Cameron Highlands: A Dead Man Walking in Malaysia
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!