The tropical climate in Malaysia has given us grief since we first arrived. Whilst we have endeavoured to not let it slow us down, we’ve found that we have been seeking out the icy refuge of an air-conditioned shopping mall more often than any other trip so far! It’s one of the reasons we were so looking forward to our trip to the Cameron Highlands – where at an elevation of 1135 – 1829m above sea level – the temperature rarely rises above 25 degrees celsius!
We took the bus from Ipoh to the Cameron Highlands, a long and winding journey that lasted about two hours. It’s an incredibly scenic drive in – hills in every direction of all shapes and sizes, the tops of which disappear in the mist, with lush greenery covering everywhere you look.
Tanah Rata is the main town in the Highlands, and where all major buses arrive and depart from. After a few recent stays in accommodation that were nowhere near transport or a hub, we were stoked to discover our guesthouse was just a 100m stroll up a hill from the town of Tanah Rata, a perfect base to explore with gorgeous gardens and views to the hills.
The Cameron Highlands are a gourmet produce lover’s dream. Agriculture is the main use of the land in the Highlands, even more so than tea, which it is famous for. There are strawberry farms (where you can pick your own strawberries!), honey bee farms and vegetable farms. Other farms without edible goodness include butterfly farms, lavender farms and dozens of flower farms growing everything from roses to chrysanthemums. Spread out amongst the highlands, you can easy spend a day or more visiting (and eating!) your way through all these stops.
The Highlands have natural landscapes unlike anywhere else, which you can easy spend days exploring! From waterfalls to treks, there’s something for everyone.
I loved Robinson Waterfall, mainly for its ease of access! Unlike most other treks to waterfalls we’ve done, the trip to the falls was mostly flat, and was about an hour and a half round trip from the town of Tanah Rata. There are several levels to the falls, which you see more of the further down the trail you go. With a well defined path, it was so lovely to get out in what felt like the middle of nowhere once again and see some beautiful examples of untouched nature.
We didn’t even know the Mossy Forest existed until we read about it on another blog. Just down the path from Gunung Brichang (the highest peak in Malaysia accessible by car), the Mossy Forest is a reserve unlike anything else! The ground underfoot is mainly made up from tree roots, covered in leaves and mud and with a ‘springy’ feel. To explore, you will crawl through twisted trees and fallen branches, through muddy paths where EVERYTHING is covered in bright green, dewy moss – it was unbelievable. The gnarled trees, combined with the heavy layer of mist and fog gave the area such a magical feel – it was like the set of a fantasy film. I half expected to see little elves and fairies come out from hiding! I was quite disappointed that they didn’t, to be honest…
Tea Plantations: BOH Tea Centre, Sungei Palas Plantation, Bharat Tea
The tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands are without a doubt the most fascinating sight. Rolling hills with thousands of acres of neatly planted tea bushes, all at various stages of harvesting and featuring different shades of beautiful green are stupidly mesmerising to look at. It was one of the main reasons we visited the Highlands, so we made sure we spent a good portion of our time visiting them.
We hired a taxi for 100 RM for three hours (approx $30 AUD) and lucky for us, our taxi driver was THE best tour guide! He was a third-generation local of the Cameron Highlands, his grandfather arriving from India back in 1929 and one of the first workers at the first tea plantation in the area. We visited two plantations with our driver, learning all about the tea planting process. It was astounding to think that the tea is ready for harvesting every 20 days, though they do have machines these days to assist with the picking process.
Each plantation has it’s own factory where it processes its harvest. Depending on which one you visit, you can view the factory and it’s method of processing tea – some using modern systems, and others still using the old method of manually operated machines – some of which date back to the 1930’s! Once tea leaves are harvested, they are withered, rolled, fermented, dried and then sorted to become the tea leaves that we know and use today. One plantation alone grows, harvests and processes 4 million kilos of tea leaves a year – equating to over 1.5 million cups A DAY!
Of course you can’t visit any plantation without enjoying the fruits of its labour – that is, a cup of tea. They go really well with a scone with freshly produced strawberry jam as well (even if the cream is a little suss!). There’s not many of places in the world where you can enjoy a good cuppa whilst overlooking the plantation where it was grown!
We easy could have spent several more days in the region. With it’s cool climate, no shortage of places to visit and food to eat, it’s such a beautiful spot in Malaysia and our favourite so far.
Getting to the Cameron Highlands
You can reach Tanah Rata via bus from any major city in Malaysia. We travelled from Ipoh, a journey that took approximately two hours and was 20 RM per person. From the Cameron Highlands, you can travel onward to most locations also by bus. Make sure you double check if it’s a large ‘VIP’ bus – these are incredibly comfortable, spacious, and have wicked reclining seats!
- Where to stay
There are a number of townships throughout the Cameron Highlands, but Tanah Rata is the main hub for tourists and also where all buses arrive and depart from. The town itself isn’t too large, with a number of accommodation options surrounding it to suit every budget. We stayed at Dew Drop Inn, 100m up the road from where the bus arrives. It was a beautiful spot, with lovely gardens and views to the hills, and a spacious room. Our tip would be to get a room further away from the reception area if possible – it gets quite noisy at night.
- Getting around
Being very spread out and hilly, it’s fairly impossible to walk between sights. We initially wanted to hire a scooter and drive ourselves around – but couldn’t find anywhere to hire one! We then decided that the best way to get around for us was to hire a taxi for a set amount of time, as the roads can also be quite dangerous, with lots of blind corners and sharp bends if you chose to drive yourself.
There’s a transport hub with a number of taxi drivers in Tanah Rata. If you have in mind exactly where you want to go, you can negotiate a rate with a driver to take you from A to B to C. Whilst a sign displayed a set price of 75 RM for three hours, the drivers then said they wouldn’t take us to one of the spots we requested as that was ‘outside’ of the set price area – even though that wasn’t mentioned on the signage. We got around it by offering a little more if they took us exactly where we wanted, and we paid 100 RM for three hours of travel – and lucky for us we had such a wonderful, knowledgeable driver who was like a tour guide!
There are a large number of tour providers in town offering both half day and full day tours to a range of different sights in the Cameron Highlands area. The only destination we wanted to go to was the Mossy Forest – a destination that they offer tours for as it’s only accessible by 4WD. Unfortunately, the tours that had this as part of their itinerary also had a number of other stops that we didn’t care for, but there wasn’t an option to just do the forest so we had to go with a half day tour that also included Mt Brinchang, Sungei Palas Plantation and the Butterfly Farm. This is a common itinerary, which the going rate in town was 50 – 53 RM (approx $16 AUD) for a half day, which we didn’t mind paying.
We ended up booking with CS Tours in Tanah Rata, who actually had a promo rate of 42 RM per person for this tour, and was the cheapest we found. Unfortunately, because of the other stops on the tour and traffic, we only spent about 30 minutes in the Mossy Forest which was disappointing as this was the main thing we wanted to see.
We’d suggest hiring a 4WD and heading up there yourself, to explore at your own pace. The road is near impossible for a sedan type car or taxi.