Delight in the Royal town of Muar

Muar, the main town in Muar district, has a wealth of culture and heritage and is also known as Bandar Maharani. 

When Johor ruler, Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim died in 1862, he was succeeded by his son, Temenggong Abu Bakar, who adopted the title of Maharajah in 1868. 

This town got its other name when Maharajah Abu Bakar visited Muar in 1887 with his consort, Maharani Fatimah, and he conferred the name Bandar Maharani or Empress Town, in her honour.

I could relate to the town’s proud heritage as I explored a bit of Muar, which is fast developing into an attractive tourist destination. And within a few hours, I discovered its charming heritage buildings, local food and attractions.

Here are 10 interesting things in Muar:

The shop-front of a local traditional business within a prewar shop-house at Jalan Sulaiman
Many shops in Muar like this continue in business within prewar shop-houses. The signboard outside reads A.K. Mohamed Ibrahim, a business which had been trading here since 1918.

An ancient locomotive of the Muar State Railway (MSR) on display
Muar was the only town in the nation to have its own local railway network that linked Jalan Sulaiman and Sungai Pulai for a distance of 22.5 km. A relic from the Muar State Railway (MSR) which operated from 1889 to 1925, displayed in a landscaped area near Tanjung Emas recreational park.

A wall mural that depicts the iconic Bangsa Johor tradtion in Johor
Popularly known as the Bangsa Johor mural, painted on the wall of a government building at Tanjung Emas recreational park by British artist, Thomas Powell, it depicts characters that represent four main ethnic groups and the racial harmony in Johor. Other notable wall murals in Muar include The Loving Sisters, Ferry Pier, Roots of World Furniture and Cantonese Opera Star.

A stall that sells Old School Sengkuang Calit
In a bazaar at Tanjung Emas recreational park, the sign on this stall caught my eyes: Old School Sengkuang Calit. This nostalgic snack earned its name from how the slice of turnip or yam bean is calit, (Malay word for) ‘spread’ with a layer of prawn paste and then sprinkled with chopped toasted groundnuts.

Printed T-shirts for sale at the bazaar
The Johor identity is worn with pride on these T-shirts proudly printed with the state name that was once spelled with the alphabet ‘E’ as in JOHORE. Another printed pattern boldly shouts the state identity number, 01, below the state name.

Dusk at Tajung Emas, a recreational park by the Muar River
Anyone who has been to Muar or is from Muar will say that Tanjung Emas recreational park or Tanjung in short, situated on the banks of the Muar River, is their favourite choice for family recreation, friendly hang-outs or dating destination.

Visitors may use an App to hire OBike bicycles to ride around town
Sprawled on relatively gentle terrain, Muar welcomes cyclists to explore the town by riding on bicycles. OBike, a global bicycle sharing platform, operates here and cyclists may conveniently rent-a-bike, ride and return it at various parking stations in town.

Workers fanning the flames to cook satay pagi for breakfast 
Where in Johor do they eat satay for breakfast? Yes, satay – grilled skewers of meat dipped in spicy peanut sauce. In Muar, the locals enjoy satay pagi or morning satay for breakfast!

Fauzi Ghani runs a stall serving freshly-made apam balik and dorayaki
Apam Balik Muar Dorayaki, the stall that Fauzi Ghani operates, was situated at this same spot since his grandfather started it years ago. Located at the mouth of a back lane off Jalan Sulaiman, this stall remains a popular choice for apam balik.

An impressively clean and well-kept back lane in Muar
As the historical royal town of Muar develops, old buildings are well maintained and heritage buildings are refurbished for modern use. Even their back lanes are not neglected but kept clean, uncluttered and safe for pedestrians.

A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 28 June 2018