Kyle's Guide To Cameron Highlands
If you start researching where to go in Malaysia, there is no doubt you will quickly stumble across Cameron Highlands. Located in the highest part of the country, the luscious green tea plantations are a quick draw for loads of tourists from around the world. The pictures alone sold me and it was really the only thing I really wanted to do in Malaysia.
I originally was planning on doing a Friday-Monday visit, but I met a local in George Town who told me that it’s much better on the weekdays because it’s less crowded. That turned out to be great advice and I spent a few days in Ipoh before heading up the next Monday.
Finding a bus to Cameron Highlands is extremely easy, with buses leaving almost on an hourly basis from major cities in the country. For me the trip took 2 hours from Ipoh. The journey to/from Kuala Lumpur is between 3-6 hours depending on traffic and time of day.
Upon boarding, I quickly noticed all the seatback pockets had barf bags a sign this would be no easy trek. The bus climbed up mountainsides, weaving back and forth, making what seemed like 180 degree turns. Fortunately no one on my bus nor I had to use our barfbags, but my stomach certainly was churning. If you get carsick easily, you may have a problem. My best advice try to get a seat near the front of the bus and just focus on the horizon in front of you. I assure you, the trip here is worth it.
Understand that Cameron Highlands is actually the name of the region and isn’t an actual town. Most visitors will stay in the town of Tanah Rata since this is where the bus station is. This is a pretty centralized location considering you are literally in and on the mountain.
As I stepped off the bus, the first thing I noticed was how much cooler the air was up here. Temperatures were in the upper 60’s, which is something I have not been used to in Asia. It was a welcome changed. It was also raining, which I read would most likely happen.
When it comes to accommodations in Cameron Highlands, you have everything from budget hostels to luxurious resorts, and of course everything in between. Prices are going to be a little bit higher on average here than the rest of Malaysia because it is such a tourist destination. I needed up booking a room at Orchid Haven, just a 5 minute walk from pretty much everything in town, and 10 minutes to the outskirts. (Read my review here).
The Main Street is lined with restaurants and shops, which is great for meals and pretty much any necessities you would need. But while there is plenty to do in town, the big draws to this region are outside of the town and getting around can be a little tricky.
Honestly, I think having a car here would be the best option, but I found out it isn’t 100% necessary. There are conflicting reports from locals as to whether or not a local bus service exists. I never saw a local bus, but if it does exist I imagine it doesn’t run often. So without a car and possibly no bus, you are left with 2 (well maybe 3 or 4) options.
The first is walking. For me, this is always my preferred method of transportation. I think it’s the best way to see things. While there are a number of trails (which I’ll get to in a bit), hiking to the major tea gardens and other things to do here is really just not that realistic for most people.
The second option is taking a taxi. But as you can imagine, with limited options in transportation, this can actually be quite expensive. I was fortunate to meet a fellow traveler who wanted to go to one of the Tea Plantations about a 10 minute drive from Tanah Rata, so we were able to split the cost of 15 ringgit to the plantation. (That’s about $3). I know for most, it may not sound expensive, but it’s a bit much by Malaysia standards.
On the way back from the plantation there were no taxi’s to be found. We could have paid our driver to stay but said he would only wait for 30 minutes and we wanted more time than that. So we did what any stranded backpacker would do and we essentially hitchhiked. We didn’t stick our thumbs out though, there were plenty of people at the tea plantation with their own cars, so we staked up the parking lot until we saw someone getting in their car and asked for a ride. The couple from Germany were extremely happy and generous to say yes. And look I survived to tell the tale!
Everyone has a different reason for coming to Cameron Highlands, but I think the best way to see it and most affordable option to get around is to take one of the tours all the travel agencies sell. They last all day, go to several locations, and it cost between 25-120 ringgit, depending on which tour you take.
The tour me and two of my hostel-mates chose cost us 80 ringgit each and would go from about 8:45-5:00pm, an all day adventure. The transportation alone, I felt was worth it. Most tour companies use modified jeeps to get around. I will say it’s a bit adventurous. Ours did not have seat-belts and I noticed the control panel showing speed, gas levels, and RPM was broken.
After picking everyone up, our tour guide cut through the BOH Tea Plantation. It’s the most famous tea planation in the region. And to be honest, no words nor pictures from anyone will ever be able to do this place justice. But I suppose I must give it a shot. Think of endless rolling hills of greenery. A maze-like pattern seems to be etched into the hills outlining each of the tea plants. The view is absolutely breathtaking and something I hope everyone gets a chance to see in their lifetime.
