The biggest and best known of Malaysia's hill stations lies on the northwest corner of Pahang, bounded by Perak to the west, and Kelantan to the north. On the jungle-clad 1500m-high plateau the weather is reassuringly British - unpredictable, often wet and decidedly cool - but when the sun blazes out of an azure-blue sky, the Camerons are hard to beat.
Most of the tourist attractions are on and around the plateau, but there are a handful of sights on the road from Tapah. These are listed in order from the bottom of the mountain up. There are three main townships in the Highlands:
(literally 'flat land') and
. The latter two are in the plateau area, either side of the golf course.
There are a number of worthwhile forest walks/treks in the Camerons. Good walking boots and a water bottle should be taken. It is advisable for women travelling alone only to trek with a guide or with other travellers.
Unfortunately, the Cameron Highlands is no longer a peaceful bolthole in the sky. Frenetic development is turning the area, in critics' eyes, into a building site where forest is fast making way for golf courses and luxury tourist developments. A new highway now links Ipoh to the Cameron Highlands and runs to Gua Musang for connections to the east coast, promising to bring a wave of development to the area.
Ins and outs
There are buses from KL's Puduraya terminal and Georgetown (Penang) direct to the Cameron Highlands and various tour buses make the journey too. There is a direct taxi service from Georgetown. Alternatively, catch a bus to Tapah, the main railway station for the Camerons. There are numerous connections from KL to Tapah, as well from Ipoh, Butterworth, Kuantan, Melaka and Singapore. From Tapah there are local buses to the Highlands. Alternatively, take a train to Tapah Road, Tapah's train station (outside town to the west), a bus or taxi into Tapah town, and a bus from there to the Camerons. There are twice daily rail connections with Tapah Road from KL, Ipoh and Butterworth.
Best time to visit
Buses from Tapah all pass through Tanah Rata and Brinchang and it is usually possible to climb aboard to travel between these centres. There are also taxis available for hire by the hour or for specific journeys.
Daytime temperatures in the Cameron Highlands average around 23°C, and in the evening, when it drops to 10°C and the hills are enveloped in swirling cloud (known as 'the white witch'), pine log fires are lit in the hilltop holiday bungalows. The weather has become more unpredictable in the last 50 years - torrential downpours and landslides are no longer confined to the monsoon months of November and December. But the mountain air is still bracing enough to entice thousands of holidaymakers to the Camerons from the steamy plains. Today, coachloads of Singaporeans wind their way up the mountain roads and, together with well-heeled KL businessfolk, fork out extortionate sums for weekends in timeshare apartments and endless rounds of golf.
Fifty years elapsed between the discovery of the highland plateau and the arrival of the first settlers. William Cameron, a government surveyor, first claimed to have stumbled across “a fine plateau, shut in by lofty mountains” while on a mapping expedition in 1885. The irony was that Cameron's name was bestowed on a place he never set eyes on. What he probably came across was the smaller plateau area farthest from Tanah Rata, known as Blue Valley. The highland plateau itself was discovered years later by a Malay warrior named Kulop Riau, who accompanied Cameron on his mapping expeditions. Cameron's report engendered much excitement.
In the colonial era this mountain resort was a haven for homesick overheated planters and administrators. Its temperate climate inspired an eccentric collection of them to settle and retire in their mansions where they could prune their roses, tend their strawberries, sip G&Ts on the lawn, stroll down to the golf course or nip over to Mr Foster's Smokehouse for a Devonshire cream tea. The British Army also had a large presence in Tanah Rata until 1971 - their imposing former military hospital (now reverted to a Roman Catholic convent) still stands on the hill overlooking the main street. To the left of the road leading into Tanah Rata from Ringlet are a few remaining Nissen huts from the original British army camp.
Hot on the heels of the elderly 'gin and Jaguar' settlers (most of them insisted on solid British cars for the mountain roads) came the tea planters and vegetable farmers. The cool mountain climate was perfect for both. The forested hillsides were shaved to make way for more tea bushes and cabbages and the deforestation appears to have affected the climate. The local meteorological station reports that the average temperature has risen 2°C in the past 50 years.
Southern Cameron Highlands
is a centre for making the large bamboo baskets that are used to collect the tea grown in the Highlands. The town itself is very small, a single street of dilapidated shophouses with a couple of basic hotels and a few eating places. The bus station is on Jalan Raja, just off the main road. Most long-distance bus departures from Tapah are from the Caspian Restaurant on the main highway. The Tapah Road Railway Station is about 10 km from the town.
, a jungle park with a swimming pool, fishing and natural hot pools, is only 13 km from Tapah, and has a basic camping area.
