Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands couldn’t be more different from other parts of the country, but if you fancy a respite from the heat and humidity, it’s the ideal spot for a couple of days of fresh highland air and a very English afternoon tea.
The area looked to be more popular with Malaysian tourists than those from further afield, presumably because it is such a change from where they live. The Cameron Highlands is Malaysia’s largest hill station peppered with tea plantations and poly-tunnels covering a wide range of vegetables and fruit, particularly strawberries. Afternoon tea with strawberry jam features on lots of menus.
Our base was Tanah Rata, which to be honest doesn’t have a huge amount to recommend it. Our hotel, the Hillview Inn, wasn’t great and very close to a massive construction site where a long abandoned building is being demolished, but even if you weren’t as close to the site as we were you could hear it. My suggestion, if you can afford it, would be to stay three miles out of town at the Cameron Highlands Resort. It looked lovely and just a quick cab ride into the town if you want other eating options.
Saying that our hotel did offer what must have been the best value ‘tour’ of the area. Tour is in inverted commas because ours (the country tour) was really just a driver and a mini bus shared with others, but the driver was very friendly and answered lots of questions. The great part is that it only cost RM25 (£5) for over five hours visiting lots of places.
A highlight of the tour was a visit to the beautiful Boh Sungei Palas Tea Estate where you pass a Hindu temple and the workers homes before arriving at the visitor centre. This is really well done, with lots of helpful displays to explain tea production and a free short tour showing the process. There are longer tea appreciation tours too that take you through the plantation and end with a sampling. And of course there’s a shop where you can stock up on the different Boh products. Tea is very popular in Malaysia, we were told 6.7 million cups are drunk every day.
Before heading to the plantation we stopped off at the street market in Kea Farm, an agricultural district near to Brinchang. The freshest looking fruit and veg were piled high on every stall, many we recognised but others we needed our driver to help identify.
Also in this area we visited the Rose Centre which initially looked like a fairly small flower garden. But looks can be deceptive and once you start to climb up the steps you realise there are more and more levels, until eventually you’re at the top and looking at great views across the Cameron Highland hills and vegetable farms.
Another stop on the tour was a honey bee farm which was interesting, but I was slightly wary of getting stung! Then a strawberry farm where we had the most delicious bowl of freshly picked strawberries covered in chocolate sauce and finally a butterfly farm which had some of the most stunning creatures fluttering around a garden of shrubs and flowers. It’s all a bit touristy, but we were tourists so we decided to embrace and enjoy it.
Back in Tanah Rata there’s a market, shops and plenty of places to eat. We had a nice afternoon tea at Rosette, a small cafe where they also have steamboats on the menu. This was a local speciality where you have a big pot of boiling soup and a range of ingredients to pop in it and cook at the table. We had it at the May Flower restaurant and it was quite an experience, though possibly not the best choice if you’re really hungry as the DIY cooking approach can take a while.
Another nice option was the Jasmine Cafe , run by a Dutch guy which is very obvious from the colour scheme and memorabilia. The menu is a mix of Malaysia and Western so its good if you fancy a change from rice and noodles. We didn’t find much in the way of bars in Tanah Rata, but found some decent wine and a nice atmosphere at the Travellers bistro and pub.
So after three hot and humid days in Kuala Lumpur and a sweltering visit to the jungle in Taman Negara, a couple of days in the Cameron Highlands offered a welcome chance to cool down and try out some of the best and freshest produce in the country.
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