A dead man walking. I’m not talking about the depressing Sean Penn movie Dead Man Walking. I’m not even talking about Jim Thompson, the Thai silk industry guru who went missing while hiking in the area in 1967 (and is possibly still roaming the hills as a zombie). I’m talking about how I felt after the many walks I did in Cameron Highlands, an area far different than any other I’ve visited in Southeast Asia.
Cameron Highlands (unlike my jandals) is made for walking. Set in central Malaysia, it’s a great place to escape the heat of the rest of the country and get out into some crisp, clean nature. You can check out tea plantations, moss-filled forests and giant flowers, or just pick a path and start walking into the wilderness, just try not to get bitten by a snake or sliced up by a madman (more on that later).
Things to do in Cameron Highlands:
See a rafflesia
Would you trek through the hot, wet Malaysian Jungle just to see one big flower? I’m not even a big fan of flowers, but seeing the biggest “anything” in the world is always exciting. I’d probably trek for a few hours to see the biggest pumpkin in the world, and I hate pumpkins. The only way (unless you are an expert flower tracker) to see these giants is to join a tour. It’s what I imagine a tiger tracking trip to be like; guides discuss amongst themselves where the flowers were last spotted and where they are likely to be, and off you go on a hunt. These things are rare, and the actual flower only has a lifespan of around a week. This tour actually takes you out of the highlands and down into some lower ground, so it gets pretty hot. The jandles I was wearing held up well until we started crossing rivers; wet jandles aren’t made for jungle walking. The rafflesia is pretty impressive to see in person and it’s definitely worth the hassle.
There are plenty of walking trails winding their way through Cameron Highlands. Some are easy (trail 4) and some are pretty tough, but all will take you into the jungles that the area is famous for. I walked trail 9/9a and saw a huge snake sliding across the track about 10 meters in front of me. I asked a guide a few days later what it might have been and he told me it was whatever I wanted it to be, so looking back it was definitely one of these…
Or it might have been a python, who knows! I also nearly stepped on a smaller snake and a big lizard. Robinson falls, on trail 9/9a were pretty unimpressive and quite dirty, as were the small waterfalls on trail 4. I also read that there is/was a knife wielding maniac on trail 9, so if you are a group of good looking American college students on a road trip and you don’t want to be stars in a Malaysian slasher movie, choose another place to walk.
Visit a tea plantation
I like tea but I never drink it, I’ve always been too lazy to boil the jug, pour the tea, find the sugar, etc etc. Tea in unharvested leaf form is far more interesting to me, and after having a great time in the Sri Lankan hill country I was looking forward to visiting a Cameron Highlands tea plantation. The Boh Tea Plantation was really impressive and is a popular spot for local tourists. I walked down from the cafe/viewing deck and into the fields themselves and there was no one else around. People complain about places being too touristy, but often all you need to do is walk for 5mins in the opposite direction to everyone else and you are suddenly surrounded by nothing but nature.
See the mossy forest
This is billed as one of the must-see attractions in Cameron Highlands. I don’t think I’d ever heard of moss being a major tourist attraction before; it’s basically just trees with moss on them, so if you’re from New Zealand you’ve seen it all before, but it’s still a nice place to walk around. You’ll most likely come here on a tour which includes a tea plantation and some amazing views over the surrounding area. Gunung Brinchang is the highest driveable point in Peninsular Malaysia, and the views from the top of the tower would have to be some of the best in the country.
Where to stay: Tanah Rata
Chances are you’ll be based in Tanah Rata, and that’s not such a bad thing. Several walking trails are easily accessible from town and there is some excellent food to be found. Some of the restaurants are pretty expensive so I’d recommend eating at the small stalls on the other side of the road. I’m guessing the food is just as nice and you’ll get it for half the price. The area is famous for strawberries, and when I saw that there were strawberry flavoured Magnums on offer I proceeded to try and eat 1 shop out of their whole supply. I nearly achieved my goal and enjoyed every second of it.
There are plenty of accommodation options in Tanah Rata, I checked a few places out and found a clean single room for 40 RM, I don’t think you’ll find a half decent room for too much under that.
Further reading: Interested in the disappearance of Jim Thompson? Check out this article
Have you visited Cameron Highlands or any other hill stations in Asia? Let me know!
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Monday 15th of February 2016
Thanks for sharing. I'm currently in Singapore and am wondering a safe place to stay in Malaysia as a single female backpacker. That place for 40 RM sounds pretty good. What's the name?
Wednesday 14th of December 2016
HeyJai, bit late with the reply sorry! It seems very safe to me -- can't remember the name of the guesthouse though sorry.
Thursday 3rd of September 2015
Great read! I haven't thought about this beautiful place for quite some time. I went back in 1997 and was doing a lot of trail running to stay in shape for Footie. I ended up losing the sporadic trail markers on a 6 hour hike out of Tanah Rata. I spent the next 3 days in the jungle trying to find my way out. Only had a knife and a compass since at one point I was crawling under tall thorny bush, and the thorns grabbed onto my pack's zipper pulls and opened it. I didn't realize my small amount of rations and supplies were left behind. The first night I slept in a tree on the side of a mountain before I was awoken to 20+ fire ants having a late night snack. I drank the water found in the brooks the 2nd and 3rd days. 2nd night stayed higher in elevation and made a bed of huge leaves and my pack. Was awoken most of the night by noises that sounded like animals. Wasn't until late the 3rd night that I came out to a tiny village in the mountains. Looked like aboriginals. Walked 3 miles from there to the road. Then had to hitch 20 miles back to Tanah. Bet its come a long way from when I was there. Hope they got those trail markers sorted out by now!!
Tuesday 8th of September 2015
Hey Kevin, thanks for the comment, definitely one of the more entertaining ones I've had on this blog! Sounds like quite an adventure and pretty scary at the time but it makes for a great story. I read an article about some Dutch girls who went missing in a similar kind of area in Panama and they weren't quite so lucky - what exactly happened is a bit of a mystery.
Tuesday 28th of July 2015
Thanks for the details and opinions you shared about the Cameron Highlands. This will be the first place my wife and I visit after landing in Kuala Lumpur, so I'm going to get her eyes on this post as well. I love teafields so this will be a pretty awesome way to start things off. Didn't realize that bit about the flower but I doubt it will be blooming when we get there.
Thanks for the tip on the food, btw. I remember some parts of KL being a bit overpriced and giving in to my hungry belly, losing out to a cheap meal that might've been elsewhere. I'll keep my eye out for the stalls and try to stick to them.
Loved this post and the way you approach these places with a bit of humor and sarcasm. It's kind've how I like to do it, mixing in a bit of pop culture with travel. Makes for an interesting read. Just thought I'd share that with you. Take care man.
Thursday 30th of July 2015
It's a great first stop in Malaysia! The best food in Malaysia seems to be the cheapest, so definitely eat at those small stalls as much as possible (the owners are usually really friendly as well). Cheers for the compliment, I used to study journalism and got really sick of having to write bland articles all the time so blogging suits me a lot better!
Monday 3rd of November 2014
I was there in March and the weather was complete crap. Rain and cold everyday I was three. I'd like to go back under better conditions.
Thursday 30th of July 2015
That's a shame! Definitely go back if you have the chance.