Please note, I do have a tendancy to waffle but I will try to clearly label various attractions so you can skip my irrelevant details and go straight to the information that most interests you:
Started off by getting a metred taxi (hooray - they used the metre) to Bukit Jalil bus station in KL - this is because KL Sentral was being renovated, they decided to move the bus station about half an hour out of town in the middle of nowhere. The metred taxi cost 17 ringgetts - this is worth remembering as when we came back - taxi drivers met us off the bus and offered us a taxi back for 40 ringetts! Luckily we were wise to it!
Anyway, Bukit Jalil is a brilliant crazy place, there's tents with various bus and coach companies all vying for your business and I had thought you needed to book the travel ahead so had phoned CS travel to book the journey - however you don't need to book ahead, you can just turn up at Bukit Jalill (or KL Sentral) and get a coach to virtually anywhere you need to get to. This way you can get the cheapest deal too.
So Cameron Highlands, I found the journey up to CH really amazing. As you catch sight of those famous rolling hills of tea, there are so many Orang Asli stalls at the side of the road selling long beans and durian. This continues as you drive up the mountains into the highlands, you catch snippets of local life and amazing scenery too. Most of the other tourists on the bus had the curtains pulled across and were asleep! The fools!
So we arrive in Tanah Rata and laden with heavy backpacks found our way to Century Pines Resort. I love turning up to nice hotels looking like a backpacker, because they always look at you like you've maybe got the wrong place. Then you get to feel super smug as you produce your reservation! Then after a shower, a kip and bad horror film from the 80s on our very own telly, we head out to explore Tanah Rata.
Tanah Rata is a very small town that is pretty much all in a square. It's got a slight feel of colonialism to it but it's still very Malaysian, particularly the restaurants. There's roadside stalls set up selling roti canai, satay and teh terik and towards the back of the square, seems to be where all the locals hang out. We decided to go to as many different establishments possible on our first night -
1st up - we went for a beer at the Swiss German themed restaurant. This place is really bizarre. We were the only people in there and there was somebody sleeping sat at one of the tables, being so bizarre means obviously it's fantastic and you should definitely go, even if just to see it. There are pictures of rolex and Arnie and anything that can be tenuously linked to Switzerland or Germany!
Next - we had a teh terik and a satay at the roadside. Being outdoors, this was a great place to people watch.
Then - we went to Jasmine - a Dutch themed restaurant! They don't even have Dutch themed restaurants in Holland! The restaurant was orange, there were cloggs everywhere and a Dutch duo called 'Nick and Simon' were playing on repeat on DVD. Also, it was full of Dutch people. There are loads of Dutch tourists in Malaysia. If you're a Dutch tourist looking for a giggle, I'd recommend Jasmine. I should also mention the food was good and the manager was friendly.
Then, as we were walking back - a nice young man in a Man United hat managed to persuade us to enter his establishment for a drink and some pudding. This restaurant was called 'Restoran Kumar'. It has no airs and graces, it is to the point yummy grub, it is always busy but the staff (particularly the nice young man in the MU hat) make you feel welcome, even though they're running around like crazy keeping on top of everybody's orders. As I queued for the toilet (Malaysian loo but by this time, I'm a master at squatting), a nice old man preparing veg in the kitchen blew kisses at me, now that's good service!
This was the big day of our Cameron Highlands trip - our tour with the company called 'Cameron Secrets'. My rather cheeky aim was to enjoy lovely accommodation, ensuite etc but still get all the backpacker fun by doing a tour with other backpackers - what fake backpackers we are! Anyway, the tour cost 100 MYR for a full day and yes - there are companies that do the same tours for less but I really wanted to go with this company. So the tour consisted of:
Boh tea plantations
Incredible scenery! I have never been to a tea plantation before so I found it really awe-inspiring beautiful. More beautiful than I even expected, in the morning there was a backdrop of blue skies too. Our tour guide Bob took us to many tea plantations - a smaller one, where we could walk amongst the tea leaves and get pictures, and the Boh factory where you can see how it is manufactured and sample the tea at the cafe with an awesome view! Bob was incredibly knowledgeable about the tea, how it is made and how the workers are treated. This was very interesting and something tourists should always be aware of. Whilst the scenery is stunning and the experience of visiting such a place is wonderful as a tourist, it is important to see the reality beyond the tourism surface too. In the afternoon, there was more opportunity for this as the tour split off and those who paid for a half day left, leaving only 6 of us on the tour for the afternoon. This was when Bob took us to another bigger Boh tea plantation and this was a lot quieter. You could actually see the workers picking the tea up on the hills and you could see the settlement below where they live. Being a small group, we were able to ask Bob lots of questions about this, and he was happy to answer every one.
