The relatively new Amari Johor Bahru occupies one of the best locations for those crossing the causeway to the Malaysian city for the weekend. Within walking distance to JB Sentral train station as well as the checkpoint, inhouse guests can literally monitor the flow of traffic coming in and out of Singapore from the air conditioned comfort of the hotel.
As I have not been to Johor Bahru for a long while (my last visit was more than 4 years ago where I stayed at what is now the Hotel Jen Nusajaya Puteri Harbour), I decided to make this short getaway to the city across the border.
I approached the lobby (located at the 6th floor) for my check-in formalities but was politely redirected to the Executive Lounge for registration. The lounge – located at the 20th floor – was totally empty save for a lone staff member when I arrived. In no time, I was handed my keys as well as welcome drink.
For this particular occasion, I stayed in an Executive Club Twin Room. At 32 square meters, it’s exactly the same size as the entry level rooms except that these are situated at the higher floors and come with Executive Lounge access.
Despite its modest size, the room does have a couple of nifty features including a wardrobe cabinet that opens on both sides as well as USB charging ports on top of the usual power outlets. The room is also configured in such a way that the area surrounding the baggage storage and one side of the wardrobe is partially concealed from the bed area. This is just nice for those who are staying with a friend and need some privacy while changing or going about one’s own business.
As there is a bigger than average allocation of the total space for the bedroom, the bathroom here is a teeny bit smaller than usual. There is no bathtub which is totally fine since there is a rain shower facility. Toiletries come from Urban Skincare Co.
Rooms aside, the Amari Johor Bahru has a couple of other facilities to keep the weekend warrior relaxed and pampered. The Breeze Spa is the signature wellness retreat for the Amari brand. A typical 60 minute massage here costs about MYR 240 or about SGD 80 – about half what a typical hotel in Singapore would charge for a massage. This is before the customary 10% discount for members of the Onyx loyalty programme.
For the more active folks, there is also a swimming pool and a nicely equipped gym that is open 24 hours. There is also a bar located near the pool area called Dip Bar. Given that the floor is open only to hotel guests (you’ll need card access to reach this level), I wonder if outside customers can easily check out the happy hour and one-for-one offers here.
Executive Club Lounge at Amari Johor Bahru
I didn’t get to spend much time at the executive club lounge of the Amari Johor Bahru as I only stayed overnight and was mostly out exploring the town. This was a shame as it’s such a beautiful space filled with lots of natural light and plenty of seating options. Due to the snaking queue at customs, I arrived at the hotel 2 hours later than planned and that threw my schedule out the window. Because of this, I did not get to check out the evening cocktails at the lounge. But I did manage to get the list of benefits. For everyone’s convenience, here they are:
- Breakfast from 6:30 to 10:30
- Evening cocktails from 5 to 7PM
- Tea, juices and coffee throughout the day
- Free access to the boardroom for 2 hours
- Onyx members get to bring a non-resident guest for free
Amaya Food Gallery
The all-day dining restaurant called Amaya Food Gallery offers a mix of buffet as well as ala carte dishes. The buffet is value-for-money and seems to be popular with locals. It offers a mix of Western, Malay as well as a select number of Thai dishes. However, I recommend going for the ala carte options if you are coming here to dine. Specifically, the Thai menu is a highlight as it’s very authentic – perhaps as a nod to Amari’s Thai origins. I ordered the Som Tam, Pandan Chicken and Massaman Curry and all turned out excellent. Of note was the Mango Sticky Rice I ordered for dessert which came with two versions of rice – first was the true purple sticky rice while the second took the form of pandan rice.
Guests staying in the Executive-level rooms can opt to have breakfast at either the lounge or at Amaya Food Gallery. The latter offers more variety – including extra buffet space that you don’t even get to see during the dinner service. The food is a hearty mix of Malay (think: apam balik or turnover pancakes and nasi lemak), Western (the hash browns here are delightfully crispy), Chinese and even Thai. There is also a noodle station here while eggs are made to order.
That being said, there is a distinct ambiance to be had by having breakfast at the Executive Lounge. Amari Johor Bahru’s lounge is well-appointed, offers plenty of natural lighting and comes in soothing light colors – perfect for a relaxing morning meal. I dropped by during breakfast hours just to have a look and found the place almost empty. The breakfast offering here is admittedly not as extensive but you do get the main dishes such as nasi lemak, fruits, eggs, beef bacon and salad. If you prefer peace and quiet, this is the place to be.
There is no shortage of hotels in Johor Bahru but only a handful offer more than the utilitarian lodging proposition. Amari Johor Bahru is probably the best among what’s available at the moment – owing to its relatively upscale design, good F&B offerings, facilities and proximity to the border crossing. It is no surprise then that occupancy is elevated during weekends (you can get a room for almost half the price if you stay during a weekday). With plenty of hip cafes and specialty shops at its doorstep, Johor Bahru’s CBD is also proving itself as a worthy destination. To maximize your stay, here are some tips:
- The hotel offers some pool access rooms which get booked out especially during the weekends. If you are coming as a family with kids, this room type may be better suited to your needs.
- Thai food at Amaya Food Gallery is worth checking out. The dishes are definitely of higher quality than the Thai Express or Bangkok Jam fare that Singaporeans may be accustomed to.
- If you don’t mind coming for a weekday stay, you might be able to snag a room for almost half the price being quoted for weekends.
Directions to Amari Johor Bahru
From JB Customs, take the elevated walkway towards Johor Bahru City Square. Exit from there and you’ll see a hotpot restaurant on the building with the Amari sign. Go inside the mall entrance. The entryway to the hotel is located behind on the second storey.