The Highs And Lows Of The Cameron Highlands
For those planning a trip to Malaysia, the Cameron Highlands are perhaps not as widely known as places like Penang or Langkawi.
I certainly hadn’t heard of the Cameron Highlands until I started mapping out our route around Malaysia’s mainland and came across it on a few travel blogs.
From the photos we saw of the tea plantations alone, it seemed well worth a slight detour from Kuala Lumpur. As a bonus, it would also take us past Ipoh on the way up to Penang, where we stayed for a night.
You could just take the bus or train from Kuala Lumpur straight to Penang.
A bus to the Cameron Highlands takes 4 hours which is essentially the same amount of time as it would take from KL straight to Penang.
It is definitely a detour.
But, it’s not exactly expensive either! We paid MYR50 (€11) total for the two of us.
The real question is – Are the Cameron Highlands worth a visit?
The answer to a question like this is never really straight forward is it? Everyone has their own opinions and experiences… Long story short, we definitely had our share of highs and lows during our time in the Cameron Highlands!
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Expectations Of The Cameron Higlands
I think the main problem we often have are expectations.
Honestly, I think some of the best trips I’ve had are to places where I had zero expectations to start with. But, that can be really difficult in this day and age when literally everything is just a quick Google search away!
Having seen the photos of the tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands, and looking at the map of the area, it all seemed quite small and easily reachable.
We opted to stay in Tanah Rata, where the main bus station is and where it seemed some of the hiking trails also started from.
Our choice of town was spot on.
We talked to another couple who were staying in Brinchang. Even though Brinchang seemed much bigger when we drove through it (lots of accommodation options!), they said there were very few eateries and they had actually opted to come down to Tanah Rata a few times for food.
What we had expected though, was that the whole area would be tea plantations. That’s kind of how the area seems to be marketed – Tea and berries.
You’ll see huge berry and vegetable plots everywhere as you drive in to the highlands! Lots of big polytunnels (canopied greenhouses) where they grow a variety of produce are all over the hill sides.
Of course, we bought some strawberries, thinking they would be fresh and juicy but surprisingly, we found them underripe and sour.
Also surprisingly, there were actually not many fruit stalls around at all (in town at least) where you could buy the locally grown fruit. We had dinner at Fruit Delight a couple of times and they did great fresh fruit juices and also sold some produce at very reasonable prices.
Cameron Highlands Tea Plantations
As for the tea plantations – in reality there seems to be one main plantation. The BOH tea plantation is about 15km down a windy road east of Tanah Rata.
There are other estates, but they are mostly owned by BOH and the main one is open for visitors.
Bharat also has a plantation which is possibly more accessible from Tanah Rata, just over 4km along the main road heading south. The roads are windy though so not ideal for walking.
It was certainly impressive seeing the fields of tea bushes perfectly laid out in rows like a patchwork quilt!
Light and darker greens showing which bushes had been pruned, and which were still to be harvested. It’s incredible how they grow and harvest the tea in such a hilly area!
I guess my disappointment came from the fact that the tea plantation was actually quite far away. We were not able to go walking through any of it like we had thought we could from Tanah Rata.
After a brief visit to the cafe at the BOH tea plantation, snapping a couple of photos from its balcony, and taking a “tour” through the factory, we decided to wander down a lane below the cafe to check out the tea bushes in more detail.
However, we had misread the sign that said no access for vehicles, and it wasn’t long before a security guard on a scooter came and escorted us back down the lane…
At least he didn’t seem to mind too much and even waved for the photo! 😅
We were able to get a bit closer down by the car park. But I guess my word of warning is don’t let the photos you see fool you.
Yes, they make for great pictures! But, those shots are not that easy to achieve since most of the time you aren’t actually allowed into the fields of tea.
Although we didn’t get to the Bharat plantation ourselves, it may have been more worthwhile. This information site on the Bharat Plantation states that you are allowed to walk into and through the tea fields for photo taking there.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, eh?
To Tour or Not To Tour?
Tours, in my experience, can be very hit and miss. But, sometimes they can be a great way to see a number of places that might be hard to get to on your own if you don’t have a car.
