Part 1: Malaysia Road Trip 2024 (Johor Bahru Edition)

Our family of four (including a 4 and a 6-year-old) went on a 10-day road trip in West Malaysia from 25 May to 4 June 2024. Departing from Singapore, we went to Johor Bahru (“JB”), Muar, and Melaka, before returning to JB (near Paradigm Mall). Strictly speaking, it’s a 5-day road trip because we were in JB half the time. We didn’t drive to Kuala Lumpur because this is all we can bear for this trip. We ran lots of errands and visited several relatives. As for the reviews of our accommodation in Malaysia, which is mainly Airbnb, you can refer to my previous post.

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Malaysia road trip - Johor Bahru

Getting to Malaysia (By Train)


I had been hesitant to visit Malaysia because of the traffic jams. So when someone suggested the train, it opened up the possibility. We checked out the train tickets one month before and there were still many seats, so we took it slow. Who knows, shortly after, our preferred timings were sold out and we were left with 5:00 PM timing or the next morning. We decided to go with the 5:00 PM train – which sold out soon after. We bought one way at RM 17 because it’s cheaper than a round trip, and then bought one way back to Singapore at RM 5.

It’s recommended to arrive 40 minutes earlier at the Woodlands Train Checkpoint, especially during the peak period. We were 40 minutes early but there was already a long queue (first week of June holidays). We became the last few to board the train, and seats were first come, first served. However, it’s not a big issue since the train ride is just 5 minutes.

We cleared two customs in Singapore, so we could go on our way once we reached Malaysia. When returning, we cleared the Malaysia customs in Malaysia and the Singapore one in Singapore. For more information, this Moneysmart article about taking trains to Malaysia is comprehensive!

Taking the train from Singapore to Malaysia

Getting Around Malaysia (By Grab / JB Rental Car)


It is easy and affordable to take a Grab car in Malaysia, so no worries if you don’t drive in. We took Grab from the train station to our accommodation in JB. The pick-up point is not at the arrival hall but you need to cross over to another building and head to the ground level. Spot a huge group of people waiting and there should be your pick-up point.

We rented a car from AF Car Rental through WhatsApp (+60 16-445 6640) and paid in full through Touch and Go. The company is recommended to us but just so you know, my firewall flagged their website as a phishing page.

We rented the car on our second day onwards for RM1,050 for 7 days. There’s an additional delivery charge of RM75 for the car rental company to send the car to our accommodation and collect it at another place of our choosing. We chose Myvi 1.3, but it’s smaller than expected – the boot could only fit one big piece of luggage.

Also, the car was super noisy and slightly bumpy when travelling at highway speed. That probably contributed to my motion sickness as we travelled to and from Muar and Melaka.

However, all in all, we will say it’s a decent ride. The car was clean and the engine had no issues.

Taking the rented car from AF Car Rental

Johor Bahru – Southkey


Southkey Area

I recommend two places near our Airbnb. The first one is 胜阳茶室餐厅 ST TOH (4.2 stars) – a great breakfast spot in Southkey. They offer various options like Prata and wanton noodles. The fishhead vermicelli is full of ingredients in a tasty fish broth.

The other place is 星空码头豚骨火锅 Southkey Starry Sky Marina Hotpot (4.5 stars). We had dinner here during a rainy evening, the weather made the hotpot doubly delicious. The signature pork broth has a deep flavour and the set meal came in generous portions. There’s also free ice cream to end the meal – delicious too. The sauces provided reminded me of a popular hotpot chain. We ordered two sets of 2 pax meals and a plate of dumplings (水饺) for four adults and two children. We were filled to the brim and there were still leftovers. 

Morning at ST Toh

Southkey Mall

We also visited The Mall, Mid Valley Southkey for Tonkatsu by Ma Maison (4.6 stars). The pork cutlet with a free flow of salad and rice is as yummy as the one in Singapore. Go early to avoid the queue. After your meal, head opposite for dessert at Tokyo Secret (4.7 stars). We also tried the Kim Gary (3.1 stars) but the baked rice was not as nice as the one I remembered at Vivo City. My parents like their food though. And if you want to try Oriental Kopi (4 stars), go early before the lunch crowd sets in – queues get snaking long here or at City Square.

Other places that I bookmarked but didn’t go:


Johor Bahru – Eco Spring and Austin


Eco Spring Labs

We were having fun at Diggersite

Children, especially those who like diggers, would enjoy themselves at the Diggersite at Eco Springs Labs. My girls love the experience. It’s RM 30 for one pax to have 5 different digger experiences (shifting balls, digging sand, moving wooden logs, etc), at 5 minutes per station. My 4-year-old could operate the first digger on her own, but for the rest, it got too complicated and hence had to sit on our laps. We went for extra plays because some parents with younger children gave up trying the last digger station. Children can also play at Diggersite’s sandpit and cycle their bicycles and tricycles for an unlimited time. But it was too hot to go on indefinitely.

