Monday, August 23, 2010

Cameron Highlands - What Is This Unusual Shivering Sensation?

After a night stop over in KL, Jenni and I headed north toward the Cameron Highlands. This area is home to a series of small mountain towns which make for an excellent get away for people in Malaysia that wish to escape the humidity and heat of the lowland cities. The road to the town we were staying in, Tanah Rata, was long and windy. Jenni tells me that some person wrote to the Lonely Planet claiming that they counted over 600 turns in the road on the bus ride up there. I believe that this person needs to purchase themselves an mp3 player for their long bus journeys.

Upon arriving at the town, it was the first time in over 3 months that we actually felt a bit nippy. During the cold nights we had to just suck it up as we had sent most of our cold weather gear back home aside from a pair of thin quick-dry trousers and a thin fold-up gortex jacket each. Even though it was quite chilly, it was still a nice and refreshing change to the hot and humid days we had been experiencing for the past few months. Tanah Rata is close to many tea plantations and strawberry farms, so it was easy to get warm at the local cafes, offering tea made from locally grown tea leaves and warm scones with cream and jam. Another speciality of Tanah Rata is steamboat. On one cold night, we welcomed the warm soupy dish and hot stove on which it was being cooked on atop our table. For about $5 USD each, we enjoyed the dish at one of the original steamboat restaurants in the area. We didn't manage to finish off the huge mound of seafood, meat, vegetables and noodles presented to us for our steamboat dinner, it was just too much for the two of us. 

Tanah Rata and the neighbouring towns are full of big fancy pants hotels, so most of the accommodation up in the mountain areas was pretty expensive. We elected to stay at a low cost backpackers a few minutes walk from the main street in town. The guesthouse was great fun as we met heaps of people in the open air common area under the front porch. Each night we would enjoy a beer (well I enjoyed a beer, while Jenni turned her nose up at it as that was all on offer) while roasting marshmallows in the company of a large group of travelling girls from the UK, USA, Canada and Germany at the nightly bon-fire held at the next door open air bar.

On our first full day, we went on a tour that would bring us on a trek and visit some of the highlights of the Cameron Highlands area. The day did not start well. Our group of 8 people in our 4x4 were petrified as our driver felt the need to drive around the windy mountain roads at excessive speeds, cutting through corners like a rally car driver by driving on the opposite side of the road, blind around many of the corners. After about 10 minutes of this I felt that I had to say something as the Dutch girl next to me was green, on the verge of throwing up, Jenni's face was white with her eyes wide-eyed and me, along with the rest of the passengers, white knuckled from clinging on so tight. The American guy in our car found my inquiry to our driver rather amusing as I asked him "Is there any need to drive like a lunatic? Could you not drive a bit... safer?" He was quick to apologize and drove a little bit safer to our destination. Jenni tells me that when we finally arrived at our destination, he apologized again claiming that he was only driving because we were running late. Running late for what!?! Was the large flower that we were planning on trekking to planning on lifting up its skirt and running off somewhere!?!

Our group trekked through the jungle for about an hour, crossing over a rickety bamboo bridge and using stones to cross a couple of deep streams. The pace of our group was rather quick for some reason as if the flower we were trekking toward was indeed going to up and go somewhere. Jenni and I walked at our own pace, lagging behind with our guide and an avid photographer. We finally arrived to see one of the largest species of flowers in the world. It was over 2 feet in diameter, but we were told that the larger ones can grow up to a meter wide. Jenni was rather unimpressed with the flower when we arrived, but I am just putting that down to her being a bit grumpy due to being tired from the trek! The flower had a really pungent smell when you got close enough to it to get a whiff. Our guide joked saying that some people liken the smell to the Malaysian public toilets. He wasn't far off!

On the way back to the cars, our group stopped off at one of the small waterfalls where we were invited to jump in and have a shower. I was the only one game enough to jump in. The water was really clear and nice and refreshing, although this was spoilt somewhat by copping a stack of gritty sand down the back of my bathers which the water brought down from the rock pool above. Having to dry myself and changing into a dry pair of shorts put us a couple of minutes behind the group. In our haste to catch up, I kicked a tree stump really hard, partly pulling the nail of my toe and causing it to bleed. Fortunately we had a couple of ibuprofen tablets for the pain in our backpacks. When we finally got a chance, we patched me up using a disinfectant wipe and bandage, so not too much harm done.

