Being at least 1300 metres above sea level, the Cameron Highlands is home to Malaysia’s highest hill station, endless tea plantations, agricultural crops and cooling temperatures.
The views up to the Highlands are beautiful – imagine winding roads through lush, green valleys, blue skies and and rolling hills. As we got closer to the towns, there was a lot of plastic on hill sides protecting the crops.
Coming from the north of Malaysia, the Cameron Highlands is accessed by one road from Ipoh. We travelled by bus from Pangkor Island to Ipoh, where we changed buses to reach the Highlands. Both buses cost us about £10-12. There seemed to be at least two buses from Ipoh to the Highlands each day (one in the morning, one in the afternoon). Bus times are difficult to find online because there are so many companies running the route. We only had to wait 30 minutes in Ipoh and caught a bus about 11.30am.
From Kuala Lumpur, I understand that buses tend to go direct to the Cameron Highlands, taking around 3/4 hours.
Where to stay
Tanah Rata is a small town in the Cameron Highlands and it’s the most popular place to stay for backpackers because there are a good selection of shops, eateries and budget accommodation. We chose to stay in De Cameron Guesthouse which is just opposite the bus station. The rooms were small but cosy and a tasty breakfast was included, consisting of dahl, chapati and coffee/tea.
Things to do
Because of timings, we only had one a half days to explore the Highlands. On the first afternoon we explored the town and caught up on life admin in the hostel. On the second day, Ste & I did a tour and visited some beautiful gardens.
Mossy Forest & Tea Plantation Tour
Visiting the tea plantations and the mossy forest are big draws for tourists coming to the Highlands. My Lonely Planet guidebook recommended Cameron Eco Tours for being sustainability conscious. We opted for a half day tour to visit the mossy forest and the tea plantations.
Our guide, Satya, was really engaging, passionate about wildlife and fauna and very knowledgeable about the biodiversity in the region. We visited the Scottish owned BOH (Best of Highlands) tea plantation, where we learnt about tea production and could see the trees growing. Unlike other countries, the leaves aren’t separated into different grades. Instead, the tea pickers, mainly from Bangladesh and Indonesia (who are paid well and given good accommodation), use an electric strimmer to harvest the leaves, which is quite unusal. We also had the opportunity to visit the BOH tea factory and try some tea in a cafe overlooking the plantations.
The Mossy Forest is 2000 metres above sea level and is an important habitat for endemic plant, bird and animal species (including clouded leopards, but we sadly we didn’t see any of them). We spent an hour wondering along the boardwalk in the forest, looking at all the plants – including pitcher plants, listening to the birds and enjoying the views.
Eco Cameron have been working for fifteen years, trying to persuade the Malaysian government to make the forest a National Park and they only recently succeeded! From January 2018, only approved, reputable tour guides will be allowed access to the park and 120 permits will be issued daily for visitors. This is to preserve the fragile eco-systems and biodiversity. The company also work with the community to replant illegally deforested land. We were really happy to support a company that sustains the local area and understands the importance of preserving biodiversity.
Tan’s Camellia Garden
This garden is free to wonder around and explore. Although it isn’t that big, there are lots of secret paths, benches and flowers to discover. Mosquitoes love the gardens too, so repellent is a must. Trails for walking in the forest start from here, but we didn’t have time.
Places to eat
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the best experience with food. There are a lot of Indian restaurants in Tanah Rata, but the best rated one was closed when we were there. Some of the veggie curries we ate were very questionable – they seemed to have been thickened with cornstarch so were very gloopy and pretty flavourless. The naans and chapattis we ate were nice though.
There was a cafe opposite our hostel called The Lord’s Cafe which sold delicious scones, cakes and hot drinks.
Next stop: Langkawi.