to Jonker Street), which has made use of the overgrown creeper plants, weeds and exposed beams of the heritage building to its full advantage. The burgers here were fabulous, and its homemade beers were even better.
If you’re longing for a short vacation that’s not going to break the bank (the rooms start at about RM324++ ($108++) a night with breakfast), Malacca is a mere 3½ hours away by bus, and Liu Men is the cherry on top of the cake of a memorable weekend getaway.