I'm one of those people who'd look for night markets whenever I travel to a new place or a new city. While shopping centres are just as inviting and offer many attractions, they also carry the same popular brands. Discovering five Uniqlos, three H&Ms, and a couple of Starbucks outlets along the same road is such a killjoy.
Night markets have been synonymous with Johor's dynamic commercial and retail scene. Growing up in Johor Bahru, I used to stay in a smaller settlement and enjoyed our night market that gathered no less than a hundred traders every Wednesday night. It was during this weekly affair that I got my dose of Apam Balik, Sate, Tau Fu Fah, and fresh vegetables from nearby farms; I would even shop for new shirts and sandals.
As more malls and hypermarkets mushroomed in the city in the 90s and early millennium, I too, started to shop at these air-conditioned outlets and enjoyed McDonalds and KFC in fancy, modern malls such as the Holiday Plaza. It was deemed no longer trendy to buy clothing at the night market or break a sweat as you combed throughout its many offerings.
*Image from Holiday Plaza Facebook
However, a few years ago, the city council — in its effort to drive traffic to the Central Business District after dark — had come up with a 'revived' night market that had attracted both local and international visitors to discover this forgotten set-up once again.
The night market, more popularly known as 'Pasar Karat', would be a fun combination of exercise and a tour if you asked me. It stretches a few KM and takes you through some of the most historical city sites where century-old shops and buildings are still standing proudly today.
Originally, many traders sold second-hand items and antiques from yesteryear; hence the name, which loosely translates to 'Rusty Market' (from the old but valuable pieces). With careful planning and a well-laid strategy, the then modest night market has since grown to include more vendors that now sell crafts, clothing, food, toys, and even pet animals.
You can check out items that are uniquely Johor such as henna art drawing, home-cooked bakeries, handicrafts, and even local entertainment! There are a few busker groups along the stretch, and you can safely judge their popularity by the size of the crowd.
There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, and even Mamak joints, so bring on that big appetite too. Don't miss lounging at the many chic and retro F&B outlets along Jalan Dhoby, Jalan Pahang, Jalan Trus, and Jalan Tan Hiok Nee. They serve delicious Chicken Chop, Mee Goreng Mamak, Roti Canai, Roti Jala, Chinese Fried Rice, pasta, and mouth-watering steaks as well. Designer coffee and teas are also available in case you cannot part with your caffeine fixes. Alternatively, you could try locally brewed Kopi O and Teh Tarik for a change.
Wear loose clothing, put on comfortable walking shoes, and don't forget to bring your trusted camera. The area is safe, and many nearby hotels offer 5 to 3-star accommodations, Air B&Bs, and backpackers inns. However, for those who are not accustomed to Malaysia's tropical climate, you may find walking through the long night market a bit challenging. Be armed with a bottle of water and take a few pit stops if you're feeling overwhelmed. Enjoy a serving of pop corn (or two!).
The best time to start discovering this part of the town is after 9 pm. It is generally open till midnight or slightly later, depending on the size of the crowd. Friday and Saturday nights are the best time to discover the exciting Pasar Karat.
You can find the site here: