Cameron Highlands - Pahang Malaysia
Henri Fauconnier, a novelist who wrote the best selling book, "The Soul of Malaya" observed, 'In Malaya the seasons are hardly distinct. You do not die a little every year, as in Europe at the en d of Autumn. You cease to think of Date or Time.'
The monotony of indistinct seasons took its toll on the European newcomers and their families and so they tried to put things into perspective. As a form of escape, they retreated into the cool mountain plateaus on the Titiwangsa Range to convalesce, searching for relief from all sorts of tropical maladies such as malaria and dysentery.
It was in 1885 that a government surveyor named William Cameron who stumbled upon this mossy plateau whilst surveying the mountain range. Cameron described this find as &;a fine plateau with gentle slopes, shut in by lofty mountains&;. However, he apparently mentioned little else about his discovery and it wasn&;t until the 1920&;s that the plateau was finally and officially placed on the map. Realising that Fraser&;s Hill was too cramped and unsuitable for growing produce, the government decided to channel their efforts on Cameron Highlands. Soon after the clearing of montane forests began, tea planters came and claimed lands for their plantations.Then Chinese vegetable farmers arrived and lastly shopowners moved in to supply to the small but enterprising community.
Cameron Highlands and stories to tell
This vast hill station is found perched on one corner of the Titiwangsa Range in Pahang. The Titiwangsa Range is the backbone of Peninsular Malaysia, stretching from Southern Thailand, all the way down to the valley of Negri Sembilan in the south and is considered the last remaining stretches of virgin forests found in Peninsular Malaysia.
Camerons sits on an altitude of between 4875feet(1609m) and 5850feet(1930m) and is our most extensive hillstation. It spreads across three districts namely Ringlet, Tanah Rata and Brinchang.
Temperatures can drop to about 24ºC at night and it is not uncommon to see log fireplaces in living rooms and even bedrooms of cottages built during the colonial days. The cool mountain air was a welcome for the European ladies who came to Malaysia with their husbands on transfers from Europe or elsewhere in Asia. These ladies were still very much accustomed to wearing as many layers of clothing as they did in their own colder temperate lands. Many had a hard time adjusting to the tropical weather and temperaments. Even as recent as 20years ago, the highlands were so foggy for most of the year, that residents used to dry their washing by lighting a coal fire under the washing line. Otherwise it could take them at least a week for the washing to dry. Most of the day, the mist would linger over the area. Travelling was made difficult with the constant mist and it was no wonder why visitors lost themselves in the highlands.
Despite the conditions of Cameron Highlands then, her charms and beauty continued to attract many. A few came, fell in love with the land and never left. They created a home and a life for themselves on the strangely alien, cool temperate lands of the tropics:
J.A "Archie" Russell and the Boh plantation
John Archibald "Archie" Russell came to Malaya at age seven in 1890 with his father when Kuala Lumpur was just beginning to take shape as the country&;s most important administrative centre. The young impressionable boy grew up in a community of expatriate tin miners and planters and settled in well. A world of opportunity was opened up to him in the early years of his career and with his business acumen, he made an amazing deal which saw him acquiring almost a third of Ipoh town.
But it wasn't until 1927 when he found his niche in the market, growing and selling supreme quality tea. On his visit to Cameron Highlands, he found the rolling hills, shallow valleys and high rainfall ideal for tea growing. In 1929 the first Boh plantation was established. The name &;Boh&; is derived from Bohlia - the origin of tea in the Szechuan province of ancient China.
Today, Boh plantation serves up more than 65% of the Malaysian tea market and is the biggest local tea producer with a total 8,000 acres of tea plantation in Palas, Farlie, Bukit Cheeding, Ringlet.
Boh's Sungai Palas tea estate is situated North of Brinchang, on a turn-off from the road to Gunung Brinchang. Most visitors end up at this tea plantation to savour tea and currypuffs at the newly completed tea house and to learn a little about tea-processing. Every fifteen minutes, a free tour takes visitors round the factory, showing the various stages from initial processing until the final stages before being shipped off to Kuala Lumpur for packing.
Some of the machinery dates back to 1935 and is still in superb working order! Some of the original tea trees are still harvested and can live for 100years or so before they are replaced.
After the tour, visitors can walk the grounds or head off to the tea shop. Boh's tea business is very much kept in the family and its reputation and maturity is now taking the company and its teas to far off lands.
