Cameron Highlands

Trip Start Aug 31, 2008
Trip End Apr 30, 2009

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Monday, April 6, 2009

Ipoh is a fairly big Malaysian city that is set amongst jungle-clad limestone hills that jut out spectacularly to make some stunning scenery.  The minibus did not stop here but soon after passing through Ipoh we turned off the main highway on to what may be the windiest stretch of road that I have ever been on.  The scenery was stunning but hard to take in completely with the minibus driver pushing the limits on how fast these roads can be navigated.  For 60 kilometers or so, the road winded its way up through the hills and the corners seemed to get more severe as we progressed.  By the time we reached the Cameron Highlands, we were nearly 1,500 meters higher in elevation than when we started and there was a very noticeable change in climate.

We had found a few affordable places to stay in Tanah Rata, but when the driver asked us which hotel we'd like to be dropped off at, another girl spoke up first and mentioned Father's Guesthouse.  We went there first and once we saw the place we decided that we would like to stay there instead.  I had vaguely remembered another traveler mentioning this place when we were in Melaka four months earlier and she had spoken very highly of it.  The property was certainly well taken care of and it was set on top of a hill that over looked the town itself.  When we found out that room prices ranged from 10 RM for a dorm room to 80 RM for the best room, we were sold and everybody in the minibus ended up getting out at Father's Guesthouse.

The staff of Father's Guesthouse was amongst the most professional of any place that we have stayed at yet.  They took us as a group to view the facilities (which included a restaurant, Internet lounge, TV room, shared hot showers, toilets, etc) and then to see the different categories of rooms.  The main building had Wi-Fi access and rooms that ranged from 50 RM to 80 RM whereas a series of metal dome huts contained cheaper rooms and the dorms.  Lisa and I decided to stay in one of the nicer rooms in the metal dome huts at a cost of 32 RM/night.  It had a double bed, two desks and three chairs and windows on two sides of the room that could open up to let in fresh air.  The room did not have a fan or any air-conditioning, but the climate of the area doesn't really require it.

The climate of the Cameron Highlands is much cooler than what the lowlands experience.  It drops down as low as 10 degrees (Celsius) at night and rarely breaks 25 degrees during the day.  It rains quite a bit, but only in the afternoon and night it seems.  Every morning that we stayed in Tanah Rata it was bright and sunny out until the afternoon, when it would usually rain.  The climate of the area makes it ideal to grow fruits, vegetables, tea and flowers, and it becomes evident on your drive into the area that a great deal of available land is devoted for this purpose.

The town of Tanah Rata is not a large place; there is only one main road (Jln. Basar) which is lined with restaurants, tour operators and other tourist shops.  Although the Lonely Planet guide suggests that there is plenty of Malay and Chinese food stalls along this road, we found that most of the restaurants were actually south Indian establishments offering their traditional dishes.  I have recently grown very fond of Indian food and have tried out four or five different banana-curry houses and find it hard to recommend any of them over another, they are all great.  Nearly every day I have had a chicken tandoori set meal, which includes a large piece of chicken, vegetables, naan and several sauces for 7 RM.  Other dishes that I have thoroughly enjoyed included chicken tikka (6 RM) and a vegetable and roti platter for only 4 RM.  If you enjoy Indian food, you will certainly enjoy visiting Tanah Rata.

Fathers Guesthouse also has a very good restaurant, which is a busy and social place on every night, but I have only eaten breakfasts there.  They provide a local coffee for 1.50 RM which is made in a process very similar to how we normally prepare tea.  This is something that I have never seen before but I think is an excellent idea, especially for camping experiences because it is so easy and portable.  Aside from that, I have either had a fruit-salad consisting of pineapple, oranges, bananas and watermelon (but not the famous local strawberries) for 5 RM, or a Western style bacon and eggs breakfast for 6 RM.  Lisa lists bacon as one of her favorite foods of the world and has described the bacon here as the best she has ever had.  Water in Tanah Rata costs around 2 or 3 RM for a 1.5 liter bottle, but we found a water refilling station that charged only .20 RM to nearly refill our bottles.  We had noticed these refilling stations throughout Malaysia, but unfortunately didn't use them until now.

One of the biggest tourist draws of this region is hiking through a variety of scenic walks, many of which lead to waterfalls and mountain peaks.  From Tanah Rata, there are at least 13 main marked paths for people to follow and Lisa and I followed two of them during our stay here.  The first one we followed was #4, which was a short and very easy walk that we did on our first day in town.  The path follows along a river and climaxes when you reach Parit Fall.  According to the guidebook, the waterfall was polluted and not really worth a visit, but it didn't seem so polluted when we visited and was a great place to take pictures (especially portraits).  Considering that this walk can be traversed in under a half hour, it was well worth the investment in time and energy.

The other trail that we followed was #9, but Lisa was the only one that did the path in its entirety.  There are actually two related paths in the guidebooks and tourist information, 9 and 9A, and Lisa intended to do the easier path of 9A.  The path splits at a gate, where you should take a left to stay on 9A, which Lisa did.  For the next 15 minutes there is a reasonably well trodden path that slowly winds down a hill.  However, then the path gets really muddy and there are plenty of trees blocking the path.  Some are small enough to climb over, but others are too large and she had to climb under them even though they were covered with spiders and their webs.  

At some point the paths of 9 and 9A merge due to a landslide that has recently taken out the 9A path.  The trail gets continuously harder to follow as the plants have somewhat over taken the path.  These plants also happened to be quite moist, so plan on getting wet and muddy by the time you are done.  The trail eventually gets to the steep side of a cliff where another landslide had taken out the path altogether.  For approximately 15 meters Lisa had to navigate over a very steep and muddy landslide where the path was gone completely.  Considering that there is a steep cliff to fall down, this is probably not a good path for inexperienced hikers or children.  

About ten minutes after this endeavor, Lisa ended up at s small farm where the trail ends but there is no bus to help return to town as indicated in the guide book.  Instead Lisa greeted by a farmer and she learned how she had actually traversed the 9 path instead of the 9A path due to the impassible conditions of 9A.  She had planned on hiking only the 2.5 kilometers of 9A, but instead had to navigate the 4.5 kilometers of trail 9.  This is why she did not end up at a place where busses stopped but the farmer agreed to take Lisa back to the town of Tanah Rata for 10 RM.  On the way back, they stopped at the Cameron Valley tea plantation, a place that Lisa and I would return to later.

Lisa and I did return to a place on Trail 9 called Robinson's Falls which is at the start of the trail only 15 minutes from town.  This waterfall had at least six tiers and made for a great place to relax and soak up some sun in a semi-private place.  On the date of our anniversary we spent the afternoon drinking Carsberg Special Brew & Anchor Strong beers and eating a few snacks and over the course of four hours we saw only a half dozen other hikers navigating the trail.  It was a great place to take pictures, but after drinking a few of these beers (which have 8.8% alcohol content), the rocks were too slippery to mess around with and we put the cameras away.  It still made for a memorable setting for our anniversary and I am glad we decided to spend some extra time in the Cameron Highlands rather then returning to Kuala Lumpur as we had earlier planned.

The Cameron Valley tea plantation was another pleasant place to spend some time and take some pictures.  Many of the tours of the Cameron Highlands include this place as a stop, but Lisa and I decided to hike out there by foot.  It was an easy enough walk getting down there; the entire 4kms winded gently downhill.  Once we arrived, we were ready for some of their famous tea (3 RM a mug) and some snacks of carrot cake (4 RM) and a fudge brownie with ice-cream (6 RM.)  After refreshing ourselves with these snacks, the three busloads of tourists had cleared out and we were able to take pictures and walk around the tea plantation all by ourselves.

I spent about an hour walking through the tea plants, taking pictures of the vast and hilly plantation.  We ended up getting another small pot of tea (6 RM), mostly for the purpose of using the tea cups and pot as props for pictures.  While I busy taking pictures, Lisa found a few tea mugs that she liked from the souvenir shop that we will be taking home with us.  Although they also sold their tea there (either on its own or as part of a gift set with mugs and/or pots), we noticed that we could buy the same packages of tea in the town of Tanah Rata at cheaper prices.  I found that kind of surprising considering that we were at the source of the tea, but we it was easy enough to buy tea later from the market in town.

