Chinese New Year is a time for nearly everyone to stop work and enjoy a little. This is actually very true when it comes to celebrating this festive occasion in most large cities, Singapore included as well as cities around Malaysia like Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Georgetown, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. You can actually see people closing shop for at least a week and things in the cities mentioned above slows down to a crawl. Everyone either goes back to their hometown for the family reunion dinner or decide to take a holiday. When it comes to reunions, small towns are instead packed with families and things aren't as peaceful as it seems in these small towns.
The roads are packed and people from out of town are everywhere to be seen. And unlike in the city, shops are open to cater for this. I was in and around Muar, Johor on New Year's day and the next day and the town was packed. The North-South Highway was packed but surprisingly smooth flowing and by 10.00am I was in Muar town on the first day of the Year of the Rabbit. I exited via the Tangkak exit from the North South highway and thoroughly enjoyed the fast sweeping corners on the secondary road into town. Having a stock riding car on skinny tires somehow works very well through all the undulations and potholes (due to the excessive rains that the state of Johor has been having recently). It was fun and from Tangkak, it'll take you about 15 to 20 minutes to reach Muar, if traffic permits.
The other interesting thing about Muar aside from the architecture is food. And the thing I truly like about Muar is that this is the only place where you can have satay for breakfast. Even on Chinese New Year's day. But anyway, Muar is a place where satay is part of breakfast, lunch and dinner and since satay is usually a Malay specialty, there were two or three stalls open selling this good stuff. It is also the only place in the whole of Malaysia where they also serve fried banana fritters with a soy sauce based chilli paste (sambal kicap in Malay). Almost everywhere else fried banana is eaten plain, or with ice cream but here in Muar you get to eat it with something hot and spicy. I had these for tea on New Year's day. I have to say small towns really capitalize on the festive season as you still get to eat out over there.
In fact, I also noted that cell phone shops, some apparel outlets and the 'mamak' or Indian Muslim restaurant/stalls were also open to capitalize on the holiday crowd. This was some crowd actually, as on day two of the New Year the town was jammed on some streets.
Check out Jalan Haji Abu (Haji Abu Road) on the second day. This road could be considered the 'Chinatown' of Muar. It was slightly jammed with people buying lunch and other stuff. The cars you see around Muar were from everywhere, you see a convoy of two cars bearing Perak state plates, cars from Selangor, Kuala Lumpur (the Federal Territory) and cars from Singapore too. Some of these out of towners actually treat the town like their own, double parking and doing u-turns where they're not supposed to do so. Tsk, tsk, tsk.
I suppose being in a small town during a period where most shops close is a blessing. I get to eat good food almost all the time. I was down for a family gathering where lunch was Beryani Gam, a traditional Johor way of preparing Beryani Rice (beryani rice with mutton, chicken or beef in gravy, boiled egg all mixed together with the gravy and with dhal stew and mixed vegetable acar). Dinner was also Beryani leftovers. So basically New Year's day was food heaven for me. Of course, small town nights are less interesting. Everything slows down after 10.00pm. Check out the photo of Jalan Haji Abu around 10.00pm below.
And as for driving, the roads around Muar are a fabulous place to drive. The main toll free road from Muar to Batu Pahat as well as the roads perpendicular (as well as some side roads) to it are fantastic drives. Jalan Sri Tanjung is one good example. It is straight with some sweeping bends and ends at the junction where you can also head towards Parit Jawa to the right and onwards towards Batu Pahat or left (which could also bring you to Batu Pahat or Yong Peng). You can also catch a glimpse of the local 'wildlife' too and beware if any of them cross the road as you're driving by.
But what I really like about this stretch of roads from Muar to Batu Pahat are the undulations, especially when there is a small bridge built to cross all the canals criss-crossing the area. 'Parit' in this context means canals, hence locales like Parit Jawa, Parit Bulat, Parit Punggor around Muar and also Batu Pahat. You see, with a stock riding car or one that's not ridiculously lowered it is actually ridiculous fun to drive around here. Some of the humps caused by the small bridges are quite severe. You can actually imitate a WRC jump even traveling at around 90-100km/h. This is something fun at speeds that are slightly less ballistic and it technically won't kill you while you're at it. I surely enjoyed myself around Muar this time round. This was even though I drove something totally pedestrian this time around. A Perodua Myvi.
muar, motoring in malaysia, johor and 2 more...
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