Malaysia,  Travel

How to Spend Your Weekend at CitySquare Mall in Johor Bahru, Malaysia?

It’s been quite some time ever since I crossed the border over to Johor Bahru (JB) for a short trip. And things have really changed over the years. The immigration queue at the checkpoint has gotten longer and there are now three Johor Bahru shopping malls which are minutes away from Malaysia’s checkpoint.

A Good Bargain

More importantly, our Singapore dollar has been rising high against Malaysian Ringgit. The exchange rate of the Singapore dollar to Ringgit is approximately SGD 1 to RM3. No wonder so many Singaporeans flock to Johor Bahru to spend their money to their hearts’ content. Food in Johor Bahru is especially tasty and affordable. I know that some Singaporeans travel across the border just to enjoy a good bowl of Fish Head Curry or Zi-char style Chinese dishes.

Cheap and Good

But is it worth it to spend time travelling across the border? During peak hours, the waiting time can go up to 2 or 3 hours. After making two recent trips to Johor Bahru, I would say it is really worth making a trip there once in every few months just to get your hair cut, do a massage, eat delicious Malaysian food, shop for groceries and get your car tank pumped with petrol. It’s not just cheap. It is cheap and good.

Some of these Malaysians are really skilled in what they are doing. You can easily get a professional haircut for just $25. But in Singapore, do expect to fork out at least $40 and above to get a professional haircut at a contemporary hair salon. Malaysia’s service attitude also seems much better too. They may be less efficient than us but are more patient and understanding.

So, if you are wondering how to spend a fulfilling day at Johor Bahru, do check out this Johor Bahru itinerary below. Below are just some recommended activities which most Singaporeans would do when they are in Johor Bahru.

7. 30 AM: Getting to Johor Bahru

Johor Bahru JB Central CIQ City Square Mall

Heading over to JB on a weekend can be somewhat tricky. To avoid the long queues, you will need to be at Woodlands Checkpoint before 8 am. Another way to skip the queue is to book an express KTM train ticket to JB for $10. But bookings must be made one month in advance. I have not tried this mode of transport before but I heard that the conditions of the train may not be that pleasant.

We have no issues at Singapore’s checkpoint where we could scan our biometric passports through the automated passport control. Once you had your passport scanned, you will need to take a bus from Woodlands checkpoint to the checkpoint in JB. You can take bus 160, 170, 170X and 950 at the checkpoint to get across the border. We also waited quite long for the buses to arrive as there are many Malaysian buses heading back to JB in the morning.

The problem for us Singaporeans is probably the immigration clearance at Malaysia’s checkpoint. The immigration queues move very slowly – similar to the crawling speed of a snail.

In total, we spent about 2 hours across the border. During the waiting time, you can kill time by reading a book, play some mobile games or check your emails.

9.30 AM: Waiting for the Mall to open

Johor Bahru JB Central CIQ Starbucks Coffee Komtar Mall

Since most of the malls here open at 10 am, we could only hang around JB Sentral CIQ or simply wait at the entrance of the mall. In the end, we decided to head to Starbucks Coffee at Komtar Mall which is right next to City Square Mall.

9.45 AM: Starbucks First

Johor Bahru JB Central CIQ Starbucks Coffee Komtar Mall

The price of one Starbucks drink here is similar to Singapore. Maybe just a couple of dollars cheaper. We had Matcha Frappe with whipped cream. And it was so-so.

Besides heading to Starbucks, you can also have a good breakfast at Old Town or grab some light breakfast kuehs from this push-cart stall. There are also a few smaller food kiosk at City Square Mall which opens before 10 am.

Breakfast push cart City Square Mall JB

10.00 AM: Book the best cinema seats

MMcineplexes City Square Mall JB Malaysia

Once the guards came to lift up the shutters, all the eager shoppers started streaming into the mall and we were part of the kiasu mob of Singaporeans were who were there early on standby mode.

We wanted to watch a movie so the first we did was to head to MMCineplexes on Level 6 of the mall to buy the movie tickets. As we wanted to get the best cinema seats, we decided to make a beeline to the box office first.

