Exploration across the causeway
There’s so much more across the Causeway than City Square, KSL mall and Bak Kut Teh! Few Singaporeans have explored Johor Bahru (JB) thoroughly enough to unearth the gems it hides - we only visit the same old "safe" places that Singaporeans frequent. Not anymore - here's a guide to 17 things to do that most Singaporeans miss out on!
Before you proceed, here are some pointers to look out for:
- Do not forget your passport
- Change your dollars to ringgit in Singapore
- Bring your identification card
- Get a prepaid card - we used M1's M Card - to ensure you’re contactable throughout the trip.
Now that you have everything you need, get ready to explore JB like a true local!
1. Feel like a princess at Annie’s Culture
With a spa, beauty parlour, cafe and boutique, Annie’s Culture is a girl’s dream destination. Just 10 minutes away from City Square Mall by car, this place is easily accessible. You can snack at their cafe (Coffee Signature), indulge in their mani pedi, facial and massage services, then shop at their boutique store (What’s Annie Wear and D’Shoes), all at the same place.
Don’t hesitate to ask the beauticians questions - they are always happy to explain the processes! Also, ask for them to shape your eyebrows as a favour for free! A normal facial costs RM200 (SGD67) per session, but you could opt for a 10-session package that costs RM1,600 (SGD540), giving you 20% off each session.
Address: 53, Jalan Serampang, Taman Sri Tebrau, Johor, 80050 Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Number: +60 7-335 6136
Opening hours: 10am to 830pm (closed on Wednesday)
2. Laze your day away at Danga Bay
Country Garden is an up and coming residential community project hidden amongst the on-going development work around Danga Bay. Although construction is slated to be completed only in 2017, there are facilities that are already open to the public.
Because of the ongoing construction work, stay clear of the water. I recommend reading a book on their brand new benches, playing beach volleyball or soccer with friends, suntanning on the beach, or even soaking in the swimming pool - all for free!
Most people aren’t aware of this place yet so I recommend you visit while it’s still unknown. There are a few cafes around the area and even a Starbucks at the front.
The best way to get here is by driving or a taxi. Make your way to the Skudai highway on the way to Danga Bay. Keep a look-out on your left for the sign to Country Garden. It’s so big, you won’t miss it!
Address: Lot PTB 22056, Danga Bay, Jalan Skudai, 80200 Johor Bahru, Malaysia
3. Buy Everything at RM 2 (SGD 0.70)!
If you thought Daiso was cheap, this place will blow. your. mind. With everything going at RM2, you can find stationery, snacks, glassware, and household supplies here. Eco-Shop is a retail chain with 75 stores around Malaysia, but you can get to the closest one at Desaru, Johor Bahru.
Although the location is an hour's drive from the customs, this place is easy to find. Use the newly built Eastern Dispersal Link(EDL) Expressway which is easily accessible from the customs on Jalan Pasir Pelangi. From here, follow signs towards ‘Desaru’ for another 60 km. It is recommended that you use a GPS to get to this location.
Address: 83, 85, 87 (Ground & 1st Floor), Jalan Jelutong 1, Taman Desaru Utama, 81930 Bandar Penawar, Johor
Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 8.30am - 6.00pm | Saturday from 8.30am -12.30pm
4. Find the best bargains at Rusty Market
Pasar Karat, or “Rusty Market”, is a massive second-hand flea bazaar that sells everything from clothes to antique ships' steering wheels. Prices are cheap and even the fussiest shopper is sure to find something they fancy from the never-ending maze of stalls. Remember to always bargain!
There isn’t a proper route to take here - you'll have to brave the crowd. I find it interesting to just browse because of the bizarre range of "products" you'll come across - even live animals*! Just remember the path you take so you don’t get lost. Locals are generally friendly so ask for directions if you have to.
*Please ensure that you'll be able to look after any pets you buy. Don't buy pets on impulse.
Do note that roads around JB town will start closing at 7pm in order for stalls to be set up at the markets, so avoid driving in the area in the evenings. Pasar Karat is a 2 minute walk from City Square. Just exit at McDonalds, cross the road and walk towards the stalls under tents.
Tip: If you're visiting Pasar Karat, make sure your friends and you are contactable as the winding roads make it easy to get lost. We recommend the M Card for this. Read till the end to find out how to win one of these with 100GB of data!
Address: Jalan Segget, Bandar Johor Bahru, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Opening hours: Daily 8pm till late
5. Get a new look for less than SGD30
Many Singaporeans go to JB to get their hair done, but you don’t want to go to any random hairdresser off the streets - you want to go to Kstyle.
