It took me 25 years before I ever explored Johor Bahru (JB). Now, I’ve all too often heard gasps of horror (or something close to it) whenever I mention my lack of interest in haven’t ever visiting JB (I usually shrug it off). Some call it blasphemous, while I view it more like missed opportunities.
And it’s not like I’ve never been to our northern neighbour, trips to Ipoh, Penang, and Kuala Lumpur (KL) have left with me incredible memories and some of the best food to have ever been in my tummy. Seriously, the Ipoh hor fun (flat rice noodles) I had in Ipoh was mind-blowing and the best I’ve ever had (no hyperbole here), but that’s a story for another time. And don’t get me started on the Nasi Lemak I had in KL.
Back to JB, I finally took a trip up to Taman Mount Austin with a couple of friends and it was one of the most fun staycations I ever had. It’s perfect for a weekend getaway with plenty of cafes to hop around, cheap food, and activities to do from belting your heart out singing karaoke or escaping the thematic rooms of Lost in JB.
If you’re like me and haven’t been to JB or have been meaning to have a staycation (god knows it’s expensive in Singapore despite the many articles trying to tell you otherwise), consider heading up to Taman Mount Austin, JB to have an awesome and relatively inexpensive weekend staycation.
How to Get to Taman Mount Austin, JB
Seeing as how it’s just across the border, there are various ways to get JB, all rather convenient and cheap.
If you’re looking for the most comfortable ride across the border, the KTM train service has to be your number 1 choice. A mere 3-5 minutes train ride, you’ll be out and about in JB Sentral before you know it.
With the train, you’re looking at skipping the infamous dastardly jam that is known to plague the causeway from Singapore to Malaysia. Gone are the 2 hours of waiting to get your passport stamped, with your idle time dropping to about 30 minutes before clearing customs.
The cost varies depending on the origin and destination: from Singapore to Malaysia, each ticket will set you back RM 16 or SGD$5.28 while a single ticket from Malaysia to Singapore will cost RM 5 or SGD$1.65.
Do note that the train is free seating despite being asked to select seats during booking, and it is highly recommended to book your tickets 2-3 weeks in advance, especially if you’re travelling on the weekends. You can book your KTM train tickets from here.
You could, of course, drive your car across the causeway but the tendency of encountering a jam and overall worry and attention that will be divided to your car hardly seems worth the convenience it provides. You’re better off just taking a train or bus and hopping onto a Grab thereafter.
Another reason why we prefer taking the KTM train is that there are way too many bus options heading to JB Sentral that it can get quite overwhelming deciding which one is best.
From Kranji MRT Station, there’s SBS bus 170x (also known as SBS bus 170 blue plate) priced at SGD$1.39 (EZ Link Card) or SGD$2 by (cash). Alternatively, you can opt for CW1, the first bus in a series of Causeway Link buses, at a fare of SGD$1.50 (cash).
From Woodlands Bus Interchange, SMRT bus 950 is the bus you want with a fare of SGD$1.43 (EZ Link Card) and SGD$2.20 (cash).
From Queen Street Bus Terminal, CW2 offers the most seamless journey with a fare of SGD$3.30 (cash).
From Jurong East Bus Interchange, take SBS bus 160 which will take you for a fare of SGD$1.84 (EZ Link Card) or SGD$2.50 (cash).
From Newton Food Centre, the CW5 bus at SGD$3.30 (cash) will take you all the way to JB Sentral Terminal.
From Boon Lay MRT Station, CW6 is the most expensive at SGD$4 (cash), but it only has a few stops and would be good for people living in the far west.
Aside from the public SMRT and SBS buses, and the series of Causeway Link buses, there are Transtar (TS) buses that will bring you across the causeway. TS1 departs from Singapore Changi Airport at a fare of SGD$9 (EZ Link Card) or SGD$10 (cash). TS3 travels from Marina Square to Johor Bahru CIQ at SGD$6 (EZ Link Card) or SGD$7 (cash). Lastly, TS8 departs from Resorts World Sentosa with a fare of SGD$6 (EZ Link Card) or SGD$7 (cash).
Getting Around in Taman Mount Austin
The most convenient, easiest, and honestly value-for-money way of getting around is just to Grab from place to place. Owing to the strength of the Singapore Dollar (SGD), Grab prices throughout Malaysia are much more affordable, so take advantage and enjoy a comfortable ride everywhere you go. The only thing you’ll have to worry about are traffic conditions, so be sure to consider and plan your time well!
Where to Stay in Taman Mount Austin
Although there are a bunch of hotels that you can stay at, we highly recommend you stay at an AirBnb while you’re at Taman Mount Austin. Not only are their locations close in proximity where everything happens, they are plenty cheap, even the big ones, and can comfortably fit a group of friends or the entire family.
We would recommend to stay in the Austin Heights area, as it is the heart of Taman Mount Austin, although any place in larger Taman Mount Austin area is relatively close enough that it wouldn’t matter all that much.
Day 1: Brunch, Escape Room, Bubble Tea and Karaoke
Now that you’ve got all the essentials settled, it’s time to wake up early and begin for your Taman Mount Austin adventure. If you head out pretty early, your commute should allow you to grab brunch to start off the day.
There are a couple of nice places to have brunch en-route to Taman Mount Austin, and our recommendation will take you Mok Mok Brunch & Bistro, a short 15-minute drive from JB Sentral, where they serve up some of the most delectable brunch menu options you’ll see.
Gorgeously designed with botanical plants and marble tables that will speak to all Millennials, Mok Mok is often packed to the brim on the weekends.
Mok Mok prides itself on bringing the freshest local ingredients and offering a farm-to-table dining experience. They have an extensive menu from signature rice bowls like their famous Gyutan bowl which features tender slices of well-marinated beef topped with spring onions and chopped chilli, to their must-try Kumo Ultimo, a dessert that features their house special cream cheese souffle pancakes with cookie crumbs, flavoured mousse, and ice cream.
78, Jalan Pingai, Taman Pelangi, 80400 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Daily 11:30 AM to 11:30 PM
Photo by boringjson via Instagram.
After your chillax meal, pump up the tempo with a visit to Lost in JB, and see if you’ll ever feel the sun on your face again. I’m kidding but Lost in JB is JB’s preeminent escape room which provides various thematic rooms for you and your friends to solve puzzles in an attempt to break out. They’ve recently expanded overseas and opened a branch in Melbourne, if that is any indication of success.
Compared to the ones in Singapore, escape rooms in Malaysia come at a fraction of the price so it’s definitely a great way to spend an hour or two with your friends or family. For those who fancy horror, the Anabelle room is tailor-made for you to scream through every mini room. If playing detective is more your style, the Bar Murder room presents a classic Whodunit scenario where your freedom lies upon figuring out by who, how, and why the victim was murdered.
G10, Block A, Akademik Suite, Jalan Austin Heights Utama
Daily from 12:30PM to 11:30PM
Photo by ashtimberlake via Instagram.
After wracking those brains and pulling of a (hopefully) successful heart-pumping escape, it’s time to chill and get a cup from Xing Fu Tang. Now Xin Fu Tang’s opening in Singapore has gotten its fair share of hype and media frenzy, but if you didn’t know, Taman Mount Austin has its own outlet. Now, you’re probably wondering why we are recommending travelling overseas only to have something which you can easily get in Singapore? Well, because of their Black Cup Series, that’s why.
This series is something that has yet to debut in Singapore, though their outlets in Taiwan and other overseas outposts like Malaysia and Canada offer it. Now, I know this bubble tea franchise have built their entire foundation on their stir-fried brown sugar pearls and it’s certainly compelling to get a cup of their Brown Sugar Milk anytime you’re here but hear me out.
Their Black Cup Series features a range of teas from pure ones like Oolong and Green tea to unique mixtures of Roselle and Black tea. Again, no hyperbole here, the Oolong tea was one of the best I’ve had. There’s also something magical about the black cups these teas come in which keeps the teas nice and cold even hours after purchase.
If you love teas, consider skipping the brown sugar for once and try their Black Cup Series.
43, Jalan Austin Heights 8/3, Taman Mount Austin, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Daily 11:30 AM to 1 AM
Photo by nsxcheng via Instagram.
The night is when you’re going to pour your heart out and there’s no better place than Loud Speaker KTV. Started a decade ago, Loud Speaker KTV has 9 outlets sprawled over all of Malaysia.
The rooms are spacious with excellent sound systems and room packages come with refillable drinks, so what’s not to like? Furthermore, Loud Speaker is clean and free from any sleazy vibes that have often been associated with KTV establishments.
17, Jalan Austin Heights 8/3, Taman Mount Austin, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Daily 11 AM to 3 AM
Photo by chenlohyok0815 via Instagram.
Day 2: Freshly Baked Pastries, Bargain Shopping and Yummy Souvenirs
Whether you plan to sleep in slightly later, or rise up early in the morning, The Atlas Maison is perfect for breakfast or brunch right in the heart of Taman Mount Austin. Sporting a clean, white minimalist interior, The Atlas Maison is bright and buzzing right from the get-go.
Upon entering, you’ll first get a whiff of the freshly baked pastries from croissant to tarts that will make your mouth water. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a tray of egg tarts glistening behind the counter. Their Egg Tarts are a best seller so be sure to grab it if they are still available when you’re there, though most often times you’ll receive an apologetic smile from the staff saying they’re all sold out.
Aside from their pastries which will pair well with a cup of coffee, they have a brunch menu featuring classics from Big Breakfast to their signature Gyudon. You’ll do well to start a lazy day with The Atlas Maison.
32, Jalan Austin Heights 8/7, Taman Mount Austin, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Daily 8:30 AM to 6 PM
Photo by theatlasmaison via Instagram.
It’s time to head for some shopping and AEON Mall is where you want to be. Quite possibly Mount Austin’s biggest outlet shopping mall, AEON Tebrau City has got all you need and want.
Although you can find large international brands like Uniqlo and Sephora all throughout the mall, the main reason for your trip to AEON Tebrau City will be the massive grocery supermarket that will be sure to make your jaw-drop. The AEON supermarket is well-stocked, and prices are unbeatable when comparing against mega supermarkets NTUC and Giant back home.
This is the place to settle all your shopping needs from necessities to branded goods.
No 1, Jalan Desa Tebrau, Taman Desa Tebrau, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Daily 10 AM to 10 PM
Photo by aeonmall_tebraucity via Instagram.
Now before you cross the causeway back to Singapore, consider dropping by Hiap Joo Bakery for some traditional pastries. Situated close at the border, it’s a great last stop to grab some traditionally baked goods home.
Known for their famous banana cake, Hiap Joo has been baking since 1919, growing to become Johor’s most well-known bakery. Still using their original hole-in-the-wall firewood oven, Hiap Joo sticks to its traditional methods and tastes which probably lends to a nostalgia that we are slowly losing in today’s time.
13, Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, Bandar Johor Bahru, 80000 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Tuesday to Saturday 7:30 AM to 5 PM
Sunday 8 AM to 12 PM
Monday 12 PM to 5 PM
Photo by yeowsteven via Instagram.
Top photo by espressonites via Instagram.
Ready for a weekend getaway in JB? Check out Changi Recommends FX for the best currency exchange rates!