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Malaysia: Something’s Cooking Down South

by New Jo-Lyn 1 Jun 2012
Malaysia: Something’s Cooking Down South

Surrounded by Pahang to the north, Melaka and Negeri Sembilan to the northwest, and Singapore to the south, Johor has some pretty tough competition to beat in convincing travellers to make it their holiday destination; what with Pahang’s adrenalin-pushing Genting Highlands, Melaka’s historically and culturally rich Jonker Street, and of course, everything else in Singapore.

The perception built around the southern state has all this while been a rather unflattering one, but no matter, because Johor Darul Ta‘zim is taking the challenge in stride and is now expanding on so many exciting new enterprises, like the recent Johor Premium Outlets and the highly anticipated Legoland.

The presence of prestigious academic institutions like Marlborough College and University of Southampton further refurbishes Johor’s image and is a shoe-in for being top education hub in Southeast Asia. Johor, my friends, is moving in the right direction.

City mouse
Johor Bahru eked out its humble beginning as a small fishing village, poetically named Tanjung Puteri, or Princess Cape in English. Founded in the mid 19th century by the sovereign ruler of Johor, Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim, who established his administrative headquarters there, it was subsequently renamed Johor Bahru by his successor.

Thus set in motion, the chronology of JB’s maturing to become a full-fledged city, the second largest after Kuala Lumpur, and a VIP—Very Important Place, so to speak—for the country’s industrial, commercial, and tourism sectors. The Sultan Ibrahim Building on Bukit Timbalan combines colonial and Malay architecture.

Similarly, the Johor Art Gallery with a commitment to rich Malay heritage, displays articles of clothing, weaponry, currency, manuscripts, ceramics and fine art. Set to be the future Arts and Cultural Centre for Johor, the art gallery is one to visit if you’re a history buff.

Old but still standing the test of time and war, the Tanjung Pengelih WWII bunkers once served as the British Operations Centre. This relic reputedly quartered an underground hospital, barracks, naval guns, anti-aircraft installation, command post, and more.

The pillboxes remain on the grounds, having survived the bitter battles waged between Axis and Allied forces, and make you wonder about the scenarios that raged on during those turbulent times.

During World War II, JB was the last city on the Malayan Peninsula to fall to the Japanese. General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the ‘Tiger of Malaya’, made Bukit Serene his centre of operations to spy on British activity. The Bukit Serene Palace is the official residence of His Majesty, the Sultan of Johor.

A famous wartime landmark that never ceases to amaze tourists with its 37 metre tower, unique etchings on the walls and Art Deco influences, the palace is clearly visible from the Danga Bay waterfront. Danga Bay, meanwhile, is in the process of being revamped to become a highlight within Iskandar Malaysia offering retail outlets, nightlife, food and leisure activities.

And about a five-minute drive away, from the heart of the capital comes Thistle Johor Bahru, a five-star corporate hotel up the drive along Jalan Sungai Chat.

Contemporary, minimalist design regales the architecture, from lobby to the Club Lounge, comfortable Deluxe Rooms to the spacious Presidential Suite; yet Thistle weaves in resort-style touches as evident in the landscaping of its swimming pools.

Thistle fits nicely in the corporate bracket with its comprehensive roll of conference halls for any occasion—meetings, weddings and social gatherings.

Body Work Fitness Centre is open to guests who want to work up a sweat. Energetic tunes are played on the stereo which really keeps the motivation to exercise going. Next door, Singgahsana Spa’s menu of treatments is perfect for indulging the body after a long workout.

The Singgahsana Signature Foot Spa sees the therapist coddle your feet in a tub of warm water and rubbing the stress out of the heels to toes. For the full body aromatherapy massage, the therapist will rub you down with your choice of cream or oils. If you are on the tender side, you might want to instruct thetherapist to soften the strokes as they really know how to knead with vigour.

Thistle’s versatility when it comes to food is reflected in their wide international and local cuisine. At Oasis, Japanese-Italian fusion is served in a casual, alfresco setting. A favourite haunt of hotel guests and steady walk-ins, the restaurant’s signature dishes include grilled wagyu beef and also seafood platter. But the must-try has to be the slow-roasted spare ribs.

Marinated and cooked for three hours, the meat is succulent and cuts like butter. The whole package, quality food, service and facilities, are all part and parcel of the esteemed Thistle branding which shows precisely that they mean business!

Singgahsana Spa, Thistle Johor Bahru

Ritual Spa Package
This package includes an extensive range of therapies like the Singgahsana Signature Foot Spa, Body Scrub (Cocoa, Coconut and Yoghurt), Steam and Sauna, Full body Aromatherapy Massage, and ear candling.

Manicure and pedicure
Lean back against a comfortable couch as the therapist treats your nails to some pampering.

Shopaholic’s therapy
Johor Premium Outlets is an eclectic collection of designer brand stores for the retail pleasure of the luxury shopper. Opened in December 2011, JPO is located strategically at the intersection of the North-South Expressway and the Second Link Expressway, and a short drive from Senai International Airport.

It occupies an enormous plot, looks very airy and avant garde, so there’s no way you could miss it. A distinctive mix of 80 upscale brands on clothing, accessories, luggage, gifts, and house wares, JPO is first concept outlet of its kind in the Southeast Asia region.

Shoppers get bargain prices for names such as Armani, Burberry, DKNY, Salvatore Ferragamo, Coach, Fossil, Roxy, and many more. Near the entrance, there is a bank and police station. Head for the information counter first and enquire about VIP card for even better deals before you proceed with your shopping.

Hungry customers need only look out for food and beverage shops dotted across the zone. Absolute Thai serves authentic Thai dishes like steamed Sea Bass with lime, garlic and chili sauce; stir-fried glass noodle with river prawns; Green Curry Chicken; Roasted Duck in Red Curry; and all-time favourite Tom Yum soup.

For British fare, dine at the George & Dragon Café. Additionally, there’s Kampachi Japanese Restaurant, Taang Shifu, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Starbucks Coffee, and Baskin-Robbins.

Let’s go LEGO
LEGOLAND threatens to topple Johor’s cup of mediocrity woes. Excited parents and tots, jitterbugging in their pants are counting down to the official opening date, set for 15 September 2012.

This massive 76-acre theme park with its unbelievable 50 million LEGO bricks and models installed is poised to not just put the state on the map of family-friendly destinations, but possibly even crown it ‘family-friendliest’, if there ever was such a title. And here’s why: first of its kind in Asia, LEGOLAND will be the dream playground for children aged two to 12,

and will even cajole fogey grown-ups to crack a smile. There’ll be more than 40 rides and attractions—think roller coasters, race cars and family-focused interactive shows. Annual passes are up for sale now via SISTIC and RedTix, with already more than 35,000 sold, ensuring the young and old, a whole year’s worth of raw fun and pushing the boundaries of imagination.

When LEGOLAND opens, there’ll be no excuse for parents to leave Malaysian shores for the holidays and it’s pretty certain that your kids will see to that. Mark it down in your calendars, everyone!

From PM to AM
Whoever tells you that Johor is void of nightlife, bluffs—obviously nursing a serious case of the Pinocchio disorder. In truth, Johor is not really a boring place at all. There are a couple of watering holes which the young crowd make their stamping ground from dusk to dawn.

Eight Lido is a wine bar cum restaurant and lounge. The colonial bungalow had named itself after its house number and the beach on which it is situated—Pantai Lido, in that order.

Eight Lido turns mission impossible into possible; it will upend any unfavourable impression you have over a ‘typical Johor lounge’ once you see what a chic and sophisticated space it is. Wine and beer paired with delicious food will charm both amateur and accomplished tastes.

Eight Lido offers domestic and new world wines by the glass, as well as tap beers. Spend a cool, brisk weekend in the garden or enjoy the company of friends with an intimate atmosphere indoors. Bringing the entire Brady bunch is no problem as you can request to be seated in the private VIP room.

Injecting a whiff of culture into the bar turf, Lost Malaya Gallery & Lounge is an atmospheric, pre-independence style bungalow which doubles as an art gallery.

Owned by couple Chris and Alisa Thompson, Lost Malaya houses an anthology of street photography from all across Asia, and art portraits and drawings deck the walls. Chris’ camera collection and even Alisa’s class graduation photos decorate the place, giving it a sort of personal sentiment.

