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Published: June 23rd 2015
Thirty-second history lesson for the day: Back in 1885, during the British colonial era, a government surveyor named William Cameron stumbled upon a beautiful plateau nestled in the Titiwangsa mountain range in Malaysia's interior. It was suggested that the area would be the perfect location for a retreat from the heat and humidity of the lowlands, as well as ideal terrain for farming. An isolated hill station was developed about 30 years later, followed by what is now the famous Boh Tea Plantation. Today, the Cameron Highlands are one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Malaysia!
Seeking our own respite from the heat and humidity in KL, we accepted an invitation with our new friends Daryll, Jasmine, and Suzan to join them on a day trip to the highlands. This involved waking up at the truly evil hour of 5am, but we forced ourselves out the door and met up with them for the 3-hour drive. The drive alone was fascinating, if for no other reason than our diverse company! Daryll and Jasmine are both locals, and both of them speak at least four languages, including English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Hokkien (another dialect of Chinese), Tagalog,
and Japanese. Suzan (my blond companion) is from Holland, and her linguistic skills include Dutch, English, French, and Arabic. So ten languages spoken in the car group (eleven if you count my really rusty Spanish). I'm probably starting to sound like a broken record, but I simply cannot get over these talented people who speak three, four, or more languages fluently. Safe to say...I'm envious!!!
Anyway, moving on. After a quick breakfast of baida roti (Indian flatbread stuffed with eggs - yum!), we headed northeast out of KL towards the mountains. A long, incredibly windy road took us through the foothills, up and up through some of the thickest jungle I've ever seen. A canopy of trees soars high above your head, so dense it almost blocks out the sun. Our first stop was the picturesque Lata Iskandar waterfall. A set of narrow, questionably safe stairs takes you up the hillside to the top for a really pretty view. Whatever image you have in your mind of true tropical jungle - be it Jungle Book, Swiss Family Robinson, or Indiana Jones - that's what it looks like.
Next stop was the Cameron Valley Tea House. I've never personally
seen a tea plantation before, and I gotta say - it's BEAUTIFUL!! Huge rolling hills dotted with perfectly manicured rows of tea bushes...looks a little bit like those stepped rice terraces you'd find in China or Bali. The air smells
like tea too. I kid you not! It actually permeates the air, giving this rich earthy wonderful smell as you walk around and admire the views. We moved on to the appropriately named but sadly misspelled Healthy Strawberri Farm next. There are quite a few in the region, some that allow you to pick your own and others that sell lots and lots of strawberry goodies. Most double as nurseries, too, and sell everything from flowers to potted plants to cacti (yes, cacti in this climate!) to locally produced fruits, veggies, and honey.
We stopped for lunch in the little town of Brinchang. As always, finding somewhere that can cater to Jeremy's gluten allergy is a challenge. In addition to the fact that it was a small town in the middle of the mountains, it was also the second day of Ramadan, which meant all of the Malay restaurants were closed. Our only options were Chinese - tough for
Jeremy, given the soy sauce in everything. Luckily, we had Daryll and Jasmine to help us decipher the menu and do some translating for the server. Jeremy ended up with a bowl of rice-noodle and chicken soup while the rest of us chowed down on chicken, pork, and local veggies. Somewhere in the middle of our meal, a few kids decided to set off firecrackers INSIDE THE KITCHEN, which scared us half to death and about blew out our eardrums. The owner came out and explained they were celebrating the "holiday" (Ramadan), even though they're Chinese. As a side note, there are more secular holidays celebrated here than just about any other country on earth. You've got Muslim holidays, Hindu holidays, Buddhist holidays, and the major Christian ones, too, like Christmas or Easter. Any excuse to take some time off work and celebrate, I guess!
Once our heart rates returned to normal, we piled back into the car and made a brief stop at the "Butterfly Garden," which turned out to be more of an insect petting zoo (translation: a place where you can have scorpions and tarantulas crawl all over you). It was unanimous decision to bypass the
exhibit and proceed to the much more civilized Boh Tea Plantation. This is the one that started it all, and the vistas really are a sight to behold! A trek up a tea-covered hillside takes you to their tasting room, where you pick one of dozens of specialty blends, grab a scone with some yummy clotted cream and strawberry jam, and settle in on the open-air veranda to admire the scenery. (You know that old phrase, "Stop and smell the roses?" Here it should be, "Stop and smell the tea!") I wish I could bottle that scent!! So fresh, so earthy and crisp...especially when you've been in a low-lying, smoggy city for the past three weeks. It was like we'd died and gone to clean air heaven.
Our final stop for the day was at a lavender farm. It was what the name implies...long rows of beautiful purple lavender and lots of shops dedicated to all things lavender. Essential oils, candles, bath products, candies, jams, you name it. They even had lavender ice cream, which I of course had to try! There were also more fun flowers, a koi pond, and some children's play areas. The drive home (different
route than our way up) afforded us a cloudy but beautiful view of the highest peak on the mainland, Gunung Irau, which rises to just over 6800 feet (2090 meters). Dinner was late (10pm) back in the city, a Malaysian place that sells only one dish - nasi lemak. There are a few variations of this dish, but the most common is fried chicken, rice, a fried egg, peanuts, and a spicy sambal sauce. Sounds a little weird, I know, but it's delicious! And it'll cost you less than $2.
We already decided that our next visit to the Highlands will include an overnight stay so we have time to check out one of the many hiking trails that traverse the range. It's a lovely, idyllic little area, and it's easy to see why the British colonials would have loved the place as a quiet "retreat." No, you won't find any nightclubs, zip-lining, or other high-energy activities. What you will
find, though, is a relaxing, tea-scented breath of fresh air from the hustle and bustle of Malaysia's big cities.
(Scroll down for more photos. There's an extra page too).
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