Johor Bahru sits at the strategic — and sometimes uneasy — location between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Traditionally, it has been the fertile site for agriculture, electronics manufacturing and food processing, but in recent years Johor’s economy has increasingly come to rely on urban tourism and retail. As a result, the city is now one of the fastest-growing municipalities in Malaysia, which means you won’t be short of things to do here.
For the uninitiated, the Hakkas are a people with cultural roots in Hakka-speaking provinces of mainland China. Way before eclectic and colorful became à la mode, the interiors of this Hakka townhouse already featured colorful and eclectic mixtures of functionality and sentimentality. Discover old typewriters, rattan furniture and farming tools in an instructional exploration of traditional Hakka life. Entrance costs RM5 (USD $1.25) per person. Call in advance to arrange your visit.
5, Jalan Station, Kampung Bekok, 85400 Chaah, Johor, +6019969 1838
It’s impossible to miss the Istana Bukit Serene from the Skudai freeway. The official palace of the Sultan of Johor, this stately home boasts a strategic bird’s eye view of Singapore, which proved particularly useful for the Japanese Army in World War II. The palace is not open to the public, but the gardens surrounding it are. The most iconic feature is the crown archway, but the gardens also feature tall water fountains, manicured landscapes and dazzling light features (at night).
Also known as the ‘Firefly Valley Leisure Park,’ this is where you get to see nature’s twinkles on land. For RM20 (USD $5) per person, you’ll be able to take a small boat with other passengers to coast along the sides of a mangrove swamp, where the fireflies shimmer and glimmer in the night. Best to visit on a new moon when the fireflies won’t be outshone by the moonlight.
Do you like nature, water and walking? If so, you’ll get your fill at the Pulai Waterfall. If you begin from the foot of the hill, it will take you about two hours to reach the base of the waterfall. It’s no Niagara Falls, but the water is clean and the area is shaded by thick tropical trees. Want to go for a swim? Bring your swimwear.
At RM2 (USD $0.50) per entry, how could you not visit? Tigers, monkeys and flamingos sleep, swing and swim in equal measure, and children will be delighted by the expansive grass field with happily grazing deer. While the Johor Zoo is not a large zoo by any means, the animals here are nevertheless well-fed and live in healthily spacious enclosures.
This is the place to go with your beau or belle. The long promenade at Puteri Harbour is the highlight of the seafront here, as visitors enjoy the sea breeze, rocking yachts and view of the horizon. Restaurants and retail shops line the walkway, including a Sanrio Hello Kitty World, and quirky art features decorate the retail-free land. It has a similar vibe to the Straits Quay in Penang.
Thanks to its urban influence from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Johor boasts a number of fashionable establishments for coffee (and tea) lovers. From the cat-loving Cats Cafe and waffle-rich Brew Orchestra, to the complex espressos at Faculty of Caffeine, this list will show you all the cafes you need to try downtown. Expect caffeine-induced bliss.
Cats Cafe – 31A, Lorong 2c, Kampung Bahru, 80100 Johor Bahru, Johor, +607207 0399
The Brew Orchestra – 19, Jalan Molek 1/5C, Taman Molek, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor, +607358 8234
Faculty of Caffeine – 106, Jalan Trus, Bandar Johor Bahru, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor, +6012547 7885
My Liberica Coffee – 73, Jalan Molek 3/10, Taman Molek, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor, +607361 1069
Thousands of glass pieces make up this glittering Hindu temple. The glass architecture was inspired by Guru Bhagawan Sittar’s visit to Bangkok, during which a brilliant light from two miles away caught his attention. The light turned out to be a temple made of glass artwork. Some 300,000 pieces of colored glass ornament the Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman Glass Temple now, making it a dazzling — almost blinding — sight. Entrance costs RM10 (USD $2.50).
Wadi Hana, 80300 Johor Bahru, Johor, +607224 5152
One of the largest architectural triumphs in Johor Bahru, the Sultan Abu Baker Mosque features Victorian-Moorish architecture from the late 19th century and can house up to 2,000 worshippers at any given time. For those who prefer not to enter the mosque, the view from the outside will more than make up for what you’re missing inside. The mosque overlooks the Straits of Johor, and the silhouette of Singapore can be seen from a vague blue-green distance.
Masjid Sultan Abu Bakar, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor, +607223 4935
We couldn’t end this list without mentioning Johor’s favorite theme park — Legoland. With water parks, Lego Kingdoms and mad roller coasters, this amusement park is bound to amuse adults and children alike. Lego lovers will get to celebrate all things Lego, because even your bed could be Lego-themed.
7, Jalan Legoland, Medini, 79250 Nusajaya, Johor, +607597 8888