While much of Malaysia is bathed in tropical heat and humidity, there is an area of some 712 square kilometres that enjoys a cool and dry climate up in the hills. The Cameron Highlands, so-called after a British surveyor in the 1920s is a region of outstanding natural beauty as well as some equally beautiful man-made landscapes too. On a recent visit to the Cameron Highlands we had the chance to sample some of the area's flora and fauna with Eco Cameron and Cameron Secrets tours.
Waking up fairly early (for a tourist at least) we grabbed a light breakfast before the vehicle came to pick us up from our guesthouse. As we'd be exploring the hills and peaks of the Cameron Highlands there's only really one type of vehicle fit for the job, the trust Land Rover, by far the most popular vehicle here. In fact there are so many Land Rovers in the Cameron Highlands only the British Army own more. Francis, our driver and guide for the day helped us in to this oversized vehicle that can take around 10 people. We soon departed Tanah Rata, the main tourist town in the Cameron Highlands and started winding around the hills to our first stop.
Malaysia produces some great teas and most of that comes from the lush green rolling hills of the BOH tea plantations. Roads hug against rocks, passed pretty trees and sometimes right through the 600 acre tea plantation, with a few places to stop and take some photos of this landscape. It's hard to believe that most of the undulations within the plantation are actually man-made, increasing the surface area that can be cultivated. Francis explained to our group about the age of the trees used to produce the teas and the methods the workers use to collect the leaves. It's a beautiful sight I could happily stare at all day. We stopped a couple of times and with perfect weather and clear views the sunlight seems to dance across the plantation, the younger green leaves shimmering against a sea of dark older leaves.
There are occasional hills of brown, seemingly dead tea trees but in actual fact these are healthy, pruned back every 3 years to let entirely new branches grow with healthier leaves. A full-grown tea tree can tower some 5 metres or more above you yet the plantation's trees are no more than a metre or so in height. This makes them easy to pick and healthy too, despite the tree's being the original plants since opening the plantations in 1929.
We drove on, up the hills past the plantation to the top of Mount Brinchang, some 2031 metres above sea level which can have some wonderful panoramic views of all of the Cameron Highlands. The weather here is changeable at best with clouds flowing through the trees below, sometimes obscuring the view. We climbed the 15 metre high viewing tower here, built by the British Army in the 50s to watch over the land. On a good day you can see Titiwangsa mountains and Mount Irau, on a bad day you'll be lucky to see the tower! Thankfully we visited on a relatively good day with great views and mystical looking clouds floating across the trees below us.
We drove down just a few minutes from the peak and all jumped out of our trust Land Rover. Francis gave us a wonderful lesson in the origins of the Cameron Highlands, some of the uses for the many species of plants in the area including medicines and food. 101 uses for Bamboo and some of the exotic species of plants you'll find all over the landscape if you just look closely enough. A short walk down the road brought us to an inconspicuous opening in the forest. Francis told us most tour groups take you to a trail that is popular but now overcrowded with tourists. This area of the highlands is known as the "Mossy Forest" and is one of my favourite. The secret that only Eco-Cameron seem to take you on is without doubt one of the best experiences for me.
Within minutes of starting the train through dense vegetation you find yourself transported in to an eery world of moss growing from almost everything you can see. The ground bounces beneath your feet, hundreds of years of vegetation slowly compacting to form a soft forest floor. Dew drops hang from every leaf, fir, moss and the occasional spiders web. It's like something out of a J.R.R Tolken novel and I truly haven't seen anywhere else on earth quite like it. The thick mossy forest cancels out all noise and although you're never very far from the winding road up the mountain, you'll never hear a car, a footstep or even wildlife as the cold damp climate isn't wildlife's preferred environment. Again this is a place you could happily spend hours, exploring the paths that take you through this magical world created by the clouds that collide with the hill.
Driving back down the hill we took a different turn and explored more of the BOH tea plantation. There are 3 BOH plantations in the Cameron Highlands. The Sungai Palas Tea Garden not only has a working factory you can tour but also a large cafe and viewing point that hangs over the plantation. Francis our ever knowledgable guide showed us around the factory explaining the different processes that make tea.
It's an interesting experience and we had ample time to enjoy the cafe afterwards and sample some of BOH's finest tea while enjoying the view. Again the weather was still on our side and the clouds flowed over the hill tops making for a pretty scene, definitely the best place to enjoy a cup of tea!
The last stop on our tour was on the way back to Tanah Rata, near the entrance to the tea plantations. From the road the small entrance to the "Butterfly Farm" doesn't seem much but once you pay 5 Ringet to enter (£1 / $1.50) you're step in to a series of outdoor enclosures filled with pretty butterflies and all manner of creatures in boxes, cages and pens. Some of the butterflies are big too and all are harmless, Francis was even able to pick them up and place them on our shoulders or hang from our ears like earrings!
He also showed us some of the amazing tropical bugs you'll find in Malaysia including the Ryanosurous beetle, stick and leaf insects, scorpions and lizards too. It really was a great collection of insects and animals, some of which I never knew existed! I was particularly impressed by the leaf insects that really do look like a leaf with legs. Amazing!
Our drive back to Tanah Rata was swift and enjoyable. Everyone in our group had a great day and Francis thanked us all for coming to the Cameron Highlands and choosing an Eco-tour. It's great to see a tour company having some clear environmentally responsible policies and some highly knowledgable guides who are real wildlife geeks too.
Check out the video from our day in the Cameron Highlands.