The road to Desaru (Johor Bahru)

18 Jul

With only a few weeks left until Baby Dowie arrives, we decided to take some time away to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary and our Babymoon. My doctor gave me strict instructions that I was not to travel by air or boat and I was advised not to leave the country. This meant our holiday destination was limited to the Malaysian peninsular: Cherating (North-east) or Desaru (South-east). After some limited research, we decided that Desaru was the better option because it was easier to get to.

Well, we were wrong…The road to Desaru is not easy. At the end of this post, I’ve included some tips for any future backpackers who might stumble across this blog looking for information.

The train from Seremban to Johor Bahru was 6 hours long. We bought second class “premier seats” and I would hate to think what third class seats look like. It appears that Malaysia has bought Korean second-hand trains and the trains jiggled and swayed so much I was sure the carriages would pull away from each other. Using a squatting toilet on a rickey train is never easy but add a heavy belly and you just get a mess. When we arrived in Johor Bahru, we took a local bus to the guest house we had booked. But like Korea, local buses expect you to press a bell when you want to get off, and this is very difficult when you don’t know where you are going. We managed to get off one stop later than we wanted and walked around looking for JB Private Guesthouse (luckily, my husband has outstanding map-reading skills!) The guesthouse was immaculate and clean with a bed more comfortable than my one at home. On the internet, the guesthouse boasts that it is one of Johor Bahru’s only real backpackers, but it didn’t have any information for travellers wishing to move on and the lady, although she tried to give us information, knew nothing of getting to Desaru – although she did assure us that there wasn’t a bus directly to Desaru from JB. Eventually we stumbled across an internet site which said we should catch a bus to Kota Tinggi, then another bus to Bandar Penawar, and then a taxi to Desaru – which did prove to work. This, however, was certainly not the easy route we were looking for.

We had been advised that we should not book accommodation on the internet because prices were considerably lower if you just arrived. This is not great advice when you are using public transport as each resort is considerably far from one another. We had found a budget resort called Bayu Balau Resort and asked the taxi driver to take us there. The place was desserted. He had one or two bangalows available at RM120/night (R360) but suggested that we try the hotel next door as they were having a promotion; they had a swimming pool and they had hot water (what a nice man to turn away business) and so we booked into Pelangi Beach Resort for RM80 a night. The resort usually charges RM140/night which I think is overpriced especially considering that the rooms are a bit dingy and the bed was so uncomfortable, I woke with spring-marks in my skin. However, it was worth RM80 – this was part of their Ramadan special. Unfortunately, going away to an isolated beach resort during Ramadan is a very bad idea because restaurants don’t open, shops stay closed and you can’t find food anywhere! The hotel opened their kitchen in the evenings but after a glass of water served with swiggly worms and a rather tasteless noddle, we felt despair at the prospect of not eating for the next 4 days. And so the next morning Baden set out with a backpack and money and walked in search of food. 4 hours later, the hunter returned with bread, peanut butter, noddles, fresh vegetables and fruit – which saw us through 2 days. Right at the end of our stay, we discovered a small restaurant around the corner which opened spontaneously, where we had two meals of nasi goreng (rice and vegetables). On the plus side, the resort was completely empty and we were the only people there. We got to enjoy the pool and beach to ourselves for 4 days which was beautiful and relaxing. On the final night, the electricity in our room stopped working and they moved us to a different room – this ended up being to our benefit as the bed was much more comfortable.

The road back from Desaru appeared to be easier. We arrived at the bus stop at 9am and discovered there was a direct bus to Johor Bahru at 9.15. This bus didn’t take us to JB sentral though and dropped us at Larkin bus station, which, I think, is the main intercity bus stop. We were hurriedly ushered onto a big luxury bus directed for Seremeban which was leaving “now, now, now”. 20 minutes later, we were still sitting on the luxury bus, when someone called us off the bus and told us to get onto another bus. 20 minutes later we were moved from this bus onto another bus – by which time we’d handed in our tickets to the first bus driver. For the third time, we were told that this bus was not going to Seremban but he could drop us off at Nilai (which is a nearby city) and we could take a local bus back to Seremban. This is the point we should have demanded our money back, disembarked and gone to buy from a refutable company. However, we stayed. 3 hours later, we were dropped on the side of the road at a local eat-out, far outside Nilai, and told that a bus would be coming past if we just walked around the corner. Well, there was no bus. We were stuck. After some investigating with the locals, we were told that we had to take a taxi back to Seremban – which cost us an extra RM50. At the end of this, we still had to catch a local bus back to Springhill, where we live, and walk the 2km back to our house. Both Baden and I felt rather angry at the Malaysian bus system and next time we go to Larkin, I will definitely not be buying a ticket from a side hawker.


Getting to Desaru. For backpackers.

Getting there: Get to Johor Bahru. Catch the local bus to Kota Tinggi from JB Sentral (1.5hours RM5.50). Then catch the local bus to Bandar Penawar (50mins RM4.40). From there you can either walk the 3km to Desaru or catch a taxi for RM20.

Getting away: Get to Bandar Penawar’s bus stop. From there, buses go directly to JB Larkin (3hours, RM18) at 7.30am, 9am, 2pm and 5pm or catch the more frequent bus to Kota Tinggi and then catch another bus from KT to JB Sentral.

Note: local buses do not give you change. Make sure you have enough coins or expect to pay more than you have to.



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