The fresh, cool air of the Cameron Highlands greeted us as we got off our bus in Tanah Rata. We checked in to Father’s Guesthouse, perched up on top of a treed hill overlooking the town. We had a huge window that opened out onto a garden, and filled our room with light and breeze. Result: bliss.
The Cameron Highlands are about 4700 feet above sea level, and are the perfect climate for growing tea and strawberries. The cool air draws local tourists from Malaysia as well as foreigners trying to escape the heat. The things to do here: visit a tea plantation, check. Hike through the jungle, check. Eat Indian pancakes with fresh strawberries, check. Actually sleep well at night, without sweating buckets, check. Relax and enjoy the wonderful Malay people all around you, check!
We met a couple of Canadians who were on the same mini-bus from Georgetown, Marc and Annie, and we spent our first day in the highlands with them. First we visited the BOH tea plantation, about 16km north of Tanah Rata. The tea plants grow all up and down the hillsides, and the effect is beautiful. We took a lightning-fast 5 minute guided tour of the tea factory, and then enjoyed some overpriced tea on the terrace overlooking the fields. Even if the tea was just ok, the view was worth it. It was interesting to watch the workers harvest the tea. They use shears to clip off the new growth from the tops of the plants, taking only the young green leaves. The plants grow so fast that they have to harvest the new leaves every three weeks. Because of the terrain, the tea is harvested manually. They must have a lot of workers!
After taking our tea, we debated whether or not to walk up to the Brinchang peak above us, which is the highest point in the highlands. It looked like a long walk, and we weren’t feeling too motivated. Luckily, just as we were about to turn away, two cars pulled up beside us and offered us a lift to the top with them. It was a large family on vacation from Kuala Lumpur. Sonny and Susan were in our car with us, and it was really cool to talk with them about their vacation and our own travels. The road turned out to be significantly longer than we’d estimated, which made us even happier that we’d hitched the ride.
From the top, we watched the mist rolling in over the hills. There was a path that led down from the top back to the town of Brinchang. Since we’d gotten out of the hike up, we decided we had the energy to tackle the hike down. It was long and steep and dirty, but the forest was lush and green, and we had a good time talking with Marc and Annie along the way. Once back in town, we took a taxi back to our guesthouse and took a nap, before heading out for some delicious Indian food. Mmmmm, tandoori.
We had a sad moment on our third morning in Tanah Rata when, on our way to breakfast, we discovered four tiny kittens who had been abandoned in an alley. They were trapped in a cardboard box that was filthy, and their little high-pitched meows and trembling feet broke our hearts. We bought some milk and did our best to feed it to them, but they couldn’t have been more than about three weeks old, and hadn’t been weaned yet, so they didn’t really know what to do with it. We asked the restaurant next door if they had a clean box we could use, and we carried the kittens off in search of a shelter or something. We weren’t that optimistic, since we’ve started to get used to animals not being cared for over here to the same standard we’re used to in the west. Incredibly enough, we found a veterinary clinic that took them in for us. We don’t know what the future holds for the poor kittens, but we felt better leaving them with the clinic than leaving them in the alley. It really bothers me that people do this sort of thing. The least they could have done was wait a few more weeks until the kittens were old enough to have a fighting chance, rather than leaving them helpless to die. Besides, they were so damn cute. How can anyone do something like that to something so cute?
Aside from the kitten incident, the rest of our time in the highlands was happy and delicious and relaxing. I would highly recommend a visit to this area for anyone coming to Malaysia or even Thailand, as it offers a really nice break from the beaches and heat and intensity of the coasts. And it’s worth it just for the fresh, clean, cool air. Ahhhhh.