We were collected from our hostel in a mini bus at 9:30 and taken to Penang’s Komtar bus station to change onto a coach. Not long after we got on this coach we pulled into another bus station and were instructed to change coach, again. Apparently Malaysia is like Thailand in that sense, there’s never too many vehicles used in one transfer. Once we were on the new rather spacious coach it was clear this would be it for the rest of the journey. I tipped my chair back, popped my head phones in and proceeded to sleep for almost the entire 5 hours of the journey.
The winding road up into the hills ended at our stop in Tanah Rata, a small town in the Cameron highlands. The streets reminded me of skiing towns, where resorts are found dotted at various heights along one, long, winding road. The town itself was small but well equipt for tourists, just as ski resorts are. There was plenty of restaurants, shops and accommodation all along his one street. We stayed at “Fathers Guesthouse”- recommended to us firstly by a roommate in Penang but it also appears in the Lonely Planet Guide (every travellers bible).
After we checked in and moved our luggage to the room it was already getting dark so we decided to stay in town and begin our exploring the next day. We ate dinner in one of the three Indian restaurants (there’s a theme to our cuisine choice…) and it was super yummy.
After buying mini mart breakfast we planned our day around a trek. The Cameron Highlands has about 12 mapped trails that are freely accessible to everyone. After reading many trip advisor reviews we decided to do Trail 10. After a VERY steep incline, Trail 10 leads you to an impressive view point. Although positioned right at the base of an electricity pylon, the view across the highlands was magnificent. We could see for miles across the rolling hills covered with a mixture of tea plantations and farms or thick jungle. We used the view point as a rest and snack spot. Most people who trek Trail 10 go down the same way as you go up. However, Louise and I are always up for a challenge so we wanted to continue and complete the rest of Trail 10. After some inconclusive searching, with the help of our trusty companion maps.me, we found the trail and began the decent. This section of the trail was far more doable, with a less steep gradient and more interesting surroundings. On the way down I appreciated the jungle I was emerged in as I had time to lift my head up and look around. The way up was too intense and difficult to have the same time to appreciate my environment.
We arrived back in the afternoon but didn’t want to risk being out when it got dark so we decided to call it a day after Trail 10. Plus we were pretty tired after the hours walking we’d done. Not only this but at about 6pm we experienced our first down pour of rain- a nice little taste of home, eh? In the evening we booked onto a half day tour for the following morning to see the tea plantations, the highest point, the mossy forest and the tea factory. We also made friends with one of our dorm mates who joined us for dinner after the rain had stopped… yes, at the Indian. After dinner we met the rest of the dorm and had a hilarious evening chatting and making jokes whilst all in our bunk beds. It reminded me of those primary school residential trips where the teachers would have to come in to shut everyone up when it was time to sleep. It always amazes me how within seconds of meeting people you can have learnt so much about them and be able to make jokes and laugh with them.
We woke up early for the tour and were collected from the hostel by our enthusiastic guide, Sataya, from tour company: “Eco Cameron”. He collected eight of us, all from “Fathers”. Two of the other girls on the tour were in our room so we had a fun day as a mini sub group of four. Our first stop was a tea plantation. The plantation belonged to “BOH” tea (Best Of Highlands), which was founded and still today ran by a Scottish family: The Russell’s. We were free to explore through the maze of tea plants. Sataya taught us all about the growing, harvesting and grading of tea. Usually the leaves are divided by size, and thus quality but in Malaysia there is not enough tea to have that luxury. This means that tea is mainly grown for quantity and less so for quality. For this reason 95% of their tea stays in Malaysia with the last 5% reaching only neighbouring countries. After Sataya had baffled us with tea facts e.g: green tea and black tea are grown from the same plant!!! I know, who knew! We were taken to the highest point in the Cameron Highlands: Gunung Brinchang. From this point there are only 100/365 days on which you’d have a clear view. We were very apprehensive because at altitude the air was filled with fog. Our guide told us to take our time, so we did, and after a patient 10 minutes the fog and mist began to clear to let pockets of green appear. We were all amazed and marvelled at the beauty of the rolling mountains. This put the view from Trail 10 to shame, although that was still very impressive. Next we were driven a short distance down the mountain to the “Mossy Forest”. This section of forest is so often immersed in dense fog that the air is always wet, creating the perfect environment for moss! It is estimated that this section of forest is 200,000,000 years old. As you can tell this part of the tour highly appealed to the geeky biologists in me and I absorbed every gram of information Sataya gave us. He pointed out various plants along the way including: those with extraordinary medicinal properties, giant carnivorous cup plants and even rare albino orchids for us to marvel over. The Mossy Forest is definitely the kind of place fairies live, and could easy be part of the set for a Harry Potter film (or eight). The walk through the Mossy Forest was short as most of the land was protected meaning tours are restricted to a small stretch along the roadside. Although, I’d have loved to explore more, I’m glad that such a unique environment is being protected.
To end our morning we were taken to the BOH tea factory where the leaves were manufactured and processed. Here we indulged in a cuppa and a slice of cake. This was a welcome break from the overly sugary drinks served almost everywhere else! Louise and I plus our two friends wanted to trek back to Tanah Rata in the afternoon so we’re dropped in a neighbouring town on the way back. Here we grabbed some lunch before beginning Trail 3 which lead to Trail 5. These hikes were a lot more interesting than Trail 10. The jungle was more varied plant wise plus we spotted tiny snakes and even an unidentified black, chicken type animal.
After our 2 hour trek back to Fathers we all crashed. Our evening was then spent playing cards and eating yet again more Indian food. These girls were a lot of fun but that would be our last evening with them as they were heading north next, to Penang.
Cameron Highlands was a very different and interesting break from the cities and beaches we had been to before. It was rainy and pretty cold in the evening but it’s nice to have a different environment for a few days! I loved how accessible all the trails were, giving you scope to explore vast areas of jungle and mountains at your own pace.