- Travel Guides
- Local Expert - Melanie Cheong
Local Expert Tips
📍 Johor Bahru city centre, Johor, Malaysia;
Johor Bahru cityscape from a high-rise downtown. Bright lights and skyscrapers beyond create a blend of rural tranquility and urban development. This major highway leads to the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex (CIQ) that connects Malaysia to the Causeway leading to Singapore.
It's not uncommon to see a long line of traffic on Sunday nights, when visitors from our neighbouring Lion City rush back home to start the new work week.
Fried Rice Paradise! We all have our favourite places for fried rice 💛 in Malaysia. Mine is at the local restaurant called Qi Cafe in my neighbourhood. The fried rice is served with a side of egg, salad and a sprinkle of meat floss on top to enhance its 😋 flavour.
In most Asian homes, fried rice is the easiest dish to prepare for hungry tummies. It's a simple recipe using 🍚 rice and any veggies 🥒 🌽🥕🌶️🍅 you have at home. Whisk an egg in and add your fave sauces plus garnish to finish.
Simple tips for cooking Chinese Fried Rice:
- Always use overnight cooked and stored (not freshly cooked) rice. The rice won't stick together as much when you add in the other ingredients.
- Don’t add in too many ingredients in your fried rice for best results.
📍 Food Trucks, Arena Larkin, Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Sip, slurp, and savor local cuisine outdoors at the many food truck scenes 😋across Johor Bahru city. My favorite is the food truck street 🍨🍔🍛🍢🍡at Arena Larkin, our local stadium.
Every time there is a football match, sports jamboree, or international championship 🏆 event, the Arena comes alive with bustling street food 🍮🍹 in the outdoor car park area.
Finding a seat may be a challenge but when you do, it's a culinary celebration 🎉 al fresco style.
📍Senibong Cove, Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Indulge in a delightful al fresco dining experience at the many F&B restaurants along Senibong Cove Johor Bahru, on the southernmost shores of Malaysia.
Stunning waterfront views and a serene ambiance make your culinary escapade truly memorable. Whether you're a seafood lover or craving international cuisine, there's something for everyone.
My family and I love catching the sunset over the marina and watching the twinkling stars come out at night. We also had a blast trick-or-treating at Senibong Cove last Halloween.
Pointers to note:
- Senibong Cove comes alive with revelry only in the evenings as most eateries are closed during the day.
- Dress your sexiest or most casual as the wine and beer will leave you intoxicated enough to dance on the lawns.
📍 Kampung Sungai Melayu, Iskandar Puteri, Johor.
Kampung Sungei Melayu is a traditional fisherman's village on the outskirts of Johor Bahru, Malaysia. There is a little waterfront restaurant that serves simple village food and homemade drinks. Plus, it's Halal certified.
No air-conditioning, just a sea breeze. No fancy menus, just good seafood. The chef serves the catch of the day - whatever the fishermen bring in, such as fresh seaweed.
Sometimes, the monkeys are watching you from the mangroves while you eat. It's the best way to dine next to nature.
- Always ask for the price of the day's fresh catch before ordering to avoid any price haggling. Prices are not always on the menu.
- Life vests are compulsory for the river safari. Fees apply.
When your clubbing days are over (almost) 😃, the call of music beckons. The Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House is the first and only Opera House in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Named after HRH Sultanah of Johor, this concert venue is home to orchestral performances, musicals, comedy sessions, theatre and magical concerts.
It's a vibrant hub for the performing arts and stands tall as a cultural gem by the waterfront overlooking the Straits of Johor. The architecture boasts stunning modern sophistication while the interiors retain traditional Malaysian aesthetics.
I've attended a few concerts at the Opera House with my friends. And we're always amazed by its splendour. It's a great way to show appreciation for the arts in a venue that all Malaysians are proud of!
