After Penang we were in dire need of some cooler temperatures so we hit up the higher altitude Cameron Highlands next. There in a town called Tanah Rata we found much cooler breezes and some beautiful treks to explore the local area. Apparently this area was first developed as a hill station in the 1920s and was a prime spot for British colonizers stationed in Malaysia to come and escape the heat and humidity of the lowlands. The land is also ripe for farming so the area is well known for its fruits, vegetables and tea plantations.
After a lazy start to our first morning we wandered over to the taxi stand where we were befriended by a local taxi driver named Mogan who offered his services to us for the day. Conveniently this is exactly what we were looking for, as we wanted to cover a lot of ground that day but didn’t really have the time to do it all ourselves by foot. Mogan first drove us to the starting point of a one-way trekking trails that we wanted to check out (actually he even walked us down about 300m to make sure we got onto the right trail) and then told us he’d meet us again at the end in a few hours. The trail was fairly straightforward at first, following a stream and taking us through a not too exciting jungle area. But then somehow we managed to get lost in the middle of a massive vegetable farm, and though we tried a few different routes to try and get across the river as the map indicated, we never seemed to find the actual trail. Luckily after a little while we saw some other (much smarter) trekkers walking through and then around the farm itself and followed them out to the road where Mogan was patiently waiting for us. Next he drove us to two different tea plantations, making sure that we had enough time to hike up to the lookout point to get some good pictures of the surrounding area and also get a tour of the tea production process. We enjoyed a really lovely pot of tea with some sub-par strawberry pie and scones at the Boh Tea plantation, which was a fun change for us since this was not a typical food experience for us in Asia. The rolling hills covered in dark green the tea bushes surrounding us made for a gorgeous backdrop as we sipped on our afternoon tea. Later when we told Mogan we wanted to walk a little bit more to explore the beautiful road that wound through the tea plantations, he told us to go ahead of him and he’d drive to meet us in 30 minutes. When he did finally catch up to us, he decided to give us his own little explanation of how the tea harvesting process works which was great fun. We really lucked out meeting Mogan, as we were able to ask him all sorts of questions about the area (Why is there such a large Indian population here? What’s your favourite restaurant?) and he turned to just be a fantastic guide for us in general.
Later that night we hopped in a taxi to check out the night market in Brinchang, a town a bit further down the mountain, which the staff at our guesthouse recommended we visit. The place was packed, shoulder to shoulder, with what we can only assume were all the Malaysian tourists who were visiting the area during the schools holidays. It was actually really awesome for us to be traveling at that time, because every restaurant was hopping with huge Malaysian families eating and chatting and laughing together. The whole town just felt very alive, and the night market was bustling. We were quite entertained as well by all the strawberry-themed paraphernalia that was being sold there from pillows to pajamas to ear muffs. I guess this must be one of the only areas in Malaysia that sells strawberries, so the local tourists go nuts for them! As a result, we also felt compelled to try some of these fresh local strawberries but in the end they really didn’t stack up to the ones back home. Nonetheless it was a fun stop for us on an already great day.
On our next day we explored Tanah Rata by foot and checked out another one of the many self-guided treks around the area. We hiked through the forest and jungle and made our way up to a high lookout point near an electrical tower. Our timing must have been good because we had pretty good views of the town when we hiked up, but almost as soon as we turned around to climb down the sky completely fogged over. On our way back into town we decided to take a “maintenance route” marked on the map because it offered a more direct route back. Of course this ended up being a bit of a challenge for us, since the route was completely overgrown with spikey weeds and random plants which made it slightly more difficult to maneuver thorough at times. My pants got a few small tears from thorny encounters and Jesse’s shirt did as well, but we eventually found our way back just in time for the rain to greet us on the walk back to our guesthouse. Later that day we walked a few blocks over to another hotel which we’d read had the best scones with clotted cream of the area. This place was nothing fancy, but did indeed have incredibly fluffy and delectable scones which we are sure were baked fresh for us on order based on the rather long time it took to get them. But it was well worth the wait, and the clotted cream an strawberry jam that accompanied them along with the local tea was a lovely treat for us that afternoon.
In the evening we headed back to Brinchang to try out a local specialty called steamboat (or hotpot) for dinner. We’d seen all these steamboat restaurants the night before when we were perusing the night market, and thought we should try it out. It’d been a while since we’d eaten much in the way of fresh vegetables and the restaurant we visited was famous for offering over 20 types of organic vegetables grown right in the Cameron Highlands area. It didn’t disappoint. As usual we were the only table of two in the insanely busy restaurant whose tables spilled out into the sidewalk outside. Everyone else had massive families sharing their steamboat dinner, which of course meant our dinner portions were impossibly huge. Still, we did our best and enjoyed all the tasty, fresh foods and homemade sauces on offer.
One final mention about our time in Cameron Highlands was that we had the absolute best roti canai of our lives there. Perhaps we’re no connoisseurs, but the guy who made these perfect pieces of heaven was militant about his technique and treated each piece with an incredible amount of care and attention. These rotis essentially melted in our mouths and had us coming back every morning (he seemed to always be done by 9am) because we just couldn’t get enough. We’re sure that if ever there was some sort of who-makes-the-best Roti Canai Challenge, he would be a serious contender. Sooooo yummy.
Actual travel dates: March 26 – 29, 2013