Johor Bahru

The third largest and southernmost state in Malaysia, Johor covers an area of 19,210 square kilometers. To its north are the states of Malacca and Pahang and its west the Straits of Malacca; to its east the South China Sea and its south Singapore, accessible via two road and rail causeways. Johor's highest point is Gunung Ledang, at 1,276 meters.

Johor has eight large islands and numerous smaller ones. The most well-known are Pulau Aur, Pulau Besar, Pulau Dayang, Pulau Lima, Pulau Pemanggil, Pulau Rawa, Pulau Sibu, Pulau Tengah and Pulau Tinggi.

Johor Bahru is located at the southern tip of West Malaysia and has been the state capital of Johor Darul Takzim since 1855, when it was established by Sultan Abu Takzim.


What is special or unique about your city?

With its 3.6 million population, Johor is the most populous state in Malaysia. Besides the cultural expressions practiced by the local Malays, Chinese and Indians, culture in Johor has been influenced by visitors and traders throughout history. The Bugis, who first set foot in Johor, were one of the biggest influences, particularly in the area of politics. The Arabs strongly influenced the arts with their Zapin dance and Hamdolok theater performances and with musical instruments including the gambus (Arab lute). Ghazal Johor, a love song or poem, is sung in Malay with instruments like the gambus, accordion and drums, but its songs reflect Hindustani and Persian influences. The Kuda Kepang dance, a legless, horse-shaped puppet straddled by the performers, is inspired by the Javanese.

The rich culture and heritage of Johor is also reflected in its traditional costumes. The baju kurung Teluk Belanga, widely recognized as Johor's traditional attire since the 19th century, is also known as Baju Kurung Johor. It comes in both male and female versions. The man's costume has three pockets while the lady's version has one medium-sized breast pocket on the left. Cekak Musang and Teluk Belanga are types of collar design of the male version. It is said that Teluk Belanga was designed by Sultan Abu Bakar in 1866 to reflect the shift of Johor's capital from Teluk Belanga to Johor Bahru.

What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city? 

Johor Bahru is becoming a vibrant city, with Iskandar Malaysia attracting the likes of Legoland, Sanrio Hello Kitty Town & Thomas Town, Pinewood Studios and a host of other internationally-recognizable brand names.

Newcomers are generally unprepared for, and can be overwhelmed by, both the driving methods and the traffic in the city. Motorcycles are abundant, and the rules of the road may seem to be rather open to interpretation at times. The volume of traffic continues to increase despite the ongoing construction of new infrastructure.

On the positive side, the eclectic architecture makes for a unique skyline and English is widely-spoken, which is often a surprise to many foreigners. In addition, although Malaysia is an Islamic country, many foreigners are again surprised to see the progressive and urban nature that pervades Johor Bharu. A moderate Muslim society that embraces modernity and relative openness is apparent.

Are these impressions likely to change? Not likely.

What is the local language?

The official language of Malaysia is Bahasa Malaysia. However, English is widely spoken, written and understood in the city as a result of its British colonial history. Many rural areas may have fewer people who are able to converse well in English, so knowing a few words in the local language is always appreciated by the residents.

How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?

The majority of the shopkeepers and owners of food establishments speak and understand English, so Bahasa Malaysia is not really necessary. Most taxi drivers understand English, but when a driver with limited English is encountered, knowledge of some local phrases/directions would be helpful.

What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city? 

Always take your shoes off when entering someone’s home. Do not point with your index finger. Instead, use your thumb to indicate direction with your hand curled in a fist position. Also, do not raise your voice or get angry when trying to communicate with Malaysians.

How might the local weather affect my daily life?

Johor, like most parts of West Malaysia is generally hot and humid due to the location of Malaysia that is near to the equator. It has an average temperature of 27 - 37 degrees Celsius. It is wet in Johor during the monsoon periods from April to October. During other times of the year, Johor is usually dry with occasional showers.

Whatever season you decide to visit in, be sure to pack appropriate clothing. Skimpy attire is best avoided for cultural reasons, regardless of the weather. Visitors are advised to wear modestly-styled lightweight cotton clothing that’s comfortable on hot days and provides some protection from the sun.

Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people? 

Living in Johor Bharu is fairly relaxed, as most residents are pretty laid-back. So much so, that one cannot expect contractors, for example, to show up at any particular time unless specifically arranged beforehand. Even then, there can be lots of ambiguity as to what has been scheduled.

To many locals, their “yes” to you may mean “no” as they don’t like to disappoint. They prefer to give you some kind of answer rather than the wrong answer. When interacting with Malaysians be firm but friendly with requests, and don’t point out their mistakes.