If you love nature (I mean let’s be honest who doesn’t), then this post is definitely for you. There are many destinations on earth which are famous for its natural wonders – the Table Mountain in South Africa, Victoria Falls in Zambia/Zimbabwe, the Fjords of Norway, Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, Highlands and Lochs of Scotland…you name it. And while Malaysia has lots of beautiful places too, there is one place which looks absolutely heavenly, but unfortunately isn’t as well-known as those places I just mentioned as examples. The name of this place? Cameron Highlands.
I have heard about Cameron Highlands when I was little, because one of my uncles lived in Malaysia before. But it wasn’t until a few years back when I first got to see pictures of the place on the internet. Plus after getting Instagram for myself last year, I got to see even more beautiful photos of this wonderful place! So when I was planning my trip to Malaysia several months back, I made sure to include one day for a trip to the Cameron Highlands. But first, I think a little ‘introduction’ is needed.
Cameron Highlands is Malaysia’s most extensive Hill Station, which is about the size of Singapore and located around 200 km north of Kuala Lumpur. The mountains are between 1100 to 1600 meters high and this region is known for its tea gardens. But apart from the nature, what makes Cameron Highlands special is the weather. While most of Malaysia experiences a hot and humid 30º-40º C weather, this part of the country is significantly cooler, with average temperatures around 18º-20º C only! Apparently during the night, it can get even lower than 10º C.
The Highlands offer not only tea plantations and cool weather, but also farmlands, waterfalls, lush forests, wildlife, river, and lakes. Over 40,000 people live in this area, many of whom are the usual multicultural and multiethnic Malaysian population; but it is also home to several thousands of ‘native’ or indigenous (aboriginal) people – locally known as ‘Orang Asli’ – which literally translates to ‘original people’.
I think that’s enough with the introduction for now 😉 but I was stuck with a question – how do I get there? Public transportation was definitely not an option for obvious reasons. There are long-distance buses which go there, but it’s not practical when you want to stop at different places to visit and/or photograph. So I started googling for ‘Day Tours to Cameron Highlands’. Thankfully a lot of websites and offers showed up, but here’s the thing – most of them don’t offer tours for single person in a group tour. It has to be either two persons or more booking the tour, or a ‘private tour’ if you’re all by yourself, which can be bit more expensive!
But in the end, I found a tour company which seemed to offer bookings for one person. Although the price was higher than more people, it was still a cheaper option than most other tour operators. For 650 Ringgit (approx. € 130), I booked a ‘one person’ day trip through MM Adventure Travel & Discovery. During booking, you just have to pay 100 Ringgit deposit via Paypal or credit card to secure your booking. The rest of the amount you can pay directly to your tour guide/driver in cash on the day of the tour.
The price of the tour includes pick-up and drop-off service from/to your accommodation, and of course, you will be traveling in an air-conditioned minivan/car and the drivers are also the tour guides, who generally speak excellent English. They provide you with water bottles too. Entrance fees (if any) as well as lunch is also included the price. If you want to buy anything for your own personal use, including alcoholic drinks, or if you want to go somewhere or do something which is not included in the itinerary, then you have to pay for that yourself. But what are the highlights of this tour? I won’t list that here. Instead, let’s have a look at how my tour was (which of course includes the highlights).
2nd March 2017
The confirmation email of my tour said to be ready by 7:00 AM. I was all ready and waiting at the reception on time while most of the hostel was still deep asleep. Finally when the driver/tour guide came on to the hostel entrance at 7:25 AM, it became apparent to me that I actually booked a ‘private tour’ without realizing it. I was expecting some more people or groups (like I had the one in Cape Town last year) but when I noticed that empty Hyundai minivan, my guide told me that I was the only one! I felt like a VIP…
We set off and got acquainted. For the love of God, I can’t remember his name anymore 🙁 but he was a Malaysian of Tamil (South Indian) descend. He told me about our plan for the daytrip and I was already very excited to see some beautiful Malaysian nature. We had to drive about 260 km – 200 km through Malaysian highway, and then another 60 km through the hills inside the Cameron Highlands region.
We drove on and talked about many different topics. My guide was really a great guy, had good humor, and was very friendly. Time to time, there were some great views of hilly and green Malaysian landscape on both sides of the highway. It was not to be missed, so I had to roll down the window and capture some shots 😉 Before we took the exit towards Cameron Highlands, we stopped for a short break at a gas station/rest area.
After taking the exit to Cameron Highlands, we soon stopped at our first item on the itinerary. It was around 10 AM by now – so it took about 2.5 hrs drive to reach at the Cameron Highlands region, but there is still another 50-60 km drive to go through the highland areas. Our first stop was at a traditional handicraft factory, where they make baskets out of bamboo. My guide did explain me the process they go through to make bamboo baskets which seemed complicated for me and hence can’t remember it anymore. But unfortunately this trade is on the verge of extinction.
