Hop on a bus, Gus (Singapore - Johor Bahru)

Johor Bahru (more commonly known as JB) is the state capital of Johor and, from Singapore, is the gateway to neighbouring Malaysia when travelling by car or bus. It is a very popular destination amongst Singaporeans because most prices there – but not all, buyer beware – are about half of those in Singapore.

For foreigners in Singapore the attraction is that you can go travel to JB in less than an hour and be back in no time. This might come in handy if you were enjoying Singapore that much that you find yourself in desperate need to extend your tourist visa. Since Singapore is very well organised, you could just have asked for an extension online but why not enjoy the hospitality and good food in Malaysia?

Another reason for an Ang-Moh to travel to JB is that it is far more easier there to find proper clothes that fit the average size of European or American men and women. Indeed, one of the surprises of my stay in Singapore is that it is challenging to find ‘XXL’ clothes, in many stores only  clothes from size ‘XXXS’ to size ‘L’ are sold. Thanks to the healthy Asian food in Singapore I’m now down to ‘XL’ sized clothes, but even if ‘XL’-size clothes are more commonly available, they might be too short for your height. Yes, there are big differences between Asian, American and European cloth sizes!

But back to the topic of this post: how to travel to JB on a budget? By far the cheapest option is to go by bus, but there is a bewildering number of choices, and the many sites where they calculate the cheapest fares really don’t make the choice easier. After hours of reading, you’ll find out that those sites:

  • don’t use the current prices;
  • are uncertain over the total price when you combine a trip on the Singapore MRT and the bus; and
  • are often connected to one of the bus companies.

Don’t waste your time, the maximal amount you can possibly save is about 2 SGD, but the time you would spend is lost forever. Why not make a quick choice by following my guidelines and have more time to enjoy the delicious food in Malaysia?

Keep your cool!

From Singapore one can travel by public transport to Johor with a Malaysian bus company or a Singaporean company. The Malaysian companies are slightly cheaper, but the buses do not have air-conditioning, while the Singaporean buses do.

Since the climate of Singapore is really, really hot and humid all year through, it might be wiser to go by Singaporean transport if you cannot stand the heat, especially if you start your bus trip from the central district of Singapore which takes about an hour.

In case you choose a bus just for the 10 minutes trip between Kranji MRT (picture above) and the JB checkpoint, this is not really important. 

Time is Money?

Malaysian buses are only allowed to have one stop in Singapore, not counting the checkpoints. The reverse is also true: Singapore bus companies are only allowed to have one stop in Malaysia. 

Conclusion: if you travel from Singapore and are in a hurry, it is better to travel by a Malaysian bus to the checkpoint: they will not stop in Singapore but will travel directly to the checkpoint. And vice versa, if you travel from Malaysia to Singapore, it is faster to go by Singaporean bus to the checkpoint. In total, you might save about half an hour from and to JB.

Note that if you switch bus after the checkpoint, you need to pay again. But don’t worry: this will be cost you less than SGD 2.  Save time or money, the choice is yours!

Combine bus with MRT

A slightly faster way to travel to JB is to combine MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) and bus: as a tourist or foreigner this is quite easy to combine: one can pay with the EZ-Link card on both Singaporean bus and MRT.

The EZ-link card can be bought (and topped up) at the ticket-office of all MRT stations and is also available from lots of other places, such as the ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores. 

The best option is to proceed to the Kranji MRT station and follow the signs to bus stop 1. Both Malaysian bus operators as well as Singaporean bus operators stop there to pick up passengers.

In the picture above you see the queue for the Singapore bus (bus 170), while the Malaysian bus (CW1) is picking up passengers. Tickets for the Malaysian bus can be bought where the bus halts.

Note: the Kranji MRT station is on the red-coloured North-South line, but I advise you to take the green East-West line first when travelling from the Central District. Alight at the Jurong East interchange, just cross the platform and take the MRT to Kranji MRT. A trip on the East-West line to Jurong East will take less than half an hour, and on most occasions, you’ll be able to sit.

Especially on week-ends and public holidays the North-South line will be very crowded with people going on a shopping trip in one of the 22 mega-malls of Orchard Road.  

Double-Check Everything

The bus will take you to the Singaporean checkpoint (above picture of the entrance, do not take pictures after that point, it is forbidden) at the Causeway first.

You must alight the bus, take all your belongings and pass the Singaporean checkpoint. You did bring your passport, didn’t you?

This might be extremely bewildering for foreigners at first. But don’t panic, just follow the flow of passengers.

After the passport check, which should not take more than a few minutes unless you are travelling on Chinese New Year or a public holiday, take the stairs down, and proceed to the bus-stop, where you will take a bus with the same number (Malaysian or Singaporean) to proceed your voyage.

Note: this is not the same bus that brought you there, just one servicing the same line. Just find the correct queue.

This bus will take you to the new Malaysian checkpoint (Sultan Iskander CIQ complex), where once again, you will have to take all your belongings, leave the bus, and proceed to the passport check. After that, you have the choice to travel further by bus, take a taxi, or just follow the signs and start spending some money in the City Square Mall.

Ok, show me the bus stops

See above if you want to travel by MRT and bus.

In case you want to take the bus (public transport) from the Central District, proceed to the Queen Street terminal (near Bugis MRT station).

Take bus 170 (Singapore SMRT) and pay cash or by EZ-Link card. Or take bus CW2 (Malaysian operator) and pay cash.  Every 10 minutes or so there is a new bus. The trip will cost less than SGD 2,-!

Another option is to go by Express bus or Coach. These cost however more and maybe I’ll write about my experiences with them in a future blog post. 

Brag about the money saved

After your trip, you deserve to relax with a cold beer to balance all that spicy food you ate in JB. There is probably no better place to do this in Singapore than in the Public House, Singapore”).

Singaporeans like a good deal, and whatever you did good, they will tell you that you could have done better. Don’t go into details but just explain them (whether you really did it or not):

  • That you spend hours on-line to check for the best deals;
  • That you paid in Malaysian Ringgits to take the bus from Malaysia (this is indeed ‘cheaper’, maybe saves you a half a Singapore dollar or so);
  • That you would have loved to take the cheaper Malaysian bus in Singapore, but the weather was too hot and you really needed air-co.

They will admire your knowledge and expect to pay them some beers from all the money you saved that day. One beer in Singapore will cost you much more than the trip to JB. But hey, that’s life! Enjoy it!