After being inspired by the Malaysian Heritage Festival, I made the trip to Johor Baru, Malaysia with my friends, Elly, Anna, and Vu.
This city is conveniently connected to Singapore by a mile long causeway. Many people choose to live in Johor Bahru and commute to Singapore to save money. Most travelers going through Malaysia skip this city because of its poor reputation, but we chose to visit because it was the most affordable and accessible city in Malaysia. The attractions include temples, mosques, shopping areas, and a heritage district that offers poetic street scenes, galleries and artistic cafes.
To get there, we took the red line MRT from Novena to the Woodlands stop. After disembarking, we took a few buses and eventually ended up across the boarder and into the city.
Upon arrival, I immediately noticed stark differences between the Malaysian and Singaporean environments and cultures. Below were my first impressions:
- Everything seemed old and dirty. The buses looked as if they were over 20 years old and as if they could break down at any moment. Many of the buildings looked faded, aged, and as if they were falling apart.
- Muslim culture dominates. There were a lot of mosques in the area, most women wore hijabs and modest clothing, and delicious muslim food was available everywhere.
- I noticed significantly more men out in public than women. Some of the crowded market and restaurant areas were made up of almost only men. I’m not sure if this is a coincidence, muslim tradition, cultural factor, or something else, but I am curious about where the women were and why they weren’t seen as often.
- I saw significantly more poverty in comparison to Singapore. While living in almost utopian Singapore, I sadly found it easy to forget that serious poverty and crime still exists close by. Johor Bahru was a reality check. Several people slept on the street with bare feet and ratty clothes and some people begged.
We began our time in Johor Bahru by eating at a local, traditional restaurant. The place served several variations of mee goreng (see previous post) and also a few random western dishes such as fried chicken for the tourists. Shortly after lunch, our group went to an adorable, almost hipster ice cream parlor. It was extremely touristy and unlike what we would usually try to visit, but the incredible ice cream made it all worth it. I also appreciated the branding. The interior was a bubblegum pink and the entire style incorporated an signature and chic “o” in several elements throughout the store.
Once finished at the ice cream shop, we explored the streets. We first saw an Indian neighborhood. There were several shops selling Bollywood movies, spices, incense, flowers, produce, cheap electronics, etc. We also briefly stopped by a gorgeous Hindu temple.
Next we explored the streets near a large Indian mosque. Outside, we could hear loud repetitive, echoes of a man singing the prayer call (Muslim readers, if I explained that incorrectly, please tell me). The area was fairly desolate because enormous crowds could be seen in the mosque. I wanted to visit and step inside, but I knew that my short sleeved t-shirt and shorts were not appropriate and non-Muslims are not allowed to enter mosques during prayer time.
After viewing the mosque, we headed to the most populous market area. There were street vendors, incredibly low price merchandise, and food vendors. This area was my favorite to observe because of the people watching and vast display of Malaysian culture.
Our last stop was the Johor Bahru city square. It was an ordinary mall, except it was significantly cheaper, more crowded, and the building was extremely aged. We spent a lot of time at this place because of the air conditioning and interesting stores.
Finally we decided to head back to Singapore. It only took us 2 hours to go from Singapore to JB, but it unfortunately took us about 4 hours to go from JB to Singapore because of the enormous crowds and intense security checks. By the time the photo below was taken, we had already stood in line for about 2 hours.
Johor Bahru was an eye opening adventure and I am glad I could finally get to see some of Malaysia. Hopefully I will have time to plan a future weekend in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, for my next Malaysian trip. Stay tuned!