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Exploring Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands

MALAYSIA

Heather Markel, Best Selling Author, TEDx Speaker, Traveler, Full Time Travel and Business Coach

After a week in Kuala Lumpur, I’m looking forward to some time in nature. I’ve seen photos of the Cameron Highlands that look gorgeous, and I love tea, so, it seems a natural fit! I chose to stay at a homestay – Ng Homestay – by Kea Farm as it got great reviews and says it’s close to all the sites I want to see. I start with a 3-night booking but, last minute, I add a 4th night.

I take a Grab from my hotel to the bus station. Once again, the driver needs the toilet so we stop at a gas station. In all the travels I’ve done, I have never taken a taxi and had the driver ask me to stop so he could pee. This is a new trend for me!

I arrive early to the bus station and have a little trouble figuring out where my bus gate is. The entrance ends up being some distance away from the area the buses pull into. Eventually I sort it out and head downstairs. The bus pulls in, we load our bags into the hold, and board. I have a single seat in the front, complete with leg rest, and it’s pretty darn comfortable! The drive is mostly ok, apart from a car that cuts us off on the highway and almost causes an accident. We have a good driver, thankfully, who keeps us safe.

Durres port

First glimpse of Tanah Rata

Arrival In The Cameron Highlands

Upon arrival to the Cameron Highlands, I meet the woman seated across the aisle from me. Sandra from Germany. She asks if I’d like to hang out and see some of the sites together and share costs. I eagerly say yes, but then learn that my homestay is waaaaaay out of town. As in, not walking distance and there are no public buses. I had no idea it was so far as I had presumed all of Cameron Highlands was fairly small. Here’s a map showing you Tanah Rata and then my hotel at Kea Farm.

bari port

Pro Tip: As it turns out, the distances are not that great. The issue is the market. It’s open from about 9am – 6pm every day, and causes huge traffic jams. The drivers coming from Tanah Rata don’t want to drive in that traffic, and if you do hire one, you are basically paying for the round trip fare as they have to drive back to Tanah Rata.

I decide to get lunch as I’m starving. Sandra and I exchange numbers first and agree to try and meet up later. The town seems really touristy and I’m glad I’m not staying there. My lunch is fried chicken. Not my first choice, but close by the bus station and easy. I’m beginning to learn that they use a different part of the chicken in Malaysia than I’m used to, or maybe they are just skinnier, because most of the chicken here is very boney.

Stomach satiated, I request a Grab. The request times out as there are no available drivers. I try three times, then give up and go to the taxi station. I’m shocked to find that Grab would charge 16 ringgit, and at the taxi station, they want 40. A driver says if I wait, I can pay 30. I don’t understand what I’m waiting for. He says traffic jams at the market. I soon learn the waiting is just for other passengers so he can make even more money off the ride. 🙁 He charges me 30 ringgit despite taking other customers. Not cool. I realize it’s only 7 USD, but it’s the principle that still bothers me.

Eventually I get to my homestay. It seems to be a more relaxed area. I didn’t realize that I’ve chosen school holiday week so it’s extra packed at the market. Upon arrival at the homestay, Ng greets me. She is very kind, and has some cats and kittens! They don’t like strangers but I enjoy seeing them anyway. Ng is lovely and tries to help me with tour guides and offers me some nice fruit while I’m there. I have a table and chairs outside where I take breakfast and speak to my neighbors each morning, so it’s rather lovely.

I’m happy to discover Cameron Secrets – a tour company willing to pick me up at 9am at the market for their half day Mossy Forest and Boh tea plantation excursion. It’s a group tour and very reasonably priced. As always in Malaysia I have to navigate random traffic to cross the street to my meeting point and the day is fabulous.

We start out at the sunrise point – a gorgeous view over the tea plantation owned by Boh. Our guide explains they only pick the youngest leaves and the plantation is owned by a British family. Next we hop back into our truck and head to the Mossy Forest – one of the world’s oldest, apparently. I also learn that Malaysia has the oldest rainforest in the world, whereas Brazil has the largest.

The Mossy Forest

We walk up a lookout point and are lucky the clouds haven’t moved all the way in so we can see the beautiful view below. Afterwards, our guide walks us into the forest and shows us some of the flowers and fauna, including a cobra flower! And another that makes its own water.

Bari castle
meeting Jessica
meeting Jessica

Boh Tea Plantation

Then we load up and go to Boh Tea plantation! Unfortunately, it took so long to order tea and food that we only had about 30 minutes, so I decided to return another day.

Then we load up and go to Boh Tea plantation! Unfortunately, it took so long to order tea and food that we only had about 30 minutes, so I decided to return another day.

Inside the Duomo di Milano
Boh tea plantation

I quickly find out that tours here are expensive. Not by US standards, but when you pay $2 for a meal, paying $30 for an activity seems expensive. So, I skipped out on a few things I wanted to see and stuck to the local surroundings. I visited one of the butterfly parks with some animals. I visited a rose garden, a cactus store and even a strawberry farm. (Watch the video at the bottom of the page to see my visits to all these places, and even a Steamboat Dinner which is “the thing to do” when you go to the Cameron Highlands!)

cameron highlands cat park
cameron highlands cat park

I find a cat park and spend a while with one falling asleep on my lap which was a nice cuddle. I was upset about all the stray dogs, mostly because they all ran in fear when I tried to feed them. I had to approach slowly, let them sense I didn’t mean them harm, pour the food out, then step away. I came across a pair of stray dogs for whom I did this, and stayed nearby. I got used to pouring out smaller amounts because I never knew if they’d eat the food or run away. this pair ate, then one walked towards me, showing me they were still hungry. We did the dance again. They backed off, I poured more food, then backed off and they returned. By the end of it, they devoured an entire 500 gram bag of dog food. 

This is where I learned that muslims can’t touch dogs. I don’t understand the rationale, but it’s in the Quaran and they can’t do it. It’s heartbreaking to see hungry dogs that also will never get to have a nice cuddle. I hope my feeding the ones I saw made their day a little better.

On my next-to-last day I tried walking to the Boh team plantation – only about 2 kilometers from my homestay. But, the road is windy and narrow and two ways and has wild dogs. So, not the safest or most comfortable. In the end, I was rescued by my tour guide from Cameron Secrets! I saw him back at the sunrise spot and he told his colleague, heading the same way as me, to pick me up in a bus, and he did! They also arranged transportation back for me at only 20 ringgit, compared to the 90 ringgit the taxi company had wanted to take me both ways!

All-in-all, I liked the Cameron Highlands, but 4 days was too long. If I had it to do again, I’d also explore going to the Perhentian Islands which are nearby, though apparently a little complicated to get to. I would stay in Kea Farm again or even someplace more remote to avoid being in the touristy towns, though best done with a car. Otherwise, it is easier to get around from Tanah Rata.

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