Johor Bahru – Across the Straights

(pic - Story) JB - Title

While I could write another post about my most recent trip to Singapore, the fact that this is the third time that I have been there in four years I will probably end up going over old ground again. Well, not quite because there were still enough things to do over there that I can continue to write posts about the place, particularly focusing on the places I visited. More so, the more times I visit Singapore more I come to see how similar the city is to cities Australia, particularly with the coffee shops and the craft beer bars that seem to be appearing all over the place (though Australia has yet to embrace the wanders of the hawkers market). However, at this stage I’ll simply mention that I arrived, had a bit of a wander around, and then prepared for my journey onward. However things were a little different this time in that previous departures involved me returning to the airport and catching a flight onward, whereas this time I was leaving by land.


The Checkpoint

Well, there is more than one way to leave Singapore by land (though I am not counting catching a ferry in this instance because that is by water as opposed to land). Well, come to think of it, I still haven’t caught a ferry to Indonesia yet, but that is something I might do if I decide to come in the not to distant future (though university might put a bit of a crimp in that plan, since I’m no longer working). However, leaving future plans aside, there are two bridges, and the main one is through Woodlands to the North.

The plan was originally to catch the train, but the train doesn’t leave all that often. Actually, I had even booked my tickets beforehand (and fortunately it wasn’t all that much). However, when we arrived at the checkpoint we discovered that the station was closed (probably because the train didn’t leave for a couple of hours or something like that). Not really being all that familiar with the place, we decided to see if we could get to the station another way, so headed down the other passageway only to find ourselves heading through passport control and out the other side. The problem was that there wasn’t any railway station, or any way to get to the railway station, just a lot of people and buses. Actually, there were quite a few buses and all of them were heading across the bridge.

(pic - Story) JB - Shopping Centre
We weren’t able to take photos in passport control, so here is a shopping centre

Now that I think about it it was rather funny standing in that place, which was technically a place that existed between two countries – sort of like a no-man’s land. Well, not really, considering it was still technically part of Singapore since the border runs through the middle of the straights. However, it still felt as if we existed in some grey area, and it was an area where we couldn’t turn around and head back because it involved heading back through passport control. The other problem was that none of the bus drivers had any change, so while we had money, we didn’t have the $2.00 that it cost to cross over to the other side. Well, we probably could have walked (and I suspect people do), however before my frustration boiled over too much, I suddenly discovered a $5.00 note in my wallet, and forsook the $1.00 change (there were two of us), and jumped on the bus for the short ride across the other side.

So here we were, standing on the other side of the straights in Malaysia, in a country that I had never visited before. Well, I looked back across the straights at Singapore and sighed once again that I managed to survive the experience without landing up with a fine, or getting kicked out, but then again I’m just naturally paranoid. However, I should mention that this third time here I did see some police officers wandering about, but I will still stick to my position that you generally don’t see them – which as a friend of mine pointed out, doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t wandering around.


Through Customs

A part of me is always apprehensive when entering a new country, namely because I am never really all that sure of what the reception at passport control is going to be. It turned out that the Malaysians are really friendly. In fact one thing I noticed about Malaysia is that it felt like an extension of Singapore. Well, that probably shouldn’t surprise anybody considering that Singapore used to be a part of the country (if only for a really short time), and the whole region was ruled by the British. However, the cultural mix was just as noticeable as it was in Singapore, except that the only Europeans you see tend to be tourists.

Another interesting thing was customs. When I have been through Australia, and Europe, there seems to be a system of honesty – if you mark ‘nothing to declare’ they basically accept it (or at least they have done it when I went through). Mind you, I wouldn’t take that as an excuse to load up with alcohol and cigarettes because I can assure you that the minute you do that is the one time they decide to randomly pick you to have a look through your suitcase. I have had friends brag about the number of cigarettes that they have brought back from overseas, and there was a time when you could bring heaps – however those days are now long gone.

(pic - Johor Bahru) Sentral - Station
Outside Customs

Yet I noticed that this wasn’t the case with Singapore or Malaysia. As soon as we had passed through immigration (or whatever you want to call it –  I like passport control) we found ourselves heading to customs (which is where they make sure you aren’t bringing in any contraband) and sure enough they were checking everybody. Well, not quite checking because opening everybody’s bags and going through them will take ages. These days they just dump your back onto a conveyor belt which sends it through a scanner that makes sure the only thing in your bag are things that a tourist (or whatever) would have in them.

And then we were in Malaysia.

Another World

Sometimes I wonder whether there are any places in the world where you can theoretically walk through a gate and head from a first world metropolis into a third world hell hole. Well, if there is then that place wouldn’t be the route between Singapore and Malaysia. Yet the trek across the bridge did feel like we were heading into another world. Okay, our first stop as we walked out of customs was the railway station, and we did spend some time trying to work out how to actually get out of there and to our hotel. Fortunately our hotel wasn’t too far away, but the challenge was actually getting there. The thing was that the hotel was on the other side of a shopping centre, and getting through the shopping centre was going to pose a bit of a challenge.

