I was very proud when Muar, Johor, was voted as the “cleanest tourist city in the Asean region” earlier this year. Muar is my hometown and I think the accolade is long overdue. Part of the credit goes to Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, who took a personal interest in ensuring the town is always clean and properly maintained.
Like many towns in Malaysia, Muar has certainly developed over the years. Several street murals were painted in town in recent years by foreign artists, one of which is called Loving Sisters by Julia Volchkova from Siberia.
Muar is a heaven for street food, too. Special mention goes to mee bandung, satay, homemade fish balls and otak-otak, a Muar speciality. The otak-otak is packed with fresh minced fish, flavourful curry spices and coconut milk.
The best black bean pau in my opinion comes from Muar (they are generously filled) while the dim sum costs only half of what you would usually pay in the Klang Valley. One can find all this delicious fare at “Glutton Street”, which lies at the junction of Jalan Haji Abu and Jalam Meriam.
If you do decide to visit Muar one day, check out the old-fashioned homemade bread with kaya, toasted over hot coals. Of course, no self-respecting Muarian will ever decline washing all this down with coffee made from freshly roasted beans.
There is a row of pre-war shophouses in Muar which, in its heyday, housed many chettiar shops. These were money lenders from South India who came to ply their trade and serve the local farming community in Muar. Although they were very careful with their money, they believed in eating well and brought along cooks from their native country to prepare their meals.
My father used to help the chettiars with their income taxes so he was often invited to dine with them, and I would sometimes come along. I can still remember eating amazing South Indian dishes at their homes.
There are two bridges that cross the Muar river. The first, Sultan Ismail Bridge, was opened in 1967 and gets one right into the centre of town. The second bridge was opened in 2004 as a way to ease traffic congestion.
To the west of the town you will see the Dataran Tanjung Emas roundabout and fountain, with a sculpture carrying the Johor Royal Crest of Arms – a real sight to behold when it is lit up at night.
Across the road is a 100-year-old bungalow which is currently used as a restaurant. The 100-year-old Sri Maha Muthumariamman temple and the Nattukottai Chettiars Sri Murugan Temple are architectural splendours that one should not miss. The temples’ colourful gopurams (domes) built by South Indian artisans are a hit with both local and foreign tourists.
Sultan Ibrahim Jamek Mosque, completed in 1887, sits at the mouth of the Muar river. Across the river at Tanjung Agas sits its replica, the Sultan Ismail Mosque.
You can get on a river cruise from the Tanjung Emas Jetty – it runs several times daily. There’s also the Tanjung Emas Park where you can catch the beautiful sunset from across the river mouth. Tanjung Emas Park has beautiful walking paths too but be wary of cheeky monkeys!