Judging by how many people read and shared an earlier article on how to get to JB by train, I’m guessing Johor Bahru still remains as popular a weekend destination as ever for bored (and broke) Singaporeans.
But after you’ve changed your SGD into a thick stack of MYR, there’s still the question of what to do in JB with all that cash. It’s not gonna spend itself, right?
So I’ve compiled a list of the best things to do in Johor Bahru on a day trip, starting from the low-hanging fruit (everything near JB Sentral and City Square) to the farther-flung destinations that are worth visiting.
Cheap guide to Johor Bahru – where to go & best things to do in JB
Johor Bahru is actually a pretty big area, so it’s actually impossible to do all of JB in one trip. Instead, try to visit places that are near one another, or else you’ll just be on the road most of the time. I’ve grouped this article into 8 main shopping/eating clusters, in increasing level of “difficulty”.
|Area in JB||Distance||What’s cheap there?|
|City Square||Right at JB Customs||Shopping, movies|
|Jalan Dhoby||Walkable from JB Customs||Cafes, traditional bakeries, night market|
|KSL City Mall||10 min drive from JB Customs||Shopping, nice restaurants, Bangkok Spa|
|Paradigm Mall||20 min drive from JB Customs||Shopping, movies, indoor ice skating & climbing|
|Mid Valley Southkey||20 min drive from JB Customs||Swanky new shopping mall in JB|
|Tebrau City||30 min drive from JB Customs||IKEA Malaysia, shopping, furniture & lighting shops|
|Bukit Indah||20 min drive from Tuas Link||Shopping mall, spas, hypermart, Legoland, Hello Kitty Town|
|Johor Premium Outlets||40 min drive from JB Customs||Branded factory outlet shopping|
Movies + food: City Square JB & Komtar JBCC (right opposite JB Sentral)
Whether you’re taking the bus, train or crossing the border on foot, JB Sentral is the immigration checkpoint and therefore your point of entry into Malaysian territory.
Lots of JB day trippers don’t even step foot outside of these shopping malls, because it has what people come here to do anyway: Watch movies and eat.
Cheap things you can do here are:
- Watch movies at the City Square JB cinema (ticket prices range from about RM12 to RM20)
- Get a shoulder or foot massage at City Square
- Shop at Sephora and Marks & Spencer at Komtar (expensive for Malaysian standards, but many items are cheaper after conversion)
- Stock up on personal care items e.g. contact lenses, supplements, which are cheaper in Malaysia
- Eat at familiar restaurants like Swensen’s (known as Seasons here), Nando’s, Tony Roma’s, Seoul Garden etc. at both shopping malls
JB cafe hopping: Jalan Dhoby & Hiap Joo (walkable from City Square)
If you’re willing to bravely walk where there’s no air-con, there’s quite a lot to see in the immediate vicinity.
First, cut through City Square JB to get to Wong Ah Fook Road, and turn left. You’ll walk down a string of old school shops including a famous fish head curry place. Cross the street to the mega pasar malam Bazar Karat (open from 7pm onwards) and continue walking until you hit Jalan Dhoby.
Jalan Dhoby is kind of like JB’s Haji Lane: It’s home to a bunch of hipster JB cafes and boutiques, all in old shophouses (of course). Be sure to explore the parallel Jalan Tan Hiok Nee as well.
The cafes here are quite pricey. Expect to pay around RM15 for a coffee (only a little less than in Singapore). Highlights:
- Bev C Cafe (local designer boutique & cafe that everyone raves about)
- Chaiwalla & Co. (cafe housed in a container, a la Artbox)
- Flowers in the Window (very pretty cafe filled with plants everywhere)
- The Replacement Lodge & Kitchen (painfully cool boutique hotel & cafe)
Mixed among the hipster establishments, there are also some legit cheap local food places that make this area worth exploring:
- It Roo Cafe & Restoran Hua Mui (both famous for chicken chop)
- Hiap Joo Bakery (traditional bakery famous for banana cake & “burnt” buns)
- Salahuddin Bakery (traditional bakery famous for triangular flaky curry puffs)
Massage + shopping: KSL Mall & Bangkok Spa JB (10 min drive from City Square JB)
If you’ve exhausted all that the JB Sentral and Jalan Dhoby areas have to offer, JB has no lack of mega shopping malls within spitting distance of the checkpoint.
The biggest one is KSL City Mall, which is a 10 minute drive from City Square JB. There are lots of taxis here, but I’d recommend using Grab if you have data, because it’ll be a lot cheaper and there’s less chance of the driver taking the long way to chop tourists.
KSL City Mall is a huge complex complete with its own hotel, multiple spas and salons, a cinema (naturally), a massive Daiso (everything RM5.90), a Tesco hypermart, many restaurants and what feelslike 500 shops all selling cheap barang barang.
You can spend the day in the shopping mall if you’re so inclined, but when I’m in the area I like to go to the nearby Bangkok Spa for a (clean) massage. The very painful but therapeutic 60-minute Thai massage I got cost just RM62. Prices are published on their site.
Oh, you might be surprised to know that JB has its share of “nice” restaurants — you know, the kind you’d go to on a date when you want to impress someone? And there’s quite a few near KSL City:
- Naughty Bali (Balinese pork ribs restaurant)
- Chez Papa (French bistro & wine bar)
- Lavender L.Table (nice-ish Western food with really good desserts)
- Gianni’s Trattoria (Italian restaurant & wines)
If the idea of going to a fancy Western restaurant in JB sounds weird to you, just look up their menus online and divide all the prices by 3. Tell me you’re not sold.
Ice skating + rock climbing: Paradigm Mall (20 min drive from City Square JB)
JB regulars would have been to City Square and KSL City billions of times, so it’s totally understandable that they’re now talking about the newer and cooler Paradigm Mall these days.
It’s about a 20-minute Grab ride or drive from JB Sentral. Apart from being one of the newest shopping malls in JB, it’s also seriously huge at over 2 million sq ft in size (for comparison, VivoCity is 1.5m sq ft). You definitely want to wear your HPB steps tracker for this one.
You can definitely spend the entire day inside Paradigm Mall, because in addition to the sheer size, there’s also an indoor ice skating rink and an indoor climbing gym, and they cost way less than in Singapore.
Hottest new shopping mall in JB: The Mall, Mid Valley Southkey (20 min drive from City Square JB)
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I have no doubt that the brand spanking new The Mall, Mid Valley Southkey was created exclusively with Singaporeans and wealthy Malaysians in mind.
For one thing, as with Paradigm Mall, Mid Valley Southkey is massive enough to entertain you all day. The flagship tenant here is Sogo, the Japanese department store — remember them?? — and there are also lots of high end brands that you can find in malls like Jewel Changi Airport and Ion Orchard.
JB furniture shopping: Aeon Tebrau City, IKEA Malaysia (30 min drive from City Square JB)
Just got your BTO keys and already lamenting the exorbitant prices of furniture in Singapore? If you’ve got your own car or can borrow/rent one, you might want to consider shopping in JB to capitalise on the exchange rate.
The obvious place to start is IKEA Tebrau (said to the biggest IKEA in Southeast Asia!) which is about a 25- to 30-minute drive from City Square.
Before you come, you must do your homework, as the items in IKEA Malaysia are not necessarily that much cheaper than IKEA Singapore. Also make sure all the items can fit into your transport, otherwise you’ll be in a pickle as there’s no way to deliver the items across the border.
There’s a big shopping mall, Aeon Tebrau City, right next to IKEA Johor in case you want to pass out at TGV cinema (which has bean bags!) for a few hours after your shopping. The Malaysian homeware store Kaison outlet here is also worth visiting for home decor and accessories.
A few minutes’ drive from Aeon Tebrau City is the unofficial furniture district in JB: Taman Molek. Just Google “furniture shops JB” and you’ll see a bunch of them in a strip.
I haven’t been to this area myself, but from what I read in forums, there’s a bunch of furniture and lighting wholesalers here. It’s said that delivery to Singapore is common practice too.
JB with the kids: Aeon Bukit Indah, Legoland & Hello Kitty Town (20 min drive from Tuas Second Link)
A viable day trip option for Westies is Bukit Indah in the western part of JB. It’s closer to Tuas Checkpoint and the Second Link (a lot less crowded than Woodlands), plus the expressway links you straight from immigration to Aeon Bukit Indah in just 20 minutes.
Aeon Bukit Indah isn’t exactly stunning, but it’s good enough for a relaxing day out. There’s the TGV Bukit Indah cinema (also has bean bags), a Daiso and an A&W for you to relive your childhood at.
One good thing about the Bukit Indah area is that it’s quite pedestrian-friendly by Malaysian standards. Just across from the mall is a strip of spas, restaurants and hotels, and if you turn left and walk down the road, you’ll see a big Tesco supermarket.
JB outlet shopping: Johor Premium Outlets (40 min drive from City Square JB)
Those who got a big fat bonus this year end and don’t know what to do with it — lucky — can head up north to Johor Premium Outlets to snap up branded goods at insane prices.
The slightly under-the-radar factory outlet cluster in JB is about a 40-minute drive away from JB Sentral, which is a bit out of the way… but it should be worth the trip if you come during their big end-of-year sale in December. Dates / details are not yet out, but back in 2018, it was from 14 to 16 Dec, so stay tuned.
What are your favourite cheap things to do in JB? Share your tips with us in the comments!