Malaysia's southernmost city, Johor Bahru is a mosaic of varied cultures and flavours, with a smidgen of colonial heritage. Formerly known as Iskandar Puteri, it was established in 1855 and till date remains untapped by travellers. 23km away from the glitz and glamour of Singapore, it sustains a motley of mosques and museums, galleries and gardens, and an assortment of swanky shopping malls.
Starting 28th November 2017, AirAsia will operate direct flights to Johor Bahru from Kolkata. For Indian tourists planning a Singapore trip, flying out to Johor Bahru and then boarding the airline's AirAsia Shuttle Bus to Singapore, is guaranteed to significantly reduce travel expenses.
The round-trip fare (Kolkata-Johor Bahru), during the month of November is as low as ₹7,496 per person!
So if you're yet to visit the dynamic city, or want to soak in the Malaysian magic once again, waiting below are 5 sure-fire reasons that will have you planning your Johor Bahru-Singapore getaway.
1. A colourful walk through history
An erstwhile fishing village, in the present day Johor Bahru provides a glimpse into the lives of a diverse migrant fishing community. The hilltop Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque fanning out over the Straits of Johor took 8 years to construct (1892-1900) and is a stunning paragon of Moorish and Victorian architecture. Masjid India, brought to life by the city's Indian-Muslim community can be recognised by its spectacular blue and silver dome. Built in 1870, the Roufo Old Chinese Temple draws devotees belonging to five Chinese communities – Cantonese, Hainanese, Hakka, Hokkien and Teochew. The Gurdwara Sahib at the heart of the city was inaugurated in 1992, and holds weekly prayers every Sunday. Another must-visit is the Hindu temple of Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman, touted as 'The First Glass Temple in the World'.
2. For art's sake
The museum of Sultan Abu Bakar Royal Palace, was once home to the Sultan of Johor and still hosts many a state ceremony. Built in a neoclassical style by an European architect, the furnishings are done up in a Rococo style and its grounds are decked with a range of displays of craftsmanship – from French crystal glass furniture and Japanese ceramics, to stuffed animals and antelope leg ashtrays. Dating back to 1910, Johor Bahru Art Gallery features some beautiful modern `Islamic calligraphy and ceramics. Displays portraying chapters from the history and culture of resident Chinese communities are spread across four storeys of the florid Chinese Heritage Museum. A newer addiction to the city's landscape, Kwong Siew Heritage Gallery opened its doors to visitors in 2010 and has a wealth of off-the-wall objects such as Cantonese opera costumes and scripts, opium pipes and Chinese chess sets.
3. To relive your childhood days
The city's zoo is one of Malaysia's oldest establishments and was built by Sultan Ibrahim, in 1928. Thronged by tourists and locals in equal measure, this is a must-visit. Asia's first Legoland happens to be located in Johor Bahru and runs a total of 40 ridiculously fun rides and games. Not to miss in Legoland are – Aquazone Wave Racer, Junio Driving School, Boating School and the Dino island. The nearby Puteri Harbour Theme Park houses Sanrio Hello Kitty Town and Thomas Town. Come here with the kids (or without) and take back home Bob the Builder and Hello Kitty merchandise. While here, make sure to visit the Little Big Club for interactive activities and live onstage shows.
4. For some thrifty retail therapy
With prices taken down more than a notch, Johor Bahru's shopping malls sees Singaporean locals coming in droves, round the year. Part of a shopping-residential-hotel complex, KSL City is the biggest complex in the region and home to nearly 350 shops, 70 food outlets and a eight-screen cineplex. The 2nd largest shopping mall in the city, AEON Tebrau City is festooned with the factory outlets of Giordano, MNG, Esprit and Dorothy Perkins and the mammoth JUSCO hypermarket. Items such as rattan baskets, batik handbags, denim shopping bags, customised book-binds and patchwork bed linen, all crafted by the differently-abled, are sold at the Johor Area Rehabilitation Organisation (JARO) Handicrafts Centre. Jalan Segget Bazaar is a daily open-air market planted between a street that runs between the roads Jalan Ibrahim and Jalan Wong Ah Fook, and should be visited for an insight into the everyday life of a Malaysian local. The Scandalist is another such market teeming with second-hand boutiques for vintage clothes, bags and jewellery. There's also the Johor Premium Outlet (JPO), the first luxury premium brand outlet in southeast Asia that offers a discount of up to 70% on international brands such as Coach, Versace, Gucci, Nike and others.
5. For a taste of authentic Malaysian cuisine
A delight for the gourmands, Johor Bahru's hole-in-the-wall shops whip up the most fragrant mee goreng, otak otak and the laksa johor. Fresh oysters served with lemon wedges, and the Chee Cheong Fun rolls are two other local favourites. Feast on roti canai and nasi lemak at Bukit Chagar and try the flavoursome Kam Long Fish Head Curry from Jalan Wong Ah Fook. For fantastic street eats, buy yourself a plate of the stuffed chicken wings at Hong Kong Boy Hawker. Or take a bus down to Jalan Dato Muthuthambi and try any of the aromatic curries from the Tampoi Laksa stall.
A quick guide to Johor Bahru
Visa: Nationals of India, China, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Serbia and Montenegro can apply for an e-visa to visit Malaysia for upto 30 days. Most other nationalities can travel to Malaysia without a visa. They are issued a 14, 30, or 90 day entry permit stamp on their passport which should be valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry into Malaysia. The cost ranges from ₹2,000 to ₹6,000.
For further details, head to their website.
When to go: The best time to visit Johor Bahru is from February to April. The weather is cooler, and outdoor activities are more enjoyable during this time of the year.
Getting there: AirAsia will operate direct flights from Kolkata to Johor Bahru (Senai Airport). The airline's AirAsia Shuttle Bus departs directly from Senai airport to Changi Airport in Singapore, and back. This is by far the most convenient method to travel to Singapore. Plenty of prepaid taxis are available from the airport, that will take you to any place within the state.