The December holiday period is expectedly the peak travel season in Singapore, with families going abroad and working adults clearing their AL (annual leave).
If you’re scrambling for a last minute, affordable, fuss-free getaway, neighbouring JB is probably your best bet, and we have the long Causeway jams to prove it.
And if you’re going to be spending hours stuck crossing the border there and back, it might be worth your while taking an extended break and looking beyond JB, especially if you drive.
With Johor being the fifth-largest state in Malaysia by area, why limit yourself to your usual hangouts in JB when there’s plenty to see and do in other towns nearby?
Here are some fun places not too far away that you might want to stop by the next time you’re planning a slightly longer stay “overseas”.
Drive time from JB Sentral: 1.5 hours
The Malaysian beach town of Desaru is becoming increasingly popular for overworked Singaporeans in need of some R&R.
Less than two hours’ drive from Woodlands checkpoint, the district is perfect for families and couples, with opulent resorts, a serene six-kilometre coastline and one of the biggest waterparks in the world.
For the thrill-seekers, Adventure Waterpark has a high-speed roller coaster and flume ride called Kraken’s Revenge, as well as five other twister slides guaranteed to get your heart pumping.
At Desaru Coast, Malaysia’s newest destination resort, you’ll also find globally-renowned hotels such as Hard Rock and The Westin. A 45-hole golf course as well as a 23-acre waterfront landscaped retail and lifestyle village are among the highlights.
Desaru is also home to Malaysia’s biggest ostrich farm, where you can organise ostrich rides and have a closer look at the world’s largest flightless bird.
For those with a curious palate, here’s your chance to taste a mega-sized omelette and ostrich teppanyaki and satay. Just spare the little ones the details!
Seafood lovers should head on over to Tanjung Balau Fishing Village and sample the freshest catch of the day while learning about the kampung’s past through galleries featuring how the fishermen navigated through treacherous waters.
Drive time from JB Sentral: 1 hour 5 minutes
Known as a historical town where the Sultanate of Johor was established, Kota Tinggi is the stuff of road trips with plenty to see, do and eat.
If we managed to convince you to take a trip to Desaru, you might want to make Kota Tinggi one of your pit-stops since the two districts are on the same side of the Johor state.
Although Kota Tinggi may not be the biggest tourist magnet for city-dwellers, nature-lovers are often drawn by the serenity of the waterfalls, trees and (relatively) untouched environment.
The main draw of Kota Tinggi is the Lombong Falls, located at the foot of Gunung Mutahak, a famous mountain that’s a 20-minute drive away from the main town area.
There, you’ll find shallow pools ideal for the little ones to cool off and swim or wade around in, as well as an 80m-long water slide located at the site.
Good news for us visitors — the local government has recently upgraded facilities available as part of the Visit Johor Year 2020 campaign.
Kota Tinggi is also a hotspot for “glampers” who want a more luxurious outdoor experience, and Canopy Tribes is one place that organises “glamping” (glamorous camping) under the star-lit night sky.
If you’re going all-out to experience nature, be sure to stop by the Kota Tinggi firefly park and the Teluk Sengat crocodile farm that’s home to more than 1,000 fearsome reptiles.
The crocodile farm is about a half hour drive from town and an hour’s drive from Desaru.
Drive time from JB Sentral: 1 hour 15 minutes.
Located in the Pontian district, Kukup is a simple fishing village built on stilts and a popular choice for families to book chalets and have seafood barbeques at.
A great fishing spot and relaxed space to just chill out, a chalet visit to Kukup isn’t complete without singing karaoke, playing mahjong and sightseeing around town.
For just RM5 (S$1.60) per person, you can also choose to take a boat-tour around the kelongs and check out how fish and other intriguing marine life like butterfish, horseshoe crabs, eels and others are bred.
For the intrepid traveller, consider taking a boat out to visit Kukup Island that’s one-kilometre off the coastline — it’s said to be the hideout of pirates in the olden days.
Declared as a protected national park in 1997, Kukup Island is a wetland that’s home to a wide array of mangrove trees and swamp-dwelling creatures but you’ll never know what treasure you might find.
Kukup is a good choice if you’re in need of a relaxing holiday to empty your mind and enjoy the slow pace of kampung life.
Although there are a number of shops in the town centre, don’t expect the hustle and bustle of the city and shopping to be the main activity.
Drive time from JB Sentral: 2.5 hours
With a reputation for the best otak-otak Malaysia has to offer, the sleepy town of Muar was an emergency pit-stop during heavy rains my family and I encountered on the way back from Kuala Lumpur.
A surprising gem of a find, the quiet town is one that I’ve been wanting to revisit again, all thanks to a single dinner along Glutton Street.
A 100-metre stretch lined with over two dozen food stalls and vendors hawking satay, wantan mee, oyster omelette and more.
Muar is an ideal destination for a day trip because there’s honestly not that much to do in town and you’ll be able to finish seeing everything within a day.
The largest shopping mall is Wetex Parade where locals and tourists go to escape the heat, and you can also take a relaxing stroll around Tanjung Emas Park and enjoy scenic views of the Muar river.
Another popular activity among tourists is scaling Gunung Ledang (also known as Mount Ophir) where there are various waterfalls and on-site parks to explore but be sure to make a booking in advance for the trek can be quite challenging.
According to one Malay legend, the mountain was home to a fairy princess so beautiful a sultan wanted to marry her, so you might want to keep your eyes peeled.
Drive time from JB Sentral: 1.5 hours
The laid back town of Kluang was once Johor’s second most prosperous town after JB and a key inland port serving vast tracts of agricultural areas and manufacturing hubs.
With advancements in Malaysia’s roads and air transport system however, this town has become largely forgotten until recent announcements that the Batu Pahat High-Speed Rail (HSR) station could be located only a half-hour away from Kluang.
Those who’ve been on weekend trips to the town can attest to a special charm about the place, imbued with new and old elements that’ll make for a memorable visit.
One place you must drop in at is the original Kluang Rail station that was established in 1938. With flavours that have not changed in eight decades, soak in the old-school environment and listen to the train whistle as you sit back and sip on aromatic coffee.
Be sure to taste the famous kaya toast and buns, and go early because their nasi lemak, curry puff and mee siam tend to be sold out by noon.
For those who are always on the lookout for IG-worthy backdrops, head over to an alley in downtown Kluang decorated with 24 murals painted by local artists, each telling a story of the town.
Alternatively, you might want to pay a visit to the UK Farm Agro Resort for a range of family-friendly activities and teach your kids about farm life.
For the couples, take a romantic stroll amidst a backdrop of fully-bloomed lavender flowers guaranteed to steal your breath away.
Come nightfall, don’t miss the night market happening across the town at different areas on different days of the week, with vendors selling various authentic local dishes and items.
Your best bet will be to ask a local where and when their favourite one is happening and hope that you’re able to catch it.
For those looking to surround yourself with a little nature on your holiday, a trek up Mount Lambak will be just the thing for you.
One of Kluang’s highlights, Gunung Lambak is a small mountain with a summit 510m above sea level. With two stages to climb, the initial part is said to be easy with proper pathways for visitors but the second half can be quite steep and may require you to hoist yourself up.
The entire trek is said to take about two hours unless you’re a seasoned hiker.
Know of any more interesting destinations for day-trippers to stop by while they’re in JB? Let us know!