If you’re heading to Malaysia from Singapore, it is possible that Johor Bahru will be your first stop. This burgeoning city in the south of the country has really tried to open its doors to tourism in recent years, and there are many luxurious developments still in the pipeline. But what exactly can you do in here?
As charming as this Malaysian city is, you probably wouldn’t travel far to visit. Johor Bahru is on the main route from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur (a couple of hours away), so a stop off here is a good idea. Alternatively, Singaporeans looking for a quick weekend getaway may fancy a bit of shopping on the other side of the Causeway (but then again, surely there are enough shops in Singapore anyway?!) and will choose Johor Bahru as their destination. I found plenty of luxury shops, but I was mainly interested in the local markets where traders were selling their ware. There is a nice and friendly vibe in Johor Bahru’s markets (pasar malams), although some of the items on sale were of questionable quality.
As far as tourist attractions are concerned, you cannot come to Johor Bahru and expect much to do (head up to KL if you want more attractions). There are, however, some historic sights here such as an old Chinese temple, and the Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque, which are nice to look at from an architectural standpoint, but once again prove that perhaps you wouldn’t want to travel too long to get here.
One thing that Johor Bahru is certainly famous for these days is LEGOLAND Malaysia. This theme park for kids and young families is the only LEGOLAND park in South East Asia and has been doing great business since it opened in 2013. I thought it was quite a strange place to build a world-famous theme park, especially with Singapore so close, but I guess it shows that Johor Bahru’s regeneration is a serious long-term strategy, and the authorities here really want to attract the big names in the leisure industry – which in turn will attract flocks of tourists (hopefully).
For me, Johor Bahru was a great chance to experience some local Malay culture, including the food and customs associated with eating and drinking. There were many pasar malams and kopitiams that I saw, although I didn’t venture in all of them. I did, however, love the smells that came from within them! I discovered some great Nasi Lemak, as well as the spicy fish dish known as Sambal Udang during my visit. I am not sure Johor Bahru can compete with Kuala Lumpur for street food, but the city is nonetheless a great place to get a cheap meal!