Singapore’s new-look neighbor

At the southern tip of the Malaysian state of Johor and with a causeway connecting it to its better-known neighbor Singapore, the city of Johor Bahru is a great place to spend a few days. The once down at heel city has been cleaned up over the last several years so now new shopping malls and modern family-friendly attractions contrast with ancient temples, the incense-scented colonial district and bustling markets. Gorge on a smorgasbord of street food, take the children to a fun theme park such as Legoland or delve into Malaysia’s glorious past.

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The best street food, ancient temples and family-friendly theme parks

For a taste of times past, explore the city’s downtown Heritage District (between Jalan Ibrahim and Jalan Ungku Puan) where you will find must-visit temples and museums, colonial architecture and shops ranging from traditional barbers to dusty caverns filled with bric-a-brac. The Chinese Heritage Museum is a good first stop, where you can learn about the Chinese immigrants who brought in skills and specialties from their homeland including the Hainanese coffee shops, which are still ubiquitous across Malaysia.

For Indian culture head straight to the Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman Glass Temple, a center for Hindu worship and an amazing sight in itself: the inside of the towering building is almost entirely covered in colored glass mosaic pieces. Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque is also an unusual mosque with the minarets designed in a British colonial style that look like clock towers.

Do not miss sampling the local, curry-heavy laksa (spicy noodle soup) at one of the food stalls on Medan Selera Meldrum Walk, an alley full of hawkers. Otherwise find a table in one of the many traditional coffee shops on Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Street for Malaysian treats like nasi lemak (savory coconut rice with sambal chili) or kaya toast (coconut jam on toast). For a snack, grab a sizzling roti canai (flatbread) or a slice of aromatic banana bread from the famous Hiap Joo Bakery. For something special, follow the locals to nearby Gelang Patah to dine at one of the many Chinese-style waterfront seafood restaurants serving huge portions of black pepper crab or drunken prawns (freshwater shrimp cooked in Chinese wine).

If you are traveling with children, there are several modern theme parks in Johor Bahru – the biggest and most famous of which is Legoland. The highlight is Miniland where there are Lego structures of the region’s iconic buildings such as Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers, Singapore’s Merlion and India’s Taj Mahal. Smaller nearby parks loved by little ones include Sanrio Hello Kitty Town, Thomas Town and Angry Birds Activity Park.

Finally, join the many Malaysians who come to Johor Bahru to shop and party in The Zon, a duty free area where you will find high-end shops and heaving bars and discos, guaranteeing a fun night out.

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