After deciding that we had seen enough of Vietnam and hopping on a flight to Malaysia, we now went back to the guide book to look at what places of interest to seek out next in this country that had not really featured on our itinerary until now. After a few days in Kuala Lumpur, we embarked on a 6 hour bus journey to the Cameron Highlands, which turned out to be a very good decision!
The Cameron Highlands for me turned out to be a real gem amongst the Asian chaos of the last few months. As soon as the bus pulled into the village I saw signs everywhere advertising ‘tea and scones’ – I knew I was going to like it here. We stayed in a lovely picturesque guesthouse in Tanah Rata which we used as a base for the week to go out exploring each day. The guesthouse, though owned and run by Indians, felt very English with an English country garden, and décor of Mock Tudor style. It could have been straight out of the Lake District.
On our first full day, the idea was to break ourselves in gently and go out on a short jungle trek. We bought a map and set off down the trail to find Robinson Waterfalls. This we did with ease as the path was very clear and it took us under an hour to get there.
We were now in the jungle though and enjoying the fresh air and exercise that had been missing in the chaotic cities of Asia – Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh, Bangkok etc. We checked the map and found another trail that was marked which would take us from where we were and hopefully out to the other side to join a country lane, where we intended to walk to the tea shop. On we ploughed. The trail vanished and the jungle got thicker and noises louder and more sinister. I was by now wary of all these sounds and what might jump out at us!
After another one and half hours of hiking, we finally came out into the open again and found the country lane which we greeted with huge smiles. From there we set off following the road to head for the tea plantation and shop. What the (basic) map hadn’t shown us however was that it was another 7km, and all up hill. I groaned. Would we ever reach the tea and scone stop now before dark?! After about 2km, a jeep with two local workers drove by and asked if we needed a lift. Under normal circumstances I know the answer is ‘no’, but on this occasion I couldn’t say ‘yes’ fast enough. We got in and they kindly drove us the last 5km and dropped us at the door of the tea shop before they continued on their way. As luck would have it, this lift had got us to the tea shop just in time before it closed! The locals must have known. We sat down to what would be our first (but most definitely not last) tea and scone set in the Cameron Highlands. I felt we had earned it after the hard slog through the jungle! At the ‘Boh’ Tea plantation, we also were given a short guided tour of their tea factory and took lots of pictures of their beautiful tea plantations which stretch for miles and miles across the landscape. Gorgeous countryside.
On Day 2, we were psyched up for another jungle trek. We studied the map and chose another trail to follow that would loop around and take in another tea plantation and shop near the end. As we left the guesthouse, I let the manager know where we were going for safety reasons (after all, the American entrepreneur Jim Thompson went missing in the jungle of the Cameron Highlands in 1967 and his body was never found). The manager advised us that the trail we had chosen was badly marked and he wouldn’t recommend it, showing us a different route instead. I had to wonder why the trail was on the tourist map in the first place then! Anyway, we set off following his recommendation instead. We found the start of the path ok, and got going. After about half an hour we came to a fork in the path. As we were studying the map and deciding which was the correct way, I heard rustling behind us. As I spun around, two men appeared whom I instantly recognised from yesterday. The guys who had given us a lift. In that split second I thought ‘This is it. They’ve come to murder us.’ The coincidence of bumping into them in the jungle was just too much for me – was the hotel manager in on it too having told us to come this way? My thoughts were interrupted with the question ‘How can we help you today?’. ‘By not murdering us?’, I thought. Out loud, I explained that we were just deciding which path to follow. They advised which way to go to reach the summit and we had a small chat about the tea factory yesterday, before we thanked them again for the lift and continued on our way. Their parting words were ‘See you at the top’, which really helped to put me at ease….not. For the next half an hour I was climbing through the jungle up the steepest slope ever, puffing for breath, whilst looking over my shoulder! After an hour of hardcore exercise we made it to the top of the Gunung Jasar mountain at 1690m. It was a gorgeous clear day and the views over Tanah Rata and the Cameron Highlands were well worth the effort.
After a few photos, fluid and food intake, and chatting to two Slovakian girls who appeared from nowhere carrying tents with the intention of camping (sheer madness I thought), we set off down the mountain via another trail. Somewhere along the way down, we must have come off the ‘trail’ and we ended up slightly off target of the tea plantation unfortunately. We got caught up in a thunderstorm which came in very quickly as we’d read could happen, and out came our waterproofs for the first time since Japan. It took us much longer to get down the mountain that it had taken to climb it. Eventually, after passing through a remote village where a villager stood on his doorstep recording us on his camera phone as we traipsed by, we found a lane to follow which led us back to a point on the main road that we recognised as being 4km away from our guesthouse. Wet and worn out - you guessed it – I rewarded myself with tea and scones when we finally got back.
The next days continued in the same vein with walking/hiking and enjoying the fresh air, exercise and being able to hear the birds sing once more (I couldn’t remember the last time we had heard birds singing, aside from at the Bird Park in Kuala Lumpur that is). We also went on the same walk to Parit Falls where Jim Thompson went missing, a bit eerie, but the jungle had been cleared there now and made into a tourist path, so it really was the easiest walk of the week for us.
We also signed up to an organised tour of the local area just to make sure that we saw everything before we left. This included a trip up to the top of Gunung Brinchang which at 2000m is the highest peak in the Cameron Highlands, a short guided jungle walk with wild ginger and the tiger balm plants being pointed out along the way, a butterfly farm, a strawberry farm and, naturally, another tea plantation visit. By the end of the week I was feeling refreshed, relaxed and revitalised and although sad to be leaving the Cameron Highlands, I knew that the next leg of our trip in Borneo would be equally as scenic and also back to nature with fresh air, jungle, trekking and wildlife. It was time to move on again.