The lounge on the first floor serves drinks and light snacks amidst a cosy environment, theservice, friendly and helpful. Not only that, there is a pool table to gather around with the mates as you knock back the beer and shoot the breeze.

The water babies
But perhaps a city getaway is not your idea of a holiday. You want to flee from urbanisation and every vestige that reminds you of being stuck at work in your office, then a beach resort is the solution to your blues. Pulai Desaru Beach Resort & Spa stands at the rim of an uninterrupted 22 kilometre beach stretch.

Sister to the Pulai Springs golf resort, Pulai Desaru has carved a name for itself as an excellent hideaway for family holidays and weekend breaks. This place is the cure to a workaholic syndrome. As telephone reception is faint, you’ll have no choice but to put yourself out there for loads of activities and tours, and simply concentrate on having fun.

Aside from familiar water pursuits, Pulai Desaru organises daily tours off-site. The favourite Kampong Tour allows guests to experience authentic village life. At the close of the excursion, guests can sit down and enjoy a traditional meal prepared by the affable villagers. Apart from that, you can go for the Fireflies Tour at night, River Cruise, Fruit Farm Tour, museum and animal farm expeditions. These tours acquaint participants with the history and culture of Johor. It really is an education!

Journey to the centre of zen at The Pulai Spa where European and Asian massage techniques are blended by capable masseuses to deliver a holistic renewing of one’s self. Upon entering the spa rooms, you are welcomed by a Balinese mood—gamelan music, batik and wood motifs.

Try the Pulai Massage which administers 60 minutes of bliss involving deep tissue work, through a series of movements that remedy muscle and joint aches. To conclude your treatment, you are served ginger tea which you can bring out to the patio, drapped in your sarong.

Breakfast is served at Palm Brasserie, outdoors on the porch. There is the well-loved English brekkie, with a spread of omelette, toast, cereal; some local dishes, like perhaps steamed pau; and even soba noodles. Ala carte lunch and dinner can be served at either Palm Brasserie or the resort’s Japanese restaurant, Teppan. For appetisers, try the Italian Seafood Soup.

The Grilled Salmon Steak and Nasi Goreng Ibunda are delicious mains. Served in heaping proportions, one order is enough to fill up your tank. Finally, the chocolate mud pie dessert arrives at your table warm, with a dollop of whipped cream and cherry on top, happily rounding off your repast.

The Pulai Spa, Pulai Desaru Resort & Spa

The Pulai Massage
Try the signature massage that uses stretching palm and finger joint pressure to loosen tensely knotted muscles in your body.

The Pulai Facial
Ulitising products to suit every skin type, the facial thoroughly cleanses, exfoliates, massages and moisturises your face.


Bukit Serene Palace
Straits View, Bukit Serene, Johor Bahru Danga Bay Lot 20704, Batu 4 1/2, Jalan Skudai, Johor Bahru
Tel: 07–2333 888

Danga Bay
Lot 20704, Batu 4 1/2, Jalan Skudai, Johor Bahru
Tel: 07–2333 888

Eight Lido
8 Jalan Skudai, Straits View, Johor
Tel: 07–2227 807

Johor Art Gallery
Yayasan Wawasan Johor, JKR 144, Jalan Petrie, Johor
Tel: 07–2263 266

Johor Premium Outlets
Jalan Premium Outlets, Indahpura , Kulaijaya

PO Box 26, 81550, Gelang Patah
Tel: 07–5978 888

Lost Malaya Gallery & Lounge
9 Jalan Skudai, Straits View, Johor Bahru
Tel: 07–2210 629

Pulai Desaru Beach Resort & Spa
Bandar Penawar, Kota Tinggi
Tel: 07–8222 222

Sultan Ibrahim Building
Jalan Bukit Timbalan, Bandar Johor Bahru, Johor Bahru Tanjong Piai National Park
Tel: 07–2237 471 (National Parks Corporation)

Pengelih WWII Bunkers
Tanjung Pengelih, Pengerang
Tel: 07–2234 935 (Johor Tourism Department)

Thistle Johor Bahru
Jalan Sungai Chat, Johor Bahru
Tel: 07–2229 234

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