We left Langkawi island on the 6th of January for the Cameron Highlands, however we could only get a bus ticket to the city of Ipoh, which is the nearest city to the highlands.From Langkawi Ipoh is about a 4hr journey. When we got to Ipoh we were told all buses to the Cameron Highlands were full which was bad news as neither of us wanted to stay a night there - not because it is not an interesting city, but because we were conscious that we are now on a tight timescale to get to Singapore and there's so much still to see in Malaysia. Actually Ipoh seemed like a cool city - it is a good size and is surrounded by limestone cliffs. It is a mining city and there are quarry's everywhere on the outskirts. Because of this it is also pretty wealthy. The city is full of Chinese who came to mine, so most of the shops and signs are in Mandarin.
Anway, Phil eventually found out from someone there is a 'local' bus station on the edge of town and a bus was leaving to Cameron Highlands at 6 so we got a tako there
at about 3pm and bought a ticket. We went to a restaurant to wait for the bus and got talking to an Argentinian called Gustavo who was also getting the bus. At this point it started raining really hard. Normally this would'nt bother me but the Loneley Planet says landslides are common on the Cameron road and to 'check the status' before travelling if it has recently rained! No worries though, the bus journey was pretty uneventful. The bus climbed pretty steadily through the mountains for 2hrs until we reached our destination - the town of Tanah Rata at an altitude of 5000ft in the middle of the Highlands. It was dark when we got there but the first thing we noticed was how cold it was - we'd been in plus 30 degrees for the last 7 weeks and suddenly it was 10 degrees and we were in shorts vests and flip-flops (jandals!). We had booked a room at the Twin Pines Chalet and as Gustavo is travelling on his own he wanted to hang out with us for the next few days which was cool, so we got a room for 3. That night we had an indian,
which was several different currys all served on a banana leaf. It was funny as they didnt have cutlery and expect you to eat it with your fingers, though i wussed out and asked for a fork. That night we also booked a tour of the highlands ready for the next morning.
So the next morning we had an early start and jumped in the minivan for our tour. The mountains are mostly covered in dense jungle though 30% has now been cleared for agriculture - they grow everything up here as the climate is temperet - always between 10 and 20 degrees. Most of the places we were visiting on the tour were to do with the local agriculture industry. It seems everyone here drives a Land Rover, most of them battered up. Our guide said there are over 10,000 Land Rovers in the Cameron Highlands. This is where Land Rovers come to die! The first stop was the 'Rose Centre' which was a big garden centre built on terracing on the side of a hill. Next we went to a strawberry farm and tried some strawberrys and had the nicest strawberry smoothie ive ever had. After that we
went to the insect zoo and saw loads of weird creatures from the surrounding jungle like giant beatles, scorpions, spiders, snakes, lizards etc... I held a gecko which crawled up my arm and also a big scorpion - sketchy! Next was the highlight of the tour - a visit to a tea plantation. There are lots of tea plantations in the highlands and we visited the 'Boh' tea plantation which is at the highest altitude. 'Boh' are the biggest tea producers in Malaysia, though they were started and are still owned by a Scottish family. We had a factory tour and then tried the teas on the terrace overlooking the plantation. The tea bushes are pruned to waist height and are grown on all the surrounding hills - no slope is to steep for the tea plant! It looked really beautiful and the smell in the air was amazing - obviously like tea but herbal and sweet. The tea plants are 80 years old and are still producing as only the top leaves are harvested. Our guide told us they have tea plants in China that are over 600 years old and are still producing tea! There was the odd
big tree in the plantation and apparently these are tea trees - just a tea plant that has never been pruned. After the tea plantation we visited the honey farm (beehives) and then visited a local market. Phil ate a 'Cameron apple' which was revolting (nothing like an apple) and I had some yellow tomatoes which were sweet. That night we all went out for another Indian. Beer is very expensive here so we were not drinking (much).
The next day we decided to do another tour, which involved a couple of guided treks in the jungle. The first was to see the Rafflesia - a giant flower which only blossoms in the jungle for 5 days and then it dies. Each flower takes 9 months to grow to bud and then you only have a 5 day window to see it. The flower is about 2 foot in diameter. To see the flower it was about 30 mins off-roading in a Land Rover and a 1 and a half hour walk into the jungle. The off roading turned out to be a bit crazy, we had to get up a muddy jungle track which was steep uphill all the
way, and the mud was more than a foot deep in places. We got stuck 3 or 4 times and we had to get out and walk a section. The Land Rover had to find different angles to find traction, though eventually we got up the hill. The walk was fairly easy going though also quite muddy, and it was worth it to see the weird flower. Next we practiced shooting blowpipes at targets at a tribal village, though I am skeptical about whether the villagers still use this for hunting as there is a market 1hr down the road. After lunch we went back to the Boh tea plantation and had more tea, then in the afternoon we went up the Cameron Highlands highest point at 6666ft. Unfortunately the view was slightly obscured by cloud. We then took a walk in the mossy forest which is the jungle at the peak. There were some strange plants and the clouds cleared up so we got some decent photo’s.
That night we went out for a meal with the people from the tour. We went to a Chinese restaurant and ordered a steamboat, which is basically a massive pot of thin
Chinese soup called Tom Yan which comes out on a gas hob and you cook the assorted raw food that is brought out in the soup, then try and fish it out with a ladle when it’s cooked. It is mostly fish but there was some tofu, veg and egg also. We had a few beers that night but not too many as we had to get up early the next morning for the bus to Kuala Lumpar... my next blog!
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