, 22.5 km from Tapah, is a beautiful jungle waterfall, which has been ruined by commercial ventures capitalizing on the picnic spot. However, it is a good place to pick up the local terracotta pottery, crafted in Kampung Kerayung. The
, further up the hill, is a better spot for stopping off. Near to the shop are Asli villages, waterfalls and jungle pools. It's a good spot for birdwatching and butterflies.
, the first township on the road to the Cameron Highlands, just inside Pahang state, was relocated to its present site in the 1960s when the original village was flooded to make way for the Sultan Abu Bakar hydroelectric scheme. Ringlet is the Semai aboriginal word for a jungle tree. The town itself is unattractive, with shabby 1960s apartment blocks. There is also a cluster of hawker stalls in the town centre and a well-used temple.
After Ringlet, the road follows a wide river to a large, murky brown lake, connected to a hydroelectric dam. The lake is overlooked by the famous
, a Tudor-style country house, formerly the home of Colonel Stanley Foster and now an 18-room hotel, and food and souvenir stalls. At the Habu power station, a road leads to two of the tea-growing estates of the BOH plantations. The letters BOH stand for 'Best Of the Highlands'.
is on the road to Gold Dollar tea estate, left off the main road to Tanah Rata from Ringlet (milestone 32). Before reaching Tanah Rata, on the right is a waterfall and picnic spot, on the left is the Cameron Bharat tea shop; which has a fine view over the Bharat tea estate.
Brinchang and around
Tanah Rata is the biggest of the three Cameronian towns. Having said this, it is still not very large, comprising a row of shophouses straddled along the main road where there are two or three restaurants, imitating British cafés with fish and chips on most menus. It is a friendly little town, with a resort atmosphere rather like an English seaside town. There are also several souvenir shops, including the Yung Seng Souvenir Shop, which is more upmarket than the others and has an interesting selection of well-priced Asli crafts, ranging from blowpipes to woodcarvings. It is also worth looking in local shops for teas from surrounding estates:
is the only shop that will let customers sample the high-grade leaf tea grown in the area. It is worth a visit for the traditional tea ceremony as well as the tea itself. The shop also stocks traditional Chinese clay teapots and other Chinese handicrafts.
In recent years Brinchang has grown fast: since the mid-1980s several new hotels have sprung up, mainly catering for mass-market Malaysian Chinese and Singaporean package tourists. It is not a very beautiful little town, although the central square, with its craft centre, offers a small ray of interest.
, a popular sight with Chinese visitors who arrive by the coachload, is located just outside Brinchang, along Jalan Pecah Batu, overlooking the golf course. It is backed by the Gunung Beremban hills and comprises both a temple and monastery, which were built here in 1971. Emphasis is on size and grandeur, with monumental double gates with dragons at either side leading into the complex. The inner chamber with its six red-tiled pillars holds a vast golden effigy of a Buddha.
Up the hill from Brinchang the Cameron Highlands becomes one big market garden and the terrain becomes increasingly steep and hilly.
Nearby Cactus Valley grows an amazing variety of the desert plants, some as old as 60 years, as well as a host of flowers including roses, bird of paradise, and an orchard of apples, peaches and passion fruit trees. Another attraction is
, which specializes in the cultivation of the kaffir lily, as well as strawberries, oranges, apples and a selection of cacti. Beyond Uncle Sam's, 4 km up the road from Brinchang, there is a large market selling local produce to eager customers from the plains below.
The Cameronian climate is especially suited to the cultivation of vegetables more usually associated with temperate climates. Cabbages, cauliflowers, carrots and tomatoes, as well as fruit such as strawberries and passion fruit, are taken by truck from the Camerons to the supermarkets of KL and Singapore.
, with its neatly terraced hillsides, has a small shop and café/ restaurant called the Strawberry View. Here, perched on the hillside, is the Equatorial Hill Resort.
is past the Kea Farm turning; be warned that there are some steep stairs here. There is a large shop attached to the garden, where everything from framed dead butterflies to Cameronian souvenirs (beetles embedded in key rings) is on sale. Outside there are fruit and vegetable stalls - all very popular with Chinese visitors. There is also a Butterfly farm located in Kea Farm.
is further up the mountain. A few kilometres beyond the Rose Garden, is a very picturesque narrow road. Nearby is one of the BOH tea plantations - the
Back at the Green Cow area, the main road ends at the
. Nearby is a large rose-growing establishment, called
. It boasts 450 varieties of rose including the thornless rose, the black rose and the green rose, said to be the ugliest of the rose family. It also has a cactus plantation where some of the plants are 40 years old and lays claim to having the largest flower vase in Malaysia.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF