Hot curry and cool climes in the Cameron Highlands

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August 14th 2015
Published: August 15th 2015
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Sarah: We arrived in Tanah Rata in The Cameron Highlands early afternoon on Monday. We were now 1200 metres above sea level in cooler and wetter climes: it started peeing down as soon as the bus pulled up. Luckily it didn't last long and we had soon dumped our bags and were in search of a curry lunch. After oodles of noodle dishes in Penang and being greeted by a multitude of Indian restaurants, we couldn't resist! We ended up with a chicken and cashew nut curry, tandoori chicken, rice, some dhal, a naan and a food baby.

After lunch we took a token walk around the relatively small town. The Cameron Highlands is known for its tea, strawberries and hiking. Unfortunately the development here has not been very sympathetic. Enormous hotels dominate the hills, strawberry and vegetable farms seemed to have been placed wherever there isn't a hotel and the forest left for hiking is slowly being removed. It seemed a shame, but we were hoping that once we got out on to the walking trails that were left we'd be away from the development and building work. A successful potter around the town was had however: bus tickets sorted for our next destination, a map of the walking trails bought and a laundry located for use at another time. After an early start we headed back to the hostel for a coffee and a bit of R&R. Despite all the noodles we've eaten since arriving in Malaysia I wanted more after having rice for lunch. That evening we called in to one of the several much-of-a-muchness restaurants to satisfy my cravings. Although all the restaurants were all very much the same, they were all very much tasty and the char koay teow and mee goreng noodles that we shared didn't disappoint!

On Tuesday we set out on our first walk. We had decided to follow trail number 10, which was a circular walk starting in Tanah Rata. There are the usual tour offices in the town peddling guided walks but we had decided to go it alone. We had the very basic map, that had no contours, no distances and the lady that we bought it from couldn't tell us the length of the trails or approximately how long they would take ('It depends how fast you walk'). We had also heard that the tour guides had removed some of the signs along the trails, to make navigation all the more tricky. All in all, it felt a bit like they don't want you to come walking in the region. However, once we'd found the start of the walk (with only one very short false start) we found that other walkers had tied helpful bits of plastic tape with the trail number on, so we knew we were on the right track. The actual trail itself was a bit harder than we anticipated. The climb was very steep and there was a lot of scrambling over and crawling under trees that had fallen across the path. After about an hour's ascent we reached the peak of the walk with a good view of the valley below. We had to enjoy it quickly as almost as soon as we arrived the clouds came in and surrounded us with a very welcome cool mist. It was downhill from there (in the literal sense), through some forest before we reached a backroad that was to lead us back to Tanah Rata. We completely lost our bearings and felt as though we were walking in the opposite direction of the town. However, after about 45 minutes on the road we popped right out in the town centre. This felt more like luck than judgement and we were certainly not helped by the map! We were back in time for a late lunch and after the pretty strenuous walk and a couple of slices of toast for brekkie we were pretty hungry and so back on the curry: channa masala and naan for me and a mutton murtabarak (pancake filled with yumminess) for Nick.

In the afternoon it was back to the hostel to take advantage of the free coffee and a bit more reading (I think I managed one page before napping, in truth). In the evening we tried out a little Japanese restaurant for dinner. We treated ourselves to a two course meal of gyoza dumplings and pork belly to start, followed by a kimchi pork stew for me and a selection of sushi for Nick. It was all yummy and made even better by the very smiley old owner.

