Johor Baru on the cheap, for families

The Hutan Bandar in Johor Baru is a green sanctuary.

Story and photos by MELANIE CHEONG

For the Star2 Monthly Challenge, I thought I’d highlight the challenge of entertaining children if you travel to the city I live in.

Johor Baru has many attractions for families with kids who love adventure, excitement, good food and laughter. After you’ve done Legoland Malaysia Theme Park and Water Park, Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park, Angry Bird Activity Park, Desaru Fruit Farm, Firefly Tour, Ostrich Farm and other outdoorsy tours that have substantially lightened your wallet amid cries of “Let’s do it again tomorrow, Mummy”, most mums like me would seek to venture off the beaten path on more budget-friendly adventures.

For those who love the great outdoors, try Gunung Pulai Recreational Forest, located about 45 minutes’ drive from the city. Take the scenic route up the 654m mountain and reconnect with nature along the paved tarmac road.

Meet the locals, check out the waterfalls, go bug-hunting, scan the skies for birds and butterflies, take breaks at the rest stops. You can turn back anytime if the kids are tired. Try the local food at the cafés by the foot of the mountain or bring your own picnic snacks.

Expect a nominal parking fee at the designated car park but the rest is complimentary from Mother Nature. What you get is a fun-filled day, and a guaranteed afternoon nap, for the kids.

For adventures closer to the city, head for Taman Merdeka at Jalan Kolam Ayer by day and enjoy the hour-long senam-robik (aerobics) by the padang on weekend mornings. It’s located right next to the outdoor playground, so you can watch the kids at play while working out at the same time. Fresh air, sunshine, lake breezes and open spaces beat the gym any time. By night, head over there again for the Musical Fountain show that takes place between 8.30pm and 9.30pm nightly.

The Hutan Bandar in Johor Baru is a green sanctuary.
The Hutan Bandar in Johor Baru is a green sanctuary.

Another lovely park to explore is Hutan Bandar where kids can have fun feeding the koi fish, chasing squirrels, meeting Mr Iguana which pops out every once in while to say Hello, getting up close and personal with turtles swimming in the lake, and singing with the symphony of crickets, birds and creatures all around. Venture a little further in to explore the Johor-style kampung house amidst the lovely trees and flower landscapes. And of course, there is an outdoor playground for the kids to leap around like monkeys.

Once the heat sets in and you need a place to cool off, try the local library – Perpustakaan Sultan Ismail – on Jalan Yahya Awal. It has a children’s library and small playroom, plus mini Petrosains Playsmart inside. Here, you can enjoy some quiet reading time, and pick a video to watch at their audio-visual rooms, free WiFi access and also science discoveries at Petrosains.

Need refreshment? There’s a café at the centre atrium where you can get affordably priced snacks and drinks.

Playing with turtles at Country Garden Danga Bay.
Playing with turtles at Country Garden Danga Bay.

One of our favourite sunset adventures is at Country Garden Danga Bay where you can explore the beach, newly “decorated” with life-sized sea creatures like turtles, crabs, clams and starfish to greet you. Bring your own sandcastle-building kit and let the kids have a dig at the sandy sections under the cabanas. Once they get bored of the beach, let the kids go crazy in the outdoor playground by the sea while you enjoy watching the sunset by the beach.

When tummies are hungry and mummies are looking for kid-friendly places plus healthy choices, there are a few to consider. My kid is constantly asking, “Mummy, I want air-con”, so our regular favourite is Niniq Bakery and Bistro in Taman Pelangi. There’s a wide range of kids’ eats on their kids’ menu that will leave the lil’ munchkins asking for more.

Another good choice is TGI Fridays on Jalan Air Molek, where kids eat for free with every adult main course ordered. For dining by the sea, there’s Eight Lido along Jalan Skudai, and Straits View Hotel for all-day breakfast with scrumptious kids menu and complimentary orange juice.

And finally, for a session of laughter, try the Laughter Yoga sessions held for free on selected weekdays, and enjoy laughing all the way to the moon and back with fellow laughter-yoga enthusiasts.

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