(pic - Story) JB - The Other Side

The thing that I noticed with Malaysia, and in a way Singapore as well, is that pretty mucb everything is dead prior to 10:00 in the morning. This is a vast difference to Australia where life is stirring at the crack of dawn, and there are plenty of places to grab a coffee (or a cup of tea in my case) at 7:30 am. However this was not the case in Johor Bahru (the city opposite Singapore) – pretty much everything was dead, and it was 9:00 am. Okay, Singapore wasn’t that bad because at least there were places to grab an early morning coffee (or tea in my case), but it seemed like on the other side of the straights people were still struggling to get out of bed. In fact the next morning when we were waiting to catch our train to head off to KL (Kuala Lumpur), I was forever checking to see if the Startbucks was open – it seemed as if their opening time was ‘when we feel like it’.

The shopping centre proved to be even more of a problem because the only way that we could get to our hotel was to go through it, but the problem was that it was closed, and it wasn’t as if we could easily walk around it. Okay, we probably could, but that would have involved us dragging our suitcases down three flights of stairs, and since my brother’s suitcase was falling apart (and going down stairs also involves me carrying his as well as mine) that wasn’t going to be an option. We did eventually get through to the otherside, though that challenge also involved waiting for I don’t know how long for the elevator to arrive.

(pic - Story) JB - Inside Shopping Centre
Later in the evening – when it was open

So, we finally got to our hotel, and what was even better was that we were shown straight to our rooms, which was a bonus because most hotels that I have been to don’t have your rooms ready until at least 2:00 pm. What that meant was that we could dump our bags and then go and explore, or at least go an look for a nice cup of tea in my case. Yet explore is still the optimal world since it gave us time to wander around Johor Bahru (or as some refer to is – JB – the thing I’ve noticed with Malaysia is a lot of the cities are simply referred to by their initials, well no, not really but it still sounds cool), not that there is all that much there. Okay, they do have Legoland, but you don’t need to travel to JB just to go to Legoland, you can go their directly from Singapore.

Okay, I’ll admit it – we went to JB just to go to Legoland, not that it was all that great because it just turned out to be a Lego themed theme park, though they did have a Lego world that was basically a number of South-east Asian landmarks built entirely out of Lego. However, I suspect that with what they were asking to go inside, paying that much to simply look at a bunch of Lego models might have been a little bit too high. Still, like most theme parks that I have visited, the system is that you pay once to enter and then all of the rides are free (though I wouldn’t suggest going on a weekend or a holiday because the wait times end up being ridiculous). Actually, there was much more to Legoland than just the theme park because they were in the process of building a full blown resort.

(pic - Story) JB - Lego Land
One of the may models

Well, that was actually what I noticed in JB and that is the huge amount of construction. It seemed as if this city was effectively becoming an extension of Singapore. Then again, with the number of vehicles crossing the border I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot of people that would cross on a daily basis simply to go to work. In fact I noticed that there seemed to be quite a few utes ferrying people around Singapore, and in part it reminded me of the image of the Mexican workers that are ferried around the United States. However, beyond that, as I mentioned there was an awful lot of construction going on.

The other thing about JB, or Malaysia as a whole, is the traffic. All of the sudden you step out of a place where the traffic is ordered and controlled to a place were it is a lot more chaotic. Well, not quite because I would suggest that the deeper you head into South East Asia the worse the traffic becomes. Malaysia isn’t all that bad, though it seems that there are a lot more cars on the road, and in fact there are quite a few more motorcycles, though once again the deeper you head into Southeast Asia, the more motorcycles (or scooters as the case may be) do you encounter.

(pic - Story) JB - Quiet Road

Well, as for the rest of JB, there really isn’t all that much here. Sure, they have a stadium, and the King’s Palace (Malaysia is a monarchy, but with a twist – the king is elected – which sort of defeats the purpose of calling him or her a king, I’m not sure why they simply don’t use the word president, or governor general). The taxi drivers are more than happy to give you a tour of the place, but as I’ve mentioned other than Legoland, there isn’t all that much here. Okay, there is a zoo, but if you really want to see a zoo you might as well go back to Singapore.

If you are interested in some other photos, I put them up on Flickr  (though I don’t have many photos of Johor Bahru that are really all that shareworthy, and considering the quality of my photos that is saying something).

I might also share some posts from people that I follow. Cindy Knoke as been writing about her adventure down at Tierra del Fuego (which is literally the ends of the Earth).

Bespoke Traveller tells us about his time in Copenhagen, a city that I really have to get to one of these days.

Three days in Hong Kong – I’ve done that.

Afghanistan, from the Other Side of the Mountain.


Creative Commons License
Johor Bahru – Across the Straights by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.



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