Our accommodation advertised a variety of tours with CS Travel and Tours, and we opted to go on one of their half day tours – Mossy Forest Discovery. This would take us to Mount Brinchang (the highest peak in the Cameron Highlands), the Mossy Forest, jungle trekking, a tea plantation, and a butterfly farm.
For RM50 per person it seemed like a good option.
Unfortunately, we were wrong.
It was not so much a “tour” as just a man in a minivan driving 10 people around for half a day with no information given whatsoever.
This was really such a disappointment!
Had it not been for my husband and another girl asking on two separate occasions if he could stop so we could take some photos of the tea plantations, we would have whizzed by some of the most breathtaking spots in the area!
Also, as it turns out, the Mount Brinchang, Mossy Forest and Jungle Trekking “stops” were actually all just one and the same!
At the Mossy Forest, we were given 40minutes to walk around the designated boardwalk area.
There are much longer trails that you can hike beyond this, but you need permission (for a fee of MYR30 per person) to enter.
What’s The Alternative?
My advice would be to hire a taxi for a few hours and have them take you to the plantation. We saw a few people in taxis heading up when we were coming back down and it really made us wish that we had done the same.
Alternatively, you can rent a scooter/motorbike in town for a few hours or a day, and drive there yourself.
Be warned though – the roads are windy and narrow, with many potholes along the way!
Make sure you wear a helmet, and check that your insurance covers you!
Like I said, perhaps Bharat would be a better choice than BOH. But, if you are taking a taxi or driving yourself, you could always try both!
Hiking Trails In The Cameron Highlands
The other thing that drew us to the Cameron Highlands were the multitude of hiking trails. Again, this is partly why we chose Tanah Rata, since a number of trails start from there.
Our accommodation had maps of all the trails hanging up in the common area. Although there doesn’t seem to be any maps available anywhere that you can take away with you.
A word of caution – The trails are not maintained!
Some are in better condition than others but there is apparently no money for maintenance and many paths are overgrown.
We took some pictures of the maps for reference. Still, as always, we found Maps.me to be the most useful in any case.
Maps.me a great App for finding your way to and along the trails. I highly recommend downloading it and the relevant maps to help you stay on track! (Literally!)
We opted for Trail 9 (including 9A and 9B). This hike would lead us by the Robinson Falls and the Power Station, and generally sounded like a good trek.
It is listed as a “moderate” hike but I would argue it was more on the difficult side… Omer loved all the scrambling though! (Not such a highlight for me, I’ll admit!)
I don’t know that it would be ideal for kids due to this. And, I certainly wouldn’t recommend this particular trail during or just after rain. The paths were slippery enough as it was.
In total it took us about 2.5 hours to do the full loop. Parts were totally overgrown and at times we weren’t sure if we had lost the path.
Do make sure you bring plenty of water and some food with you as it was very humid in the forest.
Despite the heat I would definitely recommend wearing good shoes and long trousers to avoid insect bites and scratches from the plants. I swear, one of these days we’ll remember to bring mosquito repellant on our walks!
We also did Trail 4 which is quite short, and just takes you to Parit Waterfall.
It only took us about half an hour, if that. It’s an easy stroll if you have some time to spare.
Technically, there is a loop you can do but the bridge back over the river was roped off so we had to double back. Luckily, like I said, it’s not very long anyway so it wasn’t a problem.
I imagine that Parit Waterfall would be quite pretty if it wasn’t for all the rubbish…
It’s a real shame, but rubbish seems to be a problem throughout what we’ve seen of Malaysia so far. Just be prepared as it does take away from the natural beauty you encounter here.
The Cameron Highlands – Is It Worth A Trip?
In my opinion, as long as you have the right expectations, the Cameron Highlands can definitely be worth a visit!
The tea plantations, when you get to them, are absolutely stunning!
In fact, if you like getting into nature, the Cameron Highlands could be just the ticket! My main advise would be, come prepared, make your own way around and bring mosquito repellant 😅
Have you been to the Cameron Highlands? What’s your opinion? I’d love to get your take on it, especially on the tea plantations and Bharat in particular as a comparison point!