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A Surreal Stay in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Visit Malaysia the Johor Bahru skyline.

A Surreal Stay in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

May 2015.

Cover photo courtesy of Lionel Lim. 

The story of how I ended up in Johor Bahru is a bit complicated. In April 2015 I embarked on an extended period of solo travel around Thailand. It was a wonderful time to say the least. A carefree period of roaming that had no end date, seeing as I had recently finished a year’s teaching in Beijing.

Unfortunately, the Thai rules at the time only allowed me an initial stay of thirty days. Thus it was necessary to exit and then re-enter for another thirty days. First, I figured on doing a swift in-outHowever, on reflection, I thought it wise to take advantage of being in the region. Broaden my horizons and all that. And so it was that I spent a glorious week exploring Singapore.

Air Asia flight from Krabi to Singapore May 2015

My Air Asia flight from Krabi to Singapore. May the 8th, 2015.

In Singapore I drew up plans to reconnect with my old friend Lisa, who was lucky enough to be living on the gorgeous Malaysian island of Pilau Sibu. I had never been to a bona-fide tropical island, hence I was buzzing with excitement. I was supposed to go to Sibu directly from Singapore. But then, the resort Lisa worked for called her away from the island to work at head office. “Fancy a few days in Johor Bahru?” she asked. “Then I’ll take you back to Sibu”. 

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

The Johor Causeway connecting Johor Bahru to Singapore

The Johor Causeway.

I had never heard of Johor Bahru. Or simply “JB” as it’s known throughout the region. This was just a touch embarrassing when I realised the city was quite literally a stone’s throw from Singapore. In fact, all you had to do was zip over the Johor Causeway and boom, you were in Malaysia.

Knowing very little about the place, I scrambled online and booked two nights in a central joint called The Citrus Hotel. It was comfortable enough, no complaints, and good value to boot. But with Lisa office-bound during most of my stay, I wondered how I would fill my JB days. Hm, time for a bit of research.

Citrus Hotel in Johor Bahru.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia

It didn’t take me long to get the picture. Dwarfed by the popularity of its neighbouring metropolis Singapore, Johor Bahru was something of an ugly duckling. A city neglected by the Malaysian government and hampered by a lack of genuinely impressive sights. “The Armpit of Malaysia”, wrote one blogger. “What does JB stand for?” asked another. “Jolly boring!”

Travel Malaysia

Glancing through the city sights, I had to concede that JB didn’t appear to be up to much. One of its biggest attractions was a royal palace called Istana Besar. Built in 1866 by Sultan Abu Baker, this handsome building is a fine example of Ango-Malay architecture and home to a Royal Museum. Well, that’s one sight at least! Later, just before hailing a taxi, I discovered that the palace was closed for several weeks of renovations. Nuts.

Istana Besar (Grand Palace). 

Grand Palace Istana Besar in Johor Bahru.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Photo courtesy of Lim Lik Wei. 

Also on JB’s to-do list was a handful of low key temples and mosques. But after a month of temple hunting in Thailand I was not in the mood. Rather, I opted to simply head out into the city and walk. Follow my nose and see where it took me. One thing I’d read was that Johor Bahru had a fine reputation as a Malaysian food haven. True enough, within five minutes of leaving the hotel, I found myself swallowed up in a labyrinthine complex of open air food markets and restaurants.

Food market Johor Bahru Malaysia.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

With little experience of Malaysian cuisine, I was keen to try some national dishes. But in truth I found the market scene far too rough for my liking. Cleanliness certainly wasn’t a priority, while many of the school-dinner-hall style slop buckets looked decidedly unappealing. “Mutton curry for breakfast sir?” “Uh… no thank you”. 

Food stall at Pasar Karat Market in Johor Bahru

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Some of the seafood options looked better. But again, I wasn’t about to order myself some fried stingray at 10:30 in the morning when what I really craved was a coffee and a sandwich. Hmm.

Fresh seafood Johor Bahru Malaysia.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Finding western style coffee also proved a challenge. So I eventually settled for a local Cup of Joe at an unassuming open air cafe. The coffee was awful, like milky mud. But it was worth getting just to sit and watch the people of JB go about their daily business. I particularly liked the grizzly old men reading their newspapers and doing crosswords while chain-smoking.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia. 

Hanging out with the locals in Johor Bahru Malaysia

The morning routine.

Then I was back to my exploring. Around lunchtime I came across the hugely popular Chinese joint, Kam Long Restaurant. Indeed the queue was already extending out onto the pavement and down the street. As it does every day. Their speciality? Fish Head Curry Soup. Well… the search for food went on.

Kam Long Chinese Restaurant Johor Bahru

A popular JB lunch spot.

At long last I reached a restaurant I could play ball with. It had partly named itself after a dish I really wanted to try, Nasi Kandar. So I settled in, placed my order and tried to ignore the man opposite who didn’t stop staring at me, open-mouthed, for about ten minutes. Until I moved to another table and turned my back on him. I guess he could tell I was from out of town.

Nasi Kandar Restaurant Johor Bahru.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Nasi Kandar is a northern Malaysian dish that originated in Penang, where it was Introduced by Indian traders. A typical plate involves several varieties of curry served with thick, sticky banana leaf rice. Throw in a bit of stir-fried vegetables too, and a signature boiled egg. Damn good. My Nasi Kandar that day was a mix of beef and chicken, which was tasty but disappointingly served lukewarm. Solid, but not spectacular. Oh JB, you can do better than this, surely?

Nasi Kandar. 

Nasi Kandar traditional Malaysia dish.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

It was at the restaurant that I managed to do some more reading on Johor Bahru. There were huge development projects underway aimed at transforming JB’s flailing fortunes. The campaign began in 2012 when LEGOLAND Malaysia opened near the city, just a twenty minute drive from downtown. At long last, people had a major reason to come to JB, beyond having a cheap base from which to visit Singapore.

LEGOLAND Malaysia Johor Bahru.

LEGOLAND: Great for Johor Bahru, but of no interest to me.

Moreover, there was the ambitious Danga Bay project, a huge in-the-works recreational complex growing along the Johor Straits. There was a park and a fairground, it said. A beach, luxury apartment blocks and an exciting new restaurant, cafe and bar scene unfolding. Quite spontaneously, I paid my bill and jumped into a taxi, simply telling the driver “Danga Bay!”

Danga Bay development in Johor Bahru Malaysia

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

He deposited me at the edge of an awful construction site. “Danga Bay” he mumbled, and out I went into the overcast afternoon. “Malaysia’s premier waterfront complex!” exclaimed an already discoloured sign, as I followed a dusty road towards the waterfront. As I progressed, a bedraggled dog trotted past me as a giant cement mixer rumbled along in the distance. Then there was another sign, on which a white arrow sat next to two highly misleading words: Theme Park.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia. 

Run down fairground in Johor Bahru.

Danga Bay’s co-called Theme Park.

It was a sad looking ghost town. A shut-down collection of antique fairground rides that included a ferris wheel, dodgems and a rusty old carousel wheel. As I stood surveying it all, I barely even registered that it had begun to rain. I remember wondering what grip of madness had inspired me to come here. Feeling a bit like Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later, I trudged on.

Distinctly unimpressed and getting wetter by the minute, I was about to admit defeat and grab a taxi back to my hotel. But then I stumbled upon Country Garden, Danga Bay’s up-and-coming real estate beach village that seemed at least partially open. “5-star living for you” stated a sign beneath floor after floor of scaffolding and green netting.

Danga Bay Country Garden.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Maybe not a bad place to live when it’s finished, I mused, trying to remain positive. Curious as to how it all turned out, I had a look online while writing this blog. Within seconds I dug up an article dated August 2022 that details how dozens of condominium owners ended up suing Country Garden Danga Bay over a misrepresentation of the building’s facilities! Yikes.

