For someone that grew up on a continent bordered by sea, the idea of crossing a border to reach another country seems foreign. That’s why the idea of going to Malaysia, specifically Johor Bahru from Singapore seemed like a good idea.
My colleagues had told me to go early though to avoid traffic and queues at the immigration area. I probably needed to go:
1. To the bus terminal before 8AM;
2. Not during school holidays; and
3. Not on the weekend (inevitable as a weekend trip)
I know now for future. The process to get to Johor is straight forward once you’ve been through it, but as a first timer it’s a little confusing. For any work permit holders, make sure to bring your passport, work permit (IC) and keep hold of your bus tickets.
How to get to Johor Bahru
1. Take either the public SMRT bus (red) or the Causeway “CW” bus (yellow) to Woodlands Checkpoint. I recommend the CW bus because its a direct bus to the checkpoint, as opposed to the SMRT which will stop at all major bus stops per usual. It costs $3.30 SGD and you pay the uncle at the bus stop (This one being at the carpark of the Newton Hawker Centre).
2. The bus will drop you off either at the Checkpoint, or 50 metres from the Checkpoint depending on traffic. Just follow the crowd. You will walk to Singapore immigration.
3. At this point either go to the line on the left if you are a Singaporean, or have a work permit in Singapore. Otherwise go to the right if you are on a tourist visa. This process for me on a Saturday took about an hour and a half. Hence why you should go early and avoid school holidays when the kids go across the border to go ‘cafe hopping’
4. After this, you will follow the crowd downstairs to the bus terminal. The floor will have a queuing grid to show you where to queue up depending if you took the CW or SMRT bus (they are different lines). Join the line corresponding to the bus you took. You do not need to take the exact same bus that you arrived on of course (because it will be chaos). Just make sure to keep your ticket on hand otherwise you will need to pay again.
5. The bus will take you a few hundred metres to the Malaysian Checkpoint, where you will need to get your passport stamped by border control. For work pass holders, the officers will ask to see your IC / work permit. Singaporeans go straight through because they know they will return home 🙂 This took about 50 minutes to go through
After this you are free to walk into City Square Mall and Komtar JBCC, which are the two major malls after the Checkpoint.
This ordeal lasted for 3.5 hours in total to cross the checkpoint. Not the best way to start a weekend 🙂 It was an incredibly taxing experience, and i even witnessed seeing a girl faint after crossing the Malaysian immigration officers, probably due to the heat and dehydration. Its intense! Please do not take photos whilst in Singapore immigration in particular. I saw a guard screaming at a young girl to grab her attention. He pulled her out of line, and got her to delete the photos off her phone.
What to do in Johor?
There’s not a hell of alot to do in JB. Its a quick getaway for Singaporeans to go cafe hopping in the nearby hipster joints, to go shopping for somewhat cheaper clothing (didnt seem like that big of a difference to be honest), to eat (definately cheaper) and to grab groceries (100% cheaper).
We skipped looking for the hipster cafes outside of the malls, and elected to stay inside after being exhausted. First stop was a restaurant called Dragon-I. Think of it as a cheaper alternative to Din Tai Fung, but chinese malay style. For around $30 SGD we managed to have a rice dumpling (Its dragon boat festival season), a tray of steamed xiao long bao, spinach dumplings, claypot chicken rice with chinese sausages and mushrooms with soy bean milk, which is pretty cheap. That would probably be more like $50-60 across the bridge.
For dessert, we went to a place called Penang Teochew Chendul in City Square. The photos dont do it justice, its actually pretty good but could use more cendol. The liquid is more like a milk tea taste.
Shopping wise, we purchased some fresh bread from a bakery (cause cheap), cosmetics from Watsons (again way cheaper), and magazines that i usually read (Time, Monocle, etc.). For clothes shopping particularly sports wear, i didnt find it much cheaper compared to Singapore.
To be honest, I’m not sure if i would go back to Johor unless i knew the journey both ways would be no more than 2 hours. I cant justify spending my weekend the way i did. Though next time i want to try the hipster cafes and see how their coffee tastes. Maybe buy some cheap groceries to bring back 🙂
The trip back was much less painful. Overall around 45 minutes to an hour to go back to Newton. We did leave around 6PM though, so i guess alot of people would be staying in JB to have dinner. Dinner was BBQ stingray and sambal kang kong for instead. Newton gets an incredibly bad rapt from locals as being a tourist trap. Though i find the prices roughly the same as say, lau pa sat and east coast food lagoon. I’d say the quality is even better than east coast for BBQ sting ray. Maybe I’m still a tourist and don’t know any better 🙂