Last August we spent a week in Johor Bahru as part of our family holiday. We chose the city predominantly as a gateway to both Singapore and Tioman Island. With plentiful, cheap and spacious accommodation (we used Airbnb to find an apartment) it was an ideal first base. Here are some of the tips that we picked up, based on our own personal experience.
1. Johor is best visited between April and September
Ideally you need to avoid mid October until the end of March when you visit Johor. We visited in August, and saw very little rain, although the temperatures and humidity were very high. Do be aware that the monsoon season does vary between different parts of Malaysia, so if you plan to travel around the country, check each destination’s weather outlook separately.
2. It takes a long time to drive through the border between Johor and Singapore
We drove through twice, and it took around two hours on a Friday evening just to cross the border after we flew in to Singapore. Coming back from Tioman Island on a Sunday afternoon, the border crossing took approximately an hour. I don’t necessarily condone it, but the taxi drivers are experts at cutting in and out of the queuing traffic to ensure that the journey takes the least time possible. Whilst shortening the journey, it can make for a cringeworthy ride!
Apparently it is relatively easy to take the train across the border if you are on foot. This is a good option if you are travelling light, although with two younger children, we generally found it easier to use taxis. We prebooked our transfer on arrival from Changi Airport to Johor, and we found the service to be efficient and reliable.
3. Use the taxi app ‘Grab’ to navigate Johor
The taxi app ‘Grab’ was absolutely invaluable when we needed to get around the city. Journeys cost £1-£1.50 on average, and drivers were reliable and efficient. Tipping is not expected for taxis in Malaysia.
4. Be aware that Alcohol is expensive in Malaysia
If you are partial to the odd alcoholic tipple, try to plan ahead enough to buy some supplies at the airport duty free (you are allowed to bring in one litre of duty free spirit per person). If you happen to be visiting one of the duty free islands: Tioman, Labuan or Langkawi, then these are ideal times to stock up, as alcohol prices are significantly cheaper. Also, licenced restaurants are in the minority, so you may wish to check before you go out for dinner. Malaysia is a Muslim country, so alcohol is generally minimal and aimed more towards tourists and expats.
5. Spend some time learning about the local cuisine before you visit
There is no doubt that the best food that you are going to eat is the local cuisine, so you need to be familiar with at least a few of the local dishes. You may find pictures and translations to English in some places, however it will be good to know the difference between your Nasi Lemak and your Maggi Goreng; paricularly if you are travelling with a couple of fussy kids like we were! Some of the bigger hotels do some good value Western buffets if you get a little tired of chicken and rice.
Overall, Johor was a good introduction to Malaysia, and there are a lot of family days out to be enjoyed at a reasonable cost. Here is one of my diary entries about our stay if you would like to read more.