From the apartment blocks, I made my way down a pedestrianised street that led to a beach. There, I came upon an open coffee shop (whoo hoo!) in which I grabbed a decent latte. Otherwise, the street was a festival of nothing, with maybe ten to twelve boarded units dressed in coming soon! signs.

Danga Bay. 

Johor Kitchen in Danga Bay Johor Bahru

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

And then I arrived at Danga Bay Beach, at that time an exceptionally modest stretch of sand. It was actually quite pleasant, although clearly suspended in a state of “to be continued”. A scattering of palm trees… some thatched shelters and parasols… pristine obviously imported sand… it had potential.

Danga Bay Beach Johor Bahru Malaysia.

Danga Bay Beach.

It was so quiet I hung out for a bit gazing across the water to see if I could pick out the Singapore skyline through the gloom. I could not. Instead, I spent the time admiring the huddled collection of nearby yachts. And being a bit baffled by the ornamental seashells decorating the sand in front of me.

Brooding skies over Danga Bay in Johor Bahru

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

I never did find the park, due to the fact that it didn’t yet exist. “Next year maybe” said a bored security guard, upon my inquiry. So all that was left to do was pick a dusty path back out to the main road and get a taxi home. Along the way, I passed a depressing row of low-rise shacks. This is where the construction workers, who predominantly hailed from India, Sri Lanka and The Philippines, lived in cheerless, cramped studios.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Migrant workers camp Johor Bahru Malaysia

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

A short while later, I spotted a bunch of guys bathing in giant vats of murky looking water. And that was my closing memory of Johor Bahru’s grand Danga Bay project, a district evidently aimed at bringing some swankiness to JB’s run down riverfront. Another instance where I had to thank my lucky stars for the chips I’d been dealt in life. Nearly 8 years later, it’s hard to gauge how much of a success Danga Bay has been, judging by its sporadic online footprints.

Construction workers bathing in Johor Bahru Malaysia

Bath time at Danga Bay.

On day two I woke up late and realised how exhausted I was. By this point I had been on the road for over 5 weeks, a month in Thailand, a week in Singapore and now a few days in JB. So it was music to my ears when Lisa told me that I could get some decent coffee at City Square Mall. I thought yes, let’s just chill out for the day… no plans. Bypassing Starbucks and a few other usual suspects, I took a chance on a place called J.CO Donuts where I hoped to enjoy something deliciously sweet with my cuppa.

JCO Donuts and Coffee

Much to my delight, I discovered that J.CO Donuts had had some fun while naming their donut flavours. Some, but not all, had been created with Hollywood stars in mind. Tickled, I ordered a large cappuccino and an Avocado DiCaprio. And what a sight it was, an unusual mixture of sweet avocado, whipped cream and chocolate flakes. Not for everyone I reckon, but I swiftly demolished it, declaring the donut a resounding victory to Lisa by text message.

The Avocado DiCaprio.

The Avocado DiCaprio J.CO Donuts.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

A short while later I returned to the counter and went for a Blue Berrymore, a winning concoction of chocolate and blueberries. Drew would be proud, I’m sure, to have such a yummy donut named in her honour. Sadly though, J.CO Donuts had failed to expand on this brilliant idea of naming donuts after Hollywood stars. I remember sitting there thinking what a huge opportunity they’d missed.

The Blue Berrymore J.CO Donuts.

The Blue Berrymore: Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

That night, as Lisa and I had dinner in a market restaurant near my hotel, we began brainstorming fantabulous donut names. Among the many highlights that made our final list: Benedict CustardBatch, Jean-Claude Van Jam and Gerard Peanut-Butler. Not to mention Caramel Gibson and Courtney Six-In-A-Box. Ah, it’s the simple pleasures….

Texas Pub in Johor Bahru.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

On our final night in Johor Bahru, Lisa and I wanted to grab some beers in a city that at first glance seemed devoid of bars. Was it possible that there weren’t any? Surely not. So she asked around at work and came back with some interesting news. Basically, JB’s nightlife scene was crammed into one seedy neighbourhood called The Zone. Which sounded like something out of The Walking Dead. Undeterred, we took a taxi to a jam-packed watering hole known as Texas Pub.

The Texas Pub.

Texas Pub Johor Bahru.

Texas Pub, Johor Bahru.

It was a surreal place. TV screens played silent sports channels, while a local man dressed as a cowboy walked around singing Malaysian rock tunes on a guitar hooked up to an amplifier strapped to his back. The clientele was mostly Malaysian men. Every now and then we’d see a guy disappearing upstairs with one of the provocatively dressed women who floated from table to table. “Hmm, so it’s that kind of place”, muttered Lisa.

Finding a free table, we were still absorbing the scene when a local businessman approached us, introducing himself as Ricky Discus. We were the only westerners in Texas Pub that night and Ricky wanted to know all about us.

Making friends in Johor Bahru Malaysia.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

I was a little wary of him at first, but the longer we chatted the more I could see that he was a genuinely nice guy. “Are you from Johor Bahru?” Lisa asked, shouting through the wall of noise and thick cigarette smoke. “Unfortunately yes!” he replied, with a grin.

“Why you come here?” he laughed, “must be business right?”

We chatted with Ricky for over an hour that night. About where we were from, our travels and English Premier League football. About how the Malaysian government wanted Johor Bahru to be the new Singapore, which was “never ever ever gonna happen” according to Ricky. When he eventually made his excuses to leave, he did so with the parting gift of a bucket of Heineken!

A bucket of Heineken in ice.

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

The following morning, with a heavy head, I awoke at the crack of dawn to go and meet Lisa. Our private boat to Sibu Island left early, so I had to get cracking. Throwing the various bits and bobs into my trusty backpack, I pulled the curtains apart just in time to see my first and only Johor Bahru sunrise. Overall, it had been a surreal stay in a city still clearly grappling to find its own identity. But despite its many failings and frustrations, I found myself forgiving JB and wishing it all the best. I’m such a sucker when the sun weaves its irresistible magic. 

Sunrise over Johor Bahru in Malaysia May 2015

Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Like this? Then why not check out my other reports from around Malaysia.

You might also be interested in my various pieces on Singapore.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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  • Anna

    Lol dare I say it sounds like a shithole. Lol. Will stick to Singapore thanks! 🤣🤣🤣

    January 18, 2023 - 3:39 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha, I am not sure I’d categorise it as a shithole per se, especially compared to some bona fide shitholes I’ve been to. But it was an odd and underwhelming metropolis for sure. Singapore definitely felt like a giant resplendent swan queen, Johor Bahru a weak, unwanted duckling.

      January 18, 2023 - 5:34 pm Reply
    • Byron

      Live in Johor Bahru and tbh if anyone ever asks me what to do in JB I never really know what to say. For us locals, we just usually hang out at restaurants, cafes and malls and most of the Singaporeans visiting do the same. 8 years later from your visit it’s more or less the same just more malls, tall buildings, houses and commercial areas. It’s more of a suburban and residential city than anything else. Oh and alot of wealthier Singaporeans buy houses here as well so yeah kinda adds to that.

      February 1, 2023 - 6:47 pm Reply
      • Leighton

        Hey Byron, thanks for reading and contributing to the thread. I think the discussion needed a local voice, someone who actually lives in JB now. I’m curious, what attracts Singaporeans to Johor Bahru property? Just the cheapness compared to Singapore? Are these second homes for them or buy-to-rent scenarios?

        February 1, 2023 - 7:26 pm
  • Lyssy In The City

    I usually describe Ohio and New Jersey as the armpit of America haha. I think you did a great job trying to make the most of your change of plans!

    January 18, 2023 - 5:38 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I think I did my best ha ha. I’m pretty sure there are no underrated gems I failed to tick off. It was a strange place, but I have no regrets as these kinds of places are part of the life travel journey. Thanks for reading Lyssy.

