Cameron Highlands – Tea Country
On our way to the Cameron Highlands in the mountains of central Malaysia, we experienced our first breaths of cool air in some weeks. Everything was green and full of life as our bus wound its way slowly up and up, honking before the tight turns to warn oncoming traffic that we wouldn’t be slowing down. The weather was so beautiful with clouds drifting across the mountain tops. Our destination was Tanah Rata, the main town for adventures in the Cameron Highlands. We dropped our stuff at Kang Travellers Lodge, a simple guest house with cheap rooms and friendly staff. Rain clouds started to roll in but we were able to hike to a small waterfall before the downpour.
The main drag in town was very touristy but there were a few good Indian restaurants that were not expensive. After dinner we went home and realized there was a bar attached to our guesthouse– Jungle Bar. It was the first real bar we had been to in Malaysia. Many of the towns are very Islamic and there are not a lot of parties happening. Jungle Bar had a pool table and fireplace and a good collection of travelers to talk to. It was a great dive bar with a fun atmosphere and just what we needed after only talking to each other for the past week or so.
The next morning we got up early as we had scheduled one of the tours from an agency in town. All the companies sell pretty much the same thing for the same price and take you to different places around the area. I think it was 45 Ringgit per person ($10) and lasted most of the day. Our first stop was a butterfly sanctuary. The first room was full of Birdwings, the national butterfly of Malaysia, a big blue one that didn’t want to fly very much because of the lack of sunshine.
They also had many other insects and reptiles. My favorites were the stick insects and other bugs that blended in perfectly with the trees. It was a challenge to find each one. There were also toads that looked exactly like the leaves they were resting in. The flowers were amazing as well; we really enjoyed the place and would never have found it without being on the tour of the Cameron Highlands.
Our next stop was a tea plantation. We had never seen tea growing before so it was cool to learn about the process. Boh (“Best of Highlands”) Tea was still owned by the Scottish family who has owed it since the 1800s. Many workers were trimming the tops of the bushes with giant hedge saws that deposited the cuttings into large sacks. The leaves were then taken to be sorted and processed in different ways to make the different tea styles. They are still using the same labor contract that was created when the plantation opened, with workers working six days a week for very low wages. Most of the laborers were immigrants from Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Nepal. Most of the tea produced was consumed domestically, with some being exported but only to Indonesia and other nearby countries. The landscape was majestic and they had a nice tea shop and cafe to enjoy the view of the nearby hills.
There were six other people in our group and we ended up making friends with a British couple. They were on an indefinite trip as well so we shared stories of our adventures. After the tea plantation we got back into our Jeep and drove up a steep road. The vegetation got thicker and thicker and our driver stopped along the way to identify different plants and let us smell things like tiger balm, citronella, and eucalyptus. At the top of the hill was a path leading into the Mossy Forest. This area was under a misty cloud 95% of the year which created a very surreal environment where moss grows on everything and thousands of types of plants flourished. It reminded me of FernGully, a great movie from our childhood that was ripped off by stupid Avatar.
After the Mossy Forest we stopped at an organic strawberry farm where they sold everything from boxes of berries to berry coffees to berry shakes.
From there they left us at a hiking trail (Trail #3) that lead to another trail (Trail #5) which took us back into town. It was a cool 1.5 hour trek through the jungle and we had a lot of fun. Luckily we had our rain gear because it started coming down hard near the end.
We really enjoyed the Cameron Highlands. It was wonderful to escape the constant heat and humidity of the lower altitudes and we always enjoy some outdoor time. Stay tuned for some Island time off the eastern coast of Malaysia!