Travel

Exploring Johor

Whether as a destination or a stopover en route to neighbouring Singapore, Johor Bahru has much appeal for the intrepid traveller, particularly those with a fondness for the fairways. Photojournalist David Bowden grabs his clubs and takes us on a tour of this fascinating Malaysian state.

Malaysia’s state of Johor is home to East Coast islands and beaches, the bustling capital Johor Bahru, Legoland theme park, and natural encounters. Tanjung Piai is the actual southernmost tip of the mainland part of Asia. Covering an area of almost 19,000km2, Johor is Malaysia’s third-largest and southernmost state on the peninsula.

Johor Bahru The Capital

The capital of Johor Bahru, or JB, is a city worthy of discovering or to use as a base for exploring the state or even Singapore as Johor’s accommodation offers a cheaper and viable alternative to staying in Singapore. Some may choose to stay here overnight and do the daily immigration procedures in crossing into Singapore.

One leading tourist attraction in the city is the Sultan’s former residence overlooking the Straits of Johor and now the Sultan Abu Bakar Museum and Grand Palace. While the sultan has relocated, the old palace offers an opportunity to appreciate the lifestyle enjoyed by past sultans. Views from the gardens across the straits into Singapore make a visit here well worthwhile.

Nearby, many government offices are located in the Sultan Ibrahim Building. The adjoining Johor Fort sitting on top of Bukit Timbalan is an imposing building located on the city’s highest point. At dusk, the lights are turned on and the building becomes a visible landmark throughout the city.

Downtown JB is developing with new commercial and retail complexes. One street in the city centre that appears to be resisting modernisation is Jalan Tan Hiok Nee and it worth exploring as it’s crammed with historic and eclectic architecture. Buildings housing Sisters Cafeteria and Shanghai Dhoby are some of the best-preserved buildings along the street. Drop into Hiap Joo Bakery to watch bread being baked in wood-fired ovens. Order a coffee and a few freshly-baked buns such as kaya, red bean, or coconut to enjoy the unique taste of this old bread-making technique.

One of the most exciting developments in the state is Danga Bay (Teluk Danga) just 7km from Johor Bahru. Stretching along 25km of the Straits of Johor coastline and covering some 125ha this exciting mixed residential, commercial, and leisure complex is known as “Vision City of the South” with a marina, convention centre, residential estates as well as restaurants and cafés.

Themed Attraction

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Asia’s first Legoland theme park recently opened in Johor with more than 40 rides, shows, and displays as a major part of the ambitious Iskandar Malaysia project that will transform this sleepy state into an economic powerhouse. In addition to thrilling rides, there are 4D films, plus the chance to design, create and build Lego robots and other objects using Lego bricks. Some of the exciting attractions here include Knight’s Kingdom, Driving School, and Miniland which include models made from Lego blocks of world landmarks and scenes from around the world. Legoland theme parks are considered to be the most popular in Europe, and Asians have eagerly been anticipating the arrival of Legoland in Malaysia for some time. The parks are home to creativity and imagination in which children and their families can discover together as well as learning to socialise with others.

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Islands And Beaches

While beaches such as Lido and Stulang Laut are situated along the Johor Bahru waterfront it’s the state’s East Coast where most head to when they want to relax. The long sandy beaches and resorts around Desaru on the East Coast are very popular seaside destinations for holidaying denizens of both Johor and Singapore.

For something different, book into the tranquil and isolated Sebana Golf and Marina Resort located close to the southernmost tip of Johor’s East Coast. There’s an 18-hole course here and a marina that’s home to scores of itinerant international yacht owners. One of the resort’s most appealing qualities is that there is an Immigration Office here to accommodate the arrival and departure of visitors travelling on several daily ferries to Singapore. Apart from the immigration hassles, it’s possible to holiday here while shopping and sightseeing in Singapore.

Not far from Sebana Cove, Desaru’s 30km-long stretch of sandy beaches is very popular. There are six international-standard resorts from which to choose including Desaru Golden Beach Hotel, Desaru Impian Resort and Desaru Perdana Beach Resort. The Desaru Golf and Country Resort provides comfortable accommodation and 18 holes of delightful golf and, within 90-minute drive from Johor Bahru. This area is developing, too, with new resorts slated to appear soon.

The 50 or so East Coast islands are some of Malaysia’s most remote parts, but many are accessible by regular ferry services that depart from Mersing and Tanjung Leman. While Mersing is a pleasant enough town, most tourists only pass through here on their way to the islands. Some of the islands are uninhabited while popular diving islands such as Pulau Aur have only limited accommodation facilities.

On some of the other islands there are several well-known resorts but the great attraction is that none of these are large scale. Choose one of the following resorts for an isolated island experience – Pulau Rawa (Rawa Safaris Islands Resort), Pulau Besar (Aseania Resort), Pulau Tinggi (Nadias Inn Comfort), Pulau Sibu Besar (Rimba Resort), Pulau Sibu Besar (Sea Gypsy Village) and Sibu Island (Sibu Island Resort).

Being some distance off shore, all the islands have clear waters and are therefore especially popular with divers. Some of the islands have small fishing villages where the residents are more than happy to cater to the needs of visitors.

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Natural Escapes

Endau Rompin National Park, straddling the Johor-Pahang border on the state’s East Coast, is the park that most approximates a wilderness area. Its name is derived from the two main rivers which flow through the park. Both these rivers flow over resistant rocky formations which means several sets of fast-flowing rapids. Waterfalls are also a feature of the park and while the wet season means that access to certain areas maybe difficult, the rain ensures the sight of dramatic waterfalls.

Covering an area of 80,000ha, Endau Rompin is also one of the most recently-established natural areas on peninsular Malaysia. The park was gazetted to protect vast areas of natural forests that date back many millions of years. This also meant the animals are protected too which is good news for species such as the highly-endangered Sumatran rhinoceros which has been recorded, but rarely seen in the park. While spotting animals in the rainforest is difficult at the best of times, elephant, tiger, tapir, white-handed gibbon, deer, and various monkeys have been recorded in Endau Rompin.

Because the park is remote with limited infrastructure, it only attracts really adventurous travellers who are prepared to rough it a little. Participating in an organised walk along some 26km of trails, led by knowledgeable local orang asli guides, is the best way to enjoy all that the park has to offer.

A little closer to Johor Bahru, Kota Tinggi Waterfall is a popular destination mostly for the locals to relax and picnic in the cool forest. The 34m-high fall is 15km drive from the township of Kota Tinggi and makes a pleasant day trip excursion from Johor Bahru.

See Also: The KL Bird Park: Up Close and Personal

Greens And Fairways

Johor is also well known for being one of Malaysia’s leading golfing states as there are some 30 courses to play ranging from city clubs, to several smaller courses in isolated palm oil plantations, some close to the East Coast beaches and one adjoining a yachting marina.

Many great names in golf and golf design have been lured to Johor to craft their magic with the greens and fairways. Names like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Robert Trent Jones head the list.

Some interesting courses in the state include two 18-hole courses while Palm Resort Golf and Country Club and Tanjong Puteri Gold and Country Club, have three, 18-hole courses to play. Among the other better-known courses are the 18-hole championship courses at Desaru Golf and Country Club, Pulai Springs Resort and the Palm Resort Golf and Country Club. At the other end of the spectrum are several remote nine-hole courses located with plantations.

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Source: Senses of Malaysia Jul-Aug 2013

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