Cooling Off in Cameron Highlands

Since we started our travels, we made many “friends” along the way and some of them we ran into on different parts of our journey. Lonely Planet might call it the “backpacker trail”, others might call it luck or perhaps there is only so many tourist attractions in each city and place you visit on these routes. One place in particular that was not on our agenda but that we kept hearing about was Cameron Highlands, for its cool air (Camron Highlands is traditionally 5 – ten degrees cooler than the towns below it) and its breathtaking tea plantations. We debated on whether it was worth the detour on our way to Penang and finally decided that it must live up to the hype if so many people had recommended it. 

We boarded an express bus to Cameron Highlands after another confusing trip through the bus station to print our tickets. The buses throughout Malaysia are very clean and comfy. Almost every bus we have experienced in South East Asia so far are express buses that end up stopping at random little places along the way. Some pick up and drop off packages (we are convinced there is some sort of underground drug transportation going on but most likely it is just a cheaper way to send mail, maybe??? We still think there is a good chance of the busses doubling as drug mules) and others pick up and drop off people, all in very random locations and all without much communication from the driver or the person who is being dropped off. There seems to be an unspoken code for these pick up and drop offs. For example, on our way to Cameron Highlands, we kept hearing a squawking noice coming from a box sitting next to the driver, we pulled off in the middle of the highway and a man on a scooter pulled up at the same time and the box was handed off. Another example was a man who boarded the same bus and exited in the middle of no where along the road and got into a parked car. 

The drive to Cameron Highlands took us through windy roads and zig-zagging through rainforest vegetation. Every time that bus went around a turn, it would honk to let other cars know that it was coming. At one time the bus made a wide turn to avoid an overturned truck that had slipped down the mountain and landed on on its side. The passengers in the truck looked bewildered but ok. The moment we pulled into Cameron Highlands, it began raining, no pouring with rain. Thankfully our hotel (we thought we were being fancy but it ended up being the worst place we stayed so far) was a short walk and we were prepared for rain. We arrived at Camlodge (we don’t recommend it) dry from the waist up and drenched from the waste down. 

After settling into our also damp room, we consulted LP for a place to eat, banana leaf Indian place it was! Turns out that most places serve banana leaf Indian food. We ordered a banana leaf with chicken tandoori, a garlic naan and our soon to be favorite new Indian food, a thosai (huge Indian pancake) with daal and other Indian dipping sauces.

The next morning we woke up to damp sheets, not because either one of us had wet the bed but because of rain and moisture in the room. As we were getting ready for our big adventure Ross noticed that Nat’s lovely lady humps had many lumps (not of the lovely lady lump varietal either). Covering Nat’s bum were clusters of big mosquito bites. The following night we Googled the symptoms for bed bugs, Zika and Dengue and scared ourselves about all of the ailments we could possibly get from the small critters.

The next morning we set out on our first organized tour, an all day adventure tour to see Cameron Highland’s most famous tourist attractions (all of which were very far apart from one another, hence the tour) – a tea plantation, the Mossy Forest, a Chinese Buddhist temple, a butterfly farm, cactus village and perhaps ‘the most exciting’, The Time Tunnel. We climbed into a Land Rover that looked like it was directly out of Jurassic Park. Our guide, nicknamed Money, lived in Cameron Highlands his entire life – an ideal guide for our visit. Joining us on the tour was a couple from Spain and a group of four (two couples) from Prague. The most breathtaking part of the tour was the panoramic landscape of the tea fields. Tea plants grow in funny looking small bumps and lumps, and when scattered across the hilltops they resemble a patchwork quilt with bunched up sheets or pillows hiding beneath them. Each time we would drive to another look out, it was more beautiful than the next, forcing us to take more pictures. 

The Mossy Forest was a trek in itself. We got dropped off at the bottom of a 1km flight of stairs and made our way up. After the stairs the road turned into a muddy path. From there we climbed over roots, under branches and through puddles of mud. When we reached the top we were greeted with a spectacular view of the rainforest treetops. On the way down we met a South African man who looked to be about 50 with his mom, 84 who he claimed was much fitter than him. He wasn’t’ wrong – she practically galloped down the hill, leaving her son in the dust. Towards the end of the hike we heard noises that sounded like a swarm of bees, some small girls pointed towards a hive. When we came closer we realized hat it was not a hive but a drone, oh technology.

Next we made our way to the butterfly farm, one of the top tours on the ‘must see’ spots in Cameron Highland’s list. The farm also housed many “rare animals” like the hamster, guinea pig and duck. We were both a bit saddened that our money when to this farm but hopefully money goes back to the animals housed there. Our next stop on the tour was one of the true highlights of the tour, a strawberry farm. Cameron Highlands is known not only for its tea but also for its strawberries. Scattered throughout the town are giant strawberry sculptures, strawberry shorts, strawberry hats, strawberry pillows (amongst Pikachu pillows) and other strawberry paraphernalia. Our group was let loose to pick any strawberry we wanted in a vertical farm of hydroponic strawberries. The strawberries were terraced up a steep set of stairs and we thought that the best berries had to be at the top. Singing Strawberry Fields by The Beatles, we made our way to the top. Sure enough, supple beautiful plump berries awaited our arrival. Since we had already almost exceeded our budget for the day, we picked around 15 strawberries and saved them for dinner.  

Last but by no means least was the Time Tunnel, a makeshift museum full of “artifacts” from the past. The first half of the Time Tunnel was made up of a collection of donated photographs of Cameron Highlands through the years, which was interesting for anyone who did not know the history of the region. The deeper we traveled through the time tunnel the weirder it got. Soon the museum parts of venue morphed into stories of people who had gone missing in Cameron Highlands and then further more down the Tunnel, there were full rooms set up as if ghosts might still be haunting their former abodes. All in all the Tunnel was very odd but it seemed to be adored by the locals so we accepted its weird charm and thanked our guide for showing us around the city. The next night, Natalie woke up with more bites, despite sleeping in pants and a long sleeve t-shirt. We bid goodbye to Cameron Highlands covered in Cortisone and ready armed with Oreos and iced lattes for our bus journey to Penang. 

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