The other plantation - Boh plantation at Ringlet is also open to public but tours are by appointment. Opening times are from 9.00am to 4.30pm. Both Sungei Palas Tea Estate and Boh plantation are closed on Mondays.
To get to Boh plantation, if coming from Ringlet town - take a right turn into a road where a large signage shows &;Welcome to Boh plantation&;. From this turn-off it is another 4km to the plantation's main gate.
You can hire a taxi for RM40/- and that includes a return trip: Tanah Rata - Boh plantation - Tanah Rata and a 1 hour wait for you at the plantation.
If you would like to read more about Boh, click to: http://boh.com.my.
Colonel Stanley Jack Forster and the Lakehouse
The sign reads,'No dogs, no children, no Asians' -. Colonel Stanley Jack Forster joined the British Army when he was a mere lad for a bit of adventure - going to far off lands in Asia and beyond. Unlike many of his fellowmen who left for home when their call of duty ended, the Colonel stayed on in Malaya after the war.
Indeed, he had his eccentricities. Colonel Forster was most remembered for carrying a cane or whip with which he used to chase away Asians who came within distance of his property. But of course, that didn&;t apply to his choice of bed partners! The colonel is most remembered for building the Lakehouse in Ringlet, of which he proudly carved, etched, hammered and moulded into his dream motel. His passion to build this picture-perfect motel led him to Kuala Lumpur where he salvaged roof tiles from an old derelict hospital. He even had a hand in designing and building certain woodwork items such as a few easy chairs and the chandelier in the foyer.
The Lakehouse is one of few remaining colonial houses that cater to the public and is a most pleasant place to stay where just stepping into the foyer can transport one to an era of scandalous pomposity, chivalry, pride, passion and honour, ...the era of the "Burmese Days", A truly, wondrous eccentric display of the British colonial masters...The sign read, 'No dogs, no children, no asians'. Intolerable? Amusing.
Miss Griffith Jones O.B.E. and the Tanglin School
Miss Anne Laugharne Phillips Griffith-Jones arrived in Singapore in 1923 where she spent a 3- month holiday with her brother,O.P. (O.P. Griffith-Jones was a well-known local stock-broker who had a cosy life carved out in Singapore.)
Miss Griff as she was affectionately known, liked Singapore so much she decided to stay on to help O.P’s sister-in-law run a school for the expatriate community. In 1925, with the help of another teacher and permission from the club, Miss Griff opened Tanglin Day School comprising of two attap huts in Tanglin Club’s grounds. Miss Griff was not a teacher by profession but her passion for sharing, developed into a fulltime task of providing the most appropriate education for young ladies in her care. In 1934, at O.P’s suggestion, Miss Griff opened a Tanglin School in Camerons with 150 pupils; and 22 qualified school teachers recruited from England.
In the early days of Camerons' development, the European community left the lowland for the mountains to convalesce and to relax which often led to days of excessive drinking and loafing around. Then, as the 2nd world war broke out, groups of reinforcements from the British and Indian Armies were sent over to Malaya. These army officers headed off to the highlands during weekends and on local leave to escape from the lowland heat and for female company of which Camerons was slowly gaining reputation for.
Not long after, news spread throughout South-East Asia that Miss Griff’s girls were the most attractive lasses around, and many war-weary soldiers ‘were renewed with vitality and hope in the company of such charming girls’. (Extract from ‘Odd Man Out’ The story of the Singapore Traitor). It is said that ‘they found a warm welcome among the grass widows and their daughters, and from some of the young women at Tanglin school.’
During the Japanese occupation, Miss Griff was tossed into the pits of the infamous Changi prison. But she survived, was later released where she continued to teach after the war. She retired in 1958 and was conferred the O.B.E for services to education and in 1962, the PJK(Pingat Jasa Kebaktian) by the Sultan of Pahang for meritous service. In 1973, Miss Griff died in Ipoh hospital aged 83 and is buried in Tapah on the foothill of Camerons.
Today the old Tanglin school is an inn with chalets for rental and has been renamed, Bala’s Holiday Chalets. The current owners have retained much of the original structure and continue to serve tea and scones as Miss Griff used to for her girls.
cottage where thomson stayed
The most significant milestone in the history of Cameron Highlands( you’ve heard perhaps?)is the disappearance of a well-known figure - Mr. Jim Thompson. Jim Thompson was the owner of a beautiful traditional Thai house (currently under threat of being demolished to make way for another highway link situated along a khlong (canal) in Bangkok).
