Up to Cameron Highlands
Cameron Highlands is one of my favourite getaways in this region. The first time I went up to Cameron was way back when I was six years old and I remember it to be a very pleasant place, open fields atop a hill, colorful flowers, cool air and quaint European cottages.
My second trip was in 2004. My boyfriend and I took a bus up from KL. We were greeted by gloomy drizzly skies in Brinchang town. As we didn’t have our own vehicles, we trudged up the roads to Equatorial Hotel in the rain. I personally enjoyed the journey but my boyfriend was less than delighted. The consolation was a really delicious piping hot steamboat dinner and a visit to the night market thereafter. Our visit was cut short though so I didn’t have a chance to visit the farms.
My third visit was just two weeks ago. This time we were armed with our own vehicle so I was pretty sure we could get around dry. I picked up a local guide book of the area for RM3 and then marked out our itinerary for our two nights’ stay on the highlands.
I have to say that Cameron Highlands still delights me after all this time. Brinchang town is located about 1,500 metres above sea-level which makes it an ideal getway from the tropical heat. The temperature and sloping lands also make it a conducive environment for agriculture, which explains why 80% of the population are engaged in agriculture and the other 20%, I assume, make a living off tourists.
Cameron, unlike, Genting Highlands, is neither crowded nor commercial which makes it so attractive for the visitor who is looking for a slow paced, relaxing agrotourism kind of trip. Coupled with Tudor style architecture, some dating back to the early 1900s, set amidst Malay kampungs and Orang Asli settlements and more than ten trekking paths and six mountain peaks (6,000+ feet above sea level) to explore, what more can a nature lover want?
There are two ways to get up or down the highlands, either south from Kuala Lumpur through Tapah or north from Ipoh through Simpang Pulai. I would suggest the latter route even if coming from KL. Although the distance via the Highway may be longer, it spares you the nauseating and windy southern route. On our way back downhill, I felt like throwing up quite a few times due to the giddiness from turning left and right.
The most convenient way to get around on the highlands is by your own vehicle. Otherwise you might consider signing up for the various packages that bring you to the farms or trekking through the forest with rates ranging from Rm25 to RM70 per adult depending on duration and type. You might want to consider Titiwangsa Tours & Travel located in Brinchang town.
So here’s a quick glimpse of what you can do here:
1. Visit one or many of the farms found here. Even if you’re not aware, you will soon find out that strawberries is their most famous product and you can see the familiar shape of the fruit in almost every shop you pass by. Joel even asked why everyone was selling strawberries, so you can’t possibly miss it. One of the things you might enjoy trying is plucking your own strawberries fresh off the farms.
However be warned that the fruits are not packed for the trip back home. You will have to either request for special packaging or consume them while you’re on the highlands. I learnt it the hard way when the strawberries we bought were squashed to pulp by the time I reached home. They were also quick to ripen and attract fungi once out of the cold environment.
Another fruit worth mentioning are the cherry tomatoes. We gorged ourselves on the free flow servings at our hotel restaurant. They were juicy, sweet, palatable and the sensation of squashing the tiny round fruit in your mouth was simply irresistible. The farm worker was very helpful in guiding us through the farm and even picking cherry tomatoes for our trip home. At least these survived the journey.
I managed to take a glimpse at some organically grown vegetables and found out why they may not yet be popular with most consumers. Because there are no pesticides used, the leaves of the vegetables are covered with holes and it was really quite unsightly to serve it on the table. Still I think the danger lies more with the invisible chemicals we consume unknowingly.
I didn’t venture to any of the many flower and cactus shops since I couldn’t bring them home but they will still be a delightful visit for children and horticulture enthusiasts.
You can also find bee farms located around the highlands though in less quantities. If you believe in the healing power of pure and natural honey, the farms sell different versions of each that serve multiple purposes. A walk around the bee farm could be relaxing too because they are planted with many colorful flowers, which is where the bees get their pollen from. The bees themselves are kept in wooden boxes. We didn’t get the chance to see how the workers harvest honey though.
Another must visit is one of the three tea plantations found in Cameron Highlands and also one of the landmarks of the hill station. Even if you’re not into the beverage, the plantation itself is quite a sight for the eye. I suppose tea requires sloping land with good drainage system to thrive because the tea bushes are grown in neat rows and columns on the slopes themselves and not terraces cut into the hills. This creates a really unique and stunning panaromic view of the entire valley. We went down to the plantation itself and it gave me a newfound respect for tea harvesters. It is no joke harvesting tea leaves on these steep slopes!
2. Go jungle trekking. According to the Cameron Highlands map, there are about 14 paths with varying degree marked out for trekkers which will bring them to one of the six mountain peaks or a waterfall. If trekking is not your cup of tea, you can still drive up directly to Gunung Brinchang at 6,666 ft above sea level.
The route there can be found north past Brinchang and Equatorial Hotel at a turnout to Sungei Palas BOH Plantation. After the plantation, the roads become narrow and windy and the travel agency advised going up without at least a 4WD. However with good steering and much tenacity, we made it up with our Toyota Vios. A local practice is to horn whenever approaching a blind spot to alert the driver from the opposite direction of your presence.
Alternatively you can also attempt a 3km trek from Brinchang JBA Quarters. We didn’t do that since we had Joel with us.
Gunung Brinchang is dominated by a power station. However there is also an observatory tower here to celebrate your arrival with views of the surrounding. When we were up here, everything was shrouded in clouds so we didn’t manage to glimpse anything. Nonetheless it was simply cool to be among the clouds.
About one km downhill, there is a carpark stopover. This is the where you can visit one of Cameron Highlands’ hidden treasure – The Mossy Forest. I heard about this from someone before who told me that the experience was like chancing upon a magical enchanted forest not unlike the fairy tales so I had harbored romantic notions about the place. The mossy forest is described as an “amazingly rich 200,000 year old forest with deep green moss, ancient trees and fresh dewy mist that gives it a mystical aura”. Correct on all counts. You can easily visit the area as walkways have been built for that purpose. This brings you up close and personal to the stunted trees.
However the walkway ends about less than 1 km into the forest and to contin