Tanah Rata, The Cameron Highlands
8th October 2012 09:15
Getting to Tanah Rata didn't go very smoothly. The bus arrived on time, no problem there. In fact I was overjoyed with what I saw. there were huge, comfortable seats, with masses of legroom! It was by far the nicest coach I've been on yet. The problem came when we stopped off at a bus station for ten (scheduled) minutes to set down and pick up more passengers. I returned from the toilet to find an official looking pickup truck with police style lights mounted on the top, and some stern faced guys in uniform (I guess the Malaysian transport police) chatting to our driver. There appeared to be some concern with the door of our coach, which didn't quite shut fully, and required securing in order to stop it from opening further as we were driving along. I guess we were waiting around for 30-45 minutes while everyone had a big conversation about this door, opening and closing it, pulling and pushing it countless times. I was fully expecting them to say we couldn't go any further, when suddenly the police wandered off, the driver jumped in his seat and off we set! Lucky escape, I thought, except that wasn't quite the end. As we drew nearer to our final destination, the bus pulled over to the side of the road and the driver told us the police also weren't too happy with the state of one of his tyres. They'd also apparently told him a couple of times before about this, and insisted it be changed immediately... next thing we knew we were being jacked up and you could hear the sound of wheel guns as the wheel was removed and replaced with another. Coming from other countries in Asia, this was a refreshing change, where there was absolutely no policing of buses or minibuses at all!
Tanah Rata itself is very scenic, with nice views of the surrounding hills everywhere you look. It actually reminded me of one of those American towns you see so often on screen, like in Twin Peaks or Twilight, with the trees everywhere it had that kind of feel to it. Although admittedly I've never been personally, just seen them on screen. It also had a very nice park (yes I love my parks!).
On arriving I went to a few different places to find a cheap and cheerful hostel that had space for me in their dorm. Kang's lodge fit the bill, with a nice attic style, wooden beam affair in the roof of their building. At a price of RM 10 (£2), it was not the cheapest I'd been in so far in Asia (but obviously still a relative steal compared to the UK!), but Malaysia in general is more expensive. A taste of things to come, now I'd already visited the cheapest countries.
As I only planned to be in Tanah Rata for one day, I opted to take a half day tour the next day in order to ensure I saw all the local highlights. In actual fact, the tour was only ok, not brilliant. It didn't get off to the best of starts when we took a trip up to Gunung Brinchang to get a view from the highest point in Malaysia, at 6,666 feet above sea level. Unfortunately it was cloudy, so despite climbing a purpose built viewing platform, we had no view to enjoy. Disappointing, but these things happen. The views slightly further down, however, were still amazing.
We were gazing across a tea plantation, owned by a Scottish family and employing more than two hundred workers. The tea is cut every three weeks, as only the light green, new leaves can be used to make tea. A clever device is used which allows the workers to harvest ten times more than they would by cutting manually. They drag it over the top of the trees and the leaves get blown into the bag at the back. Unfortunately the tea factory was closed on Mondays, when I'd booked the tour (I knew this at the time), so we couldn't go in to have a look at how it's processed once it's cut. I'm sure we could have had free tasters had we been able to visit, but as many of you will know, I don't drink tea anyway (I am English, believe it or not) so I wasn't too disappointed there.
After coming down from the hills in a trusty 1988 Land Rover (still going strong!) we visited a butterfly farm. This was fairly average. There were a lot of butterflies there but they all seemed to be more or less the same species. There were some nice flowers though, always an easy photo opportunity, and a really cool tortoise:
A strawberry farm came next. For Lord only knows what reason, there are absolutely loads of strawberry farms in the Cameron Highlands. The area is so famous for strawberries in fact, that the shops have also produced all kinds of strawberry themed souvenirs for the tourists to enjoy. The farm we were visiting had a cafe attached, and with it the promise of cream tea, I naturally had to try some -just the scone mind - but it wasn't a patch on what you would get in England! There were also many other delights you could try. I went for the sundae, and the strawberry chocolate milkshake. They were gooood. I was very full! I also think I've had my strawberry allocation for the year.
Our last stop was a Buddhist temple. This was ok. It looked very similar to other temples I've seen along the way... the best was yet to come though, and strangely it wasn't a part of the tour! Behind the temple was the start of a jungle trek, which we could follow for a couple of hours in order to get back to the town. At least, it would have taken us that length of time if we hadn't got lost.
The tour guide dropped off three of us there (all actually staying in the same hostel) and we were given instructions to follow paths two, three, then five. Easy. The problem was, at the end of path two there were two directions to choose from. Left was marked as path three, and right was also marked as path three. When you join a path in the middle, which way do you go?! The wrong way, of course... like us! We realised our error when we reached a road and there was a sign from there pointing back in the direction we'd came, to path five. Our little detour probably cost us another hour, but it was a fun excursion nonetheless.
It was a shame to see (and hear) very large trees being cut down by chainsaw all around us as we were walking. If you've never heard it before, it's a very loud noise when they come crashing to the ground! We could only assume it was to make way for other huge, ugly hotel complexes like those we saw being built in a couple of places along the road. Another example of a town that will no doubt one day become ruined from excessive development and tourism.
So, in a bid to get away from civilisation entirely, my next stop was Taman Negara, the biggest national park in Malaysia, which promised lots more trekking, and the chance to sleep overnight in the middle of the rainforest. Blair Witch Project anyone?