We then continued towards the hilly and windy roads of Cameron Highlands to our next stop – Lata Iskandar Waterfall. I was really looking forward to seeing a waterfall after ages and although it wasn’t that special of a fall like many others in this part of the world, it did add to the experience and to my photos.
After the brief stop as we continued, it suddenly became apparent for my tummy that we were moving through some serious winding and twisting roads every second because I started to get motion sickness. I’m someone who never (thank God) gets motion sickness but this road through the hills had way too many sharp bends every now and then, and it doesn’t help when your guide is taking fast and sharp turns which adds more to the sickness issue. Fortunately he noticed that I was feeling uncomfortable, and mentioned that this happens to almost everyone who goes on a tour in this area. “When you’re not used to such roads, your stomach has a hard time adapting to it” – he adds. I did my best not to throw up and patiently waited for our next stop…
I was so happy to get out of the car after another 15-20 min or so. We have arrived at our first tea plantation hills known as ‘Bharat Tea Plantation’. I needed to get some fresh air so this was the perfect opportunity to walk around and admire the beautiful scenery of the tea gardens. There is also a tea stall where you can sit and sip a cup of locally produced tea while enjoying the amazing views. I didn’t dare to eat or drink anything, in case I threw up later… But I did get some cool shots of the place!
After a while it was time to get in the car again. More winding and bending road lies ahead of us but I tried to stay strong ;-). By the time we stopped at a ‘Rose Garden’, I almost felt like throwing up, but didn’t happen. Btw the garden a variety of different beautiful roses! We then headed for a strawberry farm (Cameron Highlands is actually full of strawberry farms) which was a short drive from the rose farm. In most of these strawberry farms, it’s possible to pick your own fresh strawberries and taste their deliciousness! My guide bought like four packs of them, and I ate some of them to check if it helps with my stomach. And guess what?! It did help somewhat! It was almost time for our lunch break, but I kept munching strawberries as we headed for lunch at the local town of Tanah Rata. I definitely needed to eat and have a long pause at this point.
We had lunch at Sri Brinchang Restaurant, which specializes mostly in South Indian/Tamil food – native to my guide. The lunch was served on banana leaf and it was rather delicious! I felt much better after lunch but the thought of the same winding road to return back to ‘civilization’ made me just hope and pray that I don’t throw out my just eaten lunch somewhere on these hills 😛
Luckily though, we had only one last and final stop to make – and a very important one. But before that, I want to mention something here before I forget. The use of the word ‘civilization’ reminded me of something. Along this difficult stretch of hilly road, I noticed a lot of native/indigenous people which I mentioned earlier on this entry (Orang Asli). They seem to live a nomadic life among these hills with many stray dogs and other animals and probably have almost no idea about the world. According to my guide, the government did offer them rehabilitation programs, but many of them seem to be happy living their lives on these remote areas. Really makes you think how well you’re off…
Moving on. Our final stop was at a second tea estate – Boh Tea Plantations and Factory. This is the largest tea plantation in Malaysia and therefore, a very important location to visit on Cameron Highlands. After parking the car at the entrance, my guide and I hiked uphill for several minutes until we were on top of a hill, from where you can enjoy some heavenly natural views of the surrounding hills and plantations – yep, even better viewpoint than the first tea plantation stop!
If you’re visiting there, please do hike up and see the views for yourself. After indulging myself of the views under rain shower and photoshoots, I went back down to tour the tea factory. The tour is given for free every half an hour, where a kind lady explains about how the tea is processed and packaged. The tour itself doesn’t last more than 10 or 15 min.
My day trip was coming to an end. It was around 4 PM, which means we should be able to reach Kuala Lumpur by 6:30 PM. Unfortunately once again on the way back, I got motion sickness and was once again on the verge of throwing up. I requested the driver to drive slower and take the turns smoothly and he thankfully complied. I leaned back my seat and decided to ‘lie down’ and close my eyes to get rid of the stomach sensation. My the time I opened my eyes again and straightened up, we were almost at the end of this twisty road and it started to rain cats and dogs! By 4:30 PM, we were once again on the highway and shit…stuck in a traffic in this pouring rain. It took about half an hour until we could finally drive straight ahead at a speed. It continued raining heavy all the way back to Kuala Lumpur. And it was evening rush hour in the city, so we were stuck once again in traffic. By the time I reached my hostel, it was 7:30 PM – which is actually true when you compare with the day tour’s itinerary of the trip lasting 12 hours haha..
In the end, it was totally worth the trip! I got to see and experience some wonderful natural views of Malaysia and could finally cross off an item on my ‘checklist’. The only downside of this journey was the motion sickness. So if anyone plans to visit there, please do take some motion sickness tablet with you! I also hope you won’t hesitate to book with MM Adventures if you plan to visit Cameron Highlands for a day – it’s really a must-have experience and they care about every needs and details of your trip. And the good news? I didn’t throw up at all in the end! 😉