Johor Bahru: Chaiwalla, Jalan Tan Hiok Nee

Love places like this.

By day, Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, a stone’s throw from JB Sentral, is a mostly Chinese foodie paradise, complete with old-school Teochew noodle soups, wood-fired bakeries, Hainanese breakfasts and chicken chops. By night, the district, defined by the iconic Red House, transforms into a night flea market and hipster cafe mecca.

This split personality appeared to be lost on my colleagues, who a late morning arrival. They subsequently missed it entirely as they had planned to return as soon as they came. Fortune favors the brave, and Syarfah, Khai and I, the remaining participants in this excursion, savored the border town for what it really offered, complete with the ubiquitous A&W meal and all, and here, as we intended it.

While the scene during the day is peaceful, serene, almost lodged in its yesteryears, the atmosphere at night is bustling and thrive with activity. It’s a typical Southeast Asian night market, and is surprisingly not as touristy as one might expect. Perhaps it’s because when we arrived, it was approximately 9pm, and we left an hour’s later, which effectively means that by the time one reaches Singapore, the last train bound for the city would’ve departed just moments ago already.

The cafe that spurred this day trip to Johor Bahru in the first place, is Chaiwalla, a hole-in-the-wall operation known for its drinks. Unlike the other indie cafes along the street, Chaiwalla is certainly the most commercialized of them all in terms of packaging and branding. It’s literally quite similar to Starbucks.

Khai and I went for the Original Thai Milk Tea – she had her sweetness reduced, and added toppings while I stuck to it as is. Syarfah had Fresh Milk, and added strawberry sauce and pearls. To share, I ordered a brownie. On the whole, the drinks and brownie were okay. It’s nothing really to shout about, but if you’re in the area, it’s certainly a “must-go” for its concept – soaking in the atmosphere of the cool outdoors.

Getting There:

From JB Sentral, a cab costs about RM 6 to RM 8. Otherwise, walk south from City Square along Jalan Wong Ah Fook for about 100 metres, and cross the road to Jalan Segget, and follow the road to Jalan Tan Hiok Nee. At night, the flea market begins at Jalan Segget, so you really can’t miss it.

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