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Amazing Malaysia

INSPIRING: Johor

MALAYSIA IS famed for its beautiful beaches and wonderful year-round climate, with Langkawi, Pangkor Island, Tioman Island and Redang Island among the many places continually drawing international visitors.

Lesser-known as a tourist destination is the southern Malaysian state of Johor, whose capital, Johor Bahru, has seen massive growth due in part to its proximity to Singapore. In fact, it is easier to get to Johor on a flight to Singapore and then cross the Johor- Singapore causeway border, than fly to Kuala Lumpur and then head south.

Many Malaysians from Johor make the daily commute to jobs in Singapore, and given the economical strength of the Lion City, it’s easy to see why. With Sterling at £1.74 against the Singapore Dollar last month, and with just under six Malaysian Ringgit to the pound, I began my quest to see if it was possible to holiday in both Singapore and Malaysia in one trip.

After a 13-hour flight from London, the transfer at Singapore’s Changi airport to Terminal 2 for the interstate bus to Johor is relatively straight forward. A fare of SG$10 per person gets you across the causeway, where you eventually clear Malaysian immigration and customs.

Queues can be lengthy on Friday night and on the eve of public holidays, but it is a manageable experience. On arrival at Johor Barhru Sentral station, taxis are easily available to take you to your nearby hotel. The Double Tree by Hilton is less than five minutes away and a welcoming and comfortable place to base yourself.

This new sleek glass and steel building boasts a large, decked pool area which is a hit with families, as is the morning buffet breakfast where one truly gets spoiled with the array of delights on offer. Noodles, curry, fresh juices, waffles and ice cream – yes, ice cream – are among the seemingly endless and delicious choices available.

Next to the hotel, the Metrojaya and City Square shopping malls feature many international and local establishments. Uniqlo, Bobbi Brown, Bath and Bodyworks are internationally recognisable brands. Food courts are aplenty again with an array of fast food options, too. Tony Roma’s steak house and Swensens desserts are also very popular.

A day out at Johor Premium Outlets is welcome retail therapy for all shopaholics. Take a taxi to this designer brands location of 130 outlets. Burberry, Gucci, Adidas and Salvatore Ferragamo are among those present.

The night market offers more of a bargain experience. Walking through the meandering streets of the city leads you to the Streets of Harmony, so named because of the cluster of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the Gu Miao or Old Temple, the Gurdwara Sikh Temple, the Hindu Mariamman temple and the Masjid India mosque, all satisfying the religious needs of the ethnically diverse Malay, Chinese and Indian communities.

Johor has definitely catered for children, too. Legoland Malaysia was opened in 2012, and its 70-acre site in Iskandar Putri with seven themed attraction areas has everything from entertainment to education for the young and adults alike. Not too far away is the first Hello Kitty-themed park outside of Japan, Sanrio Hello Kitty Town. Attractions and rides with interactive activities make for a fun family day out.

A water park in a hot climate is inevitably a winner, and the Austin Heights Water and Adventure Park, built on a 20-acre site, is just that. Adrenaline-rush water rides, ice skat- ing and the thrill of walking along suspension bridges add to the sense of outdoor adventure.

Back in Johor Bahru, the Angry Birds Activity Park on the top floor of the Komtar shopping mall is a wonderful playground for children, where trampolines, shooting games, foam pits and a mini go kart track will keep the little (and big) ones totally immersed.

After a few days in Johor, a return road trip to Singapore is well worth doing. From Johor Bahru Sentral station, take the bus back across the cause-way. Having cleared immigration and customs, the local yellow Singaporean bus will accept your earlier purchased Malaysian bus ticket to take you to the Kranji stop of Singapore’s MRT metro system.

From there, the majority of the island is accessible via a clean, efficient and economical transport system. A must do is Singapore’s night safari. More than 1,000 animals and 120 species await after you board the excit- ing tram ride through the rainforest.

Trekking along four walking trails is also possible. Singapore Zoo and River Safari as well as Jurong Bird park also make for great days out. A special pass for all four parks is available, and at the half price of SG$69 offers excellent value.

No trip to Singapore is complete without a visit to Sentosa. This themed entertainment and leisure facility on the harbour has something for everyone. Universal studios, SEA Aquarium, Dolphin Island, the Maritime and Trick Eye Museum are all worth a visit.

The Adventure Cove Waterpark is a massive hit with its thrilling water rides, wave lagoon, inflatable ring luge ride – during which you can see Stingrays being fed – sharks in their enclosure and dolphin trainers putting the mammals through their paces. Is there more to do in Malaysia and Singapore than you might have thought? Absolutely.

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