“I’ve gone to Johor Baru many times but the last time I went, I had a chance to try out the most delicious nasi lemak in town. The nasi lemak stall starts at 5am-8pm daily. ‘Aunty Stall’ is at the roundabout of Taman Bukit Indah. There are a few stalls there but after trying her nasi lemak, I couldn’t believe the taste. The best part was it’s only RM1. The spicy sambal was so good that I went back to buy it everyday until I was back to Ipoh. One must definitely try it and don’t mistakenly buy from a different stall. It’s “Aunty Stall”. I’m going back there this month just to eat there! “ – (Ruslina from Ipoh). And so says another enthusiastic visitor to the gateway city of Johor Baru (Bahru), commenting on what is most probably the favourite pastime for locals and tourists alike in Malaysia.
Even allowing for the possibility that this could be her Aunty, nevertheless, it’s quite a representative comment about these neat little tucked away spots in JB. And Johor is blessed with a diverse allotment of such treats. The southernmost Malaysian city of Johor Baru – or simply JB – is the gateway into Singapore, linked to the citystate by a 1056m causeway, which is crossed by around 50,000 people a day. Johor Baru sits right next to the national boundary between two inseparably linked countries, and has all the blessings and blemishes to show for it. Nowhere else in Malaysia better displays the differences between two intertwining streams of history. Today, the city is known as a ‘half-price bazaar’ to thousands of Singaporeans for everything from groceries to golf, enriched by a strong currency. It also has good links to KL and Melaka, so there’s little to detain you whichever direction you’re travelling.
One of the most famous of JB’s interesting attractions is the Istana Besar, the former residence of Johor’s royal family. Surrounded by extensive gardens, it is a magnificent building set on a hillock overlooking the Johor Straits. The sprawling garden within the compound of the Grand Palace is often ignored or hastily covered on most tour itineraries. Extending over an area the size of five football fields, the grounds are carefully landscaped and regularly maintained. We gawked at the lifestyle of the rich and famous, and learned about the regal legacies and history of the Johor Sultanate. Opulence presents itself here in the form of 19th-century currencies and gold coins, the first Johor postal stamps, antique furniture, silver-plated ceramics, and Chinese pottery. Royal ceremonies, functions, and investitures held in the magnificent chambers reflect the royal family’s affluent lifestyle. Stately furnishings fill the reception room, banqueting hall, and throne room, while a life-sized taxidermist tiger and rhinoceros reside within the trophy room.
Besides the panoramic views of the Johor Straits, palmlined driveways and manicured lawns make for a refreshing afternoon stroll or some casual cycling. Further inside, away from the seafront, a worn and disused bungalow nestled amidst dense vegetation provides an interesting architectural sight reminiscent of the ‘White Rajah’ era. Nestled in the leafy backyard of the majestic Grand Palace, the Johor Zoo is a popular weekend destination for local families. Compact enough so as not to turn a leisurely stroll into a tiring trek, it houses a good variety of animals to keep the young ones fascinated and entertained. Tropical birds, wild cats (including Indo-Chinese tigers), gorillas, and camels find permanent residence here, amongst many other creatures. The clean, shady tracks make for a pleasant walk, while ample sitting areas cater well to small picnics. Admission: Adults MYR2; children MR1.
Stulang: Seafood and Duty-Free Shopping
Directly overlooking Senoko Power Station and the northern green-capped shores of Singapore, Jalan Stulang Laut stretches along a scenic straits-front, considerately equipped with a palm-lined pavement and resting benches. This is seafood and ‘makan’ land. The gastronomic fanfare begins at the popular New Hong Kong Restaurant, just opposite the entrance to the Custom Building. It then proceeds along a disjointed set of shophouses playing host to some of the best-kept local secrets, including Gerai Mee Rebus, and a motley multiracial ensemble of coffee shops, finally ending at the massive Free Trade Zone, the site of Eden Garden Hotel, ZON Shopping Complex and Eden Palace Seafood Restaurant.
Located across the road from the Tepian Tebrau Hawker Centre, the famous Obelisk commemorates martyred servicemen of the First and Second World Wars, and the Emergency. It was completed in 1962 and unveiled by Colonel H.H. Sir Ismail, the then Sultan of Johor on 1st of July the same year. Seldom visited by more than half a dozen people at any one time, it is a clean quiet spot with vantage views of the Johor Straits on the western side of the Causeway. Take the kids and spouse for a picnic and enjoy the stillness.
The Endau-Rompin National Park
This national park spans an area of 488sq.km and contains some of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world. Crisscrossed by three main rivers, this paradise of nature is favoured for several rugged outdoor activities; most popular are trekking, camping, bird watching, fishing, and 4WD excursions. Several waterfalls, an Orang Asli settlement, and a choice of chalets, campsites, and dormitories keep visitors thoroughly enthralled with the stark beauty of this park. Entry permits are required for visits and the park is closed during the rainy season from November to March. We checked several travel websites, and found this attraction to be consistently rated a number one favourite place to visit.
