Once again I find myself across the causeway in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. The main objective of this trip was to attend my friend’s wedding. Emphasis on the word “was”. What was supposed to be a 2 hours journey dragged on for 4 hours. This was one of those unexplainable bad days when crossing the border from Singapore to Malaysia drags on for no apparent reason.
While I missed my friend’s wedding lunch, this trip across the border provided an excellent opportunity for me to let you guys in on a location you can either do as a day trip from Singapore or as a layover before you embark on your exploration of Peninsula Malaysia.
A word of caution for all travellers who intend to do a day trip. Please time your visit to happen on a weekday. The crowds are lesser and you will likely avoid the infamous human traffic jam while crossing the border. Surely you wouldn’t want your day trip to be unnecessarily shortened by a long wait at both customs, right?
Johor Bahru lies on the tip of Peninsula Malaysia. As the state capital of Johor and being so close to Singapore, Johor Bahru became the natural getaway location for Singaporeans and expats alike in search for a cheap holiday. Whether be it for cheap shopping thrills or a food gourmet hunt, Johor Bahru promises to offer each visitor something
How to get there?
The quickest way to get to the border and to avoid the confusing layout of Woodlands bus interchange is to take a train to Kranji MRT Station and then take 160, 170 or 170x from across the road. The bus will drop you off at the checkpoint just before the causeway into Malaysia.
What to get a forecast of the traffic? Check out this awesome camera feed.
Get off the bus (if you are paying using cash, remember to retain your ticket).
Go up the escalator into the customs area. Once you clear customs, go through the exit and go down to the bus boarding area. If you are paying using your ez-link card, board any public bus heading to Johor (i.e. 950, 170, 170x and 160). If you paid using cash, you may have to board back the same numbered bus. I’m not too sure of this, so please ask the bus driver.
If all went smoothly, you should be in and out of the Singapore customs within 20 minutes. “IF” is emphasised here.
The bus will bring you across to Malaysia where you will have to disembark to clear the Malaysian customs.
Now. Pay attention. It is important you get this right (more so during a crowded Saturday or Sunday). The Malaysian customs is built such that there are two rows of counters. If you can imagine it, the first row has pairs of counters separated by single queues leading to the second row of counters (which also is made up of pairs of counters). Due to this unique layout, each counter in the first row is serviced by its own queue. Whereas for the second row, each pair of counters is serviced by one queue. So doing your math, the queue leading up to the second row counters will clear faster. So please pick the right queue and save yourself some trouble.
Okay. Give yourself a pat on the back for making it across the border. Pheewww.
Where to stay
It depends on your budget and what you intend to do. Johor Bahru is quite spread out and there are different areas you can visit. Personally, I stick to the area just after the crossing and slightly further north as I think these areas promise sufficient things to do for a day trip or a short layover.
Near Jalan Wong Ah Fook
Having crossed customs, you will end up at City Square Mall and Komtar. These are large shopping malls built along Jalan Wong Ah Fook. If you just intend to have a cheap getaway without having to risk the “dangerous” streets of Johor Bahru, you can consider sticking to these malls and the surrounding area (more on that in another post). You can also stay overnight at one of the nearby hotels.
Pros: Simple and fuss free. This was what I did in the beginning when I started to venture into Johor Bahru.
Cons: Travelling isn’t much of a problem in Johor (since Ubers and Grabs are readily available). The main drawback of staying just by the border would be the price. You can get better sized rooms for around the same price if you were to go further into Johor Bahru.
I would personally recommend you make that extra effort to go further inland. There are a few ways you can get to KSL.
If travelling along and on a really tight budget, there is a bus interchange just before you reach City Square Mall. Keep an eye out on the left for the interchange:
The bus to take is S1. It gets you to KSL City Mall for just MYR1.50 (35 US cents?).
If you don’t mind splurging a bit you can get to KSL City Mall either by taxi or by Uber and/or Grab.
If taking a taxi, also head the same direction as the bus interchange but instead of going towards the buses, make a u-turn (i.e. walk along the direction of the road) and you will see a row of taxis further up. There is a ticket counter there and I believe KSL should be approximately MYR11. So, if you are travelling in a group of 3 or 4, why not take a taxi?
There are a few places you can stay at around KSL. My recommendation is either the serviced apartments or the hotel above KSL City Mall itself. The location is convenient being just above the mall and also close to awesome eating spots.
If you are slightly on a budget, you can consider staying at New York Hotel which is slightly further off from KSL. The rooms are cheaper per night by approximately USD15-22. While the location is not as desirable, the cost savings you have per room allows you to go about everywhere in a Grab or Uber (The most I made was around MYR 8 (USD1.90) per ride?). Do keep an eye out for my upcoming review of New York Hotel.
Pros: The KSL area is more laid back compared to City Square Mall and provides a better overall feel to the trip. The hotels in the area are also cheaper and more value for money than those by the border.
Cons: Just that tiny weeny bit of extra travelling.
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