Btw, Eco Spring Labs is a retail park that mimics a European Town. They have several Instagrammable spots, but it was too hot to stroll in the open under the afternoon sun. There were not many shops well. Hence, I don’t recommend going to Eco Spring Labs unless you are going for the diggers or have nothing else to do in JB. It’s about a 40-minute drive from City Square, JB.

I don’t think I will drive to Eco Spring Labs for Soil (4.2 stars) or Morihana Pastry (森花手工烘焙) (4.3 stars) either. The food at Soil is healthy and tasty but doesn’t pack a punch. The food is not bad but I don’t think it’s value for money. The dessert looks good but we decided to save our stomach for Morihana. Over there, we ordered their signatures – watermelon and mango cakes. Our family preferred the mango and didn’t quite appreciate the watermelon cake.

We had wanted to get burgers from Woodfire Eco Spring (4.8 stars), but the dine-in was closed for renovation when we were there.

We were at Eco Spring with food from Soil and dessert from Morihana Pastry

Mount Austin

We went to the dentist and optometrist at Mount Austin.

We visited Alpha Dental Mount Austin and the cleaning was more painful for me than usual. I’m unsure if it was because of the dentist’s skills or because my visit was long overdue. She was gentle on my children’s teeth though. Others recommended: E&E Dental, Pink and White Dental and Summer Dental JB.

Moment Optometry was helpful and provided great service. We wanted to do Hoya lenses for my daughter but were told to get them from somewhere convenient for us to do regular eye check-ups. Nevertheless, we bought the normal lenses and children’s spectacles frames from them for RM280, just so my daughter could see clearly before we got the Hoya lenses. They expedited the collection to fit our itinerary and so we collected the spectacles the next day at about 3:00 PM.

After our errands, my hubs went for coffee at My Liberica Coffee and it’s not bad according to him. I had wanted to bring the children for their coffee farm tour at Simpang Rengang but our itinerary couldn’t match their tour timings. It’s RM40 per person (10 years old and above) for a 2-hour tour and a cup of coffee.

Other places that I bookmarked but didn’t go:

Our Dental Visit in JB

Johor Bahru (Paradigm Mall)


After going to Muar and Malacca, we returned to JB and also returned the car. We decided to spend the next few days going around Paradigm Mall. It turned out to be a good move because my girls kept vomiting the moment we reached JB and through the night. So we spent half our time at our Airbnb at Platino.

Shopping

We spent our time at Paradigm Mall for a few days because I thought we could settle everything there. But I was wrong, the grocery shopping was much better at AEON than the Village Grocer at Paradigm Mall. It’s like shopping for deals at Sheng Shiong versus CS Fresh in Singapore. But the Watsons and Caring Pharmacy allowed me to snag some good deals on toiletries – so not too bad.

You can check out the Popular Bookstore here too! Read about my tips for Popular above.

We finally bought our Hoya lens from MOG at Paradigm Mall. Nadiah attended to us and she was friendly and helpful. It takes about 10 days for the lens to be made. The price includes delivery to Singapore, which takes about a week, but you can also pay more for next-day delivery. We were quoted more at MOG than in Moment Optometry, they matched the price plus a little markup for the delivery to Singapore.

Food

We expected to settle our breakfast at Paradigm Mall but they strictly opened at 10:00 AM and no patrons could enter until that time. In the end, hubs went to get Wanton noodles from 許記雲吞面Restoran Uncle Koh (4.2 stars) for one morning. They cooked slow and we had better ones at ST Toh and Muar.

We also tried dipndip at Paradigm Mall but at a bad time – it was so crowded that the staff was overwhelmed and food was said to be ready only in 30 minutes. We’ve seen it emptier at other times. Our order includes Pancake Brownie Club and S’mores Milkshake. The chocolate was too much for my children but worth a try if you had intended to visit the new outlet at VivoCity.

We also tried food from Marrybrown (2.7 stars), Shihlin Taiwan Street Snacks (4.3 stars) and Kinsahi Japanese Restaurant (4.1 stars) on the third floor.

Sport Activities

Ice Skating at Paradigm Mall

Ice Skating

The girls looked forward to ice skating at the Blue Ice Skating Rink. However, we had a better experience at the ice skating rink in Taipei. The skating rink is not enclosed to enable constant freezing temperatures. After skating for a while, I even felt hot with my jacket on. Thus, the ice melted pretty fast and the floor became very wet only after an hour, making it harder to skate than usual. I’ve seen more beginners fall here than other skating rinks. I witnessed the aftermath of two accidents – one guy got scratched on the face by a skating blade and another relatively old guy fell along with a young boy.

If you still want to try ice skating here, note that they have five daily sessions of 2 hours each. It’s RM 40 to skate for one session and RM 7 to rent socks or gloves. If you want to rent a Bobby (skating aid), buy your tickets earlier during weekends and the Malaysia holidays.

Buy your tickets at Klook for a better deal and a more fuss-free experience! You can book the Bobby through Klook too.

However we didn’t know of the Klook deal sooner and went to buy tickets 15 minutes before the skating session. By then, there was already a long queue, and Bobby was “sold out”. Good thing we found someone who didn’t want Bobby at the skating rink. So we paid her and took over her rental. It helps a lot to let my 4-year-old join in the fun!

Rock Climbing

My 6-year-old wanted to try rock climbing, so we went to Camp5 for a guided climbing session. It’s RM 55 for a 1-hour rock climbing session and RM 35 for 1 hour of bouldering. However, the staff recommended half an hour for her because she’s the only one in the session and it would be too tiring to climb the full hour. We paid RM 33 for half an hour. After climbing up the rock wall twice, she said she didn’t want to climb up any higher, so they brought her to try bouldering – which is part of the ticket price.

Fun Activities

Cinema

There are different prices for different movies and age groups. The cinema seats are comfortably good. I brought my older daughter to watch her first movie in this cinema, just in time for her 7th birthday – my promise from many years ago!

We paid RM 51 for one adult and one child ticket for Garfield, with a popcorn set. My hubby paid RM 25.50 for an adult ticket for another movie.

Fun Rides

The reviews for the indoor playground at Paradigm Mall ain’t great, so we didn’t try. However, older children might find fun walking on rope and go-karting at Utopia Titan at level 7.

My girls wanted to ride a “zoomoov” type of ride at Upper Ground (“UG”) two days in a row. It’s RM15 per ride – 15 minutes in the car and 10 minutes for the Dino. There’s another provider on L4 but it’s more expensive because it has a longer ride duration.

There are also two arcades, one at level 7 and one at level 4.

Fun rides in JB

Personal Care

Hair Cut

I Googled to find a hair salon and chose the one with one of the highest reviews (4.8 stars with almost 500 reviews) in Paradigm Mall. However, I so regretted it, because I could have paid much less for a child’s haircut in many other salons in the mall. Worse still, we paid more but ended up with a terrible experience. The next two paragraphs belong to a rant piece.

Mr B from this AC Salon looks like a Chinese triad boss, or the boss of the salon. I asked him about the price and he solemnly nodded his head to confirm the pricing. I thought he would re-direct us to another hairstylist, but he began to work on my daughter’s hair. When washing her hair, he asked her to sit higher to be near the sink, but his hand went under her thigh to help her push up – I firmly told him along this line, “There’s no need to, she could do it by herself. But he did not seem to hear me.” Thereafter, I had to watch her like a hawk.

He was on the bigger side and at certain points during the haircut I was unsure if he had gotten too close to her – like tummy touching her back. I had to confirm with my daughter after the haircut – thankfully he did not. But he was not friendly and engaging at all, not even with my young daughter who was already not a fan of haircutting. He even showed us a stern and grim look when my daughter moved too much, not as if he had any smiles throughout. Both of us found the haircut experience bad. The other senior stylist who later came to me was another rough-looking male. So I requested for the female hairstylist who I saw was working on another customer in the salon. But they told me she’s the only female hairstylist and she just took medical leave. Weird, I just left for another salon.

I then had my haircut at Alano Hair Studio (4.8 stars with 250+ reviews). Angel attended to me and did a quick and fuss-free cut. She recommended some scalp treatment promotion, but she’s not pushy. And she also did a no-obligations scalp scan upon request. She followed my previous cut and did a little more layering. The outcome was quite good, but I can’t help but feel like it’s a hairstyle I had a decade ago.

Please let me know if you have any recommended hair salons in JB!

Massage

Massage at Siam Oasis

I will end this post with my most satisfying experience in Paradigm Mall. My massage almost didn’t happen but thankfully I managed to squeeze out some time on the day we returned to Singapore. I went to Siam Oasis at Level 3 for a 90-minute 5 Senses Therapy (head, shoulder, back and foot) at RM163.30. This is a massage in which you are fully clothed, unlike the full-body aromatherapy massage.

They washed my feet before leading me to a room of chairs, similar to those rooms doing foot massages. It was one of the best massages I ever had, and I often go for massages. The masseuse didn’t talk during the session, which was a big bonus, but… the guy beside me was snoring so loud! It’s a good thing he ended earlier than me.

May my itinerary give you some idea of what to do in JB! Stay tuned for my itinerary to Muar and Melaka.

Before you go, you might want to check out my other posts on Malaysia. Leave your comments or questions below. Love to hear from you. :)

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