Scones, tea and bronchitis?

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Asia » Malaysia » Pahang » Cameron Highlands
May 18th 2010
Published: May 18th 2010
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Penang - Cameron Highlands

Everything in Malaysia is Aircon. Guesthouses offer mostly aircon rooms, stores are aircon, buses are aircon, and it’s hard to escape.

Our bus from Georgetown left at 11am, we hoped on to the sound of ‘Hammertime” and rocked out to the soundtrack from Pretty woman three times over on the journey up to the Cameron Highlands in our aircon minibus. We didn’t feel the change in weather until finally arriving because of the aircon, and were surprised to find that it was just as cool outside as inside, of course we were at about 1500 m above sea level.

The Cameron Highlands were amazing. Beautiful rolling hills filled with strawberry fields and thousands of acres of tea plantations in every direction. We stayed at a place called Father’s guesthouse in an old metal framed ‘nissin hut’ for 35 RM a night (just under $11 cnd). The staff were amazingly helpful and very friendly, the food was quite tasty, and they had fresh tea and scones during the day!! We booked ourselves on the Rafflasia tour for the next day settled in for the night.

The next day had quite an early start as the huts we were in had shared bathrooms and we were right next to the showers, so an early start to the day to prepare for our trip up the mountain to see this famous Rafflasia flower as well as some tea plantation highlights. We set off at about 8:30 with two English guys, an hour drive to pick up a local Malay guide, some intense offroading by our skilled driver and a 15 minute hike along a muddy mountain road brought us to the start of our mountain trek to find the elusive rafflasia. The hike wasn’t too hard, it had some steep slopes but was mostly easy going until we tried to find the actual flower. We went a bit off the beaten trail, the local guide running ahead to scout out the area and find a big flower as opposed to the many buds we had been seeing. (They were the size of a basketball) Finally, after about an hour of hiking the guides found a full unbroken flower. It was another 10 minutes up a slippery steep slope surrounded by swarms of biting flies to reach the flower.

To call the rafflasia a flower is wrong; it’s actually a flower shaped fungus. All the same it was quite large (the largest on record is 1.3m across and weighed in over 20lbs. It apparently stinks of rotting flesh (which would explain the nasty little flies) but decided to be scentless that day just for us. After a couple of pictures (our guide was apparently an amateur photographer without a camera and loved snapping away with our camera) we started our slip-slidey way back down the hill to the path. We were allowed a 15 minute rest at a nice waterfall where we ran into Suzanne, one of the girls from our trek in Chiang Mai coming up from the falls.

After contemplating a swim in the questionable pools (leeches?) we carried on back the truck, through the jungle and down the muddy road, which for some reason our vehicle couldn’t make it up, but as we were walking down about 5 other trucks passed us full of tourists. We went to the local village to drop off our native Malay guide and were shown a quick demonstration on the technique of blow darts. Apparently I’m a master! (I forgot to mention all the practise I had in my dad’s backyard when I was younger with his souvenir blow darts from South America).

Next up it was the tea plantations. We went to the Boh tea Plantations, which originated in the 1920’s by a British man living in the area. They planted about 50 acres to begin with in 1929; all of the original tea plants are still there, along with 8000 more acres of sprawling mazes of new plants, being cut down for tea leaves daily. The bushes were quite low, about 2-3 feet off the ground when properly trimmed and groomed, but if allowed to grow turned into massive Tea trees. We were given a tour of the processing factory where the leaves go from fresh and green to the brown delicious dregs you see in the bottom of your cup. They allow the leaves to dry on the second and third floor of the building before they pulverize the leaves in massive spinning machines into what we see in tea bags. From there they heat up the pulverized bits and then place them in massive white sacks where they sit for six months to allow the smell and flavour to reach its fullest. They then package the tea leaves up into tea bags, boxing them up and shipping them worldwide. If you haven’t heard of Boh tea before, it’s because they sell a lot of their leaves to outside companies for use (they didn’t name any specific companies).

After the tour of the packaging and drying area we had lunch on a terrace jutting out over a huge area of the plantation, taking in the majestic sight of the fields of tea bushes over a fresh hot cup of tea and scones. We were then allowed a very special treat, our guide grew up and still lived on the tea plantation, his family were all harvesters, and he was allowed into the grounds were most people are not, because of this he was able to show us the most amazing viewpoint. We were able to look out over almost the entire Cameron Highlands, and could see just how far the tea plantation reached. It was absolutely breathtaking. We also got to try our hand at harvesting tea leaves and see the different ways the workers collected the leaves. It was more interesting than one would think and we really enjoyed the tour of the plantation.

