Plenty to see and do in Johor

Explore Elephant Island in
the Mersing Marine Park
WHEN asked, "Where's the best place to visit in Johor?" I will ask back, "What is it you want to see and do?" because everyone has their own tastes and interests.  There's plenty to see and do in and around Johor Baru and it's a pity that people can be so familiar with local attractions that they don't appreciate them.  Admit it -- each time when you are expecting visitors, you are in a dilemma because besides eating together, you don't know what else to do.

I agree with Datuk Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, director-general of Tourism Malaysia, when he said, "We don't appreciate our own products and take them for granted," at the opening of the Cuti-Cuti 1Malaysia Travel Fair in Johor Baru on March 26. 

He noted that locals had not experienced our natural attractions and heritage sites but would spend thousands of ringgit to go for holidays abroad.  Tourists are visiting Johor to experience our attractions but sadly locals are blase and bored with everything that's familiar to them.  So, it's time to discover more of what's at your doorstep and gear yourself up with knowledge and experience to impress visitors with interesting local attractions.

Let's begin with what we do best -- eating. If you think about it, there's a wealth of food in our multicultural community to help you plan a gastronomic food trail.  If you don't know where to start, just ask Johoreans who live outside the state or who live abroad and they will tell you how much they miss our unique food. With so little time and so much food to taste, on any short trip back home these anak Johor will plan an itinerary that includes stops for food at familiar haunts.  From briyani gam, satay, paper tosai, claypot rice to refreshing desserts like ABC (air batu campur) everyone has their own favourites.

Hj Halim serving classic Johor mee rebus at his stall
in Plaza Angsana
To them a visit is not complete without tasting these hard-to-find-flavours as they know that nothing can compare with the original Johor taste.  For instance, generations of Johoreans grew up enjoying Haji Wahid's mee rebus. Since 1918 Basid Ali Karam Ali, fondly known as Wak Baidali, sold mee rebus every afternoon using a kandar or a yoke around the Bukit Zaharah building and Kampung Air Molek.

From 1938 his son, Wahid Basid Ali, operated the only mee rebus stall at the Satay Club and in 1997, grandson, Abdul Halim was serving it at the Plaza Angsana food court. Taste it and you will know why it's a favourite among royalty, politicians and all fans of good mee rebus.

Father and son team serving his unique "kon-lo-mee"
The Chinese are familiar with Ho, an immigrant from Canton, who first settled in Pontian during the pre-war days and sold wantan noodles almost up to 2am daily from a mobile stall parked at the corner of Jalan Siu Nam and Jalan Meldrum. His noodle business, Mee Ho Seng Kee, later moved to a permanent stall in the corner coffeeshop.

Today Ho's classic "kon-lo-mee" or dry-tossed noodles are served by his son and grandson at Jalan Pelandok, Taman Century and loyal customers still patiently queue to enjoy this simple but tasty dish of homemade noodles tossed in special sauces and topped with slivers of char siew and smooth wantans.

Enjoy fried bananas the Johor way, dipped in spicy sauce!
Invite your visitors to eat pisang goreng in a distinctly Johor style -- dipped in a spicy black sauce. 

Mawar Cafe is such a favourite stop for afternoon tea that you can't miss the crowd gathered opposite the Sri Gelam football field at Jalan Sungai Chat, close to Dataran Bandaraya.  Let your guests sink their teeth into freshly crisp fried bananas dipped in the spicy sauce for a perfect blend of sweetness from the tender bananas and a hint of spice from the chilli in the sauce.

Johor Laksa served at Dann's Cafe
Whatever you do, don't let visitors leave without tasting laksa Johor, made with spaghetti smothered in rich, spicy fish gravy, topped with raw cucumber curls, bean sprouts, onions, finely chopped basil and Vietnamese mint and a sprinkling of crunchy chai-poh (preserved turnip). 

It's available at hotels, restaurants and warung like Warung Saga (Saturday only), Restoran Bumbu Asli and Dann's Cafe. But remind your guests to go easy on the sambal belacan because they may not appreciate that extra zing.

A walking tour is just right after all that food. So, go to two quaint little bakeries in the heart of the city to see bread, cakes and pastries baked in traditional woodfire ovens.  Piping hot buns and loaves from Kedai Kek & Roti Hiap Joo at Jalan Tan Hiok Nee are ready after 2.30pm while deliciously light banana cake is available after 3pm.  For freshly-made giant samosas, Roti John, buns, cupcakes and sugee biscuits, head over to Sallahuddin Bakery at Jalan Dhoby.

In the same area, Hua Mui Restaurant and IT Roo Cafe serves what many agree is Johor Baru's best chicken chop, prepared in the typical Hainanese style.  Whether you climb up a creaky flight of stairs to the non-air-conditioned dining hall in Hua Mui at Jalan Trus or go to IT Roo Cafe at Jalan Dhoby, you will certainly enjoy the retro feel of these halal sister restaurants.

Shop for fresh fruits at the award-winning
Desaru Fruit Farm
Your walking tour may include visits to the Johor Baru Chinese Heritage Museum at Jalan Ibrahim/Jalan Tan Hiok Nee and the Sultan Abu Bakar Royal Museum in the Istana Gardens for a glimpse of royal treasures. But these two sites are best viewed with a trip to the historic Johor Ancient Chinese Temple at Jalan Trus.  You will better appreciate the warm relationship between the Chinese and Malay communities during the early days of Johor Baru when you see two sets of Chinese couplets in the Royal Museum that were presented by Chinese community leaders at the installation of the Johor Sultanate.

If your visitors enjoy the outdoors, take a trip to Desaru for a thrilling experience at the Crocodile World, Ostrich Farm and award-winning Desaru Fruit Farm for a sweet ending with a juicy fruit buffet and shopping for fresh fruits. Take them on a Nature walk at Tanjung Piai and receive certificates from the Johor National Park Corporation for reaching the southern-most tip of mainland Asia.

For a complete experience of Kluang Rail Coffee,
take a Kereta Tanah Melayu (KTM) train ride there

If they like beaches and island adventures, the Mersing Marine Park is an excellent destination to get a healthy tan while a return train ride by Keretapi Tanah Melayu from Johor Baru to Kluang is a great way to see the countryside and to savour rich coffee with traditional roti kahwin, charcoal-toasted butter sandwiches at the charming Railway Station coffeeshop.

These are just a few ideas to spur you on but if you are still stumped by how to entertain your visitors, get professional help from experienced tour and travel agencies whose innovative and creative packages can be tailored to your requirements.  With advance bookings, guided tours are convenient and cost-saving because you will enjoy special contracted rates and more importantly, a stress free tour.  So, whether you go at it yourself or join a tour, one thing is clear -- there's plenty to see and do around Johor Baru.

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 14 April 2010

No comments:

Post a Comment