Melaka Desert – Sauntering About the Shifting Sand Dunes at Sunset

I was casually scrolling the map around Melaka when something caught my eye: Melaka Desert and Klebang Deserr. A typo, cute!

It wasn’t far from our home in Atlantis Residences. I googled where exactly to go. It turned out it was in a different place on some artificial peninsula. Whichever rich coastal city you travel to in Malaysia, you’ll always find a land reclamation project. This one had been canceled, which let the winds shift the sands and shape up into dunes. The pictures looked very nice.

But we didn’t know what it was; satellite data from Google Maps broke off exactly at the peninsula, and OSM’s many satellite engines showed five different states of the area.

We decided to go there for sunset on a Thursday. It shouldn’t be too busy then—if it is a place that gets busy at all.

“As far as you can drive, please”

We took a Grab from our area to wherever the app let us place the destination pin. We ambitiously aimed very close to the dunes, although several reviews on google said it was a >2-kilometer hike from the car park. Lots of people were sad they couldn’t drive all the way up to the dunes with their cars. Or their complaint was about it not being elderly-friendly and quite full of rubbish. So we packed our hats, sunscreen, and enough water for the hike. It should be a bit cooler before sunset.

Our driver appeared to have never visited this place. We asked him to drive us as far as he could, but then there was a large pipe on the ground. We thanked him for trying and got out of the car. There were many vehicles and quite a few people. If nothing else, at least we’d get a good hike out of it. So far, most of the hikes in Malaysia have been up and down and up and down. I was looking forward to something lengthy but flat.

At the pipe where the trail started, a smart man had parked his food truck, selling beverages and snacks to passersby who came underprepared or underestimated the walk. I thought we’d come quite prepared.

food truck malaysia strait of malacca Melaka desert malacca sand dunes klebang 1

The start of the trail – a gravel road – was very clear. We began the hike at 17:40 and had 1 hour and 40 minutes to enjoy the dunes and find a spot to watch the sunset. I wanted to keep a fast pace. Soon, we wandered onto a side trail that shortcutted to the dunes. Most Malaysians wore headscarves, elaborate cape hats, and umbrellas to safe from the sun. Some had kept their facemasks on. We are, after all, in the middle of a pandemic.

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Sand in shoes

The start of the dunes was very clear; some low-lying ripples in the relief surrounded by young-ish trees emerged, with the happy heads of people behind them everywhere. These sand dunes weren’t smooth, but well-trodden by enthusiasts.

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Most people stayed in the easy to access part of the dunes. That’s where families with young children or the elderly stayed so they could still walk the two kilometers back. It was good enough. We drifted on to the higher dunes with fewer people.

It wasn’t as sandy as I’d anticipated. Lots of trees and shrubs held it together. The tops of the hills had desire lines stepped into the surrounding moss. It was all very green, white, and blue. Especially when the dunes made way for the sea. As it’s the Strait of Malacca, there’s always a great ship in sight.

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With the 19:20 sunset in mind, we took photos and walked up and down the ridges. Some plants were just elaborate roots crisscrossing the sand, not knowing where they began or ended. They were like tripwire anytime you got distracted by something. So far Melaka Desert had been a lot of fun.

sand dune plants tripwire

We found a way down through a flat area to the dunes that were barer. Walking down these sands filled up my shoes rather quickly, and I needed to make a stop to empty them.

Sunset in the sand dunes at the Strait of Malacca

We then found the corner of the artificial peninsula where the young and fit people were at, as far away from the car park as can be. The dunes were nice and we could see the breakwater below that desperately tried to hold it all together. It didn’t work; the water had broken through at several places and slashed away at the mechanically deposited sand. Inland, there were several smaller ponds connected to the sea at high tide littered with the trash of thirsty Instagrammers.

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I had a thirst, but not the urge to toss an empty bottle in the photo spot that will give me lots of likes. Though I can’t assume it’s all from passersby. Perhaps some of the trash had come onto land from the Strait of Malacca, where not only people aboard ships dump their waste, but which also works as a trash funnel from all bordering nations. Perhaps my bottle will end up here, too. But it will be via the long route.

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On the other side of the trash estuary, there was a photoshoot in the sands of some newlywed couple. I can’t imagine walking all the way over here in uncomfortable clothing with the wind and the sandblasts and then pose for a camera. Luckily, there was a crew of not only the photographer but also some people who touched up the bride’s makeup or prevented wardrobe malfunction. I’m sure the pictures are very nice.

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We found a nice round hill, stayed there for a bit, picked up the pieces of broken seashells. Then we decided to micro-optimize our sunset spot by crossing the muddy estuary to another set of dunes. That’s where we sat down and waited for sunset. Groups of friends topped almost every dune in vision, socially distancing from the other groups.

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Sea shell broken land reclamation Malaysia

What I hadn’t anticipated and made me unexpectedly ecstatic was the revelation of Indonesia’s Sumatra island by the setting sun. Directly to the west. It wasn’t much, but there were clearly mountains that gave the sun an earlier exit than the horizon would do. That’s the first time I’ve laid eyes on another land since February.

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It was time to go.

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Hiking back to the car park and visiting Klebang’s night market

Jonas didn’t want to walk back in the darkness, so he pushed for a fast pace. I still had enough phone power to make do. We walked back in a caravan of other people when the clouds revealed the moonrise. The reflectivity of the ground caused no need for illumination. If anything, the hike back was more pleasant because of the dropping temperatures.

Sunset strait of Malacca Melaka sand dunes

Once we’d crossed the pipe again and entered the car park, we were thirstier than anticipated. We got some cold drinks from the strategically-parked vendor. Jonas tried to get a Grab to come to pick us up, but we were too far away from them. So we walked towards Klebang beach, where there was a bustling night market. Instead of Grabbing back, we stayed there to eat dinner and enjoy the wares.

Malacca sand dunes pasir cantir pantai klebang tanjung

“Pretty sand that way”

But let’s face it: Melaka desert is an ecological catastrophe

I’m not aware of the exact history of this peninsula, but it seems like a real estate project that ran out of money. I haven’t the fuzziest what the place looked like before the land reclamation. It usually negatively impacts the fishies and the plants at the bottom of the sea. Turtles probably don’t like the rocky wall to get to the beach. Melaka desert is still a disaster. A beautiful one at that.

Map + how to get to Melaka desert

By car: Drive to the Melaka desert car park and park your car.

By Grab: Get a Grab from where you’re staying in Melaka and put the destination on Melaka desert car park. Enjoy the ride.

Once you’re at the car park, continue on foot for 1.6 kilometers until you hit the sand dunes. This is the minimum distance you need to walk, one-way. Crossing the pipe can be difficult for those with walking difficulties. There is a spot where they made a little ramp to get motorcycles across. This ramp isn’t wide enough for a wheelchair. The path beyond the pipe isn’t too sandy for wheels right until the low-relief sand dunes at the start. One could also bike the distance beyond the pipe. Don’t miss the spot where the trail bends to the right. You can save the following map to your phone to use it as a navigational aid.

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A beautiful disaster at Melaka's coastline. #Malaysia #Melaka #Malacca #sanddunes #dunes #dune #sand #desert #landscape #Malaysian #southeastasia #Asia #landreclamation

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