Wednesday brought another day and another attempt to follow a different trail without knowing how long or difficult they were. We had a vague plan for a circular walk with the option to bail at the halfway point in Brinchang, a town slightly further north, that we would pass through. Again, the start was a bit hard to find and some of the signs at various junctions had been scratched out to try and prevent us from finding our way. Once we were on track though it started out as a very pleasant walk through some vegetable farms and forest. We met another couple coming the other way just as we were about to start our first big ascent. After our deep breaths to prepare for the climb they commented that this was actually the 'best' bit and we (in true British fashion) laughed politely, after the first part was so easy, how difficult can it get? Little did we know that from there on out, they weren't kidding. The path was really steep and very slippy over soft mud and exposed tree roots. The ups and downs seemed never-ending and then we arrived at a stream where a lot of trees had been cut down and the path was nowhere to be seen. On the opposite bank we could hear, but not see, some younger and fitter men that had overtaken us. We couldn't see any sign of where they had been so we crossed the stream and followed their voices. We were scrambling through quite thick vegetation over very mulchy soil on a very steep slope but had no desire to turn back. After feeling a bit lost we did ultimately meet up with the proper path near the top of the slope. Phew. After that it was still pretty hard going but we were soon in Brinchang where we ordered several iced teas and some chickeney and ricey lunch. Recharged, we decided to walk back along another of the trails that we had heard was much easier going. It was indeed a nice gentle stroll back past a golf course and along the river. Throughly muddy and tired we were relieved to arrive back for hot showers and a short rest. In the evening we were joined by our friends from Georgetown who had now caught up with us. After a shared tandoori butter chicken and naan we went for some drinks in the 'Jungle Bar'. The bar had an open fire in the centre of the room (it really is cool in the evenings: leggings, hoodie and scarf have all been dug out of the bottom of the rucksack), surrounded by chairs and sofas. Time passed over beers and chat in front of the fire and before we knew it, it was silly o'clock and time for bed.

After two days of walking and a late night we fancied something a little more chilled out on the Thursday. We had arranged to walk to one of the nearby tea plantations with Beth and Eddie and set off late morning. It wasn't the most pleasant of walks down the main road but there were some good views over the tea plantations and we soon arrived at the tea shop to sample their produce. The different shades of green of the tea plantations in the valley was really stunning and the development here was a lot more muted compared to other valleys in the Cameron Highlands. After our drinks we decided to keep going down the main road to see where we could get to. We bumped in to an American who we had met in Georgetown and was also staying in the same hostel as us in Tanah Rata. He told us that we could walk down a bit further and then pick up trail 9 to Tanah Rata, where he had started from. Apparently it would be a gradual ascent for us...We found the trail which started off very gently along some back roads and then we began our ascent. It was not quite the chilled out walk we had had in mind as the ascent was not as gradual as we had been led to believe! Near the top of the climb a tropical rainstorm started. Thinking it would blow over soon enough I left my poncho off but was soon soaked right through to my undercrackers and the rain didn't stop until after we reached home. It did make for a very impressive view of a waterfall that we passed on the last leg that was in full flow. We arrived back to Tanah Rata hungry, wet and tired and so agreed to quick showers before heading out for some grub. Despite the busy road to start and the rainy end it had been a really good walk with some impressive scenery. We took advantage of the Indian restaurants again, that evening, going for mutton claypot rice for me and a chicken jalfrezi for Nick. We were all pretty done in after the curry but headed back to the Jungle Bar for a few drinks - our bus was at 8:30 the next morning, no packing had been done and most of our clothes and boots were soaked. One thing led to another though and we had a slightly later night than planned, the open fire and company was too good to leave.

The next day we caught our bus without any problems, apart from the fact that the driver was a maniac that used his bus like a weapon, giving a little more than a love tap to one car within five minutes and getting distressingly close to pedestrians. We arrived in Kuala Lumpur for the second time on this trip only to leave again directly to Langkawi Island for our last bit of beach time. We both enjoyed the Cameron Highlands, it was nice to stop sweating non-stop for a few days, we were pleased to have got three decent walks in without the need for a tour and a bit of good company always makes the difference. For now though, it's time to readjust the clocks to 'Island Time'!

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15th August 2015

Last leg??
Lovely write ups as always. We have so enjoyed your travels and pics and are looking forward even more to seeing you both soon. Cannot believe how quickly the time has gone, conversely it seems ages since you left. Enjoy your last two weeks and a good trip home. Thanks Nick for your lovely email. See you soon. Lots of love to you both. M & D A. XXXX

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