Johor Bahru hotels
The Johor Bahru Rundown
While Johor Bahru is not quite Chicago to Kuala Lumpur’s New York City, let alone Manchester to KL’s London, Malaysia’s second city is certainly something. What that is depends largely on your motives in brazen JB. As a discount shopping and quasi-lawless nightlife destination, JB tempts many a Singaporean across the Causeway for a weekend of Hangover-like excesses.
The looming presence of prosperous Singapore has come to define Johor Bahru. The bustling, ever-striving city-state provides a facile contrast, vividly illustrating all the things JB is and, indeed, all the things it isn’t. Yet even as the express buses and cars bounce furiously between the awkward neighbours and mark JB as a practically unrivalled transit point in Southeast Asia, there is hope.
Johor Bahru, for one, is not all borderland depravity, retail piracy or a mere one-dimensional accessory to shiny Singapore. Metro JB closes in on 2 million people, not all of whom are so eager to dismiss their city with the cavalier indifference of a seasoned guidebook hack. Telltale harbingers of boomtown times abound, from the resuscitation of urban infrastructure projects to rocketing real estate prices. Some cities require a little artifice to pierce to the marrow of their charms. Johor Bahru, for the time being, is one such destination.
Johor Bahru’s Top 10
10. Sri Raja Mariamman Hindu Temple celebrated its centennial in 2011 with a round of spit and polish and ceremonial pomp.
5. Roufo Gumiao, or Roufo Old Chinese Temple, is a vital heritage landmark built in 1870 by influential members of JB’s Chinese community.
9. Sultan Ibrahim Building, or Bangunan Sultan Ibrahim, evinces a Malay and Islamic stylistic blend typical of colonial and state architecture across Malaysia.
4. Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque, as the name suggests, is the dominant temple of record in Johor Bahru. A curious mix of Islamic and Victorian architecture, with room for 2,000 adherents.
8. Church of the Immaculate Conception is well worth a look-see for amateur architecture and history buffs.
3. Johor Bahru Kwong Siew Heritage Gallery displays a hodgepodge of curio, historical artefacts and traditional Chinese-Malay crafts in a turn-of-the-last-century shophouse.
7. Johor Bahru Art Gallery provides a rare showcase for contemporary native artists to curry favour with foreign curators and collectors.
2. Dataran Bandaraya Johor Bahru is the chief pulse point and ceremonial square in the city.
6. Istana Bukit Serene is the official residence of the Sultan of Johor. Rarely open to visitors but worth a glance from the outside, the impressive palace allows the titular sovereign to gaze out at his former dominion: Singapore.
1. Sultan Abu Bakar Royal Palace Museum is a solid JB two-for-one. Once a palace for the state’s royal family and now a linchpin city museum, the must-see landmark sprawls out over a lush, garden oasis a mere 1.3 km west of the Causeway.
Johor Bahru History
- Royal Abu Bakar Museum – Built in 1866 by the sultan Abu Bakar, this museum now contains some of his possessions.
- Instana Bukit Serene – A 32metres stone tower built in 1932.
- Roufo Gumiao – A shrine dedicated to several well-known Taoist individuals, including Hongxian Dadi and Weitian Dadi.
- Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque – A historical building built from 1892 to 1900 using a variety of architectural styles.
- Johor Old Chinese Temple – A 130-year-old temple that contains a small museum.
Johor Bahru Art & Culture
- Bangunan Sultan Ibrahim – This city landmark was built in 1942. It is a fortress made with a mix of Islamic, colonial and indigenous design.
- Church of the Immaculate Conception – A local church that holds the Tamil feast of Pongal every year starting in mid-January.
- Johor Art Gallery – Built in a colonial style, this gallery contains artwork from local artists.
- Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman Glass Temple – One of the oldest temples in the area, this temple is made almost completely of glass.
- Kampung View – A village inside the city in which you can observe Malay culture and see many traditional costumes.
Johor Bahru Shopping
- Plaza Kota Raya – A shopping centre that contains a variety of retail stores.
- Johor Bahru City Square – A major city mall where you find clothing, housewares and other designer retail offerings.
- Kompleks Bebas Cukai Duty-Free – This shopping complex contains 160 shops, making it one of the largest in the world.
