Published: October 16th 2008October 14th 2008
...view from atop
The Cameron Highlands is essentially a hill resort on the Malaysian peninsular which is famed for its tea estates and abundance of vegetation, butterflies, strawberry farms and the most extraordinary array of unusual looking flowers. Temperatures at dusk drop to 'bloody cold' which in England may be nothing much but here in Asia where the normal attire is 'what you can get away with' the chilly air is awful.
Set amidst mountain peaks and forests there is an abundance of walking trails and waterfalls which is the main draw. Sadly, this is the place where the famous Jim Thompson, who pioneered the silk trade in Thailand, disappeared. The story goes that on the fateful day, he set off for a evening stroll before dinner and never returned. A regular to the Highlands his disappearance remains a mystery.
The Highlands is made up of three major towns, the most popular of which is Tanah Ratah. It is to here that I ventured from Penang where I happily ensconsed myself into Father's Guesthouse. After settling into a dorm room at just 10 RM per night (less than 2 pounds!) I set about exploring my domain. The town is made up of
just one street in the main, bordered on each side by restaurants and shops, with one major difference. As you walk out of town toward the bus station you notice that the row of premises on the right are owned by Muslim Malays while those on the left are owned by Chinese and Indian Malays. That isn't the only difference. The Muslims pay just a few hundred Ringgit per month in rent and their utilities are provided free of charge while the Chinese and the Indians pay thousands in rent and extra charges for their gas, water and electricity!
It is an unfair situation and racially prejudiced but in spite of this there was no prevailing animosity that I could see on the surface. The atmosphere is calm and the town, safe to wander at night. Most nights however were spent in the common rooms of the guesthouse where I made plenty of friends as we drank beer, spirits and tea into the wee hours of the morning.
On my second day I hooked up with two American girls, Katie and Steph and an Indian South African (a Reddy boy) called Jeshan. They all knew each other from
teaching in South Korea. Together we went to one of the tea estates. It was not at all what I imagined it to look like having visions of the tea plantations of Assam in my mind. Nevertheless, I am pleased to say that I was not disappointed!
The following day Steph and I went for a hike to the waterfall through the mountains and hooked up with two French girls we bumped into en route. The walk kicked all lethargy out of my body from last nights antics and brought life to my weary body. That day the girls left for Thailand and I stayed one more night. It was a very quiet evening as everyone I had met on my first night had gone but for one girl, Elinza from South Africa. The atmosphere was not the same and I was eager to move on.
I had booked passage to Kuala Lumpur for the following day and while I was keen to keep on moving I still hadn't managed to get Ton Sai out of my mind. The day before I left I was seriously debating throwing in my ticket and returning home. But the girls reminded
me of what I had told them earlier. They insisted I should stick to my plan and go to Borneo after KL and do my diving in Sipadan. I felt miserable on my last night even though I had made new friends but in my heart it wasn't the same.
The day I left for Kuala Lumpur I was incredibly unhappy. I boarded the bus and cried quietly behind my sun glasses lest anyone should see my misery. The remainder of the journey was much the same until we arrived at the city border when on realising that this was the home of the Petronas Towers, I shot up in my seat with a newfouond vigour. I told myself that I should not be miserable, that I was in a better situation than if I had been at home in England and that I should thank my lucky stars for this great opportunity to travel. Damn it I will be happy and I will have an adventure. Ton Sai can wait. I will return.
There are more photos below