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More of an important industrial city than a prime vacation destination, Johor Bahru, the second largest city in Malaysia and officially one of the youngest one, does not see many tourists. Johor Bahru’s proximity to Singapore makes it an easy weekend escape for many Singaporeans who come to dine and shop for less and in a less squeaky clean environment. Johor Bahru is a convenient base to cross over the border to Singapore, too. If you are travelling down the Malay Peninsular at a slow pace, Johor Bahru is the right place to spend a night before catching the Causeway Express bus to Singapore. There is not much to be seen in the city, but for those nature lovers who are ready to go further around the province, Johor has much more to offer. Think jungle trekking in one of the world’s oldest rainforests in Endau Rompin National Park or diving and snorkelling in the marine park off Sibu Island, as an idea. Or spend a night in the city and explore a couple of its beautiful temples before continuing your journey over the border to Singapore.
How to get from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru
Though you can get from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru by train, buses with a large choice of departures throughout the day remain much easier and convenient option.
From Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru by train
From May, 2016, long distance intercity trains ceased operation in Malaysia. Now to get from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru you have to take an ETS train (high-speed electric train service) from Kuala Lumpur Sentral to Gemas (from 2 hours 20 minutes to three hours) and then connect with a shuttle train from Gemas to Johor Bahru (four hours).
Note that Johor Bahru actually serves at the main train station for Singapore as the old colonial train station in Singapore is not used any more. It means that if you want to get from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore by train, Johor Bahru is inevitable stop.
Currently there are three trains heading south to Gemas from Kuala Lumpur: #9221 (departs at 01.22am and arrives at 4am), #9201 (11.59am; 2.40pm) and #9203 (12.54pm; 3.55pm). All of them have soft seats and tickets are sold at the same price (MYR31).
In Gemas you have to change to an ordinary slower shuttle train to Johor Bahru. There are four of them during the day: #45 (4.10am), #27 (6.45am), #43 (2.50pm) and #41 (3.40pm). All trains take 4 hours 20 minutes to reach Johor Bahru Sentral and offer second class AC seats only cars for MYR21.
You can buy separate tickets for any train, but the most convenient pair is train #9201 at around midday from Kuala Lumpur and train #43 at 2.50pm from Gemas arriving to destination by 7pm.
Tip If you are not planning a stop in Johor Bahru but are heading from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, opt for a direct bus service between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore instead: it is faster and obviously more convenient. If you still prefer a train journey, after arriving to Johor Bahru you can catch any of the late evening trains from Johor Bahru to Singapore the same day (#87 at 7pm, #91 at 9pm or #93 at 10pm, all MYR5) and reach Woodlands in about 20 minutes.
If you plan to spend a day or more in Johor Bahru or travelling around Johor province, book your accommodation in advance and go directly to your hotel from JB Sentral as Johor Bahru remains quite an unfriendly place to roam the street in after the night falls.
From Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru by bus
The route between Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru is served by over a dozen operators. They provide service any time of the day from different locations in Kuala Lumpur and at different prices. The majority of services originate in Terminal Bersepadu Selatan in Kuala Lumpur with buses heading to the largest bus terminal within the city limits of Johor Bahru, Larkin bus terminal. Prices vary insignificantly from MYR33 to MYR42 with Seasons Express, Five Stars Express, Star Qistna Express, KKKL Express all offering very similar service. Billion Stars Express is twice as expensive, but taking into consideration the duration of the trip (4 hours 20 minutes) there is not much sense in investing extra ringgit in extra comfort they provide. Starting from 7.30am–8am and till midnight there is no lack of buses heading to Johor Bahru from Terminal Bersepadu Selatan.
Terminal Bersepadu Selatan, or TBS, is the main transportation terminal in the southern part of Kuala Lumpur. It is easily reached from the city via KLIA transit, LRT and KTM Komuter.
If TBS is not handy for you, check Berjaya Times Square bus terminal located very strategically in Jalan Imbi, close to Bukit Bintang, where you can hop onto a Five Stars Express bus (8.45am and 11.30pm, both MYR42). They also arrive to Larkin bus terminal in Johor Bahru. Other useful departures include the night Billion Stars Express bus at 11.45pm from One Utama, to the northwest of the capital, and Star Coach Express at 12.20pm from Pudu Raya, within an easy reach both from KLCC and Bukit Bintang. Both operators offer more expensive tickets than other transport companies but enjoy great reputation for the comfort provided (MYR65-MYR80).
Larkin Bus Terminal in Johor Bahru serves all major routes in Malaysia and is used by a number of cross-border buses to Singapore. Located at the junction of Jalan Garuda and Jalan Garuda 2, it is also served by many local bus routes. The most useful ones include those to JB Sentral, with Jalan Meldrum area a stone’s throw away.
From KLIA and KLIA2 to Johor Bahru
If you arrive to the Malaysian capital by plane and need to get to Johor Bahru/Singapore right away, there is no need to go from the airport, either KLIA or KLIA2, to the city first and then catch some transport to Johor Bahru. There is a direct service from KLIA and KLIA2 to Johor Bahru operated by Yo Yo Express (MYR100). There are a dozen of buses leaving regularly from both KLIA and KLIA2 to Johor Bahru any time of the day and night (there are departures around midnight and 3am). All of them are comfortable VIP buses with soft seats. Buses cover 320 km from Kuala Lumpur airports to Johor Bahru in about four hours and arrive to Taman Ungku Tun Aminah bus terminal (TUTA), northwest of Johor Bahru proper. The terminal serves a number of intercity routes, as well as a couple of local bus services heading to Larkin bus terminal (13 km) in the centre of the city from where you can further connect to Singapore-bound buses.
It is obviously more expensive to take a direct bus from the airport to Johor Bahru than to get to Kuala Lumpur Sentral or just to any of the bus stations in Kuala Lumpur serving KL-JB route, but saves you no less than a couple of hours or even more.
Local buses are a convenient means of transport for getting around in Johor Bahru and going further to its environs. There are destination boards on buses and drivers and your fellow passengers normally are happy to give you necessary directions. Buses terminate operation between 10pm and 11pm, and the cost of the ride depends on the distance and starts from MYR1.
Taxis are inexpensive but beware taxi touts and drivers hanging around JB Sentral who are notorious for overcharging tourists and may behave rather aggressively if you refuse their services. If your driver does not want to use the metre, insist or just flag down another cabbie.
Where to stay
Taking into account the city’s popularity among the weekending Singaporeans, there is no lack of accommodation in Johor Bahru. Rooms in the cheapest – but decent – digs start from MYR40 per night but all of these are scattered quite far from the centre. The best place to search for centrally located hotels in the centre is Jalan Meldrum area or Jalan Tanjung Puteri, southeast of CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complex), but be ready to spend no less than MYR100 per night.
Note that budget hotels in Johor Bahru tend to accept payments in cash only.
There are a number of temples of different confessions to be checked out in Johor Bahru. Be sure not to miss an staggering ‘world’s first glass temple’, Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman Hindu Temple, which amazes visitors both with its glittering interior and air-conditioning. Sitting atop a small hill Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque features Moorish and Victorian architecture. Masjid India is has an unusual look thanks to two different minaret towers but otherwise does not differ from any other modern mosque. The 19th century Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception is one of the oldest structures in Johor Bahru.
Rumah Limasoffers an interesting glimpse of traditional wooden Malay houses: there are eight of them in display. It is a nice place for a stroll, too, with an orchid garden, cultural shows, a gift shop, a massage shop and Malay dishes served in several houses. Children will be delighted to visit the first Legoland in Asia or any of Johor Bahru zoos, including the oldest zoo in Malaysia across the street from Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque.
If you have a couple of days at your disposal, it is worth visiting already mentioned Endau Rompin National Park and Sibu Island.
From Johor Bahru to Singapore
It is only half-an-hour bus ride or train journey from Johor Bahru to Singapore with buses and trains leaving regularly throughout the day. Trains bring you to the Woodlands checkpoint at the Singaporean side of the bridge from where you have to take a bus to the city centre.
Buses from Larkin bus terminal arrive to Golden Mile Tower, northeast of the centre, or Queen Street, at the corner with Ban San Street; both are very handy for getting to your accommodation by metro. There is also a direct service from Legoland Johor offered by several operators (all MYR39-MYR42) to different locations in Singapore including Lavender MRT, Singapore Flyer and Golden Mile Tower.
Johor Bahru has a bad reputation for its crime. Though, true, the crime rate in the city is higher than in other cities and areas of Malaysia, it is definitely not the reason for skipping Johor Bahru. Just be reasonably cautious, do not walk along during nighttime, beware bag snatchers and keep your passport safe.