"Kota Tinggi Waterfalls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Johor, Malaysia. Just a short drive away from the city centre, this is the go-to place for waterfall picnics, hikes or just splashing around the cool pools. Cascading from a height of 34 metres, the falling waters are like nature’s spa. Wade carefully out to the smaller rocky areas and let the mini-falls massage your shoulders and back.
During a scorching day, take a dip in the shallow pools, soak in the sunshine and you’ll emerge refreshed. I have attempted climbing up the surrounding paths to reach the top of the waterfalls. Be careful as the rocks may be slippery. Sandals with a good grip are recommended.
Take note entrance fees apply. Parking and washroom facilities are available. Exercise caution on rainy days."
The Chingay procession in Johor Bahru is one of the major festivals celebrated by the Chinese community in Malaysia. Hear the rhythmic beating of drums, clashing of cymbals, and cheers from the crowds as the annual parade around the city centre celebrates the 21st day of the Lunar New Year.
Colourful lion dances pirouetting along the streets and doing stunts in time with the music and majestic dragon dances flying high above the people are highlights of the parade. Fantastic floats decorated with tapestries, flowers and animatronics, dazzling acrobatics, Chinese opera performances, and live music fill the streets with splendour from sunset till early next morning. So make sure to plan ahead because you don't want to miss this beautiful festival!
The best place for weekend picnics is right in my own backyard 😃
Adda Heights Town Park in Johor Bahru, the southernmost state of Malaysia, is popular among locals looking for a place to jog, cycle, play and picnic. My family loves to go catch-and-release fishing in the massive lake. It's tilapia and catfish heaven! Next, my friends and I set up the picnic mat, enjoy the munchies and catch up (read: gossip) under the shady willow trees.
Just be prepared to meet the geese, birds, turtles, iguanas, froggies and monkeys who come up to say "Hello!"
"This farm is about an hour's drive from Johor Bahru city centre. Entry tickets are affordable at RM20 (4.3 USD) for adults and RM15 (3.2 USD) for kids. Top up another RM5 (1.1 USD) for animal feed and you're set for a grand time.
Feeding time is the best as visitors can roam around the farm and feed any ostrich they like. It takes courage to approach the ostrich and stroke its feathers. Just be camera-ready to snap that pose without getting pecked.
Disclaimer: No animals were harmed in this video and these photos. Desaru Ostrich Farm is a commercial organisation dedicated to the welfare of animals under its care."
Christ Church Melaka is an architectural marvel standing tall on Church Street. With origins dating back to 1753, the church is an iconic landmark and a testament to the captivating charm of Melaka. Feel the connection with the legendary Knights Templar as you walk across the church, of which the floor tiles were donated by the Knights Templar, adding a touch of mystery to this site.
Look down and you'll find tombstones with Portuguese or Armenian inscriptions incorporated into the floor. Look up and catch a glimpse of the church bell which tolls on auspicious occasions. Incidentally, the bell is inscribed with the year 1698, denoting that it existed even before the church was built!
The church is open to visitors daily from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Masjid Sultan Iskandar in Bandar Dato Onn is one of the most striking mosques in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. It is a celebration of traditional Islamic architecture and cultural heritage with its intricate design and striking presence in this bustling suburb.
Classical Islamic elements and modern aesthetics blend together to create a stunning visual harmony. The structure boasts impressive minarets and a blue dome that matches the colour of the skies. The vast interior features intricate calligraphy and geometric patterns along the walls and ceiling.
Sunlight streams in through the well-placed glass windows to illuminate the hallowed halls. What sets this mosque apart from the rest is its design and acoustics. When the imam calls to prayer, his voice resonates perfectly across the mosque.
Chasing waterfalls in Malaysia is a favorite pastime, and we're so lucky to have Mount Pulai Waterfall so close to the city of Johor Bahru. Near the town of Kulai, Johor, is Gunung Pulai Recreational Forest, boasting lush greenery and of course, the waterfall. Jungle trekking and exploring are popular activities among the locals, including me. To hike up Mount Pulai, and meet Mount Pulai Waterfall along the way, you can use any of two trails through the forest, including a 5-km road trail and a 3.2-km jungle trail. It's about a 2-hour hike uphill, but it will be shorter on the descent. Cascading cool waters and shallow pools at the bottom of the waterfall make Mount Pulai Waterfall a beautiful place to relax. Admission is free, however, note that there is a car park fee of RM3 per vehicle.
📍 Tamparuli River, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, East Malaysia:
Gentle waters, calming breezes, and flourishing trees make the Tamparuli River a relaxing place to capture Malaysia's natural beauty. The scenic river is located in Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah, East Malaysia. Sabah is also known as the Land below the Wind because it is located below the typhoon belt of East Asia, sheltering the state from major typhoons.
Tamparuli River flows through natural rainforests and rugged terrain across the vast landscapes of rural Kota Kinabalu. It supports the local ecosystem and provides a livelihood for local communities. Tourists can enjoy outdoor activities such as kayaking and riverboat cruises along its waters.
📍 Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:
Cityscapes taken aboard the sunset cruise across Putrajaya Lake. It's a wonderful way to spend the evening and capture twilight shots of Putrajaya Mosque and the iconic Sri Wawasan Bridge.
Malacca is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage city. This historic city offers a number of colonial and cultural attractions, but it is especially known for its Nyonya and Peranakan styles of food.
The Ayam Buah Keluak is another must try dish.
It is recommended to make reservations as it is always crowded.
📍 Pasar Tani or Pasar Pagi (Farmer's Market) is less than 2 km away from here;
This is the Farmer's Market 🌟 in my neighborhood open on most weekdays. Here, you can find fresh seasonal local produce 🌽🍠🥕🌶️🍅and a wide variety of local snacks made fresh upon request.
Many visitors drop by for early morning shopping 🍍and pick up breakfast 🌮 along the way. I love the way the food is prepared - in the simplest manner. And market food is by far the most affordable 😀.
- Come early as stalls close by 9 a.m. when everything is sold out.
- BYO your shopping totes and takeaway carriers and you may get a discount from sellers who support sustainability 💚.
There are so many monuments in Malaysia that I love but my current favourite is "Tugu Negara", National War Memorial in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.
During history revision with my kid, we decided to take history out of the books and explore it for real. So, we took a 5-hour drive from Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur to see it.
We were so amazed! The towering memorial is 15 metres (49.2 feet) high. And surrounded by the lush greenery of Perdana Botanical Park. Tugu Negara commemorates the unsung fallen heroes during WWII. From the memorial, we could see soldiers from Commonwealth countries and even Gurkhas. Sculpted by Felix de Weldon, Austrian sculptor and opened to the public in 1966.
"Hari ini dalam Sejarah" - today in history, we learnt something meaningful to our county.
Dining in the Philippines is a pleasure when you know where to find good food, beachfront views and a great host. The place to be is Cocovana Beach Resort in Busuanga.
A serene retreat. A waterfront restaurant. An inviting atmosphere. This retreat serves delectable Filipino and western cuisine in lovely settings for an unforgettable experience.
Try the garlic baked clams, homemade 🍕 pizza, lobsters made to perfection and cool fruit juices to accompany your meal. And the view overlooking the waterfront - words don't do it justice!
1. Ask Anna (resort owner) and her team of hosts at Cocovana Beach Resort on just about anything. Their warm hospitality shines through.
2. Don't miss taking Insta-worthy shots of the sunset by the beach.
Wildlife in Busuanga range from the wonderful to the wonderfully amazing. The island is home to various bird species and reptiles. Under its crystal-clear waters is a rich aquatic life and colorful coral reefs.
On land, it's easier to capture wildlife that can stay still for a couple of seconds. Introducing Diego and Maria, local goats adopted by a friend to live on their farm. I just love their smiley faces :D
A visit to Busuanga is a nature lover's dream come true.
- an underwater camera is essential for taking good shots when snorkeling.
- if you see a wild boar during your explorations, walk away slowly.
Seafood and sunsets in the Philippines make a delicious combination. Especially in Busuanga where the island is surrounded by waters that boast a seafood bounty. Local restaurants serve a variety of succulent grilled fish, shrimp and clams, paired with fragrant steamed rice.
Enjoy dining by the waterfront where the sunset skies add a sprinkle and sparkle of romance to every meal.
Tips for choosing a seafood restaurant:
- Check out the menus and reviews online before deciding.
- Choose local where possible. It’s one way to enjoy the freshest quality meal.
Fried rice on the streets of Naha, Okinawa. The humblest of dishes yet the most satisfying.
How do you judge the culinary skills of a chef? Order fried rice and taste the flavours of Japan in every morsel. Happy upcoming Fried Rice Day!
📍 Naha Kokusai Dori Shopping Street, Okinawa, Japan.
Enjoy a gastronomical journey at Naha Kokusai Dori Shopping Street, the street food paradise for outdoor dining in Okinawa, Japan. Sample scrumptious local delights such as unagi don (grilled eel on rice), tempura made with local vegetables and rafute (a meat dish in sweet savoury sauce).
Local street chefs love to display their culinary skills with fiery passion. Most stalls will have a cosy corner for al fresco dining. All you have to do is find some chairs to watch the show and enjoy the meal.
If you're looking for affordable and oh-so-delicious street food, this is the place to be! This always-bustling street celebrates the essence of Okinawa's rich culture and diverse flavours.
📍 Night Markets, Johor Bahru, Malaysia
One of the best ways to enjoy outdoor dining in Malaysia is to visit a night market. There is plenty of local food to enjoy and the evening temperatures make it more comfortable to dine out. Simply visit every stall, make friends with the vendor and you may get a free sample before deciding to buy your treat.
There are daily night markets around the city and some start as early as 5 pm and end late at night.
Here's a schedule of night markets in various neighborhoods in JB (correct at the time of publishing):
Sat: Taman Ungku Tun Aminah
Sun: Permas Jaya
Mon: Century Garden
Tue: Taman Pelangi
Wed: Bukit Indah 2
Thu: Kampung Melayu Pandan
Fri: Bandar Baru Uda
Nature never goes out of style. Surrender to its flow at Sungai Pandan Waterfall in Kuantan, the capital city of Pahang in the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia.
Known as Malaysia's largest multi-tiered waterfall, the waters cascade down from a height of 250 metres, past multiple cliffs and into a gigantic, azure-coloured pool.
Visitors love to soak in the cool waters, enjoy a picnic or trek around the area to capture Insta-worthy shots. The waterfall is surrounded by the verdant greens of Sungai Pandan Forest Reserve, making it the perfect place to rejuvenate the senses. It's open daily with minimal admission fees.
Lush tropical rainforests are Malaysia's pride and joy. One of the best places to explore flora and fauna in their natural habitat is at Tanjung Tuan Recreational Forest in Alor Gajah, Melaka.
Popular among trekkers is the Tanjung Tuan Forest Trail which meanders across the vast forested terrain and dense jungle trees.
Watch out for the rattan twines across the tree branches and moss carpet leading you through the wilderness. Budding mycologists will be amazed by the variety of mushrooms thriving in the forest.
The trail brings climbers to Cape Rachado Lighthouse, Malaysia's oldest lighthouse built in 1528. Trek around the ancient lighthouse and continue the trail to Pantai Keramat, a beautiful beach with secluded coves and clear waters.
The Sarong Kebaya is proudly worn by Peranakan ladies of the Nyonya Baba heritage in Malaysia. The batik patterns on the sarong and intricate embroidery on the blouse speak of generations past. It is a living testament to Peranakan artistry, where culture and tradition embody every stitch and seam. Peranakan culture is also known as Straits Chinese culture - a beautiful blend of Chinese and Malay influences originating from Southeast Asia.
