[As I write this, my thoughts are with the families and friends of the passengers on the AirAsia flight that went missing in the Java Sea. I flew domestically with both Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines just weeks ago.]
From Kuala Lumpur, I chose to travel up into the Cameron Highlands for a complete change of scenery from skyscrapers to lush vegetation. The promise of tea, strawberries, and a cooler climate lured me up into the hills for a break from the oppressive heat of the big city.
The main town is called Tanah Rata, followed by Brinchang just north. After hours of looking for somewhere to stay, I eventually went with the recommendation from the concierge in Kuala Lumpur, the Cameron Highlands Resort. It was a gorgeous colonial-style building with atmospheric Christmas lights and a tree in the lounge area. Having arrived late afternoon, I had a nice few hours of reading before going for dinner in one of the hotel’s two restaurants.
To see the main attractions of the area, I was advised to get a taxi that would drive me from place to place and wait outside as I explored each one. My driver was a third-generation Indian, his grandfather having come to Malaysia to work on the Boh Tea Plantation for 8 cents a kilogram. The Boh Tea Plantation was established by the son of a British government printer, J. A. Russell (who was also behind the construction of Kuala Lumpur Railway Station), in 1929, and became one of Malaysia’s first brand names – using the character Mr Boh in the early days of TV advertising. This was the first stop.
The whole tour lasted three hours. I enjoyed the range of sights though it was quite tiring to do so many stops! And it was all incredibly commercialised, despite our avoiding the worst spots with market stalls overrun by Chinese tourists. In fact, they weren’t as busy as usual this year – it seems a lot of tourists had been put off by reports of landslides a few weeks earlier. I had read about it but then forgot! In any case, this particular area wasn’t affected.
After such a strenuous excursion, I ended my stay in the Highlands with a traditional Malay massage in the Spa Village. It began with a complimentary tea bath – but of course! I foolishly asserted that I was happy being naked in the bath (rather than wearing a sarong), not realising that this meant undressing in front of the masseuse and then lying in the bathtub with my breasts bared like I imagine Cleopatra might have done. As I lay in the hot tea, with flowers and petals thrown in for good measure, I was given a tray of condiments: sugar and lime (for my elbows), tea leaves (for my face), and water with lemon and honey (to drink – best not to get confused!). After 15 minutes of relaxation with plinky plonky music through a set of headphones (along with a slight worry about possible electrocution) and screensavers on the TV in front of me, the masseuse returned with another tray, this time with tea bags for my eyes. After half an hour of stewing I got to lie on a bed with heated pillows for my neck and stomach, after which we finally got to the massage itself.
A traditional Malay massage involves long strokes using an oil that in this case consisted of onion, garlic, and lemongrass. “It’s okay?” she asked as she held out the oil for me to smell. “Err… sure?” Lying on a heated mattress, smothered in garlic and onion, I felt like I was being prepared for some cannibalistic banquet. At the end of the treatment, though, I was VERY relaxed. I ignored the instruction that I was not to wash the oil off for an hour and hopped straight in the shower (though too late to save my clothes from taking on that lovely foody smell).
Speaking of food, the next day I continued on to Penang…
The practical bit:
Cameron Highlands Resort: Cameron Highlands Resort is in Tanah Rata, 5-10 minutes from the bus terminal and a similar distance away from the start of all the plantations and farms. Even if you don’t stay there, I strongly recommend the afternoon tea for RM 45 – about £9!
Taxi around the area: The hotel organised the taxi for me at RM 30 per hour for a minimum of three hours – this was plenty of time to explore the area. Boh Tea Plantation: free. Cameron Lavender: RM 5. Rose Valley: RM 4. Bee farm: RM 5. Butterfly Farm: RM 5. Strawberry Farm: free. Temple: free but donations welcome.
Bus: The taxi from the bus terminal to the hotel cost RM 10, then RM 15 for the return on the Sunday morning. I bought a ticket for the Untiti Express at 8am to Butterworth (on the mainland) and Georgetown (on the island of Penang) via Ipoh, for RM 32.