Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Johor Bahru: Gateway to Singapore, Stopover Into Malaysia

After work-travel stays in Kuala Lumpor and Malacca, it was time to head south toward Singapore. Before setting foot in the “Garden City,” I spent a few days in Johor Bahru.

Johor Bahru (AKA JB) peers over the bay at its larger, richer and more successful city-state neighbor. While history has tied these two places together, JB has much growth to do in view of its causeway partner.

I had a friend I could visit in JB, so even though one night might be enough, I spent some extra time here.

In a practical sense, JB is last stop before you enter Singapore. If you are heading overload from anywhere in Peninsular Malaysia, you’ll inevitable spend a least a couple hours or perhaps longer in JB. If you are taking a long-distance bus, you’ll likely land in Larkin Terminal, which is a few kilometers from JB center. From JB, there are buses either to Sentral and/or over into Singapore.

In my case, I had a travel friend in JB, so I stayed a couple nights in order to have dinner with him.

Where to Stay? You’ll inevitably spend most of your time around JB Sentral and City Plaza, so it seems that most accommodation is located here. Unfortunately the center is a bit divided by a highway making walkability a challenge initially. Several hotels and guesthouses are located around CIQ and others around City Plaza (the main central mall), but in a practical sense, they are only 10-15 minutes walk or a 5 minute taxi.

I initially stayed at CIQ Hotel, since it was one of the cheapest and had decent reviews. I later stayed at Cirius JB hotel, which was slightly more expensive but the rooms were nicer and much closer to the mall and night market.

Tourist spots? There isn’t much to see here. There is the night market which had mostly made-in-china quality goods. Most of the old stuff is good. There is an old palace that is worth taking a look at.

Where to Go Out? I was surprised by the nightlife in JB. I had pretty low-expectations, but my friend drove me around to several spots before we selected a pub with a wide selection of beers on draft. There were also quite a few clubs that looked interesting. For a Thursday night, there seemed to be quite a few good options.

Moreover, we were able to end the evening of drinks with a local Malaysia burger.

Tips for the Traveling Worker: JB is a pretty good place for the tech traveler. It’s significantly cheaper than Singapore (maybe 2-3X cheaper). Internet was hit or miss at times in the evenings, but the speed was fast and reliable in coffeeshops in City Plaza.

Specifically, I spent afternoons and evenings working out of both Starbucks and Coffee bean, and the internet was fast and reliable.

General Impressions: While guidebooks mention JB being worth a visit, I’d disagree. There isn’t much to visit here. Food is cheaper and there are a few places to go out to at night, but there aren’t really any tourist places.

In my case, I needed a break, so JB was a cheap stopover to hang out in the different coffee shops and get some work done. There were lots of tasty things to try like Mamak food.

As I said, it’s not the top of my list of a short stay in Malaysia, but if you got some time and need a rest, then JB might be a nice place to explore where modern Malaysia is going.

PS – Check out the local Malaysia burger. It’s not your McDonald’s type experience!

Photo Credits: Photo is my own.

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