The Cameron Highlands

All this for a cup of tea! After a very brief stopover in a (very hot) Ipoh for a fix of their famous Dim Sum and Chicken and Beansprouts in the 35c heat, we jumped on the bus up to the cool of the Cameron highlands. Unfortunately we had chosen the height of the school holidays to visit so hotel rooms were both hard to find and expensive.

Our two hour bus journey took closer to three, due mainly to the horrendous traffic in and around the town of Brinchang and our final  destination of Tanah Rata, the main town in the highlands. First impressions were not good. If ever a beautifully scenic area was spoiled by over-development, this is it. Building is going on every square inch of available land. What is left, is being covered in poly-tunnels to grow the second most important crop of the highlands, strawberries. We are really quite glad that we settled for two rather than the four nights we originally planned.

As we  have just one full day here to make the most of our time, unusually for us, we book one of the many tours available for the following day. The tour will take in Mount Batu Brinchang, the “Mossy Forest” and a tea plantation.

We asked the receptionist at our guesthouse for recommendations on where to eat for dinner. Without hesitation she suggested Singh’s Chapati, warning us that we would have to wait for our food “but it’s worth it”. We head over to the restaurant crossing over the traffic choked Main Street and grab a table. The waitress brings us a refreshingly short menu offering a choice half a dozen each chicken, mutton ( goat) or vegetable curries plus a wide range of the eponymous chapatis. The waitress tells us we will have to wait for our food “but it’s worth it” Hmmm! Seem to have heard that somewhere before! We choose two chicken curries, one masala and one with cheese, a dahl, two garlic chapatis and one stuffed with egg. Quite the best Indian meal we have eaten during our two months Malaysia. All freshly cooked, home style food rather than the standard buffet fare found in so many places and at much the same price. We return the following night it was that good. Something we rarely do.

Early the following morning we and six others are collected from the guesthouse by Land Rover for our trip into the highlands. Once we escape the traffic of the town we hit the narrow winding roads of the highlands. Everyone is hanging on to their seats as the guide slings the suspension challenged Land Rover around the tight bends, frequently slamming on the brakes every time we round a bend to find another vehicle coming the other way or the one in front jamming on their brake (about every 30 seconds).

Mount Batu Brinchang

The view from the top
The view from the top

The traffic is horrendous and it takes us quite awhile to get out of the town and through Brinchang to our first destination of Mount Batu Brinchang at 2032m above sea level, the second highest peak in peninsula Malaysia and, according to our guide, the best view in the whole of South East Asia ( well hardly, but nothing wrong with pride in your country!)

We reach our the peak in time for some clear weather. Apparently we are in luck as the top of the mountain is more often than not shrouded in low cloud. We exit the car and then climb the rickety iron tower to the viewing platform. More traffic! Lots of people are there before us and a “people jam” ensues as polite people wait for each other rather than try to cross on the narrow stairs. After a bit of gentle encouragement and some impromptu traffic direction (as in “if you stand there dear, we will be here all day!!!) we eventually reach the top and are rewarded with clear views over the mountains and tea plantations below. Somewhat relieved that the rickety iron tower hasn’t collapsed we descend and move on to our next stop…

The Mossy Forest

According to our guide, this is the most accessible cloud forest in the world. Here our guide is replaced by another from the same company. This guy is a committed ecologist and has helped write books on the cloud forest and its avian inhabitants. He is also a gifted comedian who had a lot of tales to tell of other tourists he had encountered over the years. He could probably do the same routine in a comedy club in London or New York to standing ovation!  Not normally a fan of tour guides but this guy was an exception.

The Mossy Forest was stunning,  but so very, very small! It covered an area only a few metres wide either side of a ridge. Our walk there only took around 30-40 mins. Trees draped in moss (naturally) loads of pitcher plants and orchids. So sad that the surrounding development and its need for water has reduced such amazing flora to such a small area. Walking through this area is a little like being in location for Lord of the Rings; it is like walking on pillows as the moss is metres thick in place.

Tea, tea all around

I love tea and drink gallons of the stuff, so I was looking forward to our next stop, the Boh tea plantation and factory.  Still a working tea plantation but very much marketed as a tourist attraction. The plantation stretches for some 800 hectares sadly the stunning vistas are punctuated by the blots on the landscape which are the poly-tunnels (mostly growing pretty tasteless strawberries). So profitable is this crop that they are still turning over more land in the highlands to their production.

Despite this, the tea bushes stretching like a green carpet across the rolling hills makes for impressive views. The factory wasn’t that interesting really but we did watch an good documentary film on the history of the plantation. After having to  wait around for half an hour for two of our number who had gone awol ( the manners of some people!) , we head back to Tanah Rata. By now it is Friday afternoon and the traffic has increased exponentially as the hordes of weekenders arrive in their 4x4s. The place is completely gridlocked.

So glad we didn’t manage to get those rooms for the next two nights!

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