Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Weekend in JB, Malaysia

Thirty (30) minutes  from our house, and we can be in another country, Malaysia.  Isn't that cool?

Technically,  we only need to cross a bridge called Causeway, a 15mins bus-ride,  and pass through the immigration of both countries with our passports, another 15mins, if the queues  are short.... and we're in Malaysia!


Just to give you a perspective of how small  Singapore is,  compared to the country of Malaysia.

Check-out the map below.  The yellow is just the province of Johor, South of peninsular Malaysia.   The tiny gray island, at the bottom is Singapore.   But the economy of Singapore -- is more than double the economies of   Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand altogether.

When you're with an  8yo and a 5yo kids ... how do explain border relations? the concept of nations?  "Mom, you said,  Singapore used to be part of Malaysia.  How did they break away?  Did the island suddenly break-off ?  What happened to the people? animals? Was there a flood?"

My son, It's not like physically breaking-away!  Singapore used to be under Malaysian government -- much like how,  Mindanao is part of the Philippines.  But the Singaporeans, wanted to have a chance to be on their own.   Make their own laws & run their own businesses, so the Malaysian government gave them their Independence.  They can be their own country!  That's why we need to bring passport, even if it's just 15minutes bus ride.


There are buses that ply this route, daily, every 15minutes (starting from 530am until 1am) coming from many areas in Singapore.  Our place is near Kranji MRT Station (so, it's bus 170).  There's a money exchange counter,  no hassle, to get your Malaysian Ringgit (1RM = 13pesos) (1SGD = 2.5 RM).



The bus will take you to this imposing structure called Woodlands Check-point. You have to get all your stuff together, pass through Singapore Immigration, as soon as you get through the Departure procedures, you just go down, and ride the same bus number.

Going-out of Singapore is quite a fairly easy task.  Smile. Stamp. Go. Coming-in to Singapore is another different story.














After a few minutes, we arrived at the Malaysian Immigration.  Picture-taking are, as usual, not allowed.  I was here in JB about 5years ago.  The Malaysian Immigration offices before were really backward & provincial, much like our  NAIA Terminal 1 in Manila.  Dark alleys. Dirty toilets and all.   Now, they've really improved and is almost the same caliber as Singapore's!

JB or Johor Bahru, is a the capital city of Johor, a Southern province of Malaysia.  It's the favorite destination of Singaporeans for cheap food, shopping bargains, cheap nightlife and services.  Our Singaporean friends warn us, Do not expect much, ok?!  My BFF Mitch description is worse --- "JB is, parang Caloocan lang!"


It's an old city.  After Singapore's modern structures and sterile environs,  you will feel a little bit-off.  There are open manholes, dirty facades, old buildings with peeling paints, unregulated vendors.

The guidebook boasts of some historical areas like the Sultan Abu Bakr Mosque and old government buildings.


However, it was my husband's birthday weekend, and he warned me, he will not be in the mood to  walk around hot parks, stuffy museums and old, dank government buildings!!

So, I made sure to book a nice hotel, where we can just chill, after shopping & food-tripping.

My choice was Zon Regency by the Sea.  About 15minutes from the busy city center.  It has its own international pier (complete with customs & immigrations) for those coming-in from the  islands of singapore & indonesia (batam, bintan) via yacht or boats.


If you travel with an entourage like me,  (Hub, 3kids, & my angel Lingling), it is a necessity not a luxury to get a Suite ...  if you want to keep your sanity!

No need to referee between Cartoon Network & ESPN - there are two tv sets.  No need to shout because someone monopolizes the toilet -- there are two CRs.  There's a small dinette,  for Yaya Lingling to organize all the take-out, chips & prepare coffee.  And, when Mommy needs to get away from it all -- the room comes with an exclusive Club Lounge Access.  No kids Allowed!













The hotel has usual gyms, sauna, etc.  But the swimming pool was a let-down! Not so clean water, unattractive landscaping, no beverages served.  If the kids stay only 15mins. in the pool, it just mean, it didn't come up with their expectations.  



While the kids fritter around the hotel, Ted & I checked-out the shops. 

There's a duty free shop, mostly wines, cigarettes & chocolates;  and a  small department store also owned by the Hotel.  No thanks! 



City Square, on one hand,  is the usual haunts of weekenders for shopping.  I was on-the-look-out for a shop called Vinci or VNC.  It's a Malaysian brand of shoe. Very cheap but quite stylish.  (Last time, I was in Kuala Lumpur, I got 5 pairs).  Nag-swapang dahil sobrang mura!!!   Think Charles & Keith, but the price is SM Parisian.  

I learned that Vinci or VNC is under the Padini Concept Stores.  So, they're not only selling shoes, but also apparels, and accessories.   I only got a pair of bejeweled sandals,  some of the new styles are too juvenile, for my taste!



Folks also go to JB for the services like salon, massage, reflexology etc. etc. Those are expensive in Singapore.  But I noticed, that the price are now almost the same.  It seems that the Malaysians are already aware of their captured market, that's why they've already jack-up the prices.  Boo!!  I only had my nails done.  As for my hair, I don't trust anyone touching them yet.  

Holiday Plaza, is like Greenhills, smaller scale.   Knock-offs, Pirated Movies are virtually non-existent in Singapore.  People go to JB, to cater to these "needs."    But we wouldn't dare buy and bring them home.  We bought linens, bedsheets.  I didn't take lots of pictures.  So busy, looking around. 


 But these fancy cellphone cases and accessories, are adorable, aren't they?




Food is not only a delight in Malaysia, but also cheap!  I really like the fusion of Chinese-Malaysian cooking.  We usually have the hotel's lunch buffet, as soon as we check-in.   




Dinner is at a nearby hawker's food stall, no fuss. no frills but oh sooo yummy!  We had the steamed groupa, salted egg crab,  claypot tofu,  stir-fried vegies at walang kamatayang chicken.




My kids are gluttons when it comes to crabs...



Desserts were donuts bought from a local store, trying to imitate Krispy Kreme.




JB, Malaysia is not exactly a tourist or a shopper's haven.  But definitely, your money will go a long way.  I feel like everything is 50% off, every time I do my conversions.   

It's a nice learning experience seeing how two countries so near, yet so different when it comes to economies, & environment.   I heard they're planning to build a direct MRT access to both countries next year. Hopefully,  the cash coming-in from Sg to JB will improve it's economy, as well.  But bottom line, how the Malaysian government handle it's resources in JB,  will spell the difference.


'till next adventure!


xoxo,
ripemango