The British do like tea!

Trip Start Mar 16, 2010
Trip End Sep 11, 2010

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Where I stayed
Fathers Guest House

Flag of Malaysia  , Pahang,
Thursday, August 5, 2010

We arrived to Tanah Rata via an exporess bus from KL. When we say, express bus, we mean after one and a half hours we disembarked one bus and then took our luggage to another one in front to continue our journey to the Cameron Highlands. This modus operandi seemed quite easy to get to grips with, especially after 5 months traveling and taking nearly every bus available in South America.

We arrived in Tanah Rata at approximately 5pm and were barely able to recognise that we were in the right place. James. as always, had eyes like a hawk and clearly pointed out that we were in the right destination.

We had previously reserved a place at Father's guesthouse hostel. The guesthouse used to be a hospital and then a school. It did have the same eerie feel of a 1950s hospital. It reminded us of films that we had seen where injured soldiers were taken to be treated and to recover from serious injuries. Fathers' Guesthouse has an ideal location being on top of a hill and above Tanah Rata, which has little to offer really. After initial inspection of our booked room, we both decided that 'no' was the primary word. The Indian-owned and run hostel had used ex-air raid shelters made of corrigated iron to house dormitories and very basic doubles. The typical half sphere shape did not do wonders for us. James even described it as an upmarket campsite! THerefore we decided to take a double room in the house with a shared bathroom. At first, it seemed reasonably priced but when looking closer at the terms and conditions on the door we realised that it was RM65 with a surcharge of RM10 per person during the peak months of July and August. This meant that our room cost 10pounds per head, which was the maximum limit of our budget. The ultra ultra business like hostel did not win our favour- cold showers, v.small uncomfy beds and the most lethargic and unfriendly chef that you ve ever seen.  It seemed that numbers and money were without a doubt always the most important things in the eyes of the owners. At least we got free towels and toilet roll! You even have to pay to put their DVDs on their TV!

Enough said about the cold new-age capitalist empire and more about our tour of BOH Tea Plantation and the Mossy Forest Tour. We booked our tour via the hostel begrudgingly as it was too late to book from an agency in town. We opted for the Mossy Forest half day tour (RM50 pp). We went for this one as BOH Plantation is the thing to do acording to guidebooks, other travellers and Tourism of Malaysia. Jungle Trekking is worth a shot, even though we didn't do any, but we would advise doing it from Tanah Rata or hiring a scooter for the ones that are outside town.

Anyway our tour started at 9am and we got picked up from our hostel, which was convenient and easy. 3 Land Rovers parked up outside in the courtyard and Vusu the main guide jumped out and started organising everyone. 6 of us (Japanese, Swede and German x 2) jumped in our jeep and headed for BOH with Vusus chartering our jeep. We drove about 15km to the mountaneous roads, which winded, winded and winded around and around! Vusu was soon asking various questions from us en route on subjects such as agriculture, culture and customs in Malaysia. Fortunately, we got the head guide and the "cowboy" (Vusu). Vusu was extremely knowledgeable, extroverted and funny too. We stopped about half way up the hill to admire the 234 hectares of Camellia Sinensis (tea plant). This is the only tea plant, so when you hear people talking about a tea from this a.Vusu then explained how tea is made from black, yellow, white and to green tea. Leavers are sheered and sorted roughly at cutting stage, rolled by the rolling machine, they are chopped and then oxidised for 1.5-2hrs. After being left on their trays they are then dried via a drying machine, resulting that only 3% of the original moisture is left at this point. They are then filtered or sieved of stalks, big bits, some dust and then packaged and left to mature for 6 months before going to market.

The Klang Teh Sungei Palas Tea Factory produces 600,000 kg of tea per annum and 820,000 cups of tea per day! The factory was reopened in 1972 mainly due to high demand for more production and obviously as it is original it could profit from tourism. Although the Tea factory does not have its own tours and they don't receive a percentage of the guided tours either, which is good to hear. It has created a modern teahouse for tea drinking and of course a shop selling its products. The factory, it must be said, can be called semi-functional as the sieving and packaging is of old means, as they have kept the original machine. Their sister company sieve the tea once more at a local factory and package too.

After seeing the whole process from start to finish we decided that it was time for a cup of tea. Obviously we didn't pass off the chance to have a scone and a strawberry tart too. We felt we had to, this is a British establishment and even the current CEO is a Scot (Caroline Russell). Caroline Russell is a direct descendant, the grand daughter of the original owner. The tea is very nice and I'm sure if some of you are lucky enough, then you will be able to try the tea that we have bought!!!

Vusu said that he had proposed to the CEO but he was turned down- we didn't know if this was ajoke or not as he said it several times. Also as passing through the plentiful camellia sinensis fields, Vusu pointed out that every tree and every leaf is worth money.  BOH Plantations owns four tea gardens - the first garden in Habu, Fairlie Tea Garden and Sungai Palas Tea Garden and BOH (the one we visited). BOH Plantations Sdn Bhd is the leading tea grower in Malaysia with a production capacity approaching 3000kgs per hectare, the Company produces 4 million kg of tea annually which translates to about 5.5 million cups per day.

Also it is important to note that after pruning a camellia sinensis grows from a heavily pruned tree to one with tea leaves ready to harvest in simply 9 months. Also the weather and conditions in the Cameron Highlands suit tea growing as its nearly summer all the time and they have regular rainfall and it is not too hot, especially compared to other parts in Malaysia.

Also the quality difference between a tea bag and loose tea is tremendous as many of you imagine already. We tried the difference and were told the difference between the two. Also the myth of breakfast tea and afternoon tea is completely irrelevant as it is called morning tea as the leaves feel the sun's rays in the morning and the afternoon tea, well...we'll let you work it out!
In addition, the workers at BOH Tea Plantations earn 20 sen (4p) per kilo picked, an average worker picks 150kg per day. Meaning that a worker only earns RM30 per day, when a waitress earns RM6.5 per hour.

Post-tea house and teashop we drove to the Mossy Forest and went to the top of Mount Brinchang- the highest peak in the Cameron Highlands at 2,300m. After climbing the tower and taking in the vast rainforest from above we went back down the hill and entered the Mossy Forest. We saw the pitcher plant- the lidded plant that draws insects in and shuts the lid- digesting them inside their long flower, it's also been recorded that they have even digested mice as mice are scavengers and so go to try and eat the insects inside the plant. Another interesting fact that we learnt is that a bamboo can grow from stump to full size in only 24 hours. Anti-collagent properties of a plant and extracting B-16 and B-18 to cure cancerous cells were among the daily lesson! We saw the Vitamin C plant that tasted like a green apple, Cinnamon, Ginger, Citronella. By the end of it we had started to compile a factfile on how native people survive in the rainforest as well as the use of plants, i.e. Botanics. Before finishing up in the Mossy forest we heard the Sicara, a gigantic insect that makes the largest amount of noise that you have ever heard from an insect. To make matters even better on the way down we took the scenic route meaning clambering amongst the moss-laden trees and then slipping and jumping down the hill to the road. What an adventure!

Our afternoon consisted of resting and going into town for lunch/dinner (Restaurant Kumar). Leanne having Fish Tikka and blackcurrant tea and James having the Chinese chicken rice with an Iced Lemon Tea (he is becoming addicted to Iced tea). We both had naans, butter and garlic, they were massive naans with the 3 classic indian dips- served the way it should be- right from the tandoori oven. This large meal came to a whopping 4 pounds and we were soon on our way. We ventured back to the hostel after checking the internet, to find out that Watford had won 3-2 (their first game of the season, against Norwich). Spag Bol and a cheese toastie were bought from Mr.Grumpy for evening meal. We then booked our bus as we decided that Penang/Georgetown was screaming for us to visit, choosing the 8am bus!

Onward to Georgetown/Penang, the first British settlement in Malaysia.
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