Also known as Gunung Ledang, this is a rugged mountain forest reserve accessible from the North-South Expressway at the Tangkak exit. Clear and well-marked trails leading to the 1,276m summit make it a popular excursion destination. At the base of the mountain is the Sagil Waterfall, an ideal picnic spot that is also good for a swim with its cool and clear waters. A resort provides affordable chalets for extended stays, while amenities like resting sheds, changing rooms, campsites, and food stalls are also available. Admission: Adults & children above eight MYR1; children below eight MYR0.50; cars MYR2.
The Food and Fruits Fiesta is held throughout Malaysia each year – it lasts a whole month (usually July). In Johor Baru, tropical fruit and local cuisine are served up in stalls, roadside vendors, and restaurants all across the city – everywhere you look, you’ll find a red bunch of rambutan or a dish of Roti Canai! So buy and eat, and then buy and eat some! If you have children or have the ‘kid’ inside yourself, you must visit the Taman Rekreasi Hutan Bandar. Located on Jalan Tasek Utara in JB, it is maintained by the municipality, and lying within city limits, this gem of a public recreational park covers 32ha. It presents an ideal venue for jogging or soaking in the tranquillity of the seven lakes and arboreal splendour of the tropical flora, painstakingly identified and tagged. Children can also swim (weekends only) and have fun in the multi-themed playground. For just MYR20 on weekends, anglers can fish by the lakes. The area offers a food court and ample parking for cars. Admission is free.
A distinctive feature of the Malaysian shopping landscape, the ‘pasar malam’ has become somewhat of a weekly routine of grocery buying and leisure outing among the population. The roster following lists the locations (all within Johor Baru) of these mobile hypermarkets. Monday: Century Gardens, Kg. Melayu, Kota Tinggi, Permas Jaya; Tuesday: Taman Pelangi, Bukit Chagar, Johor Jaya; Wednesday: Tmn Daya, Ungku Mohsin, Tmn Selesa Jaya, Plentong Baru; Friday: Puteri Wangsa; Saturday: Tun Aminah, Pasir Gudang, Jln.Nong Chik; Sunday: Seri Pandan, Taman Johor. MBJB Indoor Stadium, Junction of Jalan Yahya Aldatar and Tebrau Highway, JB.
Getting Around Johor Baru is relatively easy to get around in. Don’t be apprehensive about asking the locals directions or where transit points are. They are a friendly lot for the most part. Larkin bus station is 3km away from the centre of JB on Jalan Geruda. Plenty of buses run from here to the causeway or you can catch a taxi for around RM5. The train station is slightly east of the city centre, off Jalan Tun Abdul Razak. Flights to JB land at Senai airport, 25km north of the city, from where a regular bus service (RM1.40) runs to the bus station. Heading out to the airport, MAS passengers can take the RM4 shuttle bus from outside the Tourist Information Centre. Alternatively, you can get a taxi to the airport for about RM25. The MAS office is at Level 1, Menara Pelangi, Jalan Kuning Taman Pelangi (Tel: 07-334 1001). To rent a car (cheaper than in Singapore) contact either Avis, at the Tropical Inn (Tel: 07-223 7971), or Hertz, JOTIC building (Tel: 07-223 7520).
The main Tourist Information Centre (JOTIC) (Mon–Fri 9am–5pm, Sat 9am–1pm; Tel: 07-222 3590) is on Jalan Air Molek, and there is also an office on the causeway (Mon– Fri 9am–5pm, Sat & Sun 9am–4pm; Tel: 07-224 9485). There are moneychangers in the main shopping centres, or try Maybank, 11 Jl Selat Tebrau; Bank Bumiputra, 51 Jl Segget; or OCBC, Jalan Ibrahim.
So where to stay? The Expat team at one time or another was fortunate enough to have sampled several of the world-class hotels brimming throughout the greater JB area. A definite favourite pick is the Puteri (no more Pan) Pacific. Step into the Puteri Pacific, where sterling international standards blend with the quiet charm of traditional Malaysian hospitality. The hotel is aptly located in the heart of the city’s business district amidst heritage and historical buildings, places of worship, and banks. Experience gracious Malaysian hospitality in the hotel’s 500 city or Straits-view guestrooms, apartments, and suites, including newly refurbished suites. They even have two suites entirely designed for the handicapped.
The Puteri offers a nicely diverse range of recreational options for both the family and the business traveller. Internet access is available in all restaurants and public areas with pre-paid cards made available at the front desk. Or soak up the sun by the swimming pool, enjoy a game of tennis or squash, or work out at the fitness centre on Level 2. If you fancy some shopping and tours, the hotel is strategically poised with close proximity to please most. If you feel overwhelmed by the countless eateries, the Puteri offers you options for dining and entertainment ranging from casual to cosmopolitan. All-day dining at The Newsroom Café offers an attractive spread of international selections and local favourites. The Lobby Lounge is great to just sit back, relax and enjoy a refreshing beverage whilst being entertained by some of the hotel’s resident artistes.
If you are thinking Chinese, their simply named Chinese Restaurant offers Dim Sum for lunch and for dinner you can savour exquisite MSG-free Cantonese cuisine. The Paolo Restaurant offers exotic and tasty cuisine from the Mediterranean while providing a nicely cosy ambience. All restaurants within the Puteri Pacific are certified halal. The Expat has booked many times through their easy to use email at [email protected]. Or call 607-223-333.
Source: The Expat March 2006
This article has been edited for ExpatGoMalaysia.com
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