Johor Bahru, or JB for short, is Malaysia’s second largest city with a population of around two million covering a sprawling, industrialised and commercial urban area.
Just 150 years ago it was a small Malay fishing village but grew rapidly due to stable government policies, an influx of Chinese immigrants, the construction of a railway but, most importantly, its close proximity to Singapore to which it was linked by the Causeway completed in 1924.
The city does have some excellent tourist attractions for heritage lovers. Some are located close together in the historic heart of the city and can be covered easily on a walking tour while others may require transport to reach them.
High Court Building
One thing that the British colonial administration always did well in Malaya was to construct classical and stately High Court buildings in every town.
JB’s High Court is no exception and a model of it is on display in Legoland Malaysia at Iskandar, just outside of JB. In front of the court is a fountain and monument bearing Johor’s coat-of-arms.
From here you walk past the Post Office, noting the British-era letter box, and HSBC’s Johor branch before turning into Jalan Bukit Timbalan.
Sultan Ibrahim Building
This imposing building housed the State Secretariat until recently. It dominates the JB skyline and was once the tallest building in Malaysia until independence.
It was completed in 1940, just in time for the Japanese to occupy it and use it to plan their invasion of Singapore. Currently unoccupied, there is talk of converting the building into a museum.
Johor Bahru Chinese Heritage Museum
Housed in a four-storey shophouse on Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, is the Chinese Heritage Museum, also known as the Tiong Hua Museum.
This museum showcases the early days of the Chinese settlement in JB – their history, culture, traditions and occupations.
Opening hours: 9am–5pm daily (Closed on Mondays).
Entrance fee: RM3 for adults, RM1 for children, students and senior citizens.
Jalan Tan Hiok Nee
This street is named after a trader of clothing, pepper and gambier who became known as Major China Johor and was a wealthy leader of the Chinese community.
The street has been given a makeover with neat pavements, trees and painted shophouses.
Sentral Police Station
Continue to Jalan Sawmill where an old police station dating from 1914 is located. This was once a seedy part of town where many illegal activities took place but today is surrounded by a motorway flyovers leading to the Causeway to Singapore. The police station is still in use today.
Kampung Ah Fook
This busy commercial area along Jalan Meldrum and Jalan Siu Nam is named after Wong Ah Fook, a carpenter who eventually became the royal builder. Meldrum was a Scottish sawmill owner in the 19th century.
Old Johor Bahru Railway Station
This attractive station building was built in 1931. Prior to that, from 1917, all train services operated from a small wooden building near the station.
Since there is a spanking new JB Sentral station just 200 meters away, the old one has been decommissioned and is to be converted into a railway museum.
From here you need to find your way to Jalan Trus. For a convenient shortcut, you can take the steps and walkway next to Public Bank Tower.
This 130-year-old Chinese temple is the symbol of unity among the five different Chinese dialect groups (Teochow, Hakka, Hainanese, Hokkien and Cantonese), each of whom favour a different deity with is own statue in the temple.
The temple also has Kwan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) and Weather God statues. If you visit, you had better pray to all of them, just in case.
Sikhs settled in the State of Johor in the late 19th Century, mostly employed in the Police Force or in the Johor Sultan’s Guards.
In 1916 the Sikhs requested a piece of land from the Johor Police Commissioner to build a Sikh Gurdwara.
On Feb 10, 1921, the present site was gazetted as a temple reserve. This land was very muddy and swampy. The Sikhs filled up the land with sand and stones and upon this constructed their first Sikh Gurdwara in late 1921.
The temple was not used during the Second World War when Sikhs from Johor Bahru and Singapore were forced to flee to nearby towns.
In 1957 the second Gurdwara building was constructed at a cost of about RM45,000. This was a two-storey concrete building.
By the 1980s, it became necessary to construct a new and larger Gurdwara Sahib building to cater for the growing Sikh population. The present Gurdwara Sahib was opened in 1992.
The Arulmigu Rajamariamman Devasthanam Temple sits at the heart of a bustling Indian district which includes flower stalls, restaurants, music shops, barbers and so on. The current temple dates from the 1980s.
The age of videos, DVDs, cable TV and cineplexes has killed off most stand-alone cinemas but the art-deco style Broadway Cinema still manages to survive by showing the latest Tamil and Hindi Bollywood blockbusters.
Jalan Segget, where this cinema is located, is built above and next to what used to be the Segget River which now flows under the street.
Restoran Ya Wang
Naturally there are many restaurants in JB although quite a few are closed on Sundays. Restoran Ya Wang on Jalan Segget is an exception. The food here is very tasty and seems popular with both Chinese and Indian diners.
From here I wandered in the direction of Jalan Dhoby via Jalan Trus. Dhoby of course refers to laundry shops, a couple of which can still be found here.
The street has been smartened up a little but still retains plenty of character. You are now back near HSBC and the High Court where we started the walk.
This ends the Johor Bahru Heritage Trail but if you still have energy left there are some other great places to visit in JB. These are the highlights:
Grand Palace and Royal Abu Bakar Museum
This museum closed for upgrading works but reopened in February 2012. This is a highlight of any Johor Bahru Heritage Trail.
Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque
This is one of the most beautiful mosques in Malaysia built in 1900 in a mix of Islamic and colonial architectural styles. It occupies a hilltop with views overlooking the Strait of Johor.
Established in 1928, this is a nice old-style zoo. It is small and compact with all the usual favourite animals so great for young kids. It is open from 8am-6pm and is just across the road from the Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque.
Danga Bay Marina Club
This is part of a new urban waterfront development with a marina, fairground, restaurants and waterside promenade.
The Royal Mausoleum is the final resting place for the Johor Royalty. It is located next to a Muslim Cemetery.
This clock tower was built in 1994 to commemorate Johor Bahru achieving city status. It overlooks playing fields and is in front of what was the Johor Civil Service Club formed in 1920.
This article first appeared in malaysia-traveller.com