By Cheryl Tan
It is proving an irresistible transport of delight.
That is a train shuttle launched last Monday taking shoppers from Tanjong Pagar right to the doors of the recently opened Danga City Mall in Johor Baru.
It means happy shoppers can beat the traffic jams at JB to buy goods and services at up to half their price in Singapore.
When LifeStyle jumped aboard and did the trip on the Malayan Railway - Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) - train shuttle last Tuesday, at least 15 Singaporeans were riding the retail rail.
For retiree Thomas Tham, his 68-year-old retiree wife Lily Yeo, and six friends, it was curiosity that spurred them to make the 90-minute train ride across the Causeway to the mall, which opened four months ago.
'We want to explore the supermarket and department store there,' said the 73-year-old.
Mr Tham said the $3-ride from Tanjong Pagar station is a nice change from 'snaking queues and a long wait at the new checkpoint' encountered when taking a bus. It costs RM3 (S$1.25) for the train's return trip.
He said: 'The immigration checkpoint for the train is not as crowded and I walk less.'
His only grouse: The irregular departure times (see separate story).
Shop owners of nails and hair salons and massage places say they have seen more Singaporean clients since the train shuttle kicked off.
Prices for beauty and massage services are a steal as they are at least half the price of those in Singapore.
|Danga's good deals
MANICURE AND PEDICURE
Danga City Mall: RM48
COLOUR YOUR HAIR
Danga City Mall: From RM70
Singapore: From $68
FOOT MASSAGE (ONE HOUR)
Danga City Mall: RM35
JOHNSON & JOHNSON ACUVUE CONTACT LENSES (MONTHLIES)
Danga City Mall: RM50
Danga City Mall: RM3.80
SHIN RAMYUN SPICY MUSHROOM FLAVOUR (FIVE PACKETS)
Danga City Mall: RM7.99
Save: 32 cents
VAN HOUTEN ASSORTMENT CHOCOLATE (200G)
Danga City Mall: RM10.90
Save: 81 cents
GATSBY 'MOVING RUBBER' HAIR PRODUCT (NON-GLOSSY)
Danga City Mall: RM20.50
ROYAL UMBRELLA RICE (5KG)
Danga City Mall: RM26.89
RED BULL CLASSIC DRINK
Danga City Mall: RM1.60
Save: 41 cents
* Currency conversion based on S$1 = RM2.39
A manicure and pedicure with two free nail art works thrown in costs RM48 (S$20.10). A similar do here would cost about $55.
'The cheap prices are already a draw. With the added train station, it is so convenient for Singaporeans to come here,' said the owner of Po An Medical Centre, Dr Khoo Chew Wan, who offers body and foot massages as well as treats body aches.
At least 40 per cent of his customers are from Singapore and he plans to hire four more masseuses as a result of the influx of Singaporeans coming by train.
Household groceries, too, are cheap and Singaporeans such as customer service officer Annie Soo, who was there with her parents, two-year-old son and maid, stock up on items such as yogurt which she said is a dollar cheaper.
But the 35-year-old added that she would not buy clothes there.
'They are slightly more expensive and I prefer the brands in Singapore that I'm more familiar with,' she said.
Ms Soo, who was also on the look-out for restaurants to try with colleagues, added: 'We were very excited when we heard this mall was opening. If there are good restaurants, people will come.'
But those looking for yummy eats might be disappointed.
The only food court, on the fourth floor, has the usual chicken rice, chicken chop and breakfast sets, starting from RM3. The basement has a steamboat restaurant and coffee shop.
There are also two cafes that flank the entrance of the shopping centre selling nasi lemak, mee siam and penang laksa. However, the rest of the shops are mostly retail, spectacle shops and beauty and massage parlours.
The popularity of the rail shuttle service is increasing despite a shaky start when trains suffered delays due to repairs being carried out after landslides further up north in Malaysia.
Danga City Mall is the first shopping complex in southern Malaysia to have its own train platform. The seven-storey mall, which opens from 10am to 10pm, boasts 500 shop units although a quarter are still vacant. It also has a Metrojaya department store, a bowling arcade and a local supermarket.
It is a five-minute taxi ride from other malls popular with Singaporeans such as Pelangi and City Square.
There are also JB city tours and a free shuttle bus to Danga Bay where there is a mini theme park, petting zoo and another mall.
But for Singaporean housewife Jennifer Chia, it was the train ride that was the highlight of the trip to the mall.
It was the first time that both she and her husband, Mr Philip Chia, 45, travelled to Malaysia by train.
The train 'could be cleaner' but 'with such a low price, who can complain?', she said.
The 45-year-old added: 'It's also safer than driving a car into Malaysia. You don't have to worry about being carjacked.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 11, 2009.
For more The Straits Times stories, click here.