Just when you think the tours over, there are more surprises! We were taken to the local butterfly farm, much smaller than the one on Penang, less expensive (5 RM each, about $1.50 cnd) and had a way better display of the local insect and reptile population of Malaysia. We saw the massive rhino beetle, a few of the man-faced beetles, a gigantic locust, and some freaky scorpions that the guide seemed a little too friendly with! There was also a snake display with many different varieties (no cobra’s though). The butterfly garden itself was a bit disappointing. It was more like a butterfly cemetery; the ground was littered in dead butterflies. They didn’t have a huge variety of butterflies either, so it was a quick 5 min walk around before we carried onto our last stop, the strawberry farm (yummy!!).

There wasn’t much to the strawberry tour as they have the entire area sectioned off so tourists can’t go destroying the crops by eating all the juicy berries, there was a small area where we were allowed, showing us that they planted the crops in coconut husks in a white bag as it was easier than planting in soil and having fields lay fallow before planting new crops. It was pretty cool how they had it all set up though, hundreds of plants in hundreds of rows as far as we could see. The best part of the strawberry farm was the shop where you could buy fresh juicy berries, and have a tasty strawberry shake. There was also strawberry ice cream, strawberry scones, strawberry jam, strawberry pancakes, strawberry waffles... you get the point.

After a long and full day it was back to the guesthouse for some R & R, which was apparently needed much more than I thought as I was starting to feel a bit under the weather, not sure if it was because of the cooler climate and massive amounts of aircon we had in Penang or if it was just because of the long day, we tried to get to bed early but I was kept up all night coughing. We decided to take it easy the next day to give me the chance to recover and Scott some time to upload the photos from our trip. There was a nice lounge area with a TV so we spent the day watching some sort of discovery channel with travel shows until George and Sebastian (our friends from the trek in Chiang Mai) turned up and we spent the night discussing our travels thus far and catching up.

After another sleepless night for me we decided to go to the clinic to see if it was the bronchitis coming back or just a mild cold. The doctor said it could be bronchitis but my lungs sounded fine, and to come back in a few days if I was still feeling ill. We still had some cough syrup from when Scott was sick that caused massive drowsiness so I took some of that and managed to fall asleep for most of the day. Nothing too exciting that night, we went for dinner in town at an Indian restaurant, and checked out the mini night market selling random things shaped like strawberries (pillows, clothes, pencils, hats...). More cough syrup and off to sleep I went, only to wake up even more sick.

We said our goodbyes to George and Seb as they were headed for the Perentians that day and then went back to the doctor for another check-up. He told me that I needed to have some blood work done to confirm if I did have bronchitis or not, and would also need a chest scan to see my lungs, and the hospital in the Cameron Highlands wasn’t that good quality, and that we should go to Ipoh, a two hour drive away, as they had a very good private hospital. We checked out of the guesthouse and called a taxi to take us straight to the hospital (better than waiting for a bus and dealing with aircon for two hours, plus it was only 150 RM, $46 cnd).

The hospital visit really wasn’t that exciting so I won’t spend much time talking about it, we saw a doctor pretty quick, had a chest scan to make sure it wasn’t more serious then Bronchitis, and some blood work. I burst out in tears at the thought of having a needle but it wasn’t that bad, a slight pinch and I had an IV tube in my hand for four days. We wound up staying three nights at the hospital in the premier ward which was very nice. We had our own private room with two beds and some very friendly nurses looking after me. The food was horrible, it was a hospital after all, but the care was top-notch, very clean and modern. After 4 days of IV medication and twice a day check-up they discharged me with oral medication and my very own copy of my blood work and chest x-ray (how exciting).

We decided that the thing we needed was somewhere to relax in the sun and warm ourselves up while recovering. We could go to the Perentians or to Langkawi. We decided on Langkawi because it had more facilities, whereas the Perentians (from what we had heard) were very remote with little in the way of healthcare, which I wanted to be near in case the bronchitis relapsed.

We considered taking the bus, but thought it would be more fun to catch the train back to Butterworth (the mainland town connecting to Penang, where we knew we could catch a ferry to Langkawi) and taxied to the train station.

We checked into the drabbest room I have ever seen. It was probably a great place to stay in the 1920’s when it was originally built, the outside looks pretty cool, very British colonial, but I’m not too pleased with the quality of the room, or the fact that it’s air-conditioned. We’re going to see if there is an earlier or overnight train we can catch instead of waiting until the morning like we had originally planned. We’re both so ready to leave Ipoh and get to the beaches.

Next stop, Langkawi!!

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