MMcineplexes City Square Mall JB Malaysia movie ticket costs

Truth be told, the theatre was rather packed and thankfully, we managed to get good seats. Movie ticket only costs us RM17.00 each (SGD5+).

But theatre itself is rather run down and the seats are old and looked dirty. So, we are probably not going to watch a movie at this cineplex anymore. In fact, there are better cinemas in other JB malls like TGV Cinema at Aeon Tebrau City Shopping Centre.

10.15 AM: Book A Massage at Thai Odyssey

Thai odyssey City Square Mall JB Johor Bahru Malaysia Massage

There are several massage parlours at City Square Mall but Sam says that Thai Odyssey is the recommended one by many Singaporeans. Each treatment costs up to about $40+ after service tax and other charges. I would not say its exceptionally cheap but their massage services were overall very good.

It is important to schedule for a massage appointment early during the day as they often ran out of booking slots. We also discovered that they have another outlet at Komtar Mall which probably quieter since Komtar mall is less crowded.

10.30AM: Explore Jalan Dhoby

Jalan Dhoby Johor Bahru JB Malaysia

Once we are done booking our movie and massage appointments, we walked towards Jalan Dhoby to check out the funky popular cafes there.

Interestingly, you can also find a lot of Indian shops selling garlands, clothes and groceries and a Hindu temple along Jalan Dhoby. Then I came upon this realisation that this could be an Indian heritage street since Dhoby means laundryman in Hindi. It’s similar to Singapore’s Dhoby Ghaut where there were many Indian dhobis working along that road. This street is more than just a home to popular cafes.

It would be interesting to explore the heritage aspect of this precinct.

Jalan Dhoby Johor Bahru JB Malaysia  hipster cafes

11.00 am: Brunch at The Replacement

Jalan Dhoby Johor Bahru JB Malaysia  hipster cafes The Replacement Lodge and Kitchen

A much raved about cafe online is none other than The Replacement – Lodge and Kitchen. But we recently found out that they have closed down their lodge but their kitchen or cafe remains open. As expected, there is a queue at this cafe. We waited for about 20 minutes to get a table.

Jalan Dhoby Johor Bahru JB Malaysia  hipster cafes The Replacement Lodge and Kitchen

Since we can order in advance, our breakfast platter was ready. I do not know how they did it but the food was so good. They don’t just serve you a regular toast but two slices of muesli toasts. Scrambled eggs are not rubbery at all but buttery. Baked beans are homemade and they tasted so much better than regular canned baked beans. For RM 30.90, it is totally worth the price we are paying for.

Along with the breakfast platter, I ordered rose-flavoured latte which has rose essence added to it. Coffee was good. I can’t complain. No wonder people are willing to queue to get in.

Jalan Dhoby Johor Bahru JB Malaysia  hipster cafes The Replacement Lodge and Kitchen The Breakfast Platter
Jalan Dhoby Johor Bahru JB Malaysia  hipster cafes The Replacement Lodge and Kitchen Rose flavoured Latte coffee

12.00 am : Desserts at Flowers in the Windows

Jalan Dhoby Johor Bahru JB Malaysia  hipster cafes Flowers in the windows

At around mid-noon, we decided to drop by another highly recommended cafe – Flowers in the Window. It is a charming cafe furnished with quaint old furniture. They are well-known for their cakes and desserts. There is a lovely vibe to this place but unfortunately, we did not get to stay long as there are limited cakes available at the time of the day.

So we only ordered a slice of their Lavender Early Grey cake for dessert. It was a super moist sponge cake and I love it to bits.

Jalan Dhoby Johor Bahru JB Malaysia  hipster cafes Flowers in the windows

12.45 am: Walk and Shop Aimlessly

City Square Mall JB Malaysia Watsons

For the rest of the day, we decided to head back to City Square Mall to enjoy some air-con because it was terribly hot that day. We did some shopping at Watsons and walk around the mall.