      January 18, 2023 - 5:42 pm Reply
  • Memo

    I have to admit I had never heard of Johor Bahru. Even looked it up in Google Maps. At least you came away with an excellent idea for a donut shop if you ever decide to retire from teaching. Just give me the house special Leighton Latte and a Caramel Gibson.

    January 18, 2023 - 5:49 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      A Leighton Latte would be very good, I can assure you. The CaraMel Gibson a perfect accompaniment. Thanks for reading about my surreal stay in Johor Bahru, Memo.

      January 18, 2023 - 5:53 pm Reply
    • Laura

      This was a truly enjoyable read- it’s not often one gets to hear about a journey through a less-desirable location! It is clear that you gave the city your best effort. I had a good giggle at the donut names that you and Lisa came up with!🤣

      January 18, 2023 - 6:23 pm Reply
      • Leighton

        The donut names kept us amused for days! Johor Bahru certainly wouldn’t make my top destinations list from the last 20 years. But then again it wouldn’t have a place on my roundup of shittiest locations either. Thanks for reading Laura and for leaving a comment!

        January 18, 2023 - 6:37 pm
  • kagould17

    I’m sure we have all landed in a place or area that underwhelmed and asked ourselves….WHY? The hype tries to see it, but the reality seldom matches. The trouble is Singapore (true excitement and delicious food) is so nearby. The poor cousin did not look at the success model I guess. Thanks for sharing Leighton. Allan

    January 18, 2023 - 6:06 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Absolutely. And sadly a look online today brings up inconclusive results as to whether or not Johor Bahru has taken any kind of leap forward. Nobody is expecting it to match Singapore I guess, but surely they can whip the city into shape and give more people a reason to take a look. Thanks for your comment Allan, you have won an Avocado DiCaprio donut.

      January 18, 2023 - 6:19 pm Reply
  • Diana

    What an experience, and maybe not always such a good one. It’s too bad the city has struggled to find its footing. But it sounds like you found at least a couple worthwhile things to do. And eat haha… I laughed at the donut names you guys came up with, very creative!

    January 18, 2023 - 6:24 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Diana, I actually really enjoy writing up these kinds of experiences. It’s weird how the trips that weren’t so great at the time are often the ones I have the most fun with when blogging. Maybe it just appeals to my warped sense of humour.

      January 18, 2023 - 6:45 pm Reply
      • Diana

        I mean, if you can’t turn bad experiences into humor then what’s the point of having a blog? Hahah 🙂

        January 19, 2023 - 6:12 pm
      • Leighton

        Absolutely, couldn’t agree more!

        January 19, 2023 - 6:12 pm
  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Your ability to describe a place in all its glory or non-glory is amazing, Leighton – I love your down and dirty descriptions. JB would not be a place I would want to visit – it sounds like a slummy craphole to be honest. You didn’t give up on it though. It’s admirable how you looked for the diamond in the rough and found it at a donut shop of all places! At least the Texas Pub served Heineken!

    January 18, 2023 - 9:12 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Kellye, that’s very kind of you to say. I wanted to bring across a sense of Johor Bahru’s unique weirdness. The bucket of Heineken was a lovely gesture, but me being the lightweight that I am, I only managed a few bottles.

      January 18, 2023 - 11:00 pm Reply
      • Mike and Kellye Hefner

        I don’t drink beer, so Mike drinks mine – LOL!

        January 19, 2023 - 1:43 am
  • travelling_han

    Well…JB looks an, ahem, interesting place. I don’t think I’d choose to visit there but you definitely made the most of your visit. On the plus side the Nasi Kandar looks delicious – just a shame it was lukewarm!

    January 18, 2023 - 11:57 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I think a piping hot plate of Nasi Kandar would be magic. I hope JB has improved a bit in the eight years or so that have passed since my visit. Though sadly there isn’t too much online to suggest that it has. It’s one of those strange places that I was destined to go to for reasons outside my control. Despite not being my cup of tea, I’m still glad I went. Thanks for stopping by, Hannah.

      January 19, 2023 - 12:33 am Reply

    I’ve actually passed through this town, but only because if you get a bus from Malaysia into Singapore, JB is the border checkpoint. All I remember is getting a surprisingly decent rate at a money exchange in the bus station, and the ridiculous scramble to try and find the correct bus on the “other side”…pitch dark, dozens of buses and no signage or organisation. From your amusing description it sounds like I didn’t miss a thing!

    January 19, 2023 - 2:04 am Reply
    • Leighton

      JB is indeed the perfect town for passing through. Still, no regrets and all that. It was at least an uneventful breather after the wonderful weeks I’d had in Thailand and Singapore.

      January 19, 2023 - 9:23 am Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    Sounds quite a contrast to its shiny neighbour of Singapore. I know which one I prefer!

    January 19, 2023 - 2:25 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for your message, Marion. Despite all its failings, I always smile when I think of my strange days in Johor Bahru.

      January 19, 2023 - 9:24 am Reply
  • Erin of the Hills

    I love the way you write, I can picture every location as I read your descriptions – whether or not there is a picture! Thanks for sharing even the less-than-magical adventures with us all. That sunset though…now that looks magical 🙂

    January 19, 2023 - 5:45 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you Erin, you’re very kind. That sunset at the end took me by surprise. I was still in the process of waking up, so it was an “oooh, JB….” moment. A lovely way to end what had been an underwhelming stay.

      January 19, 2023 - 9:26 am Reply
  • Bama

    You confirmed all of the notions I have about JB. It’s funny that among the few things you actually enjoyed in the city was actually something that is I’m very familiar with: J.Co. It’s an Indonesian coffee and donut company that was so successful in its home country it gained enough confidence to expand abroad, and there are not that many Indonesian brands outside the country to begin with — well, maybe except for Indomie. Look forward to your story on Sibu!

    January 19, 2023 - 8:20 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ah, yes! I think, once upon a time, I’d known that J.CO is Indonesian. But I had definitely forgotten, thanks for the reminder. I’d like to meet the guy who came up with the Avocado DiCaprio. And then grill him on why the company didn’t see this brilliant donut-naming idea through. JB was a surreal and curious stop, but I can’t say it would ever make anyone’s must-see list. Thanks for checking in, Bama.

      January 19, 2023 - 9:31 am Reply
  • Stan

    sometimes full time travelers like yourself have to suffer an occasional JB along the way in between all the good stuff. and yet it sounds like the city had its moments, surely the donuts alone justified the experience. the texas pub sounds awful, praises be for mr. discus.

    January 19, 2023 - 9:18 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ricky Discus was/is a good egg. I remember he never stopped smiling and just seemed so pleased to have met us. I guess it’s not often an Englishman and a Scottish woman stop into the Texas Pub. Cheers, Stan!

      January 19, 2023 - 9:32 am Reply
  • Rebecca

    Despite the lackluster time in Johor Bahru, you made the most of it with some delicious donuts at J.Co Donuts and a hazy, but atmospheric sunrise at the end of it all. Personally, I would’ve been on board for some mutton curry for breakfast, haha…any case, while not all places visited will be a hit, at least visiting these places offer another side of a country you otherwise wouldn’t explore. Hope the next leg of the trip was better!

    January 19, 2023 - 9:38 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha, I admire your breakfast bravery Rebecca. In some cases at least, I’m just too much of an Englishman and can’t have my breakfast routine messed with. Although, having said that, Sladja did twist my arm into having a traditional Georgian dish after my morning cuppa the other day. Thanks for reading about this surreal visit and yes, the next Malaysian destinations were far superior!

      January 19, 2023 - 9:48 am Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    My brother spent several months working in Lagos, Nigeria many years ago, and summed up his thoughts of the city saying, “if the planet needs an enema…” You get the rest. But this place sounds even worse. I kept hoping as I was reading through that you’d eventually find something appetizing to eat. The donut names are cute and creative. Thanks for sharing, Leighton.

    January 19, 2023 - 1:45 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Oh lord, that’s quite the diss against Lagos. JB was a thoroughly uninspiring place, but it gave me a quirky articles I guess. Thanks for rooting for me with the food, I suppose I kind of got there in the end.

      January 19, 2023 - 8:35 pm Reply
      • Travels Through My Lens

        Yes, although he was there 45 years ago, so hopefully Lagos has changed since then.

        January 19, 2023 - 9:16 pm
  • secret blogger

    Wow you travel so many places, touchwood. I got to know about some more places. Must have been an amazing experience..

    January 19, 2023 - 2:25 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading and commenting! There will be plenty more locations from different countries published here over the next month.

      January 19, 2023 - 3:04 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    Wow Leighton, that photo from your plane … it’s beautiful! I had a laugh about the open-mouthed man (and still you dare to take a photo of him – shame on you Leighton 😉). It’s all a bit depressing, this JB – but at least you told me about a place I never knew existed! I must say, you and Lisa outdone J.CO on the names given to the donuts! Well, at least you met Ricky (and a bucket of Heineken beers) … and had a beautiful sunrise!

    January 19, 2023 - 4:37 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Oh, I think the staring man got exactly what he deserved, ha ha. Yes, JB won’t be topping any must-see lists, but hey, I will always have those donuts to remember and laugh about. As you say, throw in Ricky plus the sunset and I can’t be too harsh on JB. Cheers Corna!

      January 19, 2023 - 8:40 pm Reply
  • shoestringdiary

    A truly enjoyable read! You have a knack for making the most out of even underwhelming places. We’ve been to KL which appears far, far better but your story makes us want to see JB just out of curiosity. Great doughnut names, by the way.

    January 19, 2023 - 6:28 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I would love to see KL one day… and well… a bit more of Malaysia in general. Thanks so much for reading and for the kind words, it’s great to have you onboard my comment threads.

      January 19, 2023 - 8:43 pm Reply
  • Lookoom

    The chances are low that I will be offered a job in Malaysia, although my company will have a support centre there soon, so I will be very careful with addresses just in case. I don’t want to end up in Johor Bahru!

    January 20, 2023 - 12:20 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, glad to be of service! I think having to live in JB would be a very tough gig. Thanks for reading!

      January 20, 2023 - 9:21 am Reply
  • NortheastAllie

    This definitely sounds like an adventure, and it is neat to read about areas around Singapore. That is awesome that J Co. Donuts named different donuts after celebrities, that place looks fun!

    January 20, 2023 - 1:05 am Reply
    • Leighton

      J.CO was a fun place, but it’s an indictment of a city when one of your favourite memories of it is a donut chain🍩 Thanks for reading Allie!

      January 20, 2023 - 9:24 am Reply
  • qprgary

    Think I’ll give this place a miss

    January 20, 2023 - 12:26 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      A wise decision.

      January 20, 2023 - 12:36 pm Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    JB sounds like a mixed bag, but you certainly gave it a fair shot in terms of trying to find activities and adventures. And hey, at least those donuts sounded and looked divine!

    January 20, 2023 - 4:50 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I should’ve started my own Hollywood donut store, but alas a career in education got in the way. Thanks for reading!

      January 20, 2023 - 4:53 pm Reply
  • Juliette

    I had never heard of Johor Bahru, and I guess I understand why now! It doesn’t seem like the perfect touristic place, but I’m sure you’ll remember the experience! I love the different donut names and I think I would have quite liked the abandoned “theme park” even though it kinda looks creepy ahah I wonder what the city looks like now!

    January 21, 2023 - 12:39 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I would hope the city looks a bit better, though to be honest there isn’t much online to suggest that it is. Donuts, ghost fairgrounds and questionable bars, what a concoction, eh? Thanks for reading and commenting Juliette!

      January 21, 2023 - 8:05 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    If this city was in for a job evaluation it would read something along the lines of ‘ambitious ideas but lacking follow through’. It must be a tough job to create a tourist destination so close to another tourist destination like Singapore. I loved the donut naming though- they could have used your added suggestions for their donuts 🙂

    January 22, 2023 - 12:02 am Reply
  • anoushpetit

    I find this place fascinating, Leighton, and your writing excellent. You are a true storyteller.

