Johor Bahru, the capital city of of the Malaysian State of Johor, is considered Singapore’s gateway to Malaysia. Located in the Straits of Johor south of the Malaysian peninsula, Johor Bahru is accessible to Singapore residents by train or by bus. This makes the city an ideal destination for first-time visitors or simply those looking for a pleasurable weekend trip.
If you’ve been planning a trip to this city but don’t know where to start, this short guide will be able to help you. Here are some of the best things to do in Johor Bahru for a quick but satisfying visit.
Eat Malaysian Specialties
Despite being close neighbours, there are still nuanced differences between Malaysian and Sinaporean cuisine. Good thing that you don’t have to travel very far to sample the best local delicacies of Malaysia. Visit Cafe Para Para at the Grand Paragon JB to experience a variety of Malaysian dishes, as well as Chinese and Indian specialties.
Apart from Malaysia’s national dish, nasi lemak, you should also try the local roti canai (paratha flatbread), kway teow soup, and herb-roasted duck. For dessert and sweet treats, ais kacang (ice kachang), goreng pisang (banana fritters), kuih dadar, and bubur cha cha all deserve a mention.
Visit the Many Temples and Museums
Much like other Asian countries, Malaysian heritage features a mix of different cultures. Aside from Malay, there are also Arabic, Chinese, Indian, Persian, and British influences in Malaysian culture. These are apart from the indigenous cultures of various ethnic groups who keep their traditions alive and well in the country. As such, it’s a treat to explore the various temples and museums that share the country’s story. Here are a few that you should definitely visit when you’re in Johor Bahru.
Royal Abu Bakar Museum
Built in 1866, the Royal Abu Bakar Museum is one of the oldest structures in Johor. It used to be the grand palace of the sultan of Johor and was only converted into a museum in 1982. Apart from general historical information about the royal family and artifacts pertaining to them, you will also see pictures and a detailed family tree dating back decades. There are also traditional Malaysian weapons on display. The Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque and Sultan Abu Bakar Monument are located near the museum.
Old Chinese Temple
The Old Chinese Temple was built between 1870 and 1880, the product of the warm relations between the local Chinese and the Johor monarchy. Even though the temple underwent many renovations, its old architectural design is still well-preserved. Inside, important relics like the bronze bell, incense burner, and wooden tablet are kept in good condition. The temple is dedicated to five deities of five different peoples: Cantonese, Hainan, Hakka, Hokkien, and Teochew. During the 20th to 23rd of the first lunar month, the temple organises an annual Chingay or “Parade of Deities.”
Arulmigu Raja Mariamman Temple
Malaysia is a predominantly Islamic and Buddhist country, but there are still plenty of Hindu temples like the Arulmigu Raja Mariamman Temple in Johor Bahru. This particular temple was built in 1911 and used to be called the Mariamman Temple. The word ‘Raja’ (meaning ‘King’) was added to its name to honor Sultan Ibrahim of Johor. The temple was designed with Southern Indian Dravidian architecture, with the main tower (the gopuram) displaying renditions of deities in the Hindu pantheon.
Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman Glass Temple
Another famed Hindu temple in Johor Bahru is the Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman Glass Temple or simply the Glass Temple. It used about 300,000 pieces of clear and colored glass for its construction and it is truly a sight to behold. Be prepared for a shower of color when the light reflects off the glass pieces of the building and the gorgeous glass chandeliers inside.
Johor Bahru Chinese Heritage Museum
The Johor Bahru Chinese Heritage Museum is one of the first tourist attractions you’ll see once you cross the Johor Causeway from Singapore. The museum shows the history of Chinese culture in Malaysia, and aims to preserve the cultural heritage of the Chinese people of Johor Bahru. On display inside the museum are documents, photos, porcelain ware, musical instruments, and various artifacts that date back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Explore the Johor Zoo
Johor Zoo used to be called “Animal Garden.” It’s one of the oldest zoos in Malaysia as well as in Asia, with more than 100 species of animals considering it home. Some of the species in the zoo include lions, elephants, crocodiles, gorillas, and aquatic birds like flamingos. The zoo also offers animal shows for entertainment, as well as a safari park where you can see more species of plants and animals. What’s great about Johor Zoo is that is has a minimal entrance fee.
Have a Nighttime Food Trip at the Dataran Bandaraya
Built in 1994, Dataran Bandaraya is Johor Bahru’s main square. The now-iconic clock tower was built after the square opened, and it has since become a popular subject for photos. Dataran Bandaraya is a venue for many official events in the city, as well as sporting competitions. At night, however, the square becomes a lively area with multiple food carts and vans setting up shop. It’s a great place to have an authentic Malaysian street food experience and some hotpot dinners.
Johor Bahru is like a friendly neighbour that we in Singapore can visit anytime. The attractions and activities listed above are just some of the best ways to get to know this neighbour better, in addition to having loads of fun at the same time!
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