More importantly, also known as the ‘Thai Silk King’, Thompson was credited with founding the Thai Silk industry after the 2nd World War. Today, a chain of exclusive Jim Thomson boutiques are found throughout Asia and merchandise extends from bales of Thai Silk to household items and fashion-wear.
One fateful cold day on 26th March 1967, Thompson went off for a pre-dinner stroll, never to return. According to the local folk,on his last visit to Camerons, Thompson had stayed at the Moonlight villa, a small and cosy little cottage in an enclave just down a little lane not far from the Strawberry Park Resort, as he did many occasions before.
Orang Asli Settlements
His disappearance was shrouded in mystery. Even the most experienced trekkers recruited from nearby tribal villages could not locate him. There was no sign of the man. Not a shoe or garment of clothing found - not a clue. He had simply vanished. Rumours ran wild and some believed he was kidnapped Or he was dragged off by a tiger Or that he may have even planned his disappearance for unknown reasons
Cameron Highlands today is a popular destination for local holidaymakers and Singaporeans. As a result of the influx of visitors - hotels, motels and service apartments have mushroomed in recent years. With that too, the roads have been widened and unfortunately a new highway has been built from Kampung Raja about 20km from Brinchang through to Simpang Pulai down into the valley. This makes Camerons more accessible from Ipoh but challenges the vulnerability of the environment. The other highway linking Kampung Raja with Gua Musang totally obliterated pristine montane forests and with that, rare montane orchids endemic to that area - of which were harvested and sold at ridiculously low prices to "common tourists" rather than orchid collectors who in all obsessions that they have, could at least have retained the strain.
The charms and tranquillity of Camerons has been quite extensively altered by excessive construction of apartment blocks precariously stacked on steep slopes and also expansion of farms and plantations. A number of the old trekking trails have been demolished by these unchecked expansions. After reports on numerous landslide occurrences, the government released a list of regulations on the development of hillsides to curb further degradation. However, indiscriminate clearing of land for farming and agriculture has created untold damage and pollution to its one pristine environment. There is no light at the end of this tunnel of destruction as long as the authorities and other powers might be turn a blind eye to the situation.
The weather has also changed with this active clearing of land. It feels much warmer now than it did years ago and there are even weeks of drought. The rivers and streams are polluted by farming activities that are commonly situated close to these water sources for irrigation. Having studied the impact of development and clearing on the environment, the local NGOs are working closely with government to help promote sustainable development.
If you would like to know more about how we can contribute to saving our highlands and our vital water resources, please click to https://www.mns.my
However, all is not lost for Camerons. The treks are pleasant, nowhere else in the Peninsular that you can trek without sweating copiously . The cool mountain air is also a fine welcome for our heavily polluted city lungs. Check out our activity section for more on trekking
Having said all, There are opportunities to relive the days when afternoon tea was exquisite and sitting by a warm open fireplace - a comfort; to relive the days only read in storybooks - one can dissolve into the beauty of Camerons. For a price to pay, there are a few colonial bungalows and chalets for rental that are situated away from the crowd.
Cameron Highlands Activities - trekking etc
There are a number of trails that locals used in the old days and are today trails for day trekkers.
perfect place for birdwatching. The silver-eared mesia - a resident in the highlands
One of Jim Thompson's favourite trails was purportedly Trail 4 that takes one from main town Tanah Rata to the forestry department through the beautiful pine forest. Below are a few of the trails tested during the last trip to Camerons.
By no means should anyone attempt to try the trails as a pre-dinner stroll (see. JimThompson) for the forest gets dark early and losing ones way is not a rare occurrence. Only last year, a family went missing for days until rescue teams found them wandering in the woods.
Trail 9 and 9A
Difficulty: Easy walk
Time: approx. 1 1/2hr
Trail 9 starts at Tanah Rata and takes you to Robinson Falls. To get to Trail 9, walk straight down from T-junction facing the Cameron Highlands hospital on Jalan Besar. It’s a 1.5km walk before you actually get to the beginning of the trail, passing a few local schools on your left along the way. At the end of the road, take the pedestrian bridge-this will lead you to Robinson Falls. Another 15minutes or so, you will get to a metal gate. The trail down this steep slope will eventually take you to the Robinson power station.
This trail may be a little too trying as it can get very slippery especially after rains. However, because it is no longer a popular route, you may be able to spot more interesting wildlife. When we headed down an off-route, there was almost an opportunity to meet face to face with a mammal moving in our direction. As the rustