Cameron Highlands is like falling down a magical rabbit hole into the world of Alice in Wonderland in which your days are spent sipping tea, trekking through the magical Mossy Forest, Tea Plantations, and gorging on scones with strawberry jam (with more tea), and surrounding yourself with butterflies and gorgeously stunning flowers. As tea is one of my favorite things on this planet, and Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite books, Cameron Highlands was quite a delight.
Day 1: consisted of a 4 hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur to Cameron Highlands, after which I checked into my hostel, had a look around town and decided to trek it down to a tea plantation for afternoon tea. I had to walk along the highway, but it was covered in wild orchids and dogs, so I didn’t much mind. The Bharat Tea Plantation was absolutely stunning, with a gift shop and restaurant overlooking the plantation, and a trail leading down to the fields to walk about in the tea plants. After an hour walk through the tea plants, it was time for tea! A lemon scone, with my first good Black Tea of this trip, served up properly without anyone scoffing at me for asking for milk and sugar. In fact, most of the plantations in Malaysia were founded by either Englishman or Scottish, and so Malaysians actually prefer their tea with milk and sugar. It started raining shortly after I had headed up for tea, and it was the perfect weather to cozy up with my current book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and have not one, but two pots of tea.
A 5km walk back uphill to the town of Tanah Rata, and I was just in time for the start of the Ramadan Market, and some amazing Chicken Satay and dishes served up for takeout at ridiculously great prices. Spent the evening doing some super boring adult bill paying and planning, and then was off to bed for an early morning tour for Day 2.
Day 2: I wasn’t given much of an option for an outing for Day 2, and got stuck signing up for a tour. It was one of the best tours I have been on this entire trip, the guide was absolutely amazing! There have been several robberies and attacks while on the hiking trails in the Cameron Highlands this summer, and so visitors, especially women, were advised to take a tour or go out in large groups. I tried to rent a motorbike, but wasn’t able to rent one, and thus reluctantly signed up for the trip with a few of the girls in my hostel. Our guide picked us up at 8:15 in a Jeepney and immediately started cracking jokes and was warm and inviting, after picking up another group of 4 girls from Denmark, we were off to our first stop: the BOH Tea Plantation!
Our group consisted of 8 girls: 1 English, 1 German, 1 Canadian, 4 Denmark(ians?), and this super amazing American, and 1 very lucky guy from South Korea who got to spend all day with a bunch of blondes in the back of a jeep. The BOH Tea Plantation welcomed us in for a quick factory tour in which we learned about the growing, picking, oxidation/fermentation, and packaging processes. Followed up with a few cups of tea and some pastries, and then a drive with our guide back down to a small outlet where he pulled over and then personally gave us a a guide to tea. Our guide was 3rd Generation of Indian tea growing family, and was a botanist and nature guide for many years, having answers to all of my one thousand questions I asked.
The original tea plantation workers came over from Indian, attributing to the large population of Indians now in Malaysia. They sold their homes and moved their families, only to realize that the Cameron Highlands are very cold compared to the temperatures they were acclimated to back home (the reasons many Malaysians wouldn’t move up the mountain) they were constantly falling ill from malaria, and had a hard adjustment to the new region and lifestyle. Originally coffee, tea, and various spices were planted, but tea was the only main crop that could survive in the weather conditions. Shortly after the expansion of new crops and companies in the region, strawberries also became an easy to grow crop.
He showed us side by side the different leaves of Coffee and Tea plants, showed us how to hand roll the tea, and explained the differences in the fermentation processes for Black, Green, and White Tea. Really really cool stuff, and then we headed off to the Mossy Forest.
The Mossy Forest is one of the major attractions that draws people to the Cameron Highlands. The Mossy Forest is in the region known as Gunung Brinchang, and can only be found in select high elevation mountain areas of Malaysia where the clouds are low and the elevation high making the perfect biotope for mosses, ferns, lichens, and orchids to grow. There are a large number of rare plant types that can only be found in these special regions that have been poached for high market prices, making this a protected area by the Malaysian government. Several years ago in an effort to protect the plants and Malaysia’s ecosystem, the government made it illegal to trek through the mossy forest, except on one stretch of path elevated on wooden planks. Luckily for us our guide has been giving tours for nearly 30 years, knows some back paths, and was able to take us behind a “no trespassing” fence to one of the old abandoned trails. We ended up also going to the planked trail after our Mossy Forest trek, but it doesn’t even deserve mentioning compared to the amazing hour we spent on our tour with our guide in the real forest.
THE MOSSY FOREST (illegally accessed) is AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!! We were showed wild cinnamon trees, and ferns, orchids, amazing moss varietals, pitcher plants (flowers with lids), and the entire forest looks like something from a fairy tale, untouched for hundreds of years. We climbed up and down and around trees that were over a thousand years old, hiking up to a peak overlooking the clouded valley below. After sneaking back out of the forest and tour our Jeepney we headed off to a strawberry farm and I got to pick my own strawberries which I’m eating now as I write this!
There are so many strawberry farms up in the Cameron Highlands, but interestingly enough, none of the strawberries ever make it down the hill even into Kuala Lumpur, they are all sold to tourists, hotels, or used for preserves in the region. After the strawberry farm I ditched the tour to go off on my own to a Butterfly Farm that I’d spotted on the drive. Let me just tell you that I basically was skipping through this flower and butterfly farm like I was in my own Belinda Carlisle Heaven on Earth video. I mean.. slightly more sweaty, but the humidity here in Asia is doing wonders for the whole 80’s hair vibe I’ve been rocking, and as I pranced through the flowers holding butterflies, it was pretty much amazingly perfect.
The Cameron Highlands have pretty much been everything I’d hoped for, and more then met my expectations, and I’m so so glad to have knocked this one off the bucket list. Headed to Melaka tomorrow on the recommendation of a few friends, and then off to Australia! Practicing my horrible Aussie accent as we speak!
Update: So I’ve been in Australia for quite a while now actually, but I’ve been having a really difficult time with uploading photos and the perils of a iPhone free existence, so I haven’t really shared much with you guys. But I should have some downtime soon and will try to do so. Missing everyone, and countdown of less then a month until I’m back in the U.S.A!