Monday we started some serious touring. We decided that since Tim had gotten a feeling for Singapore, it would be good to go to Malaysia for a comparison. The state of Malaysia that borders Singapore is called Johor, and it's capital is Johor Bahru. The city is one of the largest in Malaysia, with about 900,000 people in the city itself and 1.7 million in the metropolitan area. It is located just across the Straits of Johor from the north shore of Singapore island. There is a mile long causeway that connects Johor Bahru to the Woodlands area of Singapore.
There isn't that much in the way of big tourist attractions in JB. It is fairly modern but a working city. There is quite a contrast from Singapore. While there are many new buildings and even a lot of nice walkways and fountains, there is also a lot more garbage about and a lot more shabby buildings down the sidestreets. It is a predominantly moslem country and that is visible everywhere. Buildings have moslem symbols and archictecture. Many of the people, especially the women, wear traditional moslem clothes. It did not look comfortable at all to be bundled up from head to toe when I was sweating in my shorts and tshirt.
The one place we were planning to visit was the old palace of the Sultan of Johor, which is now a museum. We also thought we would check out the small shops near the border checkpoint which have lots of bootleg DVD's and imitation clothes, watches and sunglasses.
Although you can drive your car across the causeway into Malaysia, I did NOT want to get dropped right into the middle of downtown JB with no idea of where to go or where to park. So we took public transportation to get to Malaysia. First, we took the MRT (subway) across the island to Woodlands. From there we caught a bus which took us to the Woodlands Checkpoint. Here we got off the bus and went through Singapore emmigration. That didn't take too long. Then we got on another bus for the drive across the causeway. That only took about three minutes. Then we went through Malaysian customs and immigration. Then we were finally through and into Malaysia. It didn't take long, but two months ago when Mickey, Shannon and I made the same trip it took us about two hours. From the checkpoint it's only about a 200 or 300 yard walk to reach the start of downtown Johor Bahru.
We did a quick pass through the small shops and checked out the DVD's in particular. You can find just about any movie so we didn't try to make up our minds right away. We were getting hungry, so we headed to the City Square Mall. It's only about six blocks from the causeway and is one of the nicer malls in JB. But after coming from Singapore we didn't need to do any shopping in a mediocre mall. We walked through most of the floors to see our choices for lunch. We settled on the "Secret Recipe" restaurant which had a selection of Asian and Western foods. The name made me a little nervous though - just why were they keeping the ingredients a secret? But since Tim was here I decided to be more adventurous with eating. So far, I hadn't really tried any Eastern foods since moving to Singapore. I went for the Vietnamese beef noodle soup. It was actually very good. Even the beef was really lean. But it had a couple of round unidentified things in it that I decided not to try. I wasn't sure whether they were some kind of odd meatball or a vegetable, but I didn't try to eat them. Secret Recipe indeed. The noodles and beef were tasty though.
After lunch we set out to look for the sultan's palace. I had studied a map online the night before and it looked like it was in a park that was about six blocks to the west. When we came out of the mall there were no east-west cross streets as far as we could see. So we ended up cutting through a pedestrian walkway and connecting with a series of small, curvy streets that seemed to be taking us generally westward. I had read that JB was not pedestrian friendly. You know what? Whoever wrote that was right. Sometimes there were sidewalks, sometimes there weren't. There were very few pedestrian crossings. And the streets curved around and ended suddenly. It was hard to even tell which direction you were going by the time you went two blocks.
We walked by a large castle-like looking building. But it seemed too active. There was a guard in front and people who looked like they worked there going in and out. We figured it was some kind of government building. But in Malaysia, none of the signs are in English. They're all in Malay (duh!). We decided to keep going.
We got back close to the waterfront. It provided a nice view across the straits to Singapore island. Eventually we reached the edge of a park with an impressive looking building a few hundred yards back from the gate. This looked to be the sultan's palace. We walked in the park's side gate which led us to the back of the house. No signs. No apparent way to get in. We found the museum office (no one around - probably at lunch) but no museum! We tried to go around to the front on the main street, but there wasn't any way to walk from the street up to the house. There was no path and a big drainage ditch in the way. And it was hot! After a final check around, we decided that we really didn't need to find a way into the sultan's place that badly.
After that we headed back to the mall for a cold drink and a short rest in the air conditioning. Then we went movie shopping. I picked up a movie for Mickey and two war movies for my father-in-law. Tim got a couple for himself.
Then it was time to head home. Even that showed how difficult they make it for pedestrians there. The bus stop was right across the street, but it was a busy street with a fence all the way down the middle. And again, no cross streets. We walked three or four blocks towards the checkpoint only to find that the fence went right to the building - no way through. So we walked about six blocks back to a pedestrian crossing and finally got to the bus station. Then we reversed all the steps: Malaysian emmigration, bus over the causeway, Singapore immigration, bus, MRT. But it was an interesting day.