Destination: Cameron Highlands (Tanah Rata) Number of Days there: 3
Our Best of: Refreshing and cooler temperatures, friendly folks, Hiking trails in cooler temps
One thing unexpected: "Free" WIFI in our hotel
Times we took the: Bus: 3 Train/Subway: 0 Taxi/Car: 0
Estimated KM walked: 10 - 12 Times we were “lost”: 0
Where we stayed: Cameronian Inn 35RM/$12US
Favorite Restaurants: Restaurant Kumar - tandoori chicken with naan - 8RM (US $3)
Day 1: Hiking - 9a/Boh Tea Garden
We arrived into Tanah Rata on the night bus from KL and were pleasantly greeted by both the refreshingly cooler air and two taxi drivers selling us on their respective hostel/hotels. Normally this sort of thing happens, but these two drivers were rather genuine - free ride, telling the truth, can this be? After deciding on one of them, it was indeed true - he took us to the Cameronian Inn, got the price he said it would be, and did not charge for the ride.
The Hotel was well priced (35 RM/12us only), friendly staff, and clean. It also has a one for one book exchange, Internet, log books, and a decent breakfast, even if it was mostly western fare. The also had some free maps that were pinned to the wall of the local hikes. All you had to do was either copy it down from the wall or take a picture of it on your camera and use that as a map. I must say it was a really neat concept and someone had really spent a lot of time drawing them out, including all of the wrong ways. We opted to do the 9a trail. It is one of the more popular trails in the area and leads you down past a waterfall on the way to one of the tea plantations. The hike took about one and a half hours through the jungle, most of which was on the very edge of a steep hill. At times the trail almost seemed impassable which lead me to think, if this is the most popular trail, what do the others look like? Other than the multitude of branches that had fallen down over the trail it was a pretty easy hike, downhill 95 percent of the way. The trail emerges out of the jungle and into a farmer's fields just above a cute little temple.
From the end of the trail it's another 7km's to the Boh tea plantation, which according to the book was "a gentle, uphill slope". I suppose this depends our your measurement of "gentle". Luckily for us about 3kms into the hike, a nice fellow with a truck stopped and took us the rest of the way up the hill. Tea grows on a small bush and the last 3km's of the walk or so was just fields and fields of little tea bushes rolling over one hill to the next. After walking up to the very top of the hill for a great view, we took the tour of the mill. Here they cut, roast and bag up the loose leaves and ship the bags to Kuala Lumpur for packaging and then shipping. Apparently Boh tea is only marketed in Malaysia and Japan, but they have plans to expand into Europe in the near future. After sipping on our tea and sharing a slice of apple pie (they need to work on the crust a bit) we made our way back down to the hill until the bus came by and took us back into Tanah Rata.
Tanah Rata itself is not very large, you can walk from one end to the other in about 10 minutes. Most of the town consisted of hotels and restaurants, obviously catering to tourists and visiting locals (it's apparently a nice getaway location for Malays from KL for the weekends.) With several options for dining to choose from, including the all important Starbucks (surprisingly it's just as overpriced here as it is anywhere else, $4-$5US where the shop next door will sell you a coffee for about $1US), we opted on a nice little place called Restoran Kumar. Most of your options in Malaysia so far for food come from three main camps - Indian, Chinese, or local Malay - which appears to be a combo of the two to some degree. We decided to split a Tandoori chicken and some Naan, which was so tasty we decided to come back again the next night!
Day 2: We bite the bullet and take the tour
Taking tours are not really our cup of tea, pun intended, but we figured the only way to see the Raffelasia, one of the largest and rarest flowers in the world, was to take one. Of course the tour also included a visit to...the Boh tea plantation :-). As with most tours, they try and cram in as many things as possible so they can attract the most number of people that you really cannot appreciate what you are seeing/doing until it is time to move on to the next thing. Our tour not only included the flower and the Tea plantation, but also a stop at a little "native" village, dart blowing, swimming in a waterfall, a strawberry farm, rose garden, butterfly room and reptile garden. After driving another hour and a half, we arrive at the Orang Asli village and give dart blowing a try. Tracy proved to be the better hunter, hitting the target squarely while Jason's attempt sailed into the hill beyond the target. After wandering around the village without purpose or reason for about 20 minutes it was time to start the trek to the flower. Our driver informed us that today was his day "off" and he needed to rest so a local village boy, aka gangster, was going to take us to the flower. Judging by the guides shoes, we all thought he had a lot of "days off" and never really took the hike. After walking up the dirt road for about 45 minutes, we hiked through the jungle for another 45 minutes until we came to the spot of the Raffleasia. The flower itself only blooms once every 4 years or so and will only grow if it has just the right amount of rainfall, not too much and not to little. Spanning about three feet across, it really was impressive, considering that next to it was one yet to bloom and it was only about 6in across. After a quick dip into a really cold waterfall, it was off to the tea plantation. At least it was the "other" Boh tea plantation and this one was much more geared to tourists than the one from the day before. After taking the tour, again, and having a "spot of tea" again, it was back in the van and off to the Butterfly/Reptile/Rose Garden, aka crappy tourist trap. At least it was only 5RM per person and the little two minute presentation of bugs and reptiles was entertaining. Other than that, total waste of time - unless you enjoy looking at the exact same butterfly over a hundred times, a lot dead and the ones living might as well be dead - hard to tell the difference. The tell tell sign of a well run establishment has to be the "graffiti" cactus - names and initials carved into the sides of all the cactus lining the walkways. Finally ending our day of fun filled touring we stop at the Strawberry farm. Interesting that they grow them above ground in nice little rows. I guess they prefer it this way so they can get the red all the way around the fruit as opposed to the one side lighter than the other. The saving grace of this stop and pretty much the entire afternoon was that the strawberry shake was pretty good and we met a Swiss man named Claudio who is traveling the world by motorbike and had some nice recommendations for us in Indonesia. After stopping into Kumar's again for some Indian and our first try at Murtabak, a local dish that is similar to on omelet only with some type of bread holding it together, we pack up and get ready to head out to our next stop in the morning, the Perhentian Islands!