After spending our first weeks in Malaysia on the islands of Langkawi and Penang, we made our way up into the Cameron Highlands, a series of hill stations spread across 712 square kilometers in the Northwest of Peninsular Melaysia. The Cameron Highlands are an attractive destination to international and Malaysian visitors alike, as its stunning peaks and valleys offer some of the best trekking in the country. Tours can take you deep into the hillside jungles in search of the rafflesia (the largest blooming plant), or to traditional Malay villages where you can see a display of poisonous blow-darts. As part of a tour, or on your own, you can trek to the top of the highest peak in the area (Mount Batu Brinchang) before descending into the beautiful rolling crops of the Boh’s Tea Plantation. Another draw to the area (especially for Malaysians) is that as the highest area in Malaysia, it offers a welcome reprieve from the typical 30 degree weather in the rest of the country. Day time temperatures rarely pass 25 degrees and can dip as low as 12 degrees in the night.
What’s in the Cameron Highlands?
There are 3 main townships in the Cameron Highlands, Ringlet, Brinchang, and Tanah Rata, which is where we stayed. The towns are relatively small, though built up enough to cater to the needs of the hoards of tourists who seem to outnumber the local residents. There are hawker food stalls and fruit markets for the budget conscious, 5 star hotels and golf courses for those who are not, and even a Starbucks in Tanah Rata to the delight of some and disdain of others. Beyond these distractions is a nice array of well priced Indian, Malay and Chinese dining, but not too much else for those looking for any sort of urban entertainment. But realistically, it’s what’s outside of the towns that gets people like us excited about the Cameron Highlands.
Trekking to the Rafflesia
Our first adventure took us on a trek to find the rafflesia. We booked the trek through our guesthouse which was part of a package that also included a visit to a local village and a poison blow-dart display. We set off at 8am from our guesthouse, picking up a range of other travelers until our group totaled 16 people spread across 2, 4×4 jeeps. After an hour of driving, we reached the starting point of our trek. We began by walking first along dirt roads, over streams, and then into the thick of the jungle, all while on an uphill trajectory. Arienne and I couldn’t help but be a little confused at the breakneck pace set by the local guide. As most of the younger group of travelers hustled to keep up with him, we decided to go at a leisurely pace in order to enjoy the scenery. After all, we paid for a nature trek, not a nature test of endurance.
After an hour of treking, the local guide brought us to a newly bloomed rafflesia. We each were given time to take photos of, and with, the enormous bloom. While the other travelers raced off with the local guide on the return trek, the other tour guides sat and told us more about the rafflesia, forestation in Malaysia, and how the government is trying to limit the destruction of primary (original) forests and ecosystems. It was nice to get a little more information about what we were seeing, than the simple grunts given by the local guide.
The Blow-dart Exhibit and Local Village
When we returned to the starting point of our trek, we made our way over to a small clearing where some villagers showed us how to use a poison blow-dart. It was amazing how accurate and fast the simple, though deadly, weapon was. We each got to try using the blow-dart, which actually was a lot easier than we had imagined. We then walked up the hill into the nearby village, but to be honest, it really wasn’t anything to write home about (and so I won’t), other than there wasn’t much to it. It seemed like it was simply added to the list of “things to do” to make the tour appear more abundant.
Trekking Mount Batu Brinchang
Instead of choosing the larger tour package that included also trekking Mount Batu Brinchang and visiting the Boh’s Tea Plantation, Arienne and I decided to do it by ourselves, which we set out for the very next day. To get to the Mount Batu Brinchang trek starting point, all we had to do was take a local bus from Tanah Rata to Brinchang, and get off where the bus driver indicated (be sure to tell the driver that you want to be dropped off where trek #1 starts). This trek was exceptionally more difficult than the first, as it involved essentially climbing through what felt like a perpetual jungle-gym, at a steep escalation for 90 minutes. At the top, Arienne and I were absolutely drenched in sweat, though pleased to find an observation tower that gave us a 360 degree view of the surrounding highlands. It was absolutely beautiful!
The Boh’s Tea Plantation
The long road down Mount Batu Brinchang would have taken us another hour, but fortunately a nice driver let us climb into the back of his pick-up, as he just so happened to be going to the Boh’s plantation that near the bottom of the mountain. As the car weaved its way down the mountain, Arienne and I were treated to some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve seen on our entire trip. The tea plantations of the Cameron Highland are vast, majestically rising and falling amongst the peaks and vales of the area. We simply could not believe that everything we were seeing was for tea! At the headquarters of the Boh’s Tea Plantation, we each enjoyed wonderful cups of fresh tea in the plantation cafe. It was a nice end to our time at Mount Batu Brinchang. As most tourists do, we hitchhiked our way back home: first to Brinchang, and then again to Tanah Rata. (Malaysians are the sweetest people we’ve met on this trip!)
In the end…
The rafflesia, trekking Mount Batu Brinchang, and visiting the Boh’s Tea plantation were the main reasons we came to the Cameron Highlands. We spent 3 days there and it was the perfect amount of time to accomplish the things on our list. If you are wanting to spend more time in the Cameron Highlands, there are even more things you can do, like: visiting one of the many strawberry farms, visiting the butterfly sanctuary, playing a round or two of golf at the Cameron Highland Golf Club, trek after trek after trek, and still more. It’s definitely worth considering a visit to the Cameron Highlands if you’re traveling or planning to travel to Malaysia.
What you need to know: Lows of 12 degrees at night can feel borderline frigid, so pack pants and long sleeves. Transport by minivan from Georgetown (Penang) to CH cost us 45 Ringgits per person (about $15 US/CAD) though we paid a premium because it was Chinese New Year. From CH to Kuala Lumpur cost us 35 Ringgits per person (about $11 US/CAD). Tour package #2 (1/2 day rafflesia, blow-dart exhibit and local village) cost us 60 Ringgits per person (about $20 US/CAD). If you are planning on treking, wear appropriate footwear, the grounds are rough and often muddy.