Mr David Oh opened his first salon in Malaysia a year ago. He graduated from a beauty high school in Korea and has been a hairdresser for 10 years. Even then, a haircut by him costs just RM80 (SGD27) for ladies and RM70 (SGD24) for guys. You can also opt for his senior stylists, Anna Jun and Jacob Kim, for RM10 less.
What I love about this salon is how it never fails to be a personal experience. You’ll receive a free drink on arrival and the stylists will take the time to understand what you want for your hair. Every time I visit I know my tresses are in good hands. Kstyle gets busy at times, so it’s advisable to make a booking before heading down!
Other starting prices (subject to hair length)
Perm - RM190 (SGD87)
Highlight - RM100 (SGD34)
Colour - RM150 (SGD50)
Hair treatment - RM150 (SGD50)
Kstyle is located at the shop houses directly in front of AEON Bukit Indah, where Daiso is located.
Address: 32, Jalan Indah 15/3, Taman Bukit Indah, 81200 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Number: +60 7-239 5378
6. Forget bak kut teh and try assam curry fish head instead
The assam curry fish head scene is totally underrated in JB. There are many places where you can savour different types of delicious curry fish head dishes, but Jadi Baru Botak’s Assam Curry Fish Head tops the lot - once you try their curry fish head, you’ll never go anywhere else.
The assam sauce here has a perfect balance of sweet, salty and sour that brings out the flavour of the red snapper. Portion sizes here are also generous and perfect for sharing. What’s even better is that a pot for two costs only RM24 (SGD8)!
This is also one of very few Chinese restaurants in JB that is halal and frequented by Malays, Chinese and Indians, solidifying their reputation as one of the best assam curry fish heads in JB.
From the Malaysian Immigration, this place is a 7 minute walk away. Exit at Jalan Jim Quee from the immigration building. From there, turn right and walk in the direction of Singapore. On the way, you will have cross to the other side of the road. Close to the end of the road (near the traffic light), turn left when you see a cluster of shop houses, you will find it there.
Address: 145, Jalan Lumba Kuda, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 6am - 4pm (closed on Sunday)
7. Grab the most delicious supper at 1am
Supper is a huge deal amongst Malaysians and my personal favourite is Lok Lok, which directly translates to “Boil Boil” in Cantonese. Lok Lok is a buffet of small snacks skewered on sticks which you can choose to have either grilled or deep fried. The skewers are colour-coded according to how much they cost.
The best Lok Lok van in JB has to be KK Lut Lut, also known as the “doomz doomz van”. If you were wondering about its nickname, it's because you'll get to supper while "enjoying" electronic dance music blasting from speakers in the van, making for a truly unique supper experience.
Address: Jalan Pingai, Taman Pelangi, 80400 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia (in front of Maybank)
Number: +60 16-704 8583
Opening hours: 10pm - 430am (closed every third week of the month)
8. Experience JB's unique cafes
The cafe scene in JB has been building up over the past few years but I only recently found out how impressive it has gotten! Unique, one-of-a-kind cafes are now everywhere in JB and you can’t leave without visiting a few of them.
Unlike most cafes in Singapore, the average price I spent for a drink and a cake was RM30(SGD10). This means you’ll have room for more cafes and more pictures to beautify your Instagram feed with!
If cafe hopping is your thing, we recommend Sweet Blossom Coffee Roasters Cafe and JWC - The Factory 30. Sweet Blossom Coffee Roasters Cafe is the perfect place to start your day with its early opening hours and special Espresso tonic. On the other hand, JWC - The Factory 30 utilises space that nobody would be able to afford in Singapore - it is not just big, it's humongous.
Note: Not all cafes provide free wifi. Make sure to have your own prepaid card to Snapchat/Instagram your experiences. We used the M Card which gave us 1GB of data with 3 days' validity for only $5!
9. Visit Lavender - the pride of JB
Lavender is a family owned business that has been around for 15 years. Initially only a bakery and pâtisserie, Lavender now has 3 dining concepts; self-service L.café, casual L.bistro and restaurant L.table.
L.bistro is your typical casual restaurant serving delicious local food. They are particularly famous for their Hainanese Chicken Rice, Mee Mamak and Nasi Lemak Kukus and often frequented by many locals.
L.table is a newly introduced restaurant in JB. Their intention is to globalise their menu with a modern classic approach. Stop by L.table if you are looking for a proper restaurant to dine in JB with the highest quality food and service.
L.cafe is a bakery cum coffee shop and offers a wide selection of tasty breads and pastries. Several must-trys include their Corn Pepp (RM4.20), Chicken Ham and Cheese Bun (RM2.95), Banana Danish Puff (RM3.20) and their Pandan Sponge cake. Then again, speaking from experience, everything is good at Lavender, so be adventurous and try new things each time you visit.
For a list of locations and contact numbers click here.
10. Get lost in a shopper’s paradise
As a Johorian the place I’m most proud of in JB is the Johor Premium Outlets (JPO). Here you don’t just get to enjoy the benefits of an awesome exchange rate, but also great promotions and discounts off your favourite luxury brands.
With discounts up to 80% on more than 60 premium brands including the likes of Kate Spade, Ferragamo, Nike, DKNY, Calvin Klein, GAP and Burberry, the Johor Premium Outlet mall is a shopper’s paradise. Do note that not all promotions available are listed in their website, so you have to go down to check out their best deals yourself.
Driving here is easy as long as you have a GPS. JPO is along the highway and quite hard to miss. Simply follow the signs and you’ll be there in no time.
Find information of current promotions here.
Address: Jalan Premium Outlets, Indahpura, 81000 Kulai, Johor Darul Takzim
Number: +607 661 8888
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday from 10am - 10pm
11. Pamper yourself with incredible massages
A soothing massage is the best way to unwind and refresh. It's also a lot easier on the conscience when you’re paying 3 times less for it.
You’ve probably never heard of Thong Yee Thong Reflexology because it’s a fiercely guarded secret by locals, but it's well worth a visit. Their prices are affordable and the masseurs have magical hands. Coupled with a relaxing atmosphere and an accessible location, this is a must-go. . Free drinks are provided and while wifi is available, we didn't have to ask them for the password as we had our M Cards!
Although they are known for their traditional Chinese foot massages, they also have a diverse range of body massages you can choose from like Thai or Indonesian. If it’s your first time there, let the lady at the reception know what you look for in a massage and trust her to choose a masseuse that best fits your needs.
If you love coconut juice, it gets better. There's a stall with fresh coconut juice for RM3 (SGD1) right outside the shop!
Prices (other options available)
Body massage (1hr) - RM72/ SGD24
Foot massage (1hr) - RM47.60/ SGD16
Address: 71 - 73, Jalan Kuning, Taman Pelangi, 80400 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Number: +60 7-334 5988
12. Engage in a paintball battle!
This place is a one-stop centre for everything paintball-related. They have a licensed pro-shop providing all sorts of equipment and a 20 acre field big enough for chickens like me to run around hiding from the pellets.
If you’re new to the game, don’t worry, the staff here are experts who look forward to guiding you and your friends.
For those of you who are familiar with this game and want take it further, take note that AOV Paintball holds an event called the AOV Big Games every 2nd Sunday of March. Players from all over Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and other countries participate every year in this thrilling event.
A 2 hour game costs RM115 (SGD39) per person. It comes with 500 paintballs, paintball marker, vest, safety goggles and field chargers. You must have a minimum of 4 players to play.
By car, the fastest way here is by taking the new highway, EDL. This destination is quite far, I recommend that you ensure you have a reliable GPS to guide you.
13. Indoor Laser tag at SGD$15 for 2 games!
Laser tag is perfect for any group of friends who enjoy the thrill of paintball but don’t find enjoyment in being bruised. The problem is that playing it too often is not at all wallet-friendly in Singapore.
It's a different story in JB, where Lasertag only costs RM35(SGD12) per person for 2 games on a weekday and RM45(SGD15) on weekends. There is an outlet in City Square Mall, which is conveniently located directly opposite the Malaysian Immigration customs. Head to level 4, where you'll find Laser Battle.
Address: Lot MS-11, Johor Bahru City Square, 108, Jalan Wong Ah Fook, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Number: +60 7-207 0197
14. Go Christmas shopping at JB's newest mall!
Christmas is coming and we need to get some shopping done. Save your dollars, shop in ringgit!
Stop by JB’s newest mall, Komtar JBCC. Located right next to City Square, it has the best range of shops in the whole of Johor, including Sephora, Bath and Body Works, Marks and Spencers, Dr Martens, New Balance, Pandora, and Swarovski.
Parking at Komtar is also a third cheaper than it is in City Square. If you really need something from City Square, there’s a bridge connecting these two malls accessible from Padini on level 2 in Komtar and behind Uniqlo on level 3 in City Square Mall.
And if you're hyper hygiene-conscious, you'll be glad to know that Komtar JBCC tops my list for the cleanest public toilets in JB!
Address: Menara KOMTAR, Johor Bahru City Centre, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Opening hours: Daily from 10am - 10pm
15. Watch the latest movies - on beanbags!
A Beanieplex is a cinema where you can enjoy watching movies on super comfortable bean bags instead of the common rigid chairs. There’s only one Beanieplex in JB and it’s at AEON Bukit Indah, a 20 minute drive from the checkpoint!
Each bean bag seats two and the tickets are sold in pairs for RM50 (SGD17), so it costs RM25 (SGD9) per person. Unfortunately, this also means that if you're looking for some alone time, you'll have to get a pair of tickets and enjoy the entire couch to yourself.
Only a few movies are featured at the Beanieplex and at very select timings, so make sure you check the timings online and book beforehand!
Address: AEON Bukit Indah, 16, Jalan Indah 15/2, Taman Bukit Indah, 81200 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Number: +603-7726 3535
Otherwise, you could also visit JB's Cathay Cineplex at more than 50% off!
Everyone knows Cathay Cineplexes, which operates a large number of cinemas in Singapore. But what people don't know is that a movie ticket on Saturday costs SGD13 (RM39) in Singapore but only RM18 (SGD6) in Malaysia. That’s less than half the price!
So here’s the perfect plan for you: shop in Komtar then watch a movie at City Square. How convenient!
Most movies screen in Malaysia and Singapore at around the same time - some movies even air earlier in Malaysia! The cinema in City Square also just went through a renovation and is pretty slick. Just make sure to ask for fresh popcorn when collecting your food and drinks.
Address: Level 5 & 6, Johor Bahru City Square, 108, Jalan Wong Ah Fook, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Number: +607 - 2272 888
16. Have a taste of local desserts
Especially with the annual haze, the weather in Singapore and Malaysia gets worse every year. The best way to cool ourselves is to feed our tummies with something refreshing. No, not ice cream - I'm referring to a bowl of colourful Ice-Kachang or Chendol drowned in gula melaka.
My favourite shop is Gerai Yong Yong which I never fail to go to after dinner when in JB. They use fresh ingredients to serve you the highest quality desserts. On lucky days, a group of musicians might busk just beside the store singing oldies.
Address: Jalan Sungai Chat, Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
For other options, read our article on local desserts in JB here.
17. You can get to JB in just 15 minutes!
With the recent opening of the KTM, travelling to JB is so much easier now. It is totally fuss-free and the entire journey only took us 15 minutes. They even have a separate immigration counter so you won’t have to queue with the bus passengers.
For a detailed KTM guide, click here.
The ‘lepak’ feel
Every Singaporean who has been to JB is familiar with this feeling. Just as you are crossing the border from Singapore to Malaysia, whether in a car or bus, you heave sigh a relief - you are finally away from the fast paced life.
The lepak feel can't be quantified, but everyone who's experienced it knows how real it is. That alone is worth a trip across the Causeway. Besides, don't we all deserve a good pampering once in a while?
Stay contactable with the M Card
Our experience in JB was made much smoother with the M card, a prepaid mobile card from M1 that allows you to data roam using your existing local prepaid data bundles at no extra charge. With the M card, you can surf the net in Malaysia and Indonesia not having to worry about high data roaming charges!
All you have to do is head down to any M1 Shop or retailers like 7-eleven to purchase and register a $15 M Card (that comes with $18 worth of credits) with your NRIC or passport.
To use data in Malaysia (or Indonesia) however, you will need to do two things. First, activate one of the following Prepaid SunSurf Data Plans with the credits in your card, then activate data roaming service, both by dialing the M Card self-help menu code #100# on your phone.
However, if you are not familiar with prepaid cards like myself, fret not. M1 has an easy-to-follow guide on their website, and I just had to follow the step by step guide before I left Singapore and was able to get the service up and running once I crossed the causeway.
I opted for the 3 days data plan for $5 and got 1GB data. Without controlling my usage, I used far less than the cap, not even hitting 500MB. And the excess data isn't wasted too - I can use all of it when I was back in Singapore!
Win a free M Card!
Also, from now till 31 December 2015, 100 lucky winners who participate in our Facebook contest will walk away with a free M Card bundle that comes preloaded with 2GB of data that can be used both locally here or abroad in Malaysia and Indonesia!
To join our giveaway contest, all you have to do is:
Step 1: Like TheSmartLocal on Facebook
Step 2: Like and share THIS Facebook post
Step 3: Leave a comment on this same Facebook post with which two countries you can use the M Card in, and what interesting things you can use M Card Data Roaming for.
We will be looking out for the most creative entries!
The contest runs till 31st December 2015 and you have to be 18 years of age or older to participate.
Now you won't have to worry about being uncontactable by your loved ones while in JB! Safe travels!
This post was brought to you by M1.