Exploring Johor Bahru Old Town

It’s Thursday 27th August 2015, and after being indoors for too long (settling in to our new home), we decided to go out and explore Johor Bahru Old Town, focussing on the area around the Chinese Heritage Museum (part of the JB Heritage Trail). Now Johor Bahru is the second largest city in Malaysia, and with this title comes certain expectations. But like this photo below, you have to search through the dull bits (the foliage) to be rewarded with the points of beauty (the flower).

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The City Square shopping mall in Jalan Wong Ah Fook is the starting point if you are driving into JB or if you have arrived on a day trip from Singapore. When you use the road bridge, you see JB summed up in one image.

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JB is undergoing a transformation; there’s the glossy streamlined shopping malls on the right, the mixed bunch of older shops on the left, and highrise development down the road. In between there are major works in progress to control the Sungai Segget (Segget River) which runs under the main road. 

We slipped through one of the allies to take us from the dark side of Jalan Wong Ah Fook to the brighter streets around Jalan Trus.

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On Jalan Trus, there were the instantly recognisable features of Chinese inhabitants, but here they were using pineapples to support their offerings. The state of Johor is the major producer of pineapples in Malaysia, yet despite this, I haven’t seen too many pineapples for sale. Perhaps it is the wrong time of year? I did see longaan and rambutan for sale outside a Chinese funeral parlour though!

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It wasn’t until we were returning to the carpark that we realised that Johor’s most important Chinese temple was just across the street. Johor Ancient Temple is dwarfed in size by the surrounding buildings, but is still a functioning place of worship. 

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Inside the walled temple was a delicate pomegranate tree; I wonder who eats the fruit?

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This area of JB is remarkable for the co-existence of major religious buildings. In addition to the Chinese Temple, there is the Gurdwaha Sahib Sikh Temple (not shown) and the colourful Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple (shown below). 

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The entrance to the Hindu Temple takes you down the most fragrant street in all of JB! There are plenty of flower shops and the smell of insence is everywhere; as is the sound of Indian music.

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As the next few days would be holiday time in Malaysia (Malaysia National Day on 31st August), the shops and streets were being decorated with flags.

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Other buildings were more permanently decorated as we start to move into the ‘cultural’ area of Jalan Dhoby and Jalan Tan Hiok Nee.

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Lunchtime!  So sat upstairs in Restoran Hua Mui and enjoyed a tasty Chinese meal, with no chopsticks in sight! Everyone here uses a spoon and fork, or their hands, for eating. I have included a photo of my drink of lemon barley as it brought back memories of cordial drunk as a child (before fizzy drinks became the norm).

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The Chinese Heritage Museum is in Jalan Tan Hiok Nee and is worth a visit to learn a bit more about the history of JB and the role of the Chinese community here. Initially, many Chinese came over from Singapore to establish gambier (used for dyeing linen and medicinal purposes) and pepper plantations here and trades very quickly became associated with different dialect-speaking groups. This small street is lined with interesting shops and cafes, so well worth a visit.

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Back on the main road, a view of the Sultan Ibrahim Building in Jalan Bukit Timbalan. This was the tallest building in JB up until the 1970’s, built for the British Colonial Government in 1940.

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As you can see, JB is a real mixture of cultures and styles, all of which make up the unique identity of Malaysia.


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