Cameron Highlands (May 2016)

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The cool and fresh climate of the Cameron Highlands is a wonderful sensation for those of us who live in the tropics for most of the year. In the colonial times, the region was used extensively by the British Army as an area to allow for the rest and recovery of soldiers. Nowadays, it is a booming tourist destination because the excellent climate has also allowed the development of tea plantations, strawberry fields, and vast acres of horticultural land.

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The drive from Johor Bahru to the Cameron Highlands took about 8 hours, mostly along the boring north-south highway. But, once you turn off onto Route 59 at Tapah, your horizon changes. Indeed, there is no horizon as you make your slow way up a very windy road, with tall banks of assorted vegetation on one side and a steep drop into greeness on the other side. This old road is considered an inconvenience by many who prefer the newer faster roads entering the region from the north, but I would recommend patience and include this route in your itinerary; just make sure you arrive in day light!

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All along this road are used and unused wooden shacks for selling goods (green beans, honey, local craftwork) and you will see the distinct faces of the Orang Asli peoples who still live in this forrest area. As you head up the hillside, look out  for the Lata Kinjang Waterfall on your lefthand side. This is the tallest falls in Malaysia, but it would require a proper trek to see the whole thing. So, enjoy the falls from ground level, and buy some snacks from the local vendors if hungry. (N.B. there are clean toilets here on the righthand side of the road.)

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Most visitors to the region will visit one or more of the tea plantations; we visited the Boh Tea Estate at Sungai Palas, to the north of Brinchang. It was an overcast day, so maybe not ideal for photo taking, but the tearoom at the top of the hill gave an excellent view even if it doesn’t know how to make a decent cup of tea!

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A newer point of interest is the Mossy Forrest at the top of Gunung (Mount) Brinchang, and this is best visited at the same time as the Boh Tea Estate as they share the same single track road off Route 95. This drive though is not for the faint hearted, as the road is narrow, potholed, and there are few passing places; just hope there is a parking space at the end! The Mossy Forrest is unique to this area and there is a broad walk for you to follow and get some great views. 

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Don’t expect the road to be improved any time soon though, as ‘ownership’ of the road appears to be an issue. Its original function was to serve the telecommunications business, but it passes though the two states of Perak and Pahang, is used by the tea plantation personnel, and now by tourists. So, who should pay?

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There are two main tourist towns in the Cameron Highlands, Tanah Rata to the south and Brinchang to the north along Route 95, with many sites to visit along the way. Brinchang itself is a messy town, with not much to recommend it during the day time, but the night time market is said to be of interest.

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Next to the Kok Lim Strawberry Farm in Brinchang is the Time Tunnel; a curious local museum with informative displays concerning the history of Malaysia, the history of the local area, and rooms full of old collectables; well worth a visit.

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We stayed at the Cameron Highlands Resort, and opted to take their Jim Thompson Trail. Jim Thompson is considered to be the founder of the Thai silk industry, and he had been staying in property behind the hotel. He went out for a walk one Sunday morning and never returned. Having walked through part of the same forrest area, it is easy to see how one could get lost and never be found. There is some moss in this forrest, but this is rare.

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Rather, there is dense vegetation, a slippery peaty floor, no wild animals, few mosquitoes, but plenty of birds and cicada making a lot of noise. Also, many small flowers dotted all around.

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On this tree trunk, you can see a black ant’s nest providing support for other plants. When this ant’s nest falls off the tree, it provides nutrients for other vegetation at ground level, but I don’t know what happens to the ants? I forgot to ask our guide!

He did tell us how to find food and water in a forrest such as this, but I don’t reckon we would have survived very long.

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We could have visited farms selling strawberries, cacti, lavender, orchids, roses, watercress or honey, and we could have visited temples such as the Sam Po Temple, but maybe another time? This time, we did a bit of walking, a lot of driving, ate some wonderful food, had an excellent spa experience, and sat in the fresh air reading our books. If only the Cameron Highlands weren’t so far away……

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