The next stop on our journey through Malaysia was in the Cameron Highlands. The bus journey from Melaka took around six hours, including a brief stopover in Kuala Lumpur. The final hour of this involved a steep climb along very narrow roads, and we were both feeling a little queasy by the time we eventually arrived.
With only two nights in the region, we decided to arrange a full day tour to take us around all of the main attractions. After looking through the various tours on offer, we decided to book the Experience Tour with Eco Cameron which cost RM90 (£17 each).
Our guide picked us up early the following morning in a well-worn Land Rover Defender, and after collecting one more guest we were ready to begin the tour.
The Highlands are named after the British explorer William Cameron who ‘discovered’ them in 1885. The area became of considerable interest to the British colonists once it became clear that the climate was perfect for growing tea, and it soon became the largest tea producing region in Malaysia.
Our first stop for the day was at the Sage Palas Estate, which is owned by BOH Tea, the country’s the largest and most popular tea brand. The plantation is located at an altitude of 1,500m, and it was a lovely cool morning with the thick clouds still to clear. After several days in stifling heat it was a nice change, and we could see why the area was so popular with colonists living in the country.
The vast 235 hectare plantation, is able to produce enough tea to make around 820,000 cups each year, with most of this consumed domestically.
Rachael enjoyed the opportunity to try her hand at tea-picking. However once our guide explained that workers on the plantation, usually Indian migrants, receive just RM0.35 (£0.01) per kilogram of tea picked, she seemed rather less keen!
Our next stop was at Gunung Brinchang, which is the highest point in the region at an altitude of around 2,000m. This required us to travel along a very uneven gravel track, and it became obvious why the Land Rover was required.
The cool and damp weather conditions of the summit make it a unique natural environment, and the area is known as the Mossy Forest due to the moss and ferns that thrive there.
Our guide was very knowledgeable about the plants that grow in the area, pointing out a number of colourful wild orchids as well as the carnivorous Pitcher plants. He also explained the medicinal uses of some of the plants, some of which are still commonly used today.
We paid an additional RM40 (£8) each to enter onto a wooden boardwalk that is situated at the summit. The boardwalk crosses between the states of Pahang and Perak, with signs showing which side each section is on. In the centre of the boardwalk is a wooden viewing platform, which can be reached by climbing several flights of stairs. The low clouds had cleared just in time and as we reached the top the views across the valley were stunning.
Our guide then took us back to the BOH tea plantation, where the visitor centre was now open. We were taken on a brief tour of the factory, although it was not in operation due to it being a public holiday. With some of the equipment clearly having seen better days, it looked more like museum than a working factory.
The tour concluded in the gift shop, where we sampled some delicious iced tea. Unfortunately we couldn’t purchase any, with our bags already full to the brim. We also didn’t have time to buy anything from the busy cafe, but we did manage to check out the amazing views over the plantation from the outdoor deck.
Next up was a visit to the Cameron Highlands Butterfly Farm. Although not somewhere we would usually have chosen to go to, we enjoyed our short walk around the farm. The beautiful butterflies seemed to be every colour imaginable, while some were huge and easily the size of a small bird.
We stopped for brief lunch of fried rice and noodles at Yao Yat in the town of Brinchang. This was followed by a visit to Raju’s Hill Strawberry Farm, where we had the chance to purchase some dessert. The Highlands are one of only three places in Malaysia that have a suitable climate for growing strawberries, and they are grown off the floor to prevent problems with weeds. We sampled some freshly picked fruit, before sharing a delicious strawberry sundae.
Just a short drive away we found a busy outdoor market. We wandered along the stalls, which all seemed to be selling the same items, before finally giving in to one of the tradesman and buying a box of dried strawberries.
This was followed by a visit to the Time Tunnel museum. We found it to be more of a random collection of memorabilia relating to the Highlands rather than a journey through time. However it was still interesting, especially the section on American millionaire Jim Thompson, who mysteriously went missing in the area while out for a morning walk in 1967.
The tour ended with a visit to the Buddhist Sam Poh temple, which is the largest in the region. It was nice to wander around the complex, but it was a little underwhelming in comparison to those we had seen in Bangkok just a few days earlier.
We had a great time on the tour, with it allowing us to easily see the regions most popular attractions in one day, something we would have struggled to do otherwise.
We finished the day back in Tanah Rata with a delicious curry from the small and hidden away Singh Chapati House. After sharing several vegetarian curries, we both agreed that it was probably the best food of the trip so far!