High Tea and Hiking in the Highlands of Malaysia

Posted on 18. Sep, 2012 by in Malaysia

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Kuala Lumpur crushed our quest for endless summer earlier this year when, for the first time, we were absolutely defeated by the heat. We fled to the Cameron Highlands, rumored to be the coolest place in Malaysia with year-round temps of 73 degrees (23 Celsius).

boh tea plantation cameron highlandsA five hour ride from the Pudu Sentral bus station in Kuala Lumpur led us up into the highlands, where there are two towns to choose from for lodging – Tanah Rata and Brinchang. We chose to stay in Tanah Rata, which turned out to be the right choice for us. The shiny new Starbucks in the center of town became our office, and the dirt-cheap and delicious Indian food right next door was our daily go-to. As it turns out, Malaysian food is very meaty, so we survived on Indian cuisine throughout the country.

Cameron Highlands Indian Food

Our hardest hike ever

The next day, it was time to transform from our standard uniform of flip-flops and shorts into jeans, socks and hiking shoes, drop $1 on a map of hiking trails and head out on our first Highlands hike. Only five miles apart, buses and taxis efficiently connect Tanah Rata and Brinchang, but we decided to hike the trail between the two instead.

Jess hiking in the Cameron HighlandsUp a path, on a paved road through a neighborhood, left into a farm, back into the forest, the hike started off like any other. Occasionally grabbing onto a vine when footing was slippery, then increasingly stopping to catch our breath, suddenly we realized what kind of a mess we had gotten ourselves into. The hike connected two trails, one moderate the other labeled ‘challenging’.

Over two hours in to the hike, the terrain went from ‘challenging’ to literally hanging on a vine sliding down a nearly vertical, muddy slope only to look directly up at another, equally vertical mud wall to scale. At some point, a sign said 1.1km to the Chinese Sam Poh temple, our goal. Fifteen minutes after descending into and crawling on all fours back up out of yet another ravine, the sign at the top read Chinese Sam Poh temple 0.9km, and after the next up and over it read: 0.8km.

cameron highlands rootsWe were overcome by fits of laughter, a combination of pride at being able to even accomplish this level of hiking and utter exhaustion to the core. At this point, we would not have been surprised for the sign to say 1.2km and that we somehow, in this hiking twilight zone, had gone backward in time and space.

We pushed through and, as easily as it started, reached the temple at the edge of Brinchang. Hands and faces streaked with thick layers of mud cut with rivers of sweat, we came out onto the main road, all too aware that Tanah Rata was just a quick 10-minute car ride behind us.

cameron highlands chinese temple

Sweet, sweet strawberries and a long walk home

To say we had taken the hard way is an understatement. Arriving at the Big Red Strawberry Farm, wearned every single bite of strawberry goodness in all its forms. The farm also grows hydroponic lettuce and other greens, but the sight of big, bright red strawberries hanging from hundreds of rows of strawberry plants was almost too good to be true. At the food counter, we ordered a Spinach and Strawberry salad, a strawberry sundae, deep-fried strawberry ice cream, a strawberry yoghurt honey parfait…and all of it was delicious. Even on a weekday afternoon the farm was hopping, and those who took the easy way up here may have looked at us with our mud stained shoes, gobbling up food as though we had never eaten before and judged, but the moment for us was glorious.

strawberry sundae in the cameron highlandsWhat happened after was not.

Back to the road, we slumped onto a bench at the bus stop and waited. And waited. 40 minutes later, no bus had come, the food had re-energized us just enough and so we walked the sidewalk all the way back to Tanah Rata. It was downhill and paved, so even though it took about 50 minutes to get back to the hotel, it felt like a breeze.