    January 22, 2023 - 10:41 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Anoush! Thank you very much for your reading and leaving such a kind comment, much appreciated.

      January 22, 2023 - 10:46 am Reply
  • bronlima

    Such a contrast from the “tropical island”!

    January 22, 2023 - 9:44 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Oh yes, chalk and cheese from top to bottom. I think the only thing JB had over Sibu Island was the donuts. Thanks for dropping by Geoff.

      January 22, 2023 - 11:16 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    When I read the title I thought ‘why didn’t we go to Johor Bahru’ and then I read armpit of Malaysia… At least you have some unique memories. So funny that you got a picture of the guy staring at you at the restaurant:) Maggie

    January 23, 2023 - 1:35 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I love that you assumed it was going to be a cool place and then…. oh, not so much. JB didn’t have much, but boy did those donuts help console me in my hour of need. The starer got what he deserved 😉 Cheers, Maggie.

      January 23, 2023 - 1:49 am Reply
  • ThingsHelenLoves

    That was a good read about a real adventure. Although the shacks for workers and interesting bathing situation is a reminder that reality bites, everywhere.

    January 24, 2023 - 2:40 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Helen, I think you’re right about Johor Bahru’s “realness”, ha ha. It was one of my strangest stays, but I’m glad I got to see it. If nothing else, it offered a huge contrast to Singapore, which is literally a stone’s throw away across the Johor-Singapore Causeway.

      January 24, 2023 - 3:31 pm Reply
  • A Surreal Stay in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. – Urban Fishing Pole Lifestyle

    […] A Surreal Stay in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. […]

    January 24, 2023 - 6:06 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for the repost!

      January 24, 2023 - 6:07 pm Reply
  • Rooppendra Kumar

    your humour really comes across ha ha and Johor Bahru is the victim. Nice blog

    January 24, 2023 - 7:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading and commenting Rooppendra, I’m glad you found it amusing.

      January 24, 2023 - 7:38 pm Reply
  • Daniel Bayley

    Great blog, I have a friend in Malaysia and always wanted to visit, loved reading about the place

    January 25, 2023 - 2:12 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Daniel, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I’m sure you’d love Malaysia and would definitely recommend reading about my visits to the islands of Tioman and Pulau Sibu. I think they are much more representational of what makes Malaysia so magical as opposed to Johor Barhru. Hope you get there one day!

      January 25, 2023 - 3:02 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    Ah well, at least you found a spot of beach in that strange little excursion over the border. I’m sure there are lovely places to visit in Malaysia; that just wasn’t one of them! Enjoyed your story as always.

    January 25, 2023 - 9:00 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, JB will always live long in the memory, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Glad you enjoyed the tale, Ruth.

      January 25, 2023 - 9:04 pm Reply
  • Toonsarah

    You do know you’re not really selling this place, right?! Still, it makes for a great read – one of those places that are better in the retelling than they were while you were there 🙂 I usually find if I turn my camera on someone like that guy who was staring at you, they turn away, but that clearly wasn’t enough to deter him!

    February 2, 2023 - 9:44 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha, yes I’m aware that this article might not necessarily have readers rushing to book up a visit to Johor Bahru. Unless one has a hankering for an Avocado diCaprio and the prospect of a few free beers on behalf of Ricky Discus. Staring man was “special”, that’s for sure.

      February 2, 2023 - 11:28 pm Reply
  • gederedita

    never been come to this beautiful country. Thank you for sharing a great tips. Hope i can go this places in the near future.

    February 27, 2023 - 6:42 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Gederedita! Thanks for reading and commenting. While Johor Bahru didn’t exactly charm me, there is so much worth seeing in Malaysia. Check out my articles on Sibu Island and Tioman Island to fuel your wanderlust. This is a country I’d love to go back to one day and see more of, especially across the mainland.

      February 27, 2023 - 9:38 am Reply

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