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What to do in Johor? | Helen Gray

What to do in Johor?

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When Lawrence and I moved to Johor Bahru three years ago (August 2015) we would ask the locals “What is there to do in JB?” and “Where do you take visitors?” The one constant answer always seemed to revolve around food! Indeed, you could make it your mission to dine in a different place everyday and never run out of places to go. (if food is your thing, then check out Johor Kaki). But we wanted to know more about the cultural activities in JB and the state of Johor, activities through which we might learn more about Malaysian culture.

Over the years, I have written many blogs on places visited, activities undertaken, and history researched. So, I thought I would collate these blogs here by providing links through to the various pages on my website, and links to Facebook pages which might be of interest to expats.


So, if you are new to Johor and wonder what there is to do, please take a look through the links below and head out to discover that there really is more to Johor than just good food. And, bear in mind that this information is far from complete as I have not been everywhere yet!



Where can I buy, etc etc ????

New to Johor Bahru and want to know where to find a dentist? Where to shop? Recommendations for hairdressers? Best schools? etc etc. Join these FB groups and ask those questions, and if you find something which might be of interest to their members, then don’t forget to post the information.

Johor Parents (https://www.facebook.com/groups/johormums/)

Johor Bahru Expat Community (https://www.facebook.com/groups/677452882361461/)


Want a social life?

Johor Bahru Mingles for social events held monthly at different locations around JB (https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheExpatMingleJohor/)

Join the International Womens Association - Johor Bahru (https://www.facebook.com/JBInternationalWomensAssociation/)

Consider joining an exercise group in your local park. I understand that many expat estates have exercise groups, but if you want to meet the locals, then visit a park a little further afield and outside of a gated community area. Taman Merdeka is my local park, and the effort of getting up early has rewarded me with friends who have greatly enriched my experience of living in Johor Bahru.


Interested in the history of Johor?

Check out my Culture and History of Johor Bahru webpage.

To help you explore the central area of Johor Bahru and learn about the history of the buildings and communities there, I have produced a unique book entitled ‘Johor Bahru - A Walking History Tour’ which can be purchased through this link.

If you want a quick introduction to The Hidden History of Johor Bahru, then you can download my 25 min video on the founding of Johor Bahru. The video link can be found on my webpage The culture and history of Johor Bahru where you can also find links to my blogs on this topic. In addition to describing some of the history of JB, these are reports on the relationship between Singapore and Johor, and characters and places of the Old Johor Sultanate, and stories of the different communities in Johor Bahru.

Explore the Johor River, the home of the Old Johor Sultanate.

Explore Melaka and find its history on the streets.

Explore the Royal City of Muar, and learn about the start and finish of the Malacca Sultanate, the forerunner of the Old Johor Sultanate.

Follow the story of the making of The Hidden History of Johor Lama.


Are there any good museums or historical buildings to visit in Johor?

The Sultan Abu Bakar Museum used to be the definitive museum for Malay history here in JB, but it has been closed for many years and no one will say when it will re-open.

The Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque is an imposing building overlooking the Johor Straits. After extensive renovations, it reopened in June 2019 but non-Muslims are not allowed inside the mosque by themselves. 

The Chinese Heritage Museum in the Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Area is a real treasure and an ideal place to visit to get a great overview of the city of Johor Bahru and the State of Johor (closed Mondays).

The Figure Museum (Muzium Tokoh Johor) or is one of the few Government-run museums currently open to the public (closed Fridays). There are explanations in English on the ground floor giving you some idea about the previous occupants of this grand building.

The Yayasan Warisan Johor is a complex of buildings with exhibition/theatre spaces, a Weaving Gallery, and a library. Its function is to promote Johor Heritage, but currently its website has nothing in English, and it seems to cater more for group educational visits rather than individuals. You can pop in and visit the Johor Weaving Gallery, but there are unlikely to be any weavers there. The contents of the beautiful Galeri Seni, previously on Jalan Petri, are currently being moved to the Yayasan Warisan Johor, so hopefully this new Galeri Seni museum space will be open in 2019.

The Kota Johor Lama Museum is a good hours drive away, but shows you one of the last sites of the Old Johor Sultanate which controlled maritime trade along the Johor River. Click here for information on my first and here for my second visit there.

The Kota Tinggi Museum is described as the place to visit to learn more about the Old Johor Sultanate. The museum has been renovated and re-opended in March 2019, click here for details.

The Fo Guang Shan HsingMa So Education Centre is a Buddhist centre of learning with an interesting museum and impressive worshipping hall (click here for details).


What cultural events can I experience?

The largest cultural events in Johor Bahru are the Chinese Chingay Festival and the Indian Thaipusam Festival, both of which are held in the early part of the year. As the dates depend on the lunar calender, then you will need to look these up each year.

The Chingay Festival: I have written extensively on this festival as there is very little information in English currently available on websites. You can find out more about the Events Schedule  and watch a video of the full five days festivities at Chingay Johor Bahru - the full five days. If you have the opportunity, watching the night parade is a must.  You can find links to more accounts of the Chingay celebration on this webpage ‘The culture and history of Johor Bahru’. 

The Thaipusam Festival is celebrated by the Tamil Hindus and is another event with a street parade. All the HIndu temples in JB will hold devotional celebrations, and you can read about these events at Thaipusam Festival, Johor Bahru 2017 and at Thaipusam Festival, Johor Bahru 2018

There is a lesser known Hindu festival in around August called the Golden Chariot Parade or the Aadipoora Thiruvizha festival. It is a very colourful night time parade and well worth watching.

In the weeks preceding Deepavali, (Divali, the Hindu Festival of Light), there is a colourful street market in central JB.

The Temple of Fine Arts organises Indian cultural events, focussing on dance and music. Check our their webpage and follow them on FB to be informed of latest happenings.

The International Kite Festival is held in Pasir Gudang in February, so check out their website for details. My account of a visit there in March 2019 can be found by clicking here.

Hari Raya open house at the palace. My account of open house at the Istana Pasir Pelangi can be found by clicking here. And more open house events are described here.


Interested in ‘Green Living’?

Discover more about Johor Green at http://www.johorgreen.com and https://www.facebook.com/johorgreen/

Visit the Edible Park in Medini Iskandar Puteri (https://www.facebook.com/medinigreenparks/). Currently the Edible Park has a cafe open on Saturday lunchtimes, a Farmers Market on the first Saturday of the month, and various family-centred workshops held on Saturdays or Sundays. Check out my blogs The Edible Park in Nusajaya and Harvest Festival at the Edible Park and follow the Medini Green Parks FB page for regular updates of activities.


Interestested in Social Society?

Follow ENGAGE who organised, amongst other things, the talk by Clare Newcastle-Brown, the author of The Sarawak Report.

Follow Think City, a community-forced urban regeneration organisation facilitating the revitalisation of the culture and heritage of Johor Bahru. We presented our documentary on ‘The Hidden History of Johor Bahru’ at their offices in Jalan Dhoby, under the banner of “What’s your Story of Johor Bahru?”. Think City also hosted the launch of GARIS, a book of sketches of Johor buildings made by the Johor Sketchers, and helped publisize the ’24 Festive Drums’ festival to a non-Chinese audience. If you are in the Chinese Heritage Area on a weekend, take a look at their offices in case there is an event on which might be of interest to you.

Support JARO (Johor Area Rehabilitation Organisation) who produce baskets, rattan furniture, batik gift bags, cloth-bound notebooks and photo albums, and many more delightful gift items. They have a Facebook page, but Yee Lin’s blog will give you a better idea on what’s available.

Become a volunteer for the Riding for the Disabled program at the Horse Valley Riding Academy.

Become a volunteer for the Malaysian Red Crescent. Get an idea of their activities by clicking here.

Support Jeiwa Power House (see their FB page), and organisation to help local disadvantaged women who produce craft products and food stuffs. Click here for more details.


Interested in arty events?

Delve through the extensive calender of events of the Johor Society for the Performing Arts (https://www.jspa.org.my/). They are responsible for organising the annual Johor Arts Festival (held in Sept/Oct) which showcases dance, music, theatre, film, and much more.

Check out the unique creative space known as 11F (https://www.facebook.com/its11F/). Meet fellow artists, designers, photographers, musicians, and much more in this very hip place.

If you are interesting in sketching on the streets, then check out the Johor Sketchers (https://www.facebook.com/groups/666876979994604/) and look at their book Garis launched in Oct. 2018.

Look out for the annual Jazz Festival in Puteri Harbour, in September.

Watch out for events of the 24 Festive Drums, a spectacular drum performance  originating in Johor Bahru and now performed worldwide. Look out for their street events to get a taster.


Where can I take visitors for the day?

If you need to keep a family, including children, occupied for a day, then I would recommend a trip to Kukup on the west coast of Johor. This trip allows you to drive through some typical Malaysian countryside, take a unique park and ride experience into Kukup, eat a delicious seadfood meal overlooking the sea, take a boat ride and explore the mangrove swamps of the Kukup National Park, stop off at the fishermens’ raft on the water, and return home exhausted! Check out more in the link here.

Drive out to Desaru on the east coast and experience the beach! But remember, the monsoon season in late Oct-March will prevent an sea-based activities. You can visit the public beach in Desaru or one of the resorts, and stop off at the Desaru Fruit Farm or Crocodile Farm, depending on your interests. If you are more interested in history, you can make a detour to visit Kota Johor Lama on the banks of the Johor River.

Head off to Gunung Pulau for a hike in hills and a swim in the waterfalls. Click here for what to expect.

Book a boat trip at Sungai Melayu Ecotourism and discover life on the river just a few miles from the heart of JB.

Visit the Johor Zoo at feeding time. While there are some aspects of this zoo which I am not a fan of, there is still something here for the children. Click here for an account of my visit in 2017.

Visit the Glass Temple. The inside decoration of this Hindu temple so unique and well worth a visit (allow 30 min). Check out my photos here.

Visit the Kuso Trick Art centre in JB, an ideal place for children on a rainy day. Even adults can have some fun too! [Nov. 2018: just learnt that this centre has closed. Still, if you come across another 3D Trick Photo place, do give it a try if you have young children to entertain for a while.]

Visit a local Sunday morning food market, or any of the wonderful food markets which spring up during Ramadan.

Visit the Crown Arch in front of the Istana Bukit Serene in Johor Bahru and enjoy the colourful fountains and light show in the evening.


Where can I go for a 2D/1N trip?

Visit Muar, the home of Sultan Hussein after being ousted by Temenggong Abdul Rahman in the early 19th century. This drive can be done in one day (it’s 2.5h each way), but consider staying overnight to enjoy walking around the streets in the cooler evening temperature.

Visit the beaches of Penyabong, just north of Mersing on the east coast. This is a 3h drive and can be done in a day, but there are plenty of accommodation options to make this a more relaxed option. I have visited Penyabong several times, so take a look at what you might see Aug. 2016, 6 March 2017, 23 March 2017, Oct. 2017, December 2018.

Visit Malacca. I have visited Malacca/Melaka a couple of times, and had an overnight trip there in Nov. 2015. If you have a bit longer, there is much to discover in Melaka The History of Melaka (30-31st Jan 2019). And a drive south from Melaka to Johor Bahru along Route 5 makes for an interesting journey and a good alternative tot he expressway if you are not in a hurry.


What about island hopping?

Off the east coast, and mostly accessed from Mersing, are a host of resort islands covering a range of price levels. As someone who suffers from extreme sea sickness, I have so far avoided visiting any of these islands, but don't let me put you off! Just remember to avoid the Northeast Monsoon season from Oct. to March as many resort islands are closed due to rough seas.


What about the rest of Malaysia and even our neighbouring Indonesia?

Here are accounts of my travels in the region since arriving in Johor Bahru in mid-2015. Hopefully, these stories might inspire you to travel around this highly varied region as well.

Visit Janda Baik, a typical Malay kampung just 45 mins drive from Kuala Lumpur. I have visited here several times, and in 2018 produced a guidebook of the kampung for the local Resort Owners Association. Here are links to my blogs: A Grand Tour of Janda Baik, August 2016Janda Baik - part II, October 2016 Janda Baik Top 30 Attractions!, July 2018 and Durian season in Pahang, July 2019.

Have a long weekend in Cameron Highlands and experience the cool hill top stations, tea plantaions, strawberry fields, etc.  See Cameron Highlands, May 2016.

Stay overnight in/near the Colmar Tropicale in Genting Highlands, and pretend you are in a French Alsacian Village. See Colmar Tropicale, August 2016.

Take a road trip to Ipoh. Spend a week driving up the west coast of Peninsula Malaysia, stopping along the way to see the varied countryside and rich history of this area (Paya Indah Wetlands, Morib, Kuala Selangor, Sekinchan rice paddies, Sungkai, Gua Tempurung caves). Then explore Ipoh by following the Ipoh Heritage Trail, visit Kellie’s Castle and the Chinese cave temples. See A Road Trip to Ipoh, February 2017.

Visit Penang. The Colonial and Chinese history of Penang make this an interesting place to explore, see Penang, November 2017. In my blog I describe Colonial Penang, The Protestant Cemetery, The Blue Mansion, Chinese temples, Chinese streets, and walks around the town.

Visit Malaysian Borneo. Check out my account of a fabulous holiday in Sabah and Sarawak in August 2017. In Sabah I visited and experienced Sandakan town, Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre, Moon Bears and the Rainforest Discovery Centre, Gomantong caves (the source of birds' nests for soup), Kinabatangan River Cruise, Proboscis monkeys and Silvery Lutungs at Labuk Bay, and the beaches of Kota Kinabalu. In Sarawak I explored Kuching city, the Sarawak Cultural Village, and The Brooke Gallery at Fort Margherita.

Explore Bali and Java, Indonesia 2018. In Bali, we hired a car and explored Ubud market, Tegallalong Rice Terrace, Tanah Lot Temple, Taman Ayun Temple, Sanur beach and Uluwatu Temple. In Java we took ourselves around Surabaya, then took a guided tour to Bromo Tenggar Semeru National Park, Malang, Yogyakarta (Borobudur and Prambanan Temple), Bogor Botanical Gardens and Jakarta.

Visit Langkawi for wonderful beaches, nature trails, zip lining, and much more besides.

Visit the Niah Caves in Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo). See my account of a trip to Bintulu.

Visit Port Dickson and the Tanjung Tuan Recreational Park for a hike, or the Pengkalan Kempas historical complex. Check out details here.


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© Helen Gray 2019