- Pasar Malam – A night market that sits outside the Hindu temple.
- Zon – A duty-free store that has five levels and sells leather, alcohol and other items.
Johor Bahru Gay & Lesbian
- AJ – A pub and cafe that features karaoke.
- Warung Idaman – A local karaoke club that is popular with the local gay community.
- Riz’s Restaurant and Cafe – A gay-friendly local restaurant that is nice for a romantic lunch or dinner.
- Men’s Guied – A gay-friendly men’s beauty salon that contains a sauna and Jacuzzi.
- Citrus Johor Bahru – A gay-friendly, four-star hotel.
Johor Bahru Outdoor
- Pulau Kukup National Park– A well-maintain park where you can see a mix of birds, animals and flora. A nice outing for children.
- Johor Zoo – This zoo was built by the sultan in 1928, making it one of the oldest in Malaysia.
- Pulai Waterfall – A beautiful place to relax and enjoy the outdoor while watching the waterfall.
- Grand Palace Park – Contains a garden and is a great place for a picnic.
- Danga Bay – A neighbourhood on the water that is home to several great restaurants.
Johor Bahru Sport
- Play a round of golf at the extensive 36-hole Austin Hills Country Club.
- Check out an international cricket match at the Johor Cricket Academy Oval.
- Mountain bike along the trails down Mt Austin.
- Play badminton against friends or strangers at the Eastern Badminton Court.
- See football matches at the Tan Sri Hassan Yunus Stadium.
Johor Bahru Local
Johor Bahru is a dense metropolis that covers a compact + 185 m<sup>2</sup>. This area is not all city, however, but Straits of Johor coastal enclaves as well, in addition to labyrinthine river systems and fecund swamp lands. For the time being, much of this ecologically-rich wilderness remains free of development.
Johor Bahru Distrtict correlates with the very heart of the city: Central JB. The indefatigable action centre serves as financial hub and seedy playground for scores of Causeway hoppers on the make. Central provides ample opportunity to induge in a wide variety of bad habits, to be sure, but amid the sometimes lewd squalor the odd diamond in the rough shines through. Be it a dim, treasure trove of a shophouse or a boisterous expat bar, Sultanate commission or modish hotel, Central JB seldom inspires indifference.
Pontian District is approximately one hour’s drive from Johor Bahru proper, in the southwest corner of the state of Johor. The district’s allure is apparent in a necklace of fishing villages cum towns that prove inherently popular with tourists from Singapore. Kukup, most notably, is a village famous for a prodigious array of stilted, over-water al fresco seafood restaurants. Further, Pontian’s parks are a welcome break from JB’s urban blanket.
Kota Tinggi District is some 40 km northeast of Central JB and a ferry terminal stop from Changi, Singapore. Fishing port charm is a factor here, too, though as the historic wellspring of the state’s Sultanate, Kota Tinggi offers more than just the catch of the day. The Makam Sultan Mahmud Mangkat Dijulang, a tomb complex pregnant with historical and political intrigue, is the most famous attraction in the district. A more frivolous one is Kota Tinggi Waterfalls, where locals and visitors alike converge to cool off in the tropocal heat. Other points of interest to consider in the district include the fishing village of Teluk Sengat and ancient capital of Johor Lama. The fact that both lie well off the mainstream tourist path is a definite bonus.
Johor Bahru Eat & Drink
Tucked within Johor Bahru’s barber shop brothels, fortune tellers, soothsayers and shady merchants of vice, visitors starved for real sustenance can find it in affordable abundance. That the city is mired in the spasms of economic sea change, as an indispensable cornerstone of the Singapore-Johor-Riau growth triangle, is a plus. A bump in affluence and injection of new money can only benefit the food scene in the years to come.
Tepian Tebrau (intersection of Jalan Mohammad Amin and Jalan Sungai Chat),is a hawker goldmine, with enough stalls to make a foodie blogger flush with jubilation.
Master Young Abalone (39 Jin Molek) features the ever-luxurious ingredient in shameful abundance and a dizzying variety of dishes.
Medan Selera Meldrum Walk takes hawker grazing to another level, with close to a hundred food and beverage options spread out over a bustling pedestrian thoroughfare.
Restoran Vedhas (1 Jln Gereja) is a dutiful nod to the community that makes up almost 10% of JB’s population. The focus here is on northern Indian fare, from comforting biryani to pillowy naan.
Pusat Penjaja Jalan Perang Taman Pelangi (Jalan Perang and Jalan Sri Pelangi) is satay and clay pot chicken heaven. Stall operators do swift business feeding hungry customers both.
Restoran Nilla (3 Jalan Ungku Puan) is a small local chain with a cheap, reliable menu of south Indian classics and sweets.
Pasar Malam (Jln Wong Ah Fook Town Centre) is a down and dirty night market par excellence. The place to be for nocturnal gourmands.
Itroo Cafe (17 Jalnn Dhoby) is a welcome sanctuary for those who crave a casual resto with attentive service and honest-to-goodness comfort food.
Ya Wang Restaurant (28 Jalan Sengget) is the famous “duck king” of Johor Bahru, as staff and loyal customers are all too happy to point out.
Selasih Rrestauran (Persada Johor International Convention Centre)is a pricey bet by JB standards but serves up authentic regional cuisine and a monumental steamboat buffet dinner on weekends.
Johor Bahru Events
The Tamil Harvest festival of Pongal is observed in mid-January at points of interest throughout Johor Bahru, most notably the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
The Pasir Gudang International Kites Festival brings its high-flying act to the city every February, with more than two dozen countries represented.
Chingay Festival and Parade is JB’s unique take on Chinese New Year and revolves, naturally, around Roufo Old Chinese Temple.
The Nusantara Culture Festival takes over Danga Bay leisure park in May, with myriad performances and events that highlight specific aspects of Southeast Asian culture.
Johor Arts Festival is a singular and relatively new event on the JB calendar and features a colourful medley of spectacles from late June to mid-July.
Bon Odori is a Japanese Buddhist holiday in late October that takes on new twists in Johor Bahru and, indeed, throughout Malaysia.
Everyday feels like a celebration of street food in a city like JB but, come late October, Central takes it up a notch with a dedicated, charmingly informal Street Food Festival.
When To Go
Stifling heat and monsoon rains, the two telltale nuisances of a tropical rainforest climate, figure prominently in the state of Johor. The humidex cranks up considerably in Central JB’s smoggy urban nooks, requiring regular runs for icy durian slushies and demands for AC-equipped accommodations.
The rains come with predictable insistence from the South China Sea in November and let up in February. While not necessarily unpleasant to visit during the wet season (Mother Nature telegraphs her daily precipitation patterns in this part of the world), drier conditions make for easier touring the rest of the year. Temperatures run from 72°F (23°C) to 88°F (31°C) but be forewarned; in the city it can feel much hotter than the mercury read-out.
What To Miss
The seamier side of Johor Bahru is not all that fun and, frankly, can be a little dangerous. Skip the darker nightclubs and dive bars in favour of more luminous haunts and withold contributions to the underground (or underworld, as it were) economy if you can.
With that, exercise the usual precautions when out and about in Central JB. A slate of incidents led Singaporeans to practically revolt en masse from the city years ago. Lee Kuan Yew, the city-state’s foremost elder statesman, famously characterized Johor Bahru as crime-infested, which, naturally, made the papers and stoked the bad PR flames. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. Be vigilant but above all else, travel with an open heart and mind.
Conversely, some of Johor Bahru’s new, look-at-me urban projects, while a welcome sign of economic success, are entirely too safe and decidedly humdrum. The harsh reality is that hyper-modern malls and mixed-use waterside developments do not memorable tourism make.
Half of all arrivals to Malaysia come through Johor Bahru and while the statistic is somewhat skewed due to the sheer amount of vehicles crossing the Causeway from Singapore on a daily basis, it is telling stuff.
Senai International Airport is 35 km northwest of the city but, despite the name, a domestic hub for the most part. For now at least, Singapore Changi remains the international airport of record in the area. Visitors from KL and other parts of Malaysia, of course, do frequently fly in to Senai and take the shuttle over the Causeway to the Lion City.
Bus service to Singapore and the rest of Malaysia is plentiful, logistically easy and rather cost-effective as well.
Johor Bahru’s ZON Ferry Terminal provides service to both Bantam and Bintan in Indonesia’s Riau Islands.
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