All you need to know when travelling to the Cameron Highlands
A Brief History of the Cameron Highlands
Until the British colonial days, the Cameron Highlands was sparsely occupied by indigenous Malay tribes that called the wild jungle and high peaks home. The British though, more used to the cold climes of Europe than the humid temperatures of Malaysia, decided that the cool weather, rainy downpours, and high altitude of the highlands would make for the perfect summer retreat. They carved a road through the jungle, along the winding mountains, and began to turn the area into not only a colonial escape but into a highly successful agricultural area.
They planted everything from tea to strawberries, while at the same time building golf courses and colonial style houses and hotels. The distinct, British style has survived to this day, and it’s given the Cameron Highlands the unusual appearance you will find there now, where the jungle meets little England.
How to Get to the Cameron Highlands
The Cameron Highlands is located just 120 miles from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, making it a relatively accessible place to visit. Due to the rugged, elevated terrain, however, the only form of transport in and out is overland. There are no flights here, and there is no train line.
The main tourist hub in the area is the town of Tanah Rata – this is where people mean when they say Cameron Highlands – and here you will find a small bus station with transport options across the country. The most popular destinations are Kuala Lumpur, which is around 3 hours drive away, depending on traffic, and Ipoh, which is just under 2 hours away.
From Kuala Lumpur you can connect anywhere else in the country, and the huge airport here will be the easiest place to fly into, either domestically or internationally. In peak season and on weekends though, buses from Kuala Lumpur can be fully booked, so try and secure a spot in advance, either online or by visiting the bus station beforehand.
While there are connections from the Cameron Highlands to places in the north such as Butterworth, where you can catch the ferry to Penang, you may find it just as efficient to travel first to Ipoh and then change buses at the huge terminal here, or you can change to the train line, depending on your final destination.
How to Get Around the Cameron Highlands
The Cameron Highlands is very much a walking destination, and if you are fit and keen then it’s easy to walk to many of the major towns, plantations, and attractions using the jungle trails, which are generally well marked and in good condition. While there is no public transport except between the main towns in the area, if you don’t fancy walking, then the taxis in Tanah Rata all have set prices for the day. Also, the many hotels and hostels all organize day trips in Land Rovers, which are generally inexpensive.
Best Time to Visit the Cameron Highlands
It rains a lot in Malaysia. A lot. And in the Cameron Highlands, the prevailing tropical weather conditions are no exception. Particularly at night though, you will find it to be drastically cooler than the rest of the country. It always pays to carry an unbrella or a raincoat, no matter what time of year it is. In the cooler months, you will even want to take a warm coat and a few jumpers too.
November to February is when the monsoon passes over, and this can cause trouble if you intend on doing lots of hiking, as some trails can close and some of the mountain walks can become treacherous due to the threat of landslides. You can still, however, visit the main sights and take on many of the walks. This is when you’ll find the area much quieter. Just be careful and keep an eye on the weather during this time of year.
Peak season is during the drier period, between March and May, before it gets too hot. Since Kuala Lumpur isn’t that far away, weekends and holidays tend to bring lots of tourists. If you are flexible, try to plan your trip here midweek to avoid the worst of the crowds.
Where to Stay in the Cameron Highlands
The main base for the wider Cameron Highlands region is the town of Tanah Rata. This is where you will find the most hotels and tourist amenities, along with a great selection of restaurants and accommodation. From Tanah Rata, it’s easy to hike to or to arrange transport to the major sights. Here are some of the best places to stay in the Cameron Highlands:
Map Travelodge – This great backpacker hostel in the centre of Tanah Rata offers some of the best value dormitories in the area. The dorms are sectioned off into individual units, complete with curtains and power sockets, which gives the beds that element of privacy many hostels lack.
Heritage Hotel Cameron Highlands – The Heritage Hotel is found on the outskirts of Tanah Rata. It offers visitors great rooms and four-star amenities and services at an excellent price. There’s an onsite restaurant and the jungle trails are within easy reach.
Cameron Highlands Resort
Cameron Highlands Resort – Located in a quiet spot in the countryside between the towns of Tanah Rata and Brinchang, this colonial style hotel epitomizes the Cameron Highlands’ unique style and history. The five-star hotel comes complete with antique furnishings, overlooks the golf course, and seems to be perpetually surrounded by the mist that drifts across the highlands, adding to its allure.
Where to Eat in the Cameron Highlands
The Cameron Highlands is a great destination for foodies. The towns are full of a great selection of Malay, Indian, Chinese, and Western restaurants. A particular favorite in the area is British-style high tea, which can be found at many of the more upmarket restaurants. You can purchase scones, jam, and clotted cream at many establishments too. A particular colonial style favorite is Ye Olde Smokehouse, a grand country cottage that would be more at home in the English countryside than in the highlands. They even serve a British Roast Dinner on Sundays.
Every Friday and Saturday, the Brinchang Night Market is held a few miles outside of Tanah Rata. This gets busy with locals and visitors trying out the huge selection of predominantly Malay street food.
Guide to Hiking in the Cameron Highlands
Hiking trails in the Cameron Highlands are, for the most part, well marked, and well-trodden. The network of Jungle Trails, as they are called, take in most of the major attractions and when combined with the roads, will allow you to walk through most of the best areas and from town to town. Most of the trails start, end, or can be combined with other trails to bring you to and from Tanah Rata.
Jungle trail in the Cameron Highlands
Ensure you take plenty of water and be prepared for rain and humidity. The weather can change rapidly. In the dense forest, it can quickly become hot and you may find long sleeves and insect repellent become your best friend. While on top of the high peaks, it can quickly become misty and cold.
Best Things to Do in the Cameron Highlands
There are lots of other things to do in the Cameron Highlands besides hiking, below are some of our favorites.
- The Boh Tea Estate
The Boh Tea Estate
The Boh Tea Estate is one of the oldest tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands and is currently the largest producer of tea in Malaysia. You can visit the plantation to see how the tea is grown in staggeringly vast rows of plants that stretch along the steep hillsides. The high viewpoint offers impressive vistas of the plantation, which is absolutely vast, while the tea here is some of the best you will find anywhere in the world.
- The Mossy Forest
The Mossy Forest
The Mossy Forest is a unique environment within the jungle where the cool conditions and sheltered areas provide the perfect ground for moss and other similar vegetation to flourish. You can wander through this surreal, green, and beautiful world on the wooden boardwalks that make their way through the forest.
- Visit an Orang Asli Village
The 'Original People' in Malay before the British arrived
The Orang Asli – in Malay, this means ‘Original People’ – are the tribes that called the highlands home long before the British arrived. A few of the Orang Asli still live in their traditional villages and you can visit them to learn more about their history, culture, and attachment to the land around them.
- Strawberry Plantations
The Cameron Highlands are quite literally awash with strawberry plantations where you can stroll through the plants in the beautiful surroundings of the hills, pick your own fruit, and sample the huge range of other farm products the plantations tend to sell too.
- Go Golfing
If you are up for the challenge, check out the beautiful golf course in Brinchang. The course is 18 holes with varying greens and terrain.