In a nutshell
Johor Bahru, once nothing more than a sleepy fishing village has developed into Malaysia's second largest city. It is busy, bustling and full of activity. It has become somewhat of a tourist hotspot with the food and cultural architecture forming the basis of its appeal.
Why go to Johor Bahru
There are so many reasons to spend some time in Johor Bahru. Much of the attraction is around a deep level of exposure to the cultural phenomenon of the city. Chances the explore mosques over 100 years old, fascinating and transcending in its architecture. A temple made entirely of glass. Thousands upon thousands of pieces - on walls, on pillars, on the floor - the Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman Glass Temple is the first of its kind in the entire world!
Firefly tours to remind you of the magic inherent in everything, several day fishing trips with nothing but you, the ocean, and the few people you are bunking with. Recreational parks, waterfalls, adventure, adrenalin pumping activities. Indeed, it appears that a stay in Johor Bahru will satisfy all the split parts of ourselves and others!
When to go to Johor Bahru
Johor Bahru experiences a very equatorial climate. There is little variation throughout the year with the prevalence of humidity as reliable as the dawn following the dusk. However, a summer visit is in your best interests. The months of June through to August are the most temperate, and avoid the rainfall of the winter months, November to April.
Where to stay in Johor Bahru
Options for accommodation are less shiny and visually impressive than some of the others that you may have come across in your travels. However, the market standard is one of great generosity with fantastic amenities included at all price levels.
Backpacker options are in good supply. A brilliant option is the Beacon Inn. Incredible amenities and a beautifully decorated interior make for a level of decadence that far outstrips its budget-friendly price tag.
Mid-range options are the most prevalent of lodging options. Prices vary between MYR 100 and MYR 250 and offer a variety of services. Several places include spas and saunas and wonderful breakfast buffets. It may indeed be worth spending the extra bit for a night at a place like the Tropical Inn.
High-end resorts include names like the Le Grandeur Palm Resort and offer quite brilliant packages and amenities for their guests. Of course, this comes at somewhat of a hefty price tag - trade offs!
Where to eat in Johor Bahru
While Johor Bahru is no Melaka, it is still relatively well-known for its culinary delights.
An undoubted pre-requisite of things you need to taste in Johor Bahru are the immensely flavourful curries. Head over the Kerala Curry House for the original, timeless experience. Crispy poppadoms, banana leaves for plates, and a bustling vibe make this experience something more than the sum of its parts.
Bakeries and deserts were really the main attraction for us. More options than I have space to talk about were scattered amongst the streets vendors and formal establishments. Hiap Joo Bakery for the worlds most delicious Banana Cake, The Ice Cream Project for a futuristic, exceptionally well crafted scoop of something special, and the Moonlight Bakery, who serve the most moist and decadent cakes you can imagine, were a few of our favourites.
Coffee houses and international restaurants, craft beer and high-end French cuisine. If you can think it up, you can have it in Johor Bahru. I'm actually incredibly envious of the person reading this - so much awaits you - all of which is now behind me!
How to get around Johor Bahru
Transport for the traveller in Johor Bahru is somewhat limited. The easy-come, easy-go motorbike rentals popular on the islands and in the more touristy spots are not afforded to the traveller here. Rather, you need to make use of the busses, taxis, and should you be able to afford it, car rental companies.
Taxis are definitely the most popular way of getting around. They offer a clean, comfortable, and efficient service. However, it is not always the most pleasant. One needs to be wary of bad natured and ill-intended drivers who try to scam unaware travellers. It is important that you insist on the use of the meter before going anywhere and refuse to bargain on a rate prior to your journey. Altercations over additional fees or unexpected expenses is never something you want to go through. So, be strong and unrelenting and ensure that the meter is used. Further, it is in your best interests to always use the meter rather than prepaid coupons as you will invariably get a better price this way.
Using the bus system in a foreign place always presents a challenge and is generally for the more savvy and experienced traveller. The service network in Johor Bahru is well established with busses all over the city. However, the regularity of these busses diminish in the afternoon. The majority of bus stops are available opposite the city square with the last busses leaving at around 11pm.
The option to rent a car is always on the table. However, considering the general price for doing so, the small distances between the local points of interest, and the stress of undertaking the responsibility to get it back in one piece, we would advise sticking with the taxis or busses.
Lastly, you can definitely walk around certain parts of the city. The city is safe and taxis are in great number should your walk become too much.
How to get to and from Johor Bahru
Getting in and out from Johor Bahru is made easy by a variety of options.
A quick flight into Senai Airport puts you within just a thirty-minute taxi ride into the city centre. Flights into the airport are only possible from destinations within Malaysia, including Kuala Lumpur and Penang, both of which will see you arriving in Johor Bahru before you have time to blink.
Coming into Johor Bahru from Singapore couldn't be easier. Considering the high demand for the route into Johor Bahru, there are a multitude of busses, express and normal, that provide the service. The majority of the express bus services leave from the station opposite the Kranji MRT station.
Using the bus will save you a lot of money, but may cost you up to two hours at the immigration border, and involves moving around your luggage several times - not an endeavour to be taken lightly, especially with little ones. The Causeway bus lines offer a more efficient service with moderately less time spent at the border - tickets cost between MYR 6 and MYR 12 per person.
Hiring a private car is a great option for groups of travellers or families. The service is tailored to your exact needs and is the smoothest and easiest way to get through to Johor Bahru. A seven seater car will set you back around MYR 300. A strong company with a very reliable service is Sgmytaxi.
The train from Woodlands Train Checkpoint through to JB Sentral is the fastest way to get to Johor Bahru. With no traffic to slow you down, the train completes the journey within 5 minutes! Tickets one way go for a mere MYR 15. To get the the train checkpoint, hop on bus 856 and get off at the Woodlands Train Checkpoint.
Is Johor Bahru a safe place to visit?
As is with any city or town that is not your own, one needs to be wary and pay attention to their surroundings. That being said, Johor Bahru is not especially dangerous. Being a big city, crime rates are a little higher than out in the country. Police have also been known to ask for bribes in some instances, so be weary of corrupt officials. All in all, the city is safe and should not raise any alarms or fears. Be smart, and you will be safe.