This was a long overdue trip. We had planned to make a trip to Johor Bahru since the Malaysia currency had its first major slide against the Singapore dollar in recent months But it was a good thing we waited as the exchange rate continued to work in our favour. The rate we got was S$100 to RM303!
Armed with our RM303, we decided to set out for our trip on a Friday. We picked a weekday as we wanted to avoid the causeway jam, which we heard has been rather bad in recent months.
Before we dive into the food places worth checking out in Johor Bahru, here are some tips on how to get there. If you don’t drive, the simplest way would be to take a taxi, of course, but in the spirit of making this a cheap and cheery trip, we decided to hit the bus instead.
We arrived at the transport terminal at Queen Street, in Bugis area at around 11.30am. Here, you can either catch a taxi to Johor Bahru or take one of the many cross-border buses, including SBS bus 170. As we read that service 170 takes rather long to get to the Woodlands checkpoint, — it stops at every bus stop along the way — we took the cross border express bus called “Causeway Link Express Bus”.
Just look out for the yellow bus and hop on to any one of them as they all stop at JB Sentral, which is where we are going to. Although we missed the earlier bus, the next bus arrived in under 5 minutes. We quickly got our tickets at a small counter next to the bus queue and hopped on. It costs S$3.30 and you can either pay by cash or pay using your EZ-link card. Once the seats are all taken, the bus will move off. Remember to keep your bus ticket with you as you will need it again to board the bus after clearing the Singapore immigration.
Half an hour later, we arrived at the Woodlands Checkpoint – no jam – phew. We got off the bus to go through the immigration, again, there was no queue.
We were back on the bus heading to the causeway towards Malaysia in under 15 minutes. Again, you can take any of the yellow Causeway Link Express Buses. When we got to the Malaysia customs, we got off the bus to clear customs.
Once you have cleared immigrations, you are a mere 5 minutes walk away from the nearest malls in Johor Bahru. Not having visited Johor Bahru for at least 5 years, I didn’t realise how convenient it was to get to City Square from the customs office. There’s now a link bridge that brings you directly to the mall — how much more seamless can it get!
We arrived at City Square Mall at around 12.30pm. Time for fill our hungry stomachs!
Our first stop was to locate Ya Wang, a restaurant specialising in roasted herbal duck near City Square Mall. The chef there was apparently consultant to the Dian Xiao Er chain in Singapore. Now, that we got to try!
To get to Ya Wang, go to level 1 of the mall, locate McDonalds and the Apple Phone & Accessories shop. Walk towards the Apple Phone shop and find the exit beside Maybank. Cross the road at Jalan Station junction and walk towards Plaza Seni direction, then continue to Jalan Trus (keep left) which is at the back of the car park.
In less than 5 minutes you will see the Hindu Temple. With the temple on your right, walk towards your left towards a row of shophouses. Look out for the faded yellow sign board that says Restoran Ya Wang.
We ordered half a ‘dang gui duck’ (RM30), a small platter of roast meat and char siew (RM15), sambal fried sweet potato vegetables (RM9) and a plate of steamed rice to share. For drinks, we got 2 sea bird’s nest drink (RM12.50). The drink was very refreshing and the coral like jelly was nice and crunchy. But it had a ginseng taste which we felt was slightly overpowering.
The dang gui sauce was very flavoursome and complemented the duck very well. We preferred Dian Xiao Er’s version, as its presentation and taste was more refined. But for the price, Ya Wang’s version was well worth the price and beat any other roast ducks we’ve had.
To make our effort worth it, we packed half a duck back for our family to try. The total damage of the meal came up to RM99.90, or around S$33 based on our conversion rate. Not bad at all.
Video: We show you how to get to Restoran Ya Wang
Next stop, we headed to Hiap Joo Bakery which was about a 5-minute walk away from Ya Wang. Even though we went on a weekday, there was a short queue outside the old-school bakery. All the buns were already sold out when we got there and all that was left was their specialty, banana cake. The cakes were baked fresh at the bakery and were sold the minute they are out of the oven. The people queuing in front of us were buying 10 big boxes each! As we haven’t tried the cakes, we only bought 1 large box (RM9.60) each. A small box is also available at $4.80. We spent RM19.20 (S$6.40) there.
We saw several piles of wooden planks that had rusty nails in them outside the bakery. We wondered if those were wood fire for the ovens. We never got a chance to find out from the shopowners as they were too busy taking orders. While waiting for me to get the cake, my friend sat outside a kopitiam opposite the bakery and got herself a cuppa for RM1.50.
Next stop, we headed back to City Square Mall to do some shopping. Some familiar brands there include H&M, Uniqlo, Esprit, Adidas, Optical88 and Watsons. In general, the prices of the items seem to be slightly cheaper than in Singapore, but not that much.
As we were feeling rather thirsty then, we were quite excited to see Gong Cha. We ordered an upsized cup each which cost us RM14 (S$4.60).
After an hour or so of shopping, we headed to Xu Lui Shan for some dessert. We were rather disappointed that they their Heavenly Brew (RM19.90) was sold out. So we settled for the mango coconut pomelo dessert instead (RM9.90). As we were still very full from lunch, we decided to share the dessert instead.
After another round of shopping, it was time to plan what to have for dinner. As we didn’t want to stay out too late that night, we decided to take away our dinner to eat back home in Singapore. We settled for Nandos in the end, which was a really good choice. We ordered half a chicken each with 2 side dishes and paid RM59.80 (S$20) in total. The kind waitress at the restaurant even helped us pack some yummy hot peri peri sauce to bring back.
With half a roast duck, Nando’s chicken and some dried sotong snacks we bought at one of the food counters, we made our way back to the Malaysian customs. The return ticket for our bus trip back costs RM3.40 (S$1.10) per person. Luckily for us, the traffic leading to the Singapore customs was relatively smooth.
All in all, we spent less than S$100 for two, including bus fare. We could have eaten a lot more if we had bigger appetites! S$100 does get you very far in Malaysia these days.