2.30 PM : Boba Tea Break

City Square Mall JB Malaysia  Hee Tea Boba tea stalls

After two hours of window shopping, we decided to get a drink at Hee Tea. It’s a tea boutique near the cinema and they offer mainly sweetened fruit teas. I did not really enjoy the Honey Dew fruit tea drink as it tasted rather artificial.

City Square Mall JB Malaysia Hee Tea Boba tea stalls

3.00 PM: Snack Shopping

City Square Mall JB Malaysia Johor Bahru Eureka Popcorn

Instead of buying popcorn at the cinema, Sam wanted to have Eureka popcorn instead. Eureka popcorn has really taken Singapore by storm. I’m not surprised because it is really the best tasting popcorn ever in this region. You can get Eureka popcorn now in Singapore but it is nonetheless more expensive. In Malaysia, a pack of Eureka Popcorn only costs $4+.

3.15 PM: Movie Time

City Square Mall JB Malaysia MMcineplexes movie Pokemon Detective Pikachu

Finally, it was movie time and we enjoyed Pokemon’s Detective Pikachu movie which is a light-hearted and humorous movie. But as mentioned before, I did not like sitting on the timeworn theatre seats. Half the time, I was worried that my seat would have bed bugs lurking somewhere.

6.00 PM: Massage at Thai Odyssey

City Square Mall JB Malaysia Johor Bahru Thai Odyssey Massage washing feet

After watching the movie, we went to do our massage at Thai Odyssey. I did a 6-minute aromatherapy massage while Sam did the Thai massage.

The Thai masseuse washed our feet because bringing us to the treatment rooms. The whole massage boutique looks rather new and well-maintained. And it was indeed a good massage as the massage therapist was good at identifying all the tight knots in my body. It was money well-spent.

City Square Mall JB Malaysia Johor Bahru Thai Odyssey Massage

7.15 PM: Dinner at Paik’s Pan

City Square Mall JB Malaysia Johor Bahru Paik's Pan Budae Jiggae Korean food

For dinner, Sam brought me to Paik’s Pan. Since this short trip to JB was supposed to be a belated birthday celebration treat, he wanted to end the day with a good hearty meal. He wanted to order Budae Jiggae which was meant for 2 to 3 people. But at the back of my mind, I knew we two could not finish everything in the hot pan. We have small appetites and besides, we were both watching our diet closely. Nonetheless, since this guy is desiring for Budae Jiggae, we just went for it. And guess what?

City Square Mall JB Malaysia Paik's Pan Budae Jiggae Korean food

Because it was so delicious, we managed to finish about 95% of it. But in my opinion, it is best to share it among 4 people so that you can enjoy some other side dishes that come along with the hot pan.

The Budae Jiggae tasted so much better than the ones I had in those Korean restaurants along Tanjong Pagar in Singapore. It is also so much cheaper here. If I’m not wrong, we only paid RM 78 in total after all the extra charges. That’s about SGD 26 in total.

City Square Mall JB Malaysia Paik's Pan Budae Jiggae Korean food

8.15 PM: Bread Shopping

City Square Mall JB Malaysia Lavender Bakery Johor Bahru

After a sumptuous meal, you can buy some fresh bakes from their well-known Lavender Bakery before heading back home. Towards the end of the day, you will see many Singaporeans queuing to buy back some pastries and bread from this bakery.

How good it is? I have to say that their bread tasted so much better than Singapore’s Breadtalk. I tried their Pandon Sponge cake and Nonya Kaya which are some of their international favourites. And I did not regret lugging them back to Singapore at all!

City Square Mall JB Malaysia Lavender Bakery Johor Bahru

9 PM: Back to Singapore

Thankfully, there isn’t any queue at the immigration counter over at JB Sentral CIQ and the lines cleared very quickly. We crossed in the border in a jiffy as everything went smoothly. It took us probably about 30 minutes this time to get back to Woodlands Checkpoint.

It was a day well-spent. We actually went back to Johor Bahru weeks later to explore a different part of Johor Bahru so do check out for my upcoming post. And I hope you find this itinerary useful.

A travel and lifestyle blogger based in Singapore.

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