Cameron Highlands

This may sound sacriligious, but I’m going to skip KL entirely. It’s not that I don’t want to see it, it’s just that I’m not really in a big-city mode at the moment. Plus I fully intend to return to Malaysia with company in the future, so there’s no need to rush into it right now. I had planned to give it a token day or two, but not after I checked my flight details for Saturday morning. The airport is more than 70 kms from Kuala Lumpur and my flight is at 8am – I really don’t have any choice but to overnight near the airport unless I want to be waking at 4.30am (which I don’t).

And anyway, I’ve found a great hostel in the Cameron Highlands where I’ve spent a very relaxed couple of days. It’s only 200 metres from Tanah Rata town but is nice and quiet, and it has a wonderful covered terrace with fast wifi so I can read or do internet stuff as much as I want when the rain sets in. The best bit is the price: a private room with shared bathroom facilities costs just A$8 a day! And there’s a surprising lack of Australians and Kiwis here – in fact I haven’t seen or heard a single one since I came to Malaysia. I thought we were a plague upon every corner of this world…

The Cameron Highlands is definitely a place where you’d expect to see travellers of every hue, and it is clearly a backpacker-friendly town. There are numerous hostels and guesthouses, and cheap eats can be had all over the place. One of the greatest attractions is its climate: nestled 1300-1800 metres above sea level there is none of the humidity that dogs the lowlands, and there are plenty of walking trails through the forests surrounding Tanah Rata. For these reasons it’s been a holiday hotspot since it was first surveyed by William Cameron in 1885.

The bus ride here from Ipoh was spectacular, a very slow drive climbing steep mountain passes with sheer drops and jagged peaks at every turn. The climate makes this area perfect for growing fruit, vegetables and flowers, and once you hit the highlands proper you see that almost every inch of flat or near-flat land is given to horticulture. It’s the centre of Malaysian tea production too, and I’ve had the plan of visiting one of them for the past couple of days.

Unfortunately the weather has conspired against doing anything outdoors for almost the whole time I’ve been here… on the day that I arrived the weather was fine and I feared it might not last, so I tried to go on a four hour tour that included a tea plantation, forest walk and a trip to the top of the highest mountain in the area. However there were not enough takers, and I crossed my fingers that in the following couple of days I’d get to try again. Nope. Yesterday was raining heavily most of the day, so apart from venturing out for lunch and dinner the whole day was spent at the hostel.

Today I resolved to go bushwalking come what may, and though it’s still very overcast it wasn’t raining when I set off. However the paths are damp and poorly maintained (and washed away completely in parts), quite slippery too and there are almost no signs to mark the way. And that’s just the shortest and easiest track close to town… I persevered for an hour but it was un-fun and sometimes dangerous, so I got back on the road at the earliest opportunity and continued walking to the next town of Brinchang. Sadly it’s a charmless place dominated by ugly large hotels and even uglier smaller ones. My plan was to keep on walking to the main tea estate, but the traffic on the road was heavy and the fumes annoying. In the end I said “bugger it” and caught a taxi back to the hostel. There I met a Dutch woman who was also fed up with the weather and was in fact taking a bus to KL that afternoon. Apart from bushwalking there is nothing else to do in Tanah Rata except eat, read or sleep – even the only pub in town has been a dud this week.

That said I’ve enjoyed the relaxation time as it’s allowed me to read, do lots of internet catch-up and simply master the art of doing nothing, all for very little money. I’ve found an excellent Chinese restaurant nearby that serves high quality and interesting food (eg. deer cooked with spring onions and ginger, or ostrich in black pepper sauce) for about A$9 a meal including a beer – that’s actually quite expensive in local terms but I think it’s one of the best places around to eat. And the hostel is very quiet which has suited my mood ‘til now. But even I’m getting a bit antsy, and I’m glad that I’ll be off tomorrow to the airport and in Laos by lunch on Saturday 😀

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