"You're only here for a short visit. Don't hurry, don't worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way." - Walter Hagen
After being in a hot climate for two months straight and feeling a little low after struggling to connect with the Perhentian Islands, I was so delighted to reach our next destination in Malaysia: The Cameron Highlands!
The Cameron Highlands is a region in northwest Malaysia, a Hill Station covering more than 700 square kilometres. Known for its expansive tea plantations, produce farms and lush forests, perhaps even more enticing was knowing that the climate hovers between a comfortable 15-22 degrees celsius, due to its altitude of more than 1000m above sea level. Though not exactly freezing by any stretch of the imagination, I still couldn't wait to pull out a long-sleeved top and a pair of leggings from the bottom of my pack! The grass is always greener, right?
The Cameron Highlands is a very popular destination among KL-ites - just a five hour or so drive from Kuala Lumpur the region makes for a perfect weekend destination to escape the hustle and heat of the city.
After a long day travelling - first by boat from the Perhentian Islands back to Kuala Besut on the mainland, followed by a 5 or so hour minibus to the Cameron Highlands - we were pleased to arrive at our guesthouse. We had pre-booked Father’s Guesthouse in Tanah Rata after reading some great reviews, and we were not disappointed - in fact, after just one night there we decided to double the length of our stay. Most travellers stay perhaps two or three nights, but we were in the mood to slow down and relax, so stayed a glorious eight nights - long enough that some of the friendly staff knew us by name!
The Cameron Highlands has a clear English influence, in terms of its architectural style. The region consists of a series of townships (we were based in Tanah Rata, but it's also quite popular to stay in Brinchang), so your best way of getting around is by a tour or hiring a car/motorbike.
Car rental was out of our budget, so we went with a couple of tours which we felt were reasonably priced (we booked directly through Father's Guesthouse). The idea of 'taking a tour' often has a bad reputation amongst backpackers in favour of a DIY approach, but we thoroughly enjoyed both of the tours we did while in the Cameron Highlands.
Eight nights is a fair amount of time to stay in one place, but in the Cameron Highlands I felt like we hit the perfect balance between exploring and enjoying the region's serenity (or I guess you could say, being lazy).
Here's what we got up to...
1. Countryside Tour
We booked a half day 'countryside' tour to take us around the area, stopping off at seven different locations. The tour, which ran from about 9am-2pm, cost us 25 ringgit each (just under NZ$10) and essentially showcased many of the region's drawcards to us in just a few hours. There were a couple of entry fees not included which cost an extra 9 ringgit (NZ$3) each. Considering the amount of driving around we did, there's no way we could have done this more cheaply on our own - plus I'm sure we would have got incredibly lost!
We were collected from our guesthouse in the morning by our enthusiastic guide in what, to us, was a rather luxurious bus.
First we visited a Butterfly Garden that was rather lovely, it also housed all sorts of different creatures including a rather frightening turkey that waddled around like he owned the place!
Beneath the Butterfly Garden was a blindingly colourful flower garden - so beautiful!
Our next stop was the Kea Farm Vegetable Market, where we admired all of the fresh produce, vibrant flowers, and gorged on chocolate-coated strawberries. YUM. Strawberries don't grow anywhere else in Malaysia so are a big deal here!
We then made our way to the stop I was perhaps most excited about, BOH Tea Plantation. BOH is a famous Malaysian brand of tea, founded by a British businessman, J.A. Russell, back in the early 1900's. There was a small museum display where we learned a lot about how tea is made, and the development of BOH Tea over the years, plus were given a quick tour of the factory . It was really interesting!
The one downside of the tour was that because was so busy at the BOH Tea Centre, we didn't have enough time to sit and enjoy a cuppa while admiring the view - we had to move on to the next stop!
Next we visited a Bee Farm...although I love honey, I'm not the biggest fan of bees. So I entertained myself with the funny sculptures and entertained myself like a kid, while avoiding the bees as best as possible. We also did a little honey tasting here, which was rather delicious!
Moving on, we stopped at a Rose Garden. I didn't have very high expectations for this place, seemingly tucked away behind some souvenir shops in the Kea Farm area. But I was pleasantly surprised - it was beautiful. A floral oasis, we weaved through the little pathways for twenty minutes or so...
...before coming across some interesting figurines and a fun slide!
We were starving by the time we reached the Strawberry Farm, our next stop. The crop was slightly underwhelming, so we opted away from picking our own and plonked ourselves down in the cafe area to gorge on strawberry milkshakes and a punnet's worth of chocolate covered strawberries, of course!
As we began to head back towards Tanah Rata, our final stop was the Sam Poh Buddhist Temple near Brinchang. Built in the 1970's, it is a beautiful temple with a modern feel. I couldn't get enough of the tiles lining the interior, they were gorgeous!
2. Hiking to the World's Largest Flower, the Rafflesia
The Cameron Highland's is one of the few areas home the world's largest species of flower, so we couldn't miss the opportunity to see the great Rafflesia in bloom! Again we booked a tour through Father's Guesthouse, as seeing the Rafflesia is an activity that you cannot really do on your own - you'll need a guide to help you find it! Each flower is only in bloom for a single week before it dies, so depending on when you're there, there could be a multitude of different locations where you'll trek through the jungle for your chance to snap a photo of this magnificent bloom.
We trekked for about 2 hours into the bush to see the Rafflesia, crossing three streams and fighting lots of mud and a few leeches. You'll want to cover up with layers and insect repellent, and not mind getting muddy for this one!
The rafflesia was a pretty spectacular and special sight to see. Perhaps our most active day of the lot, the trek was well worth it - this flower is HUGE! This tour cost us 60 ringgit each (about NZ$24).
3. Walks and Waterfalls
The Cameron Highlands has plenty of hiking trails dotted around, each numbered and fairly easily signposted. Trail no. 9 is near Tanah Rata so we spent a morning walking the trail and visiting the Robinson Waterfalls. The scenery was lush, in some parts it felt strangely similar to bushwalking back home in New Zealand!
4. Tea and Scones
The English influence in the Cameron Highlands extends further than the architectural style. As it is grown in the region, hot cups of tea are plentiful - and at their most delicious when accompanied by a warm scone. Tea and scones? Yes, please!
Perhaps the most well-known cafe in the Tanah Rata is Lord's Cafe, and while their baked goods weren't the best I'd ever had, they were certainly tasty enough to warrant going back three times! Lord's Cafe is located above the Marrybrown's on Tanah Rata's main street.
We also enjoyed the baking, milkshakes and giant wholemeal sandwiches at Lillian's Collections & Cafe in the Royal Lily area. A 15 or so minute walk from Tanah Rata main street, Royal Lily is essentially a suburb of Tanah Rata that could be easily missed - but is absolutely worth the stroll! The popular Uncle Chow's Kopitiam is there too, though unfortunately it was closed when we tried to go.
My tastebuds appreciated the multitude of baked goods I savoured over the next eight days, despite being served with some awfully fake cream (because lets be honest, it still tastes good).
5. Wander and relax
To quash any impression you have so far that our week in the Cameron Highlands was overly active and busy, we spent a LOT of time chilling out, relaxing and just wandering in general. Mornings were often spent reading in our room, window wide open, soaking up the sounds of nature while sipping cups of tea or coffee.
The small town feel, the comfortable climate and the (relative) peace and quiet made the perfect conditions for re-energising and re-inspiring - I found my travel groove once again and was excited about moving on to our next destination: the foodie's paradise of Penang!
Have you visited the Cameron Highlands? Is it somewhere you would like to visit?