Food, coffee and history all come together in a neat little package in Muar. The royal town, which is also referred to as Bandar Maharani, is Johor’s fourth largest, after Johor Baru, Batu Pahat and Kluang. If you are staying in the Pekan Muar area, you can more or less get around by using Shanks’ pony but if you wish to be adventurous and venture further afield in search of quaint little villages to explore or perhaps a durian plantation to visit, then it is best to make it a driving holiday. Here is a brief guide on what to see, do and eat on a weekend visit.
0800HRS: After a quick jolt of caffeine, load up the car and begin your drive. Muar, in the state of Johor, is an easy 2½ hours’ drive from the Klang Valley on the North-South Expressway. For Singaporeans, the drive time is about the same, depending on the state of the Causeway traffic, of course.
1030HRS: If you happen to visit during durian season, set your Waze for Muar D13 Durian Hub in Kampung Paya Panjang and kick-start your Muar escapade with an unusual but highly welcome feast of D13 durians, one of the icons of the town. Muar’s durian district lies predominantly in the Bukit Pasir area. Locals love this particular variety — also known as Golden Bun durians — for its changing flavours, which can range from bitter if eaten within 12 hours of falling from the tree to sweet thereafter. Muar D13 Durian Hub welcomes small groups of a minimum of 10 pax with prior reservations. Short tours of the surrounding orchards are also part of the visitor’s programme.
Kampung Paya Panjang, Sungai Mati, Bukit Pasir, 84300 Muar. 017 613 5359.
1200HRS: Just before heading to the town centre, it might be a good idea to stop by the former river port of Panchor for a riverside lunch first. Restoran Hin Thoy, besides being a famous foodie pit stop, is also the only place to eat in the sleepy village. Its proprietor, Tong Tien Feng, who is also Panchor’s former village chief, inherited the business from his father and continues to please palates with simple but tasty fare that includes his signature golden wok-fried prawns, sotong kangkung with satay sauce, steamed eggs topped with otak-otak and Kung Po fish head. Hin Thoy opens for business from noon to 7.30pm but do call ahead in case they decide to have a day off. Muar is also known as one of the cleanest cities in Asean and for good reason. Stroll along the riverbank after lunch to aid digestion and marvel at just how clean the Muar River is. It would certainly put other cities and states to shame.
1 and 2, Jalan Said, Panchor, 84500 Muar. 06 973 6270.
1400HRS: If you feel the need to stretch your legs, find a place to park and hit the streets in search of some of Muar’s famous art murals. From a beautiful augmented reality artwork featuring a betta fish in an alley just off Jalan Sisi, to a massive one of two loving sisters by Russian muralist Julia Volchkova on a four-storey building in Jalan Arab — said to be the largest of its kind in the country — get a map and start walking!
1500HRS: Check into your hotel and perhaps freshen up with a cold shower — walking can be hot and sweaty work in tropical Malaysia. The Bei Boutique Hotel is a great option for all travellers as it offers a wide range of accommodation, from the usual double-bedded rooms to the Deluxe Big Family, which comes with a king bed and two single ones — ideal if you are travelling with children or a group of friends.
8-3, Jalan Abdul Rahman, 84000 Muar. 06 952 8100.
1630HRS: If you happen to be visiting on weekends, public holidays or during the school break, take a ride on the Muar River Cruise (established in 1996), which operates during these times only. The 50ft vessels are crafted from chengal wood in nearby Parit Jawa and can seat 40 people each trip. Departing from Tanjung Emas Park, the ride takes you past the Muar waterfront and the town’s main buildings of interest. If you are lucky, you can see oyster divers at work and migratory birds in flight. When in operation, the cruises run every half hour or so, from 9.30am to 5.30pm.
Jalan Tanjung 4, Taman Emas, 84000 Muar. 013 669 2263.
1830HRS: It is inconceivable to visit Muar and not have a meal at the famous Kedai Makan New Eastern. Established in 1936, the quaint café is housed in a pre-war shophouse and was founded by Ho Doon Foo, who arrived in Muar from Hainan Island. Things seem almost unchanged since colonial times, with the exception of the numerous cars parked outside, compared with bicycles and horse carts in bygone days. The chicken chop is the star item on the menu here although the Asian dishes, particularly the sambal prawns and fried sotong, are no less noteworthy.
86, Jalan Abdullah, Pekan Muar, 84000 Muar. 06 954 9888.
2000HRS: Wild nights out aren’t de rigueur in Muar but if you simply must have a nightcap, go to Samp’s Kitchen & Bar. The first level is a dessert lover’s haven (the yoghurt yuzu soft-serve parfait deserves special mention as do the four types of Basque burnt cheesecake — original, matcha, blueberry cheese or Callebaut chocolate) or stick to the ground floor where you can prop up the sleek bar. Whisky is the drink to knock back while at Samp’s, so take your pick of Japanese labels such as Tenjaku or Kaicho, or go for the Scottish drams, like an 18YO Balblair.
41 Jalan Mega, 84000 Muar. 017 617 8224
0700HRS: Wake up early so you can make like a hobbit and tuck into two, yes two, breakfasts while in Muar. If you are staying at the Bei Boutique Hotel, you are in for an especial treat. Although breakfast is complimentary, it is nonetheless served with a flourish at the hotel’s Boutique Restaurant. Kaya paus, for example, are served on a gorgeous tiered platter alongside plates of fruit and cereal. You then pick from a small but smart selection that includes mushroom omelette, the Muar speciality of mee rebus, lontong and nasi lemak. Owner K C Lim proudly states: “This is what we mean when we say that a proper breakfast is part and parcel of your stay! I take wishing my guests ‘good morning’ very seriously.”
0830HRS: If you didn’t overdo it at your first brekky, then you should still have some stomach space to start your day in a truly Muar way — with a satay breakfast. Everyone has their favourite spots to recommend but it is generally acknowledged that you can’t go wrong at Kheng Ping Kopitiam, also known as Kedai Kopi TNB as it is just opposite the TNB station at the junction of Jalan Sultan Ibrahim and Jalan Sulaiman. It opens early, from 6.30am, so come anytime you like to start your day with sticks of satay, local black coffee, kaya toast, mee rebus and a truly delicious lontong, served with pillowy-soft nasi himpit.
29, Jalan Sulaiman, 84000 Muar.
0930HRS: Just as it is a must for tourists to drive past Joko Widodo’s house when one is in Solo, Central Java, likewise checking out current prime minister and local boy Muhyiddin Yassin’s residence is also a trivial but fun thing to do while here. Located along Jalan Timbalan, at No 5, the bungalow faces the town’s golf course Kelab Golf Tanjong Emas and is within walking distance of the riverside promenade.
1000HRS: Visitors to the Muar Yi Tourist Information Centre, on the ground floor of the architecturally stunning Chiang Chuan Association Building, can learn more about the area’s interesting history, ranging from the Parit Sulong Massacre to life during the Japanese Occupation. On a lighter note, the centre is also the best place to ask for help in relation to guided walks and excursions, or even shop for all the delicacies Muar is famous for, including biscuits, sesame oil and local handicraft. Muar Yi also offers an Otak-Otak Experience where you can learn how to make the southern delicacy, after which it is grilled on the spot for you to enjoy.
1130HRS: Making otak-otak can be tiring work so take a quick break with a glass of Mango Float Royale, quite possibly the country’s most famous mango float drink. Although its origins lie a little further north in Malacca, nothing and no one is stopping you from indulging while here. Look for it at Block B of Uptown Muar, near the famous Muar Soup House. If you feel your tummy needs a little warming up, then do order a bowl of its justifiably famous Sup Gearbox Kambing.
47, Jalan Sisi, Pekan Muar, 84000 Muar.
1230HRS: No Cuti-Cuti Malaysia is quite complete without stocking up on some edible goodies either for gifting or for self-indulgence. Should you happen to be driving along Jalan Bakri Jaya, be sure to stop by Sin Nam Hiang Confectionery to take away its famous old school butter cake and cupcakes. Its pumpkin cake and pandan layer cake are also popular items to buy. If you have a birthday celebration coming up, be sure to also purchase its mee sua birthday packs, which are, essentially, bundles of the famous long life noodles beautifully wrapped up to resemble a cake or small tower. It is a traditional gift that is fast fading from modern consciousness.
41, Simpang Jeram Bakri, 84200 Muar; tel: (06) 986 4024.
1300HRS: Fill up on one last round of delicious Muar cuisine before hitting the highway for the not-so-long drive home. One popular spot among locals and out-of-towners alike is Ting Ting Restaurant, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Be sure to order its signature dishes, which include vermicelli noodle soup with ikan haruan, abalone nasi lemak, salted crispy chicken and steamed lemon fish.
Batu 3, Jalan Bakri, Kampung Parit Keroma Darat, 84000 Muar; tel: (06) 952 9309.
This article first appeared on Aug 24, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.