After a short trip back down the 4x4 track to the main road, we visited a Malaysian Aborigine village. There we were given a blowpipe demonstration. The local aborigines use these to hunt for meat, using poison darts to immobilize their prey. The whole time our guide was talking, a drunk villager kept yelling at him. Our guide, turned around and told him to shut up, but this just egged him on. By the end of the demonstration, the drunk guy was just outright abusing our guide at the top of his voice. Eventually a couple of the villagers carted him away. Our guide explained that this behaviour was quite common as the villagers don't have much to do to keep themselves occupied and spend a lot of time drinking. 

After lunch at a dodgy Indian cafe we visited a tea plantation. We were very eager to get in among the plantation to go for a walk around the maze of tea bushes as we had seen these on the way up to Tanah Rata while on the bus and they looked spectacular. The tea plantation we visited was about 80 years old and was owned by a single family which passed it down from generation to generation. The plantation was huge, spanning over the hills as far as the eye could see. You can play a game of "Where's Michael" in the adjacent photo. From here we visited the factory where the tea is processed and packaged. The process was much more advanced than the plantation we visited on the Bolivian Plateau, outside Pakse in Laos as it used all machinery to do the work, opposed to doing everything by hand. Attached to the factory was an outlet and a cafe. Jenni and I enjoyed a cup of the plantation's tea along with a scone and jam while enjoying the spectacular view from the cafe's decking. 

After here, the group split up, some electing to visit the nearby butterfly farm and strawberry farm, with us along with some others electing to go visit the highest peak in the Cameron Highlands. We were very glad we made our choice as the view was spectacular. Atop the lookout tower, the air was very cold and we could see the mist rolling by. We were lucky we managed to get such a good view as a few minutes after we came down from the lookout tower, the clouds came in and covered the valley. 

From here we took a very short drive down the mountain and got out to visit the Mossy Forest. This was the highlight of the day. The place looked like something out of a Jim Henson movie. The place was dark and eerie, with mist flowing through the trees covered in thick green moss. Muddy moss covered the ground, giving it a funny springy feel under our feet. In this maze of trees that looked like it was plucked right out of a horror movie, we even saw carnivorous plants. Our guide insisted on exiting the forest from a different point to where we entered to give the group a short taste of what the hardest trekking trails in the area were like. The exit point that he brought us to was a steep drop, about 3 meters high. There was only two ways down, sliding down on your backside on the steep muddy slope, or attempting to abseil down the drop using a thick vine to hang on to. Jenni did very well, managing to lower herself down using the vine without falling and sliding down in the muck unlike a couple of other unfortunate people in our group. 

Even though we were glad we made our choice to visit the highest peak and mossy forest, we were both a bit disappointed that we missed out on visiting the strawberry farm. Therefore on the following day, we took a taxi to visit a strawberry farm that we had heard allowed us to pick our own strawberries. Unfortunately when we arrived our fears that strawberry season was already finished were confirmed and we were informed that we were not allowed to pick our own. We had to settle for a short walk around the small strawberry farm and each of us had a strawberry milkshake from the cafe which was actually really good. Not satisfied with this farm, we walked down to the main road in search of another that might allow us to pick strawberries. Along the main road were heaps of signs pointing to various strawberry farms in the local area, so it didn't take us too long to walk to the Healthy Strawberry Farm. This farm was much bigger than the first one we visited, but we were still not allowed to pick our own strawberries. We waved our little white flag on our strawberry picking and decided to just settle for a walk around this large strawberry farm and enjoy a punnet of strawberries from its cafe. I am not entirely sure why it is called the Healthy Strawberry Farm because we indulged ourselves in a large punnet of huge strawberries that were covered in a layer of sugar topped with a thick layer of whipped cream. They were the best strawberries that we have ever tasted!

The next day we jumped on a bus to Penang, our final destination on our Asia Odyssey. Unlike our 4x4 driver, the bus driver was not a maniac on the roads, so we had a nice and relaxing trip. Although he was a safe enough driver, he must have somehow been related to Jenni as he certainly had her woeful sense of direction and knack of getting lost. When we reached Butterworth, the mainland town lying opposite to the island of Penang, the bus driver got lost twice. We had to spend an extra while in the bus before he managed to figure out that he had to drive our bus over the massive bridge that sticks out like a sore thumb to get us over to the island of Penang...


  1. Thought I'd catch up on your goings on in Perth (saw on FB you're in Edinburgh), and Jenni . . . .?? Was great catching up and hope you're having a wonderful time. xxx

  2. Sorry Jen, it's Kristy by the way!