Mossy forest and highest point look-out
This was on the half day tour, Bob took us up to a lookout tower up on the highest point, then he took us on a walk through the mossy forest. The mossy forest is much cooler than other forests in Malaysia and people like to go walking there because there are no mossies or leeches. What made this part interesting for me was Bob's knowledge about all the various plants. My favourite part was when we stopped at the side of the road, he picked various plants - told us their healing qualities then we would pass it around and smell it, chew it, eat it.
Orang Asli Settlement
This was one of the things I was most looking forward to about the entire trip. Initially, we were going to Taman Negara instead of Cameron Highlands, mainly because I wanted to see the Orang Asli but destination expert Global Traveller pointed out you could visit Orang Asli here and that changed everything. The Orang Asli visit is in the afternoon so it's in a smaller group. At first, the experience was very uncomfortable, Bob told us to wander up the hill and say hello to some of the locals but at that stage we didn't feel able to. We felt like silly rich western tourists come to see how people different to us lived - which I guess is what we were (minus the rich part, unfortunately). However, Bob soon helped us to dispel those thoughts - as we walked into the village, there were a group of lads playing volley football and we would join in by throwing the ball back to them everytime it went flying off too far. Then Bob took us into one of the old style Orang Asli bamboo huts, I say old style because the government are now increasingly providing concrete houses for the Orang Asli so the majority now live in those. One of the elders made a campfire for us, and we were there for ages learning all about the history and culture of the Orang Asli. What was particularly interesting was learning about the government's take on them, and how they are increasingly encouraging young Orang Asli people to leave that culture and come into the modern world. I won't tell you too much about that because you should learn it from the tour. Again, Bob was amazing at teaching us and very patient with all the questions we (I) were asking! Bob also showed us how to use Orang Asli hunting tools and we each had a go at using them to chop the wood on the fire. Then, we did the blowpipe demonstration. This was fantastic. We stood outside the hut to an audience of Orang Asli children and we each had a go at hitting the target with the blowpipe. One very cute little girl decided to play hide and seek hiding behind the target before my go, I did wait until she moved to take the go!
Then we left the settlement to a chorus of 'abbor' from the children (it's a greeting that can mean both hello and goodbye), and we felt so different to when we arrived there, because, as Bob had taught us - the culture is dying out. I don't believe there's many records of it in books and the only way to keep it alive is by educating people about it. Bob said now is the time to visit as in a few years, it could be completely different. Also, this was REAL Orang Asli life as it is now. No-one wears grass-skirts or whatever the old pictures show, they wear modern clothing and are pretty much the same as everyone else, they're just part of an indigenous culture with is interesting to learn about. Bob was saying in Taman Negara, they wear traditional costumes but he says that is all a show and does not reflect true Orang Asli life as it is today.
Tour finished and we've had a truly fantastic and educational day! I wanted to buy Bob a beer but couldn't find him so please - if anyone sees him - buy him a beer from me.
Later that evening, we went back to 'Restoran Kumar' for a stunning banana leaf meal and chicken in cashew nuts - thoroughly recommend those dishes! The nice chap in the MU hat was there and he recognised us! Then, we went to fulfill a prophecy which I'd made that morning - I told my partner 'we will meet lots of cool people today and we will go drinking with them'.
And we did at Traveller's Pub which does exactly what it says on the tin.
Overview - I loved the Cameron Highlands and as it is very unique to other destinations in Malaysia, I would recommend it as something that may be a bit different to other places you may be visiting in Malaysia. Two nights was more than enough for us and I don't know what people would do if they didn't book onto a tour. I liked Tanah Rata but I don't think it's a wow destination in itself, as a base for exploring the surrounding areas though - perfect.!
Oh and bring a jacket - it gets cold in the Camerons! Layers are King!