The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tea Time in the Cameron Highlands

Days 418-420, January 17-19, 2011

On the suggestion of numerous people, including Lucy and Dumindor, I made the Cameron Highlands a must see stop on my little trip through Malaysia. In reality, I wasn’t sure what to expect but as the mini bus made it from the coast in Penang up into the interior, the landscape blew me away. Once again, the limestone karsts that are so numerous in Ha Long Bay once again showed up.


The Highlands of Malaysia are famous for their tea plantations. Because of the height of the highlands, the weather there is perfect for growing tea trees and other vegetables. And, like much of Malaysia, the British influence is strong here. This area only became a major tea growing area after the Britains showed up with their own love of tea. That love has now spread throughout Malaysia. So much so that, even though they produce tons upon tons of tea here in the highlands, they still have to import tea to keep up with the demand. As such, none of the tea made in Malaysia is actually available outside of the country.

Staying in the highlands is a definite experience. There are many numerous townships along the winding road that goes through the highlands. In one direction, the highway heads down to Ipoh and Penang beyond it. The other direction takes you directly to Kuala Lumpor. One of the largest of the towns, Tanah Rata, is one of the furthest south ones you can stay in, but not the one that most of the hostels and resorts can be found.

Photo via geocaching.com15115048-99ff-46e6-b80a-91ca56b4f12a

For me, I opted to get the van to drop me off in that particular town as it seemed to be the easiest. The first place I looked at was a dump for too much money for what you get. A little walk later, and I came upon a tour agency, TJs. The owner offered me a room in his guesthouse($20/night) or to help me find something cheaper or nicer if I so wanted. When I saw the room I felt it was more than sufficient. I’m sure I could’ve found cheaper but this was probably going to be the last time I would be able to get a private room for so cheap on my trip so I set my bags down.

For activities in the Cameron Highlands, you’ve got a fair share of choices. Most of them involve hiking. After settling into the room and grabbing a bite to eat, I did just that. There are up to a dozen named trails that wind through the mountains. It is very important that one stays on these trails, and to choose your timing carefully, as it is easy to get lost and never find your way back. The most famous case of this, Jim Thompson, is still unsolved, over forty years after he disappeared.

Church in Cameron Highlands. Photo via geocaching.com65a027e5-a009-45bc-b6c3-361ab53ffcac

That first days hike lasted me about six hours and took me about 15km round trip. It was spectacular and the smell of the wet undergrowth and trees was heaven. Of course, you wouldn’t expect me to not find any geocaches along the way, did you? I did manage to take a little break halfway through and grab a pot of tea at an old English teahouse along the way. It was expensive, but so worth it for the serenity and the taste. The whole area, as I walked through the trails and roads, was entirely quiet.

Bridge along one hike. Photo via geocaching.com58ee737c-66e3-4cac-ba90-7cd8c6537b65

One of the other activities I managed to do, besides solo hiking, was to take a tour up to the highest point in the Highlands, interspersed with a hike through the “Mossy Forest” and the BOH Tea plantation. The view from the top was interesting, but not spectacular. The weather wasn’t cooporating that day. Too bright on one side, too cloudy on the other. The Mossy Forest though, that was spectacular.

Mossy Forest. Photo via

Because of how far above sea level this section of the Highlands are, the forest is continuously in the clouds. The moisture and temperate climate is the perfect combination for moss to grow. And the diversity of the moss was amazing. It was so cool to walk through the trail, feeling the ground bounce or squish under our feet because of the amount of water in it. The guide even demonstrated just how much water the moss soaks up by taking a handful of it, maybe enough to fill a cup, and squeezing almost four cups worth of water out of it.

Pitcher Plants. Photo by

And of course, no visit to the islands is complete without a tour of a tea plantation. The tour I took was at the largest in the Highlands. Everywhere that the eye could see were tea plants and workers diligently trimming the leaves off of the ready trees. It’s a constant rotation. I learned more about tea there than I thought there could be known.

Photo via geocaching.comc69fc13f-ef4b-478c-9ac0-c69452a038c0

After the extreme heat in Penang, visiting the Highlands was a welcome relief. There is plenty to see and do there beyond what I did. There’s even tours in order to go find the raffelsia, the world’s largest flower. But , unfortunately for me, none were found to be blooming at the time I was there. Those are a luck of the draw as it takes two years for a plant to bloom, but they only flower for about five or six days. Maybe you’ll get lucky on your trip!

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