When I visited Cameron Highlands in March after a twenty-year hiatus, some friends were surprised that I found the hill station delightful. They felt that there wasn’t much to do in Cameron Highlands (or Camerons) aside from strawberry-picking and having afternoon tea. Others felt that Camerons has lost its tourist destination appeal due to development at such rapid pace, thus turning the highlands into a scrum especially during weekends and school holidays.
Perhaps you need to understand that Cameron Highlands is a small town. The locals are mainly vegetables, flowers or strawberry farmers – their farms are not huge enough to export their produce overseas but sufficient to provide for the local community in the hill station and tourists. As such, they are not aware of the classy way to sell and promote their farms and products. Every farm wants to take advantage of revenues earned from the mass, be it from strawberry fruits to tacky strawberry pillows and toys , all of which can be a turn-off for some tourists.
On top of that, there are numerous travel agents operating run-of-the-mill tours such as visits to strawberry/flowers/fruit/bee farms, tea plantations and Chinese temples to jungle trekking. These travel agents are just, hmm, okay in their delivery of the tours but there are a handful of tour operators in Camerons that are serious about nature conservation which I feel more attention and support need to be given.
While we can close an eye to the provincial ways of Cameron Highlands, the one thing which I’m urging Malaysians not to ignore is the exploitation of land in the hill station which obviously has had a negative impact on the environment. We have read about illegal forest clearing, landslides and shortage of water. Those of us who have been to Camerons find that the temperature isn’t as cold as it used to be. Corruption is also rife among private land developers, many of whom are NOT from Cameron Highlands and are obviously in cahoots with the state government. Farmers are helpless because they feel that the time spent to protest against this exploitation means time away from working their farms which translates to lesser income.
Honestly speaking, I do not know what are the ways in which we can do to help save the environment in Cameron Highlands because there isn’t much publicity about which NGO or private organisation that is working hard to conserve the hill station and fighting against elements that are destroying it. However, there was an article featured in the New Straits Times in May about a NGO called Regional Environment Awareness Cameron Highlands (REACH) which is making progress with reforestation programmes and school education awareness. Unfortunately, their progress is slow, an uphill battle because of constant threats against the NGO and the lackadaisical attitude of society in general. Can politicians help? Well, let’s not bring them into the picture here.
We cannot stop tourism in Camerons because that will take away the livelihood of the people. But as of now, my role as a travel blogger is to share a little insight – what you need to know about Cameron Highlands – to help prepare you to appreciate the hill station better for its cool weather and lush greenery in spite of the kitschy tourist attractions, mediocre hotel accommodations and traffic snarls 🙂
Therefore, on a brighter note, to discover what you can do at Cameron Highlands, check out these activities:
#1 Tour the tea plantations
Due to high altitude and temperate climate, Cameron Highlands is Malaysia’s tea producing capital. Visit Sungai Palas Tea Plantation and Boh Tea Centre where you will learn the history of Malaysian tea, watch the production process, and enjoy stunning vistas of carpets of tea fields with a cuppa at the Boh Tea Centre Café. It’s possible to combine the tour of the plantations with visits to a strawberry, bee or butterfly farm, or with a short hike in Mossy Forest.
#2 Pick strawberries!
Cameron Highlands has the ideal climate to grow strawberries. These strawberries are hydroponic-grown in pots which do not require soil but fed with nutrients for the strawberries to grow.
Majority of the strawberry farms provide opportunity to self-pick strawberries – all you need to do is get a plastic bag from the farm and start picking fresh, juicy strawberries from the pots. Once you have finished, bring the plastic bag to the counter to weigh and determine the cost of your purchase. If you can’t get enough of the fruit, you can always treat yourself to a variety of strawberry-flavoured ice-cream or lassi drinks at cafes in these farms.
Some strawberry farms grow vegetables and flowers as well; you could buy fresh lettuce and flowers from the farm as well.
Tip: Pick strawberries at smaller farms rather than the large commercial ones. The fruits at the smaller farms are bigger and sweeter. Owners of the smaller farms are more generous in packing more fruits for the same price that you pay at the larger farms.
#3 Have afternoon tea
Cameron Highlands is also known as the “little England of Asia” where some hotel properties have preserved and maintained the original Tudor concept with interiors complete with vintage finds, modest furniture with floral prints, a fireplace, reading and drawing rooms and picturesque gardens, giving the properties a quaint countryside charm.
With remnants of British past of heritage cottages, along with pristine natural forest and cool climate, you can experience the English tradition of afternoon tea with scones served with homemade strawberry jam and cream. Hotel properties such as Ye Olde Smokehouse Hotel and Planters Country Hotel still serve afternoon tea with scones served in their gardens and drawing rooms.
#4 Jungle Trekking
Jungle trekking is one of the main activities in Cameron Highlands with most of the trails centred around Tanah Rata and Brinchang. Some trails are not marked and numbered well, therefore it is advisable to do the following:
- Obtain a map from the Tourist Information Centre in Tanah Rata or download offline maps from Maps.Me or install Waze on your phone.
- Get in touch with a guide through the travel agencies in Tanah Rata for the tough jungle trails.
- Inform your hotel/guesthouse the trail that you are going to explore before you set off trekking.
If you are not inclined to explore some of the toughest trails or to trek on your own, you can sign up for the Mossy Forest short hike through travel agencies where the tour operators typically combine with a tour of the tea plantations as well.
Moss is a natural environment of the highlands at this elevation where the low levels of clouds blanket the forest with constant mist and moist. You can go on a 2km boardwalk to explore Mossy Forest.
Note: I signed up for a half-day trip of Mossy Forest Tour via Eco Cameron Travel & Tours. Eco Cameron is highly recommended, for their tours emphasise on environmental education and their tour guides are ALL local Cameron folks who have to go for training, reeducation and assessments every 6 months in order to provide quality tours to tourists.
#5 Eat at Tanah Rata and Brinchang
Tanah Rata is the administrative and commerce centre of Cameron Highlands where you will find shops, eateries, banks, bus station, clinics and the police station.
Brinchang is the second largest township after Tanah Rata and the centre of Brinchang comprises Chinese restaurants – many of which serve steamboat cuisine – shops and budget hotels. The Night Market used to be located at Brinchang until it was moved to another site about 2km away.
Are you planning a trip to Cameron Highlands soon? How about booking your accommodation here?
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