Tea not only tastes good, it also looks good. Pictures speak for itself and in this case, I don’t need to try to convince you to visit Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, and see it with your own eyes. You will fall in love with its greenery, get to walk in between the tea fields and taste the tea straight from the producer. In this post I will tell you what to do in Cameroon Highlands and what to skip. Hope to inspire you to travel more ethically.
What to do in Cameron Highlands?
People were telling me that 2 days are completely enough for Cameron Highlands but I spent double than that and was still willing to stay more with those charming views. It’s definitely good place to have a rest for a couple of days. Cool air on this attitude lets everyone refresh. For this reason people from Penang or Kuala Lumpur come to Cameron Highlands. It’s a great escape for foreign tourists as well, after getting fried on the beach of Langkawi you may want to cool down a bit, which is often called Malaysian winter. However, tea plantations are not the only thing to do, as well as there are some activities which you should rather skip, because they are not worth it.
1. Hike in the tea plantations
First of all, Cameron Highlands is famous for its tea plantations with stunning views. Moderate climate brought Sir J.A. Russel to this area in 1920s and made him discover perfect conditions for agriculture. First tries with coffee and cardamon didn’t bring good results – fruits were not growing big enough. Tea was a great success and business started to grow, bringing workers from Burma and Bangladesh. Later, Indian immigrant bought part of the fields from English Government and this is how we have two companies making tea in Cameron Highlands: BOH and Cameron Valley.
Both are gorgeous and absolutely worth it! The most popular way to discover Cameron Highlands is going for the sunrise. You can see the fog down the hills and sun rays slowly making everything bright. You can walk as much as you want in between the slopes of tea and after come to rest in the tea house and taste the tea.
2. Taste the tea straight from the producer
There are two companies which tea plantations you are welcome to visit: BOH (which is the oldest – 1921) and Cameron Valley. Both have tea houses from where you can admire the view at the tea fields, while sipping a cup of tea. Mmmmmm… As you may know that I am tea lover, you can understand that I simply couldn’t leave this place. Shopping locally is a great way to support local economy. Getting tea straight from the tea plantation is also more eco-friendly as it didn’t have to travel and produced less carbon footprint. Unfortunately, tea in Cameron Highlands is not organic, unlike second Malaysian tea producer on Borneo Island – Sabah tea.
3. See the tea production
While visiting the BOH plantation and the tea house, you can have a glimpse on the tea production process just the next door. There are 5 stages before you can consume the aromatic beverage. First they remove water from the fresh leaves and break the leaves to expose its juices. Next, they wait on the trys until they change the color due to the fermentation which happened when the enzymes from the leaves mixed with oxygen. That is a crucial part to develop the characteristic for black teas flavour and aroma. In the next stage, nearly 100 degrees Celsius air dries the leaves to stop the process of fermentation. After sorting, the tea is ready to drink.
4. Mossy Forest
The most unique thing to see in Cameron Highlands is Mossy Forest. 200,000 year old rainforest is called Lord Of the Rings Forest. I was feeling like inside of the Hobbit movie or another fairy-tale. At such heights clouds cover the forest with constant mist and moisture. That, respectively, creates moss and unique floras such as Orchids, Ferns, Pitcher plant and precious plants used as medicines. Truly magical scenery.
5. Hike the mountains
There are several trekking trails in Cameron Highlands. All paths are well marked on maps.me app, which I highly recommend while traveling. My favorite was trail nr 10 which lead to the top of the hill with a nice view. I have tried also nr 7,8,9 which took me to David’s Falls and Mount Beremban with minimal views around. All of them I accessed from Tanah Rata.
The hikes are medium dificulty and most of the time under the shade of the trees. However, it gets really hot and humid on the very steep hills so be sure to bring a lot of water. While walking on those you will see mossy trees on the higher attitude. In some places you don’t really walk on the ground but on the elevation of very old roots system which makes you sink in when you step on it. Incredible nature!
What to skip in Cameron Highlands
Cameron Highlands due to moderate climate has developed extensive agriculture. Lot’s of hills are covered with farms and provide fruits and vegetables to all Malaysian peninsula. For a foreigner it’s usually nothing special to see flower beds or strawberry farm where fruits grow on the platforms under the plastic. However, it’s something exotic for locals so that they are able to pay entrance fees to make a selfie in a strawberry farms or flowers farms. Apart from the plants, there are plastic statues of flowers, hearts and whatsover to make a selfie with.
There are also raflesia farms, which plant the flower to make it a tourist attraction. Another thing is hiking in the mountains and seeking for natural rafflesia flower, which is very rare and blooms only for a night and another thing is making an artificial production with rafflesias. I would really love to see rafflesia, which is the biggest flower in the world and can have up to 1 m width, but faking it for profit is not for me.
Butterfly Farm is another place I would add to the SKIP-s list in Cameron Highlands. It’s not a sanctuary trying to preserve the butterflies, but simple garden with prisoned insects and frames with dead butterflies.
How to visit Cameron Highlands?
There are many guest houses and tiny mountain villages along the main road. Most of the tourist guest houses are in Tanah Rata. Friendly little place with a bunch of restaurants and cafes. Trekking trails which you can reach walking are all around the village. However, Tanah Rata is a bit far from BOH plantation or the Mossy Forest. The budget way is to hitch-hike and then hike, but that’s the whole day trip. Secondly, you can rent a motorbike and roam around freely, however, bikes rental is quite expensive (around 80 ringgit per day). Third option is choosing an organised tour, which is very convenient, especially if you want to go for the sunrise on the tea plantation. As for the second plantation Cameron Valley, it’s not far from Tanah Rata and along the main road, I hitch-hiked there easly.
Sustainable tourism in Cameron Highlands
When I was coming to Cameron Highlands, I thought that it’s a peaceful remote area where the time stopped. Unfortunately, it’s not like that. This lovely area is loosing its charm by being constantly developed and commercialised without thinking of responsible tourism. Crowds of locals come every weekend to visit various plantations. This requires more and more services. The potential of keeping the old colonial buildings and using them for tourism is not seen. Rather than that old wooden houses of the plantation workers and villas from English people disapear. Instead, huge, ugly hotels are growing on the green slopes.
Vegetables grow under plastic green houses and are treated with dose of chemicals. Green landscape is transforming into plastic and not sustainable environment.
Thinking that Mossy Forest is second oldest rainforest in the world (first is Taman Negara also in Malaysia), it makes me terrified if this area will survive next couple of years. Lots of illegal guides don’t belong to any agency and don’t care about nature. Certain people still come and steal plants which they can sell. Not to mention people which step on the moss to make a selfie or climb the trees. Due to such acts, the autorities closed part of the Mossy Forest for tourists and on the other part, created a board walk for visitors.
Unfortunately the agencies use old jeeps, which produce the biggest amount of carbon emission among all the cars. It’s just a faithful wish that Mossy Forest will one day become strictly protected natural heritage and non of the vehicle can reach there. It’s good occasion to remind to always stay on the path, don’t destroy plants which may be indangered.
The Bee is a nature lover and tea addict. Loves the idea of slow life and responsible traveling, constantly trying to improve to bee more eco-friendly. Appreciates old cultures and traditions, loves to immerse with locals, listen to ethnic music as well as taste regional food and drinks. Her favorite spots while traveling are family houses and street markets.