On our long uphill walk back to the town of Tanah Rata, we were stopped about half way by a local man with a pickup truck.  He had already picked up a number of other travelers from Germany that had completed Trail #9 and needed a ride back into town.  I am not sure if they paid this man, but he was very friendly and didn't ask for any money.  The friendliness and generosity of the Malaysian people seems to be quite typical throughout the country.  I would have to say that the Malaysian people make their country more attractive as a tourist destination than any of the other countries we have visited, but perhaps I just feel this way because our experiences in Hanoi were so different (and that is where we were last before coming to Malaysia.)

We stayed at Fathers Guesthouse in Tanah Rata for five nights altogether.  Once we had decided to include the Cameron Highlands as part of our tour of the Malaysian peninsula, we had only figured on spending two or three nights here, but the atmosphere and vibe of the area got us to stay here as long as we could.  However by April 6th, 2009 we had to head onward to Kuala Lumpur because we had a flight the following morning from there at 7:20.  From the bus station in Tanah Rata, there were two different classes of bus tickets to K.L.: standard for 22.50 RM or 28 RM for VIP seats.  There were five or six departures a day, but we settled on a VIP bus that left at 13:00.

The ride to Kuala Lumpur starts out with 59 kilometers of the windiest road that I have ever traversed in my life.  If you have a problem with motion sickness, it would be wise to take a pill before taking on this journey (I wish that I had.)  Even though the bus driver went at a fairly fast pace, it still took nearly two hours to pass this stretch of road and get to the main highway.  The scenery is rather stunning the whole way through this stretch and the comfortable seats of the VIP bus made it a pleasant ride, despite the mild motion sickness I had by the end of it.  The VIP buses have only 3 wide and reclining seats per row which makes for a comfortable ride.  

After getting on the North-South highway, the ride is much quicker and easier on the stomach.  In the city of Tapah the bus stopped and the driver told us that we had to switch buses and get a ride with the one next to us.  Not a problem; this bus had the same comfortable seats as the first bus and within 10 minutes we were on our way again.  After around 3.5 hours of driving and only about an hour away from Kuala Lumpur, the bus stopped at a restaurant that was filled with other busses.  The prices here were on par with other restaurants in Malaysia, but Lisa and I were not hungry and decided to wait for Kuala Lumpur.  After the 20 minute meal break, everybody boarded the bus and by 18:00 we were in the city.

We went to an A&W Restaurant and had a rather awful burger meal.   It served us right for not eating at one of Kuala Lumpur's many great local restaurants which would've been cheaper and almost surely more delicious.  After the quick meal we jumped on the Putra Light Rail Transit (1.40 RM each) and made our way to the KL Sentral stop.  From here we made our way to the Air Asia bus for a ride to Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) airport.  Kuala Lumpur has two main airports, but we were flying out of LCCT the following morning, so these shuttle busses make for a very affordable way to get there.  We actually rode with a competing bus company, since Air Asia charges 9 RM for the ride, but the competition gives you a similar service for 8 RM (and it was leaving first anyhow).

The ride to the LCCT is quite a bargain considering how far out of town the airport is.  The ride took around an hour, maybe a bit longer because we had to drive around the airport in a different path from the previous times we used this service.  The Kuala Lumpur Grand Prix was just held in this area, so I have a feeling this added a little complication to our journey.  Once we arrived at the airport, it was just a short 500 meter walk to the hotel we had reserved while we were in Kuching: Tune Hotel.  If you are flying in or out of this airport at an inconvenient hour, Tune Hotel is a great option.  It is also a very affordable option if you can plan way in advance, as they have rooms as low as 10 RM if you are lucky.  We did not find out about Tune Hotels until quite recently though, so we ended up paying about 70 RM for a small and basic room with a very comfortable bed.
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Dave on

Staying at fathers guesthouse right now, not as good as It seems. It is a lovely setting but Luke warm showers, owners dogs bark at 6. Each morning, construction site next door, no tvs in room plus they charge rm5 to play a DVD but common tv shuts at 7pm, sheets poor quality and don't fit the bed which also has no mattress protector. Staff ok, previous three hotels more friendly tho. Not a dodgy place but forrm90 a night needs upgrading

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