I inherited them from my grandmother, who inherited them from her grandmother. Every time I wear them for a formal occasion or a wedding, I can sense the love from my grandmother. I have to take great care while wearing them as the fabric is quite soft and delicate. Hand washing is recommended to maintain its colors and texture.
What is the best souvenir from Japan? For me, it is the Yukata. They are Japanese traditional clothing usually made from a cotton blend material for added comfort. The Yukata is much cooler to wear in our tropical weather. And the boy's Yukata is usually a drape-over top designed with straight seams and wide sleeves.
I picked up mine from a second-hand clothing shop in Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka. The market is famed for its glorious food and souvenir shops. Honestly, I feel the best buys come from the little hole-in-the-wall shops with no names.
My Yukata has beautiful goldfish designs with orange-swirl patterns. I bought the Obi belt separately. It is so versatile that I have worn my Yukata for Bon Odori celebrations and any events that welcome ethnic attire.
My favorite shopping street is Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia. It's always abuzz with activity from day till late at night.
Historically, Petaling Street is named after a tapioca mill on the same street in the 1800s. Today, it is the Chinatown of Kuala Lumpur. There is an eclectic mix of traditional street food with modern cafes, market stalls, and fruit grocers selling durian - Malaysia's King of Fruits.
Another attraction is an old cinema now transformed into a multi-level bookstore. It's also a great place to meet tourists from all over the world savouring the local cuisine by day and exploring the underground speakeasies by night.
The best view comes after the hardest climb. This is so true after hiking up Mt. Kinabalu in Sabah, East Malaysia. After months of training, endless stair-climbing sessions, and hiking expeditions up mountains in West Malaysia, we were finally ready to scale the 4,095m mountain, the highest peak in Southeast Asia.
The 2D1N hike begins around 9 am with a leisurely climb from the mountain base to Laban Rata at the center. Misty mountain air, nature like you've never seen before, and tropical pitcher plants in abundance are what greet you during the hike.
Nothing quite prepares you for the sunrise. It emanates from the skies and touches every single surface of the mountain with a shimmer that leaves you squinting in surprise. Nature speaks in words that only your soul understands.
Kota Tinggi Waterfalls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Johor, Malaysia. Just a short drive away from the city, this is the go-to place for waterfall picnics, hikes or just splashing around the cool pools. Cascading from a height of 34 meters, the falling waters are like nature’s spa.
During a scorching day, take a dip in the shallow pools, soak in the sunshine and you’ll emerge refreshed. I have attempted climbing up the surrounding paths to reach the top of the waterfalls. Be careful as the rocks may be slippery. Sandals with a good grip are recommended. The view from the top is phenomenal for the brave-hearted.
Entrance fees apply. Parking and washroom facilities are available. Exercise caution on rainy days.
Peace and tranquility reside at Oshino Hakkai (Eight Seas of Oshino) in Japan. These eight crystal-clear ponds fed by the melting snow of the majestic Mount Fuji are a must-visit attraction at Oshino, the ancient village nestled at the foothills of the mountain.
Nothing quite prepares you for the beauty of these pristine pools as the clear waters reflect your image and surrounding landscapes as you stroll by. Wander across the cobblestone pathways and discover centuries of Japanese heritage with every step you take.
Much later, I discovered that Oshino Hakkai is part of the Mount Fuji UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” - Marcel Proust, novelist
Mooncake Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival 🥮 in Malaysia is an auspicious celebration!
Celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month in the Chinese calendar, this festival is a love story, a lantern fest and a feast all rolled into one. On this day, the full moon shines the brightest.
Beautiful lanterns are lighted to symbolise a beacon of light to peace and prosperity. Kids love to carry their lanterns around the neighbourhood during the fest.
The Chinese community feast on mooncakes, a traditional treat made of rich pastry filled with lotus seed paste, red beans or sweet and savoury meats with egg yolks. The roundness of mooncakes represent reunion and joy. Seasonal fruits like pomelo are enjoyed along with the mooncakes.
"One of the most amazing monuments in Japan is Kyoto’s Fox Shrine - Fushimi Inari Shrine in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto. The heritage site is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice and the fox statues represent his many messengers.
It’s an uphill climb to the main shrine and it starts from tunnel of vermillion torii gates that had me gaping in awe. Visitors walk under thousands of these torii gates that lead through the wooded forest of Mount Inari.
We were a family of nine and it was a moderate two-hour hike to the summit. We were greeted by the cool breeze through the forest and babbling brooks along the way. Always a blessing to visit such beautiful places.
The shrine is open 24 hours and admission is free."
So privileged to see Mt. Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi. The clear blue skies, the fluffy white clouds, and the fields of wildflowers by the lake made a picture-perfect photo. Known as the iconic symbol of Japan, Mt. Fuji is a sacred site that attracts hordes of tourists from all over the world. We were one of many standing there and waiting for visibility to get better on a beautiful day to capture the perfect shot.
It's true what they say about Mt. Fuji being the inspiration behind various artworks, poems and stories. One look at its magnificence and your heart will be singing lyrical tunes to celebrate its grandeur. Notably, Mt. Fuji is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it a cherished treasure for the locals.
Malaysia's iconic monument is the Petronas Twin Towers, rising 452 m into the skies of Kuala Lumpur, the capital city. Known as one of the tallest twin towers in the world, the towers attract hordes of tourists every day.
Capture a fantastic view of the city from the double decker skybridge connecting the towers on the 41st and 42nd levels. I brought my family for a visit. Just the thrill of hearing our ears pop as you ascend the dizzying heights in the express lift is exciting enough. Strolling across the skybridge is not for the faint-hearted 😃 Admission fees apply.
The best way to capture a good shot of the towers is to lie on your back at adjoining KLCC Park, aim high and click. The towers light up by night. It's a vision not to be missed.
One of the oldest temples in my hometown of Johor Bahru, Malaysia is Arulmigu Rajamariamman Devasthanam Temple. The iconic landmark in the city centre was built in 1911 and stands proud today as an extraordinary heritage site with more than 120 statues and 26 wall paintings within the temple compound.
I was fortunate enough to be invited by friends for a prayer blessing and was given a tour of the beautiful temple. The temple's unique albeit lengthy name has a symbolic meaning. “Arulmigu” in Tamil stands for “holy” or “glory”, “Devasthana” means temple and “Raja” means king.
Amazing in design, the Rajagopuram (tall structure at the temple's outermost gateway) is five-tiered with five gold-plated kalasams (decorative finials atop the temple tower). It was built according to the agamic tenets.
A trip to Tokyo would not be complete without visiting Sensoji, a.k.a Asakusa Kannon Temple. It is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Tokyo and you can sense its splendour from the moment you arrive in Asakusa.
With origins dating back to the 7th century, this temple depicts Japan's rich cultural heritage. Marvel at the impressive architecture as you walk past the beautiful entrance gate.
For the prayerful, Sensoji is a place to pay homage to the Goddess of Mercy, known for her compassion, love and care for women and children.
At night, Sensoji is a sight to behold - a picture-perfect postcard of Japan's traditions and beauty.
Admission is free but visitors usually place a small donation in the temple's donation box.
"One of the most popular attractions in Malaysia is Batu Caves, which means Rock Caves. Set on a limestone outcropping, it is located in Gombak, Selangor, a little outside Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia.
From afar, you’ll be captivated by the colourful stairway leading to the cave temple atop the mountain. At its entrance is a sky-high golden statue of Lord Murugan who provides protection to all who climb the 272 steps to reach the Hindu shrines at the main cave. Once inside, climbers can ask for blessings from the temple deities.
Batu Caves is a major attraction during the Thaipusam festival where millions from all over the world come to watch the festivities. Admission is free."
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