23 November 2011

Discover the Hidden Gem of Johor

AirAsia Social Media team

By AirAsia Social Media team

Being a home-grown Malaysian boy myself, I still find myself constantly surprised by the wonders that Malaysia has to offer! So much to see, and so much more unseen! So of course, when the chance to explore the Hidden Gem of Johor came, there was no way this Homeboy is going to give up that chance!

Did you know that seahorses were one of the highlights of my trip? Yes, we paid a a special visit to the Seahorses Conversation Site in Johor Bahru!

This seahorse conservation site is taken care by S.O.S research house. S.O.S, which stands for Save Our Seahorse, is a non-profit volunteer group set up by a group of seahorse lovers (like me!) to save seahorses and its habitat in Johor. Did you know that seahorses will curl their tails around the sea grass during low tide? We learnt that and so much more, thanks to the volunteers from S.O.S who provided us with so much information.

Clockwise from top-left: (a) Useful information about seahorses (b) cute signboard done by S.O.S volunteers (c) one of the seahorse species in Malaysia (d) seedling of mangrove tree found in Pulau Merambong

Of course, our journey to discover Mother Nature was just the beginning! Our next stop is the Mangrove Tour at Sungai Pulai. It’s only a 10 minutes’ drive from S.O.S Research Centre to the Mangrove Tour Jetty. This jetty is located inside a sea gypsies village – Kampung Simpang Arang. Ken, a young man from the village was the guide of our mangrove tour. He lived in the village since he is born, and he knows this place more than anyone else does.

During the mangrove tour, Ken showed us several plants that sea gypsies used as traditional medicine, used to cure coughing and to stop bleeding. Yes, I tasted it and it was really bitter!

Clockwise from top-left: (a)Adorable sea gypsies (b) Mangrove tree (c) Boat cruising in mangrove forest (d)Mangrove trees along Sungai Pulai (e)&(f) plants used as traditional medicine (g) Sunset at Sungai Pulai (h) Our tour guide – Ken.

Did you know why Mangrove forests are usually found along sheltered coasts? It’s a unique ecosystem where all they need to flourish is saline soil and brackish water! Mangrove trees have specific characteristics such as tough root systems, special bark and leaf structures and other unique adaptations to enable them to survive in their habitat’s harsh conditions. The learning never stops!

Above: Nope, it’s not a pencil or a magic wand. It’s the seedling of a mangrove tree. It falls point-straight into the ground and is impaled there as it grows into a full tree!

After the mangrove tour, we continued our discovery trip to the north part of johor- Muar, to hunt for FOOD! The yummy-trail now begins!

Muar is famous for their Otak-otak (it’s practically a sin to visit Johor and not taste it!). Otak-otak is made from fish meat, added with some spices and chopped into fish pastes. Instead of the usual banana leaf wrapping, this special one is wrapped in attap leaves and it’s ready for the BBQ!

Clockwise from top-left: (a) The famous Muar Otak-otak (b) Teochew Kueh and Chai Kueh (c) barbeque Otak-otak (d) Muar Char Siew Perng (e) Frying Teochew Kueh

Other than Otak-Otak, Muar is also famous for many Chinese foods like Teochew Or-Chien(Fried Oyster omelette), Muar Char Kway Teow (fried kueh teow with clam), Cantonese Wonton Mee, Muar Char Siew Perng(Red Roasted Meat Rice), Teochew Lo-Ak-Perng(Braised Duck Rice), Teochew Mee Pok(Fish Ball Thin Noodle), Teochew Chwee Kueh (cup shaped steamed rice flour cakes topped with chopped preserved/salted radish), Teochew Chai Tao Kueh (fried raddish cake) and many more.

You can find all these mouth-watering foods on Jalan Haji Abu (Chinese), famously known as “T’am Cjia Kuay” (贪吃街) literally “the gluttonous voracious eating street” by the Chinese, befitting its reputation as the food haven of town.

What better way to start a morning in Johor then Muar’s specialty – Kopi 434! Kopi 434 is famous with their specialty – Kopi Elephant. Just like elephants in the jungle, Kopi Elephant stands out among all coffees. It is powerful, bold with a seductive odour from Malaysia very own Elephant Bean AA. Not only that, Elephant Bean AA has the biggest size among coffee bean species which only can be found in Johor – they are planted and roasted in Muar. Phew, I am just glad that real elephants were not used in the making of my favourite coffee!

The smell of Kopi Elephant is really strong and fragrant. Just by smelling it, the aromas of Kopi Elephant will definitely cure your tiredness and rejuvenate your body and mind. Frankly, I still remember the first sip of Kopi Elephant at Kopi 434.

Clockwise from top-left: (a)Kopi Elephant and Kopi Luwak (b) Kopi 434 by Sai Kee Coffee (c) Coffee beans (d) Coffee beans in Kopi 434 are roasted by modern machine

Golden question: why 434? Mr. Kiar Am Sai, the founder of Sai Kee Coffee had always wanted to do business with the local multi-racial community. Bearing this in mind, he wanted the Malay, Chinese, Indian and Sikhs customers to recognise and remember his brand of coffee, and he has chosen his three digit telephone during the 1960s “434” as his brand name. Since then, the number 434 has been a lucky number for Ah Sai. It has brought in a lot of good business and good luck to the Kiar family.

Besides the delicious food in the morning, we even got to explore the amazingly quaint town of Muar!

Above: Clock tower in the centre of Muar town

There is so much more to see in the Hidden Gem of Johor! Stay tuned to part 2 where I will explore the sun, sea and sand (and much more!) of the southern state of Malaysia – Johor!