Johor Bahru in the southernmost state in Malaysia is just a causeway bridge away from Singapore and as such, is heavily familiar to most Singaporeans. As a popular weekend getaway for shopping, food and leisure; Johor Bahru offers a cheaper alternative to the highest cost of living in Singapore. If like me you have been to this city several times and in need of some fresh ideas of things to do in Johor Bahru, check out this easy to follow itinerary that you can do during a weekend.
One of the most pleasant areas to stay and to start your journey around Johor Bahru is the recently developed Nusajaya which ironically is in the outskirts of Johor Bahru. During my last visit to Johor Bahru, I stayed at the Hotel Jen Puteri Harbour Nusajaya which has the feel of an exclusive marina with yachts parked on the shore. You can easily glimpse Singapore from the higher floors and especially at the rooftop restaurant.
After dropping your bags, you can either head to Sanrio Hello Kitty Town (discounted tickets here)or Legoland (discounted tickets here) if you have kids. Otherwise, the area around Nusajaya has a couple of interesting cultural attractions as well. Of note is the newer State Government Building of Johor which is open to the public through guided tours. Like the older Sultan Ibrahim Building in JB itself, the former has a distinct Moorish-Malay influence though its recent construction means that there’s none of the British colonial elements that its predecessor had. A short walk from here is the Masjid Negeri Kota Iskandar.
Alternatively, if you are in Johor Bahru on a Saturday morning, you can check out Pasar Tani – the farmer’s market which is open only during Saturdays. Especially popular among Singaporeans for cheaper seafood and produce, you’ll need to come early. Most goods will be sold out by noon.
In the evening, a market to check out is Taman Ungku Tun Aminah Pasar Malam which is the largest in JB. It is open on Saturdays only from 6pm onwards.
If you prefer to stay in the city center of Johor Bahru itself, the relatively new Amari Johor Bahru is located right smack in the city centre. If you decide to walk here straight from customs, it’s about 10-15 minutes.
One of the most recommended places for seafood around Johor Bahru is Restoran Todak (Orang Asli). If you are heading here for dinner, try to come before 6PM to avoid the queue. The venue is famous for crabs as well as other live seafood. Despite its plain seaside setting, Restoran Todak does accept credit cards as well.
Start the day at the Hiap Joo Bakery and Biscuit Factory and queue up for the venue’s famous banana cake. Located in the old town, you can also take a short stroll and explore the cafes and quirky shops that have opened recently in the area. You can also find some of JB’s best shophouses in the area including the photogenic Red House.
From here, it’s a short walk to the old administrative center of Johor Bahru where you can find the Moorish-inspired Sultan Ibrahim Building as well as the Zaharah Botanic Gardens. East of the gardens, the Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque is also a must see for its combination of Islamic and British architectural features.
One of the less known attractions in Johor Bahru is the Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman Glass Temple (admission MYR 10). One of the major Hindu temples in the city, a must-see is the interiors which are filled with pieces of glass. You’ll also see some reminders of other faiths here. Statues of Jesus Christ, Buddha and even Mother Teresa are found throughout the temple.
For lunch, check out Restaurant Teck Sing (3&5 Jalan Sutera Satu, Taman Sentosa) for its paper-wrapped chicken.
If you enjoy the outdoors, you can also check out Pulai Waterfall located in Gunung Pulai Recreational Forest. On the way, you can also make a detour at the Istana Bukit Serene, the official residence of the sultan. While you won’t be able to enter the palace, you can check out the adjacent gardens. Of note is the crowned archway which serves as a symbol of royal prerogative.
A favorite activity of many Singapore residents visiting Johor Bahru is to go for massage. While there are several massage parlors around town, only a few are worth their salt. One I could recommend is Thai Imperial (201 Jalan Dato Sulaiman, +607 333 1355) which stays true to authentic Thai treatments. The therapists are mostly from Thailand and they offer soothing massages like aromatherapy, traditional Thai massage and foot massage. Expect to pay around MYR 100 for a one hour massage. They also serve complimentary red ruby dessert at the end of the treatment. Multiple locations of Thai Imperial can be found in town but I suggest going to the outlet near KSL Mall.
Getting to Johor Bahru From Singapore
There are a couple of ways to get to Johor Bahru if you are coming from Singapore. Here are the options, excluding having a private car:
- Public Bus: CW1, CW2, Bus 950 , 170 , 160 will take you to the border crossings up to JB Sentral.
- Train: It’s a 5 minute journey from Singapore to JB Sentral. You can book tickets here (assuming the website isn’t down as it usually is)
- Private Bus: Take the TS3 shuttle bus from Marina Square to JB CIQ. The fare is S$6. Check schedule here but take note that the bus does not always run at the stated times so do call in advance (+65 6292 9009).
My preferred way of getting around Johor Bahru and the surrounding towns like Nusajaya is by a ride-sharing app like Grab. Fares in Malaysia are relatively inexpensive and you don’t have to worry about parking.