Last Sunday, a group of us (12 pax in total) decided to do a day trip to Pontian, Johor. So we set off in two cars at 6.45 am and cross the border at the Tuas 2nd Link. Traffic was pretty smooth considering it was the first weekend of the school holidays in Singapore and a coming public holiday on Tuesday. We managed to cross the Singapore and Malaysia custom in under an hour.
After a quick toilet break at the petrol station and a quick snack, we set off towards Pontian. We had no fixed itinerary; the idea being to just explore the town and go with the flow. We did do some preliminary research by googling other blogger’s travel experience in Pontian so we at least have some ideas as to what are some options for places to visit.
Originally, the idea was to spend one night in Pontian but due to various commitments and time constraints we ended up just doing a day trip. On hindsight it was probably better that we did not stay the night as there probably are not enough touristy attractions to keep us occupied for 2 days/1 night in Pontian.
We quickly exited the North-South Tollway and using Google maps (and sign boards) we travel through quaint small towns towards Pontian. Traffic was not heavy and in 30 – 45 mins we reached the outskirt of Pontian.
We had wanted to try the famous Heng Heng wan ton Mee (which is recognized as the original Pontian style wan ton mee) for breakfast but realized that its only open for business at 11.30 am which was not in sync with our schedule.
Bamboo Kid Coffee Shop
A local Pontian resident recommended us to try the Bamboo Kid Coffee Shop and he was kind enough to lead us there on his motorbike. The coffee shop was just 5 min ride away from where we stopped to ask for direction/recommendation and in the central part of Pontian town.
It was a typical Malaysia coffee shop with various stalls selling different kind of food. We ended up ordering Cha Kway Teow, Seafood Soup Porridge (Teochew style with whole rice grains), Bak Kut Teh and Wan Ton Mee. I had the Wan Ton Mee which is not really to my taste as it has a strong ketchup base. The Cha Kway Teow was decent enough but will not make you go “Wow”. Unanimously, my travelling companions voted the Seafood Porridge as the best dish which comes with a few fresh large sea prawns. If you like Teochew style porridge soup (which is not really my thing either), then this would be the dish to order if you happen to be in the Bamboo Kid Coffee Shop. The coffee we ordered to go with our breakfast was also not up to scratch – it was a little too weak with not much coffee taste and fragrance. So all in all, not a highly recommended breakfast place.
Pasar Awam Pontian
As the sky had opened up when we reached Pontian and it was still raining after we had finished our breakfast, we decided to visit the Pasar (wet market) which has a section auctioning fresh seafood brought in by fishermen from the sea rather than visit the Pekan Nanas Pineapple plantation. The local resident that brought us to the Bamboo Kid Coffee Shop told us that – before 10 am, the Pasar sells seafood which are imported from other parts of Malaysia and after 10 am, the local fishermen will bring their freshly caught seafood to sell in the market. Apparently, many Singaporeans will go to the Pasar to buy the seafood and bring it back to home.
The Pasar was a quick five minute drive from the Bamboo Kid Coffee Shop. We parked the cars one block away from the market as it looks like the car park within the Pasar premises were full. The front part of the Pasar (nearer to the main road) function as a regular market – with different stall selling meat, vegetables and seafood. If you walked all the way to the back, that’s where the seafood wholesale market is.
We did not buy any seafood as we did not plan to go straight back to Singapore. But we did spy a number of Singapore licensed plate cars in the parking lot.
Our party split up to explore the area and we congregated at Heng Guan Hiong Coffee Shop, which was located within a row of shophouses just next to the Pasar. The coffee shop sells charcoal toasted bread, roti canai (roti pratah to Singaporeans) some nonya kuihs and the usual beverages. The place was crowded with both locals and tourists. Next door, there’s a stall that sells Cha Kway (Chai Tow Kway).
The Cha Kway comes with lots of crispy charred bits and is less sweet than the typical black sauce Chai Tow Kway in Singapore. The Cha Kway tasted good with lots of “wok hei”. I did not eat the charcoal toasted kaya bread but my fellow travelers all gave it the thumbs up.
The coffee however was much better than what we had at Bamboo Kid Coffee Shop. I would say that the Heng Guan Hiong Coffee Shop is a better option for a breakfast place and being right next to the Pasar makes it even more convenient.
Right in front of the Cha Kway stall, we saw an uncle with an open boot car selling pineapples at RM 6 per fruit. Our group bought some pineapples from the uncle and made our way back to the car. The uncle cut one of the fruits up and put into a plastic container so we can eat it immediately – the pineapple was indeed very sweet.
Along the same row of shophouses, there were a couple of eateries that provide cooking services – basically you can buy your seafood from the Pasar opposite and bring it to the eateries who will cook it any way you wish for a service fee.
At Heng Guan Hiong Coffee Shop, we had split up into different groups as we were fairly big group and it was easier to find seats for smaller groups. There were a local mother-daughter duo who had shared the same table with some of my fellow travelers, they highly recommended us to go to Kukup and have a seafood lunch there instead of visiting the Pekan Nanas Pineapple plantation, which in their opinion can be given a miss.
Since it was still raining and not really conducive for visiting the pineapple plantation, we decided to drive to Kukup from the Pasar Awam Pontian.
The drive to Kukup was not very long, less than half an hour. It has been more than 20 years since I last visited Kukup and the place has indeed developed much since than. I recall the place as nothing more than a sleepy fishing village with a few seafood restaurants on stilted houses built over the sea. Now, you can see sheltered walkways and rows of shops catering to visitors along the main road.
We parked the car at a public car park opposite the jetty walkway and make our way on foot to explore the town. Right outside the public car park, along the sheltered walkway, a man was selling rambutans and durians; some of my fellow travelers could not resist buying a durian to eat immediately (including my Missus). The kampung durian cost RM16 which was fairly reasonable (by Singapore standard). After that we took a walk along the stilted walkway built over the sea; there were many homestays on both sides of the walkways built on stilts catering to visitors who wished to stay the night(s). However, we did not walk for too long as it was still pouring with rain and there were lots of motorbikes and bicycles using the same walkways – which make the walk not so pleasant.
We ended up at the shop along the main road at the front of the stilted walkway – buying some snacks and using the toilet facility. We chatted with the lady boss of the shop and asked for recommendation for seafood lunch; funny enough she recommended that we should go back to Pontian and eat our lunch at Shangri-La Chinese Restaurant. In her opinion, the quality of food there is better and if she has visitors from out-of-town, that’s where she will bring her guests for meals.
Shangri-La Chinese Restaurant – Pontian
As we were still not hungry yet, the group decided to drive back to Pontian and eat lunch at the Shangri-La Chinese Restaurant. The restaurant is actually located just across the road from Bamboo Kid Coffee Shop; we drove past it when we were leaving for Pasar Awam Pontian earlier this morning.
The restaurant decor, typical of a lot of Malaysian Chinese Restaurants in small towns, are retro throwbacks to the 1970s’ early 1980s’ in Singapore. This would be the highlight of the today’s trip to Pontian. As there was a birthday banquet in the restaurant that day, we were able to order roasted suckling pig which typically need to be ordered a few days in advance. The full list of dishes we ordered for lunch:
- Roasted whole suckling pig
- Braised Noodles
- Homemade Braised Tofu
- Fried Almond Chicken
- Crab Beehoon
- Stirfry Celery with Black Fungus
- Curry Claypot Prawns with Fried Mantous
- Steam Whole Promfret Fish – Teochew style
All the dishes were good; I especially enjoy the Crab Beehoon which was the standout dish of the day for me; fresh Flower Crabs were used for the dish and it comes with lots of fried pork lards bits. The Beehoon soak up the flavorful gravy beautifully. The roasted suckling pig was slightly too oily (too much fat was left underneath the skin when slicing up) but the skin was nice and crispy. The Curry Prawns was also good, the fried Mantou (which are small buns) goes well with the curry gravy and the prawns was fresh. The steamed Promfret was large and easily feed the 12 of us. The other dishes I would rate as all being above average. All in all – it was a pretty good experience. The bill came up to about RM850 which was very reasonable, considering it include a whole suckling pig. This would be a good lunch or dinner place if you happen to be in the vicinity and looking for a place for a good Chinese meal.
By the time we finished lunch, it was already around 2.30 pm. We decided to depart Pontian and head to new Paradigm Shopping mall in Skudai for a bit of shopping and massage before we head back home to Singapore.
All in all, the day trip was slightly disappointing; I can think of a few other places in Johor Malaysia which would be more interesting places to visit. The highlight of the trip was eating lunch at Shangri-La Chinese Restaurant but I would not recommend driving all the way to Pontian from Singapore just to eat at the restaurant. There are other equally good and more accessible places in Johor for eating.
I would say, go to Pontian if you run out of ideas on new places to visit and just want to experience whats its like. Buying seafood from the Pasar (which we did not do) and bringing it back to Singapore may perhaps make the trip a lot more worth it.