Cameron Highland house

The highlight of the Cameron Highlands

The next day we hopped on a tour that covered the main sights of the Cameron Highlands: the Mossy Forest, the Gunung Brinchang viewpoint (second highest of all the highlands) and the BOH tea plantation. The Mossy Forest was unlike anything we had ever seen – a magical forest where the trees, the ground, branches, roots, everything was covered in a soft, green moss, where countless orchids bloom, and where unique frogs, birds, snakes and insects thrive among the blankets of peat moss. Between the morning rain and low clouds, the views from Gunung Brinchang were less interesting, but that didn’t matter much to us: We were in it for the tea.

cameron highlands mossy forestThe BOH tea plantation is home to hillsides covered in waves of tea bushes so steep it is a wonder how workers even reach the tea. Unfortunately the tea had just been harvested two days before our visit, so we would never see the process first hand, but learned about it in the plantation’s museum. Luckily, we had plenty of steaming hot tea and buttery scones and jam on the terrace of the on-site restaurant overlooking the plantation, which was one of the most memorable experiences of our time in Malaysia.

boh tea plantation cameron highlandsFounded in 1929 by BJ.A. Russell, the BOH Plantations proliferated during the British colonial era and, as their success grew, workers were imported from southern India and Sri Lanka, also part of the British Empire. Today, the Highlands, like much of Malaysia, are home to third and fourth generation Indians, resulting in scores authentic Indian restaurants to sample. Since we are both huge fans of Indian food, we were more than happy to eat Indian food three meals a day, and tea and scones during the rainy afternoons as though we had never left Britain two years before.

Tea and scones in the Cameron HighlandsExcept, of course, that after five days of heat relief, we moved on to beach hopping in Penang and Langkawi, two of Malaysia’s hottest and sunniest islands…

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29 Responses to “High Tea and Hiking in the Highlands of Malaysia”

  1. What an exotic adventure! Sounds like a crazy ordeal to get there, but that sundae looks amazing. I wasn’t expecting a post about the highlands of Malaysia to have so much great food.
    Scott – Quirky Travel Guy recently posted..Trapped: Stuck inside the Mall of America for 12 hours

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    • Dani

      19. Sep, 2012

      Thanks, Scott! It’s actually not so bad to get there – we’ve had far worse bus rides in South East Asia. And yes – the Sundae was great and we’re still thinking about these yummy strawberries! :)

      Reply to this comment
  2. Laurence

    19. Sep, 2012

    I went on a quest for endless summer in Australia once, after a copy of the Lonely Planet promised me that it was the “land of endless summer”. Armed with that, and a copy of the Scooter song “endless summer”, I headed out into the outback and found… well.. endless summer! So there’s that story. Also, I had no idea Malaysia was so bit into tea production. The things you learn…
    Laurence recently posted..My Spanish Adventure

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  3. John

    19. Sep, 2012

    Been there and got the teeshirt
    Was in the Royal Navy and in Singapore 1961 -1965
    The highlands are just great

    Reply to this comment
    • Dani

      19. Sep, 2012

      Hi John, thanks for commenting! I wonder how different Malaysia must have been then – the Cameron Highlands didn’t seem to have changed much (if you don’t count the Starbucks ;-) ) but I bet Singapore is completely different now – have you been back since you were in the Royal Navy?

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  4. Shalu Sharma

    19. Sep, 2012

    I didn’t know that tea was also grown in Malaysia. Those tea gardens looks amazing. I am glad you survived on Indian cuisine since Malay food is meaty. Even with Indian food, its worth going vegge on tours. Nice pictures.
    Shalu Sharma recently posted..Red Fort of Delhi – Lal Qila

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  5. icoSnap

    19. Sep, 2012

    Hi! Your photos are amazing! I have never been to Malaysia and these photos are inspiring – thanks for posting them. By the way I’ve added you on my favorite links :)
    icoSnap recently posted..Where to Shop in Harajuku Tokyo Japan? Check out our top 10 list!

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  6. Amanda

    19. Sep, 2012

    The hike doesn’t really sound like much fun, but all the strawberry goodies sound amazing!

    And the second day sounds pretty awesome! The mossy forest sounds like something out of a fantasy movie.
    Amanda recently posted..Discovering Hidden Istanbul

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    • Dani

      19. Sep, 2012

      It was fun in the beginning, but at some point both of us were just really exhausted and didn’t feel like we were prepared for a hike like this – we felt that the awesome strawberry splurge afterwards was well deserved ;-)

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  7. Arti

    20. Sep, 2012

    The thali does look Indian :) And wonderful captures from the hike, it seems adventurous :)
    Arti recently posted..Technological Marvels: Japanese Automation and Innovation

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    • Dani

      20. Sep, 2012

      Thanks Arti! We had some amazing Indian food there – some of the best we’ve ever had! There are a lot of Indians in the Cameron Highlands, and they all seem to be great cooks :D

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  8. OutsideTheGuidebook

    20. Sep, 2012

    I am SO going to go here when I get to Malaysia! Love finding food from a completely different place when I go traveling. High Tea in Malaysia, indeedy! Lovely pictures girls.
    OutsideTheGuidebook recently posted..Cheap, Tasty Indian curry deep in the heart of Portugal

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    • Dani

      20. Sep, 2012

      Thank you! The Cameron Highlands were also the only place in Malaysia where tea was appropriate – after so many months in the sweltering heat of South East Asia, 23C felt pretty chilly :D

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  9. Kathryn

    21. Sep, 2012

    Another wonderful description of a fascinating place. Wish I could have joined you for the tea and scones but I would have probably opted out of that hike! ;-)
    Kathryn recently posted..On a mission to discover Rome’s food and wine!

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    • Dani

      23. Sep, 2012

      Thanks so much, Kat! If we had known what the hike would be like we’d probably just opted for tea and scones instead ;-)

      Reply to this comment
  10. Loved hearing about the moss forest with orchids and frogs – sounds lovely. Glad you survived the hike and were able to eat your weight in strawberries as just a fitting reward.
    Mary – Green Global Travel recently posted..The Country of Jordan, the Middle East & Our Culture of Fear

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    • Dani

      23. Sep, 2012

      Thanks, Mary! The Mossy Forest was absolutely spectacular – we felt like Alice in Wonderland!

      Reply to this comment
  11. Candice

    22. Sep, 2012

    The hike looks beautiful, and indulging on Malaysian tea and scones sounds like the perfect way to spend a rainy day!
    Candice recently posted..Fall Fun in the USA

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    • Dani

      23. Sep, 2012

      Thanks, Candice! Yes, it is remarkable how much tea & scones can improve a rainy day ;-)

      Reply to this comment
  12. Reas

    22. Sep, 2012

    hahaha, oh girls, what a hilariously poor decision. At least you had each other and you lived to tell a great story! As a true hater of hikes, I admire you, but even more so, I envy all those strawberry delights you enjoyed!
    Reas recently posted..A NYC Cruise Tour for People who Hate Cruises and Tours

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    • Dani

      23. Sep, 2012

      The strawberry farm was exactly what we needed after that hike :) We usually don’t mind hikes but at that point we were pretty out of shape :)

      Reply to this comment
  13. northierthanthou

    23. Sep, 2012

    Looks gorgeous, especially the fields.
    northierthanthou recently posted..No Horses Were Harmed in the Making of this Post!

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  14. Cole @ FourJandals.com

    28. Sep, 2012

    That hike sounds damn tough! Good job on completing it. Plus the reward sounds good enough :)
    Cole @ FourJandals.com recently posted..Great Market Hall in Budapest – Photo Essay

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  15. Reena @ Wanderplex

    03. Oct, 2012

    Malaysia looks so lush and green – so even though the hike was tough, it sure looks worth it. I think the thought of those tea and scones would be enough to help get me through it! Yum.
    Reena @ Wanderplex recently posted..The most visited site in Athens? It’s not the Acropolis.

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  16. Jeremy Branham

    05. Oct, 2012

    That hike looks difficult but also a lot of fun. I think I would have liked that hike. You were definitely rewarded at the temple and with the food and goodies afterward.
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..Goose bumps and gridiron collide at the Air Force Academy

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    • Dani

      06. Oct, 2012

      The hikes in the Cameron Highlands are fun, but the highlight was the Mossy Forrest – such a spooky place, and so pretty!

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