Old & New Johor Bahru – Where To Eat, Shop & Stay

The perfect location for a quick weekend getaway.

By Olivia Lim        9 April 2024

“Turn left on Jalan Trust,” chirped the car GPS cheerily. “Trust! Apa trust lah! Jalan TRUS! T-R-U-S!” barked our Grab driver grumpily. 

My travel buddy and I laughed in the back seat. Such is the charm of Johor Bahru – it may have advanced rapidly over the past few years, but clearly, some parts of it still stick to what works – the old-school way of getting things done. 

NSMan was recently invited for a stay at Holiday Inn Johor Bahru City Centre (Holiday Inn JBCC). Not only did we get the chance to enjoy the comforts of a fairly new hotel (it opened in 2020), we managed to squeeze in a little food safari (of mostly old-school joints) in our couple of days there. But more on the food later.

Getting to Holiday Inn JBCC

The hotel is situated in an extremely convenient spot right next to the JB checkpoint, about 20 minutes’ drive (traffic jams notwithstanding) from the Singapore Woodlands checkpoint. There’s even a bridge from the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex connecting directly to the hotel. It came as no surprise when we found out that almost 90 per cent of the hotel’s guests come from Singapore, which mostly comprise families with children.

If you’re not up to driving, catch one of the cross-border bus services (Causeway Link, Grab Bus, SBS Transit, SMRT, etc.), or a taxi from Queen Street taxi terminal. You can also hire a private car from licensed cross-border taxi services. Alternatively, avoid the notorious Causeway traffic by taking a KTMB train from Woodlands, which will get you to JB Sentral in a mere five minutes.

Staying at Holiday Inn JBCC

Holiday Inn JBCC King Room

As mentioned earlier, the hotel feels fresh and modern, with floor-to-ceiling windows in the room letting in plenty of natural light, details like both “soft” and “firm” labelled pillows on the bed, and full-sized Dove toiletries in the bathroom – we do detest fiddling with finicky little shampoo bottles. There’s also high-speed WiFi, and USB charging ports by the bedside – essential tools for every digital nomad – or weekend vacationer who may feel like binging on a K-drama series or movie, and a small round table for dining or working.

Holiday Inn JBCC gym

And if youre one of those who simply cannot skip a gym workout even on holiday, youll love the gym which has the same floor-to-ceiling windows, and panoramic views that include the CIQ complex (we were fascinated by the long lines of motorcycles). Cool off after your workout by jumping into the rooftop swimming pool thats just up a short flight of stairs from the gym.

Breakfast the next morning was at the hotels restaurant, Dine@EIGHT, where we were spoilt for choice with a huge spread of Asian and Western favourites such as nasi lemak, a DIY noodle station, freshly made pancakes and waffles, pastries, and more. There are also live stations serving up roti canai and eggs made to order.

Holiday Inn JBCC Dine@EIGHT kids' corner

There’s a kids’ corner within the restaurant to keep the little ones busy while parents enjoy their breakfast with a cuppa or teh tarik. And as kids dine free at Holiday Inn JBCC, any time you order from the main menu, your children’s meals are on the house.

Holiday Inn JB CC Starbucks

Speaking of cuppas, and if youre a caffeine fiend, youll be glad to know that Holiday Inn JBCC is the first hotel in JB to have its very own in-house Starbucks. Whether youre in the mood for an Americano, Caramel Frappuccino or a Cafe Latte, pop down to the Lobby Lounge for your fix. It’s also available via in-room dining 24 hours a day.

Shop till you drop – then shop some more

Johor Bahru City Square
Photo: SPH Media Trust

HIJBCC shares the same multi-use complex as the Komtar JBCC shopping mall, and there’s even a shortcut from Level 7 of the hotel. Noteworthy shops here include a Brands Outlet, Marks and Spencer and Sephora. “We also have some of those shops in Singapore,” you might say, but thanks to the favourable exchange rate, you may be able to snag some bargains.

Johor Bahru City Square
Photo: SPH Media Trust

Right across the street from the hotel (and also connected via the link bridge mentioned earlier) is Johor Bahru City Square, an even bigger mall with the likes of Uniqlo and Malaysian fashion brands Padini and Vincci. Shop, eat (we couldn’t resist multiple servings of Boost juices at Malaysian prices), drop your shopping at the hotel, and shop some more!

Now, on to the food!

Banana cake at Hiap Joo Bakery

Hiap Joo Bakery JB

From the hotel, it’s a five-minute Grab ride to Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, where many popular food places are located. The 100-year old Hiap Joo Bakery is no secret among tourists – it’s said to sell the best banana cake in JB (and some say, the whole of Malaysia). We went expecting an hour-long queue, but our greed (we had decided to go for a late lunch at Restoran Hua Mui first – more on that later) actually paid off – there was nary a customer in sight when we approached the shop window at close to 4pm. We wouldn’t advise going that late, however; we just got lucky that day.

RM12/about S$3.70 gets you 10 decent-sized slices in a sturdy plastic box – kudos for this improved packaging over the previous cardboard box, which can hold up to stacking of 10 boxes or more in your car trunk. Trust us, you’d want to buy more than one box. The confection is perfectly moist but not too much so; is deeply flavoured with fresh banana, not artificial flavouring; and is firm to the bite, yet melts in your mouth. You’ll have to try it for yourself to figure out what that means.

Where: 13 Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, Bandar Johor Bahru, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Opening hours: 7:30am to 4:30pm (Mon to Sat, while stocks last)
Tel: +60 7-223 1703

Chicken cutlet at Restoran Hua Mui

Restoran Hua Mui JB upstairs

Down the road from Hiap Joo Bakery is Restoran Hua Mui. Rustic doesn’t begin to describe this eatery; the stairs leading to the upstairs dining area are steep and potentially slippery (we suggest you hold on to the railing for dear life) but we strongly recommend sitting upstairs. It’s non air-conditioned and you may get a couple of birds flying in while you dine, but the laid-back, kampung ambience can’t be beat.

Restoran Hua Mui JB chicken cutlet sandwichOrder up the Fried Chicken Cutlet with fries, or in a sandwich (RM8.90), and you won’t regret it – the chicken is juicy and the batter, light and crunchy without being greasy. There’s a wide variety of “zi char” dishes and hawker favourites if you prefer – stir fried “ee mee” (RM9.90), Hainanese mutton soup (RM26.90) and fish & chips (RM25.90) are all in the “Top 10” menu selection. Wash it all down with an icy teh peng (RM4.10) to beat the heat, accompanied by traditional kaya toast (RM3.70) with thick slabs of butter for dessert.

Where: 131, Jalan Trus, Bandar Johor Bahru, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Opening hours: 8:30am to 5pm daily
Tel: +60 7-224 7364

Kway teow kia at Restoran Hi Wan

Holiday Inn JBCC gym - Restoran Hi Wan kway teow kia

Dinner at Restoran Hi Wan, which serves kway teow kia, was recommended by a Johorean friend. Its a 10-minute drive or Grab ride from Holiday Inn JBCC.

Kway teow kia is like kway chaps cuter, more delicate cousin – its still white rice noodles, but in thinner and smoother strands. The noodles are served in a lightly herbal and peppery broth thats very more-ish. To go with it, we picked braised pork belly, tongue, intestines, pig trotters, bean curd and kiam chye (side dishes from RM1.50). A must-have is the crunchy ngoh hiang (five spice meat rolls), which is not a typical kway chap accompaniment in Singapore. All the pork and offal was well-braised and tender, on the light tasting side with no hint of odour. The chilli sauce is a must here – its tangy, slightly sweet and goes perfectly with all the dishes. Be prepared to have multiple bowls of kway teow kia to go with all the side dishes you will inevitably over-order. Going in a large group is recommended!

Where: 210 Jalan Sri Pelangi, 80400 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Opening hours: 3.30pm to 2:00am (Mon to Sun)
Tel: +60 16-930 8981

Massage at Bangkok Spa

Bangkok Spa in JB

We managed to squeeze in a quick foot reflexology session on one of our evenings in JB, at a spa recommended by the same Johorean friend.

There’s no point trying to keep where you’re going a secret when trying to get to Bangkok Spa. At first happy to find out that they provided free return transport from your chosen pick-up point, we were amused and slightly embarrassed by the van that turned up, which was not-too-subtly emblazoned with the spa’s logo and images.

Bangkok Spa JB van

Nevertheless, service was stellar, with foot massages from RM66 and body massages starting from RM90. It’s best to book in advance via WhatsApp for your preferred timeslot, as it gets really busy here.

3 outlets across Johor Bahru, visit bangkokspamalaysia.com for more information

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Main photo: SPH Media Trust

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