Our tour guide explained the company owned 3 areas where they grew tea leaves, and the location we were at was the smallest. Hard to believe, being we couldn’t see the end of the property. We stopped for pictures and actually got to watch some of the workers cut the tea leaves off the plants. It looks like a tough and grueling job. Our guide told us they are paid a measly $7 USD daily (they use foreign workers who send that money back home to their families. The workers also have to cut a minimum of 120 kilos a day. Imagine having to pick up several hundred tiny leaves all day that at the end of the day weighed several hundred pounds.
The guide continued talking an gave a brief explanation of the tea growing process before we all hopped back into the jeep and headed up the mountain to the Mossy Forest. Like the name suggests, there is moss everywhere. It’s beautiful. There’s a nice pathway made out of wood that takes you to some excellent view points. I overheard another tour guide tell his group that the walk way was installed after some of the moss became damaged from people hiking on it all the time. We spent 40 minutes here, which for me was plenty of time. At the end of the wooden path there is a dirt trail, which you can explore if you have more time and are willing to get a little muddy. This really would only be possible if you had your own car.
When I time was up, we went back to the tea plantation to visit the factory and tearoom. Unfortunately, the factory wasn’t in operation the day I was here, but I was still able to walk around and see/read about all the machines and the process. BOH stands for Best of Highlands and their signature drink is black tea, so that’s exactly what I ordered in the tearoom. Little did I remember, it’s actually the same tea I had been drinking in my hostel. Delicious, but the views were even better.
After about an hour here, it was time to continue our tour through Cameron Highlands. And if I’m being completely honest, the rest of the tour was a little boring. We visited a butterfly farm, which was also essentially a petting zoo but with animals like raccoons and reptiles.
We also made a stop at a local strawberry farm, which honestly wasn’t that impressive (I should also note, I’m not a huge fan of strawberries). It was just white tents with rows of strawberry vines, but you could only walk through a very small section.
After that we stopped a bee farm, where we sampled some honey and walked through the bee garden, where yes there are busy bees flying around.
We did stop for lunch, although it took awhile to find somewhere to eat because the two restaurants our tour guide wanted to go to were closed.
As we continued the tour, a big reason my hostel-mate and I chose this tour was because one of them wanted to see Cactus Point. I’m not really sure why it’s so popular with tourists, I saw it listed on lots of brochures and advertisements around Cameron Highlands. But it’s simply a nursery for cactus. Think of walking into the flower section at Home Depot. Now maybe he had never seen a cactus before, but having lived in Arizona for several years, I have seen my fair share. But even if I hadn’t, I’m not sure I’d be impressed by this place.
We made three more stops which were a little more impressive. The first was the Time Tunnel. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this place based on it’s name. I thought it was going to be some touristy gimmicky type spot, but it wasn’t. It was a museum highlighting the history of the area. It’s one simple long wide hallway looking room. There were also a lot of antiques, none of which were historical, just there to represent “the time.” But overall I enjoyed this stop.
The last two stops included a Buddhist temple and a waterfall. At this point of the day, everyone was a little tired. The afternoon rains were starting. So we went through them fairly quickly.
Overall, the tour wasn’t bad. The tea plantation and the mossy forest for the highlights for me. The rest were all just kind of stops to waste the day.
If you have a chance, check out one of the trails. There are a number of them in the region and many of them connect with each other. Because it does rain often, bring a raincoat and shoes with good traction that you don’t mind getting muddy. I would suggest trying to find others to hike with just in case something were to happen.
I went on two hikes. The first on Trail 10. I did this hike alone and only passed 3 people the entire time. The hike for the most part is fairly easy, although a large section is very steep and it feels like you are doing more hiking than climbing. Most of the hike is in a wooded area until you reach the view point. Although, I can’t tell you what the view is like because all I saw was one big cloud! HAHA. It was still enjoyable.
I also went on hike with two people I met at the hostel. We set off on Trail 7, not far from downtown Tanah Rata. The trail starts of easy, walking through and next to some beautiful gardens before entering the forest. The trail for the most part is very clear, and wide. Again there are areas that do get steep. The view from the top was better, only because there was no cloud obstructing my view. The top of the trail connects to Trails 3 & 8. We decided to try a different way down and went with trail 8. It was a bad move. This by far was the steepest trail out of any I had hiked thus far. Not to mention there were parts of the trail that seemed to disappear as overgrowing plants covered them up. At one point we all felt lost and we weren’t even sure we were on the trail, but we also didn’t see any other options. Each of us ended up falling and sliding down the steep slippery trail and bled at some point during the hike. The bleeding came from some of the branches that had the tiniest but most powerful needles. They can do some serious damage if you aren’t careful. Up and down, up and down, we hiked for several hours trying to get off the mountain. In the end we somehow ended up on trail 9 which is next to a small but powerful waterfall. I would have been freaked out on this trail if I didn’t go hiking with them.
Overall, I had a great time and I’m always up for a little adventure.
I absolutely loved Cameron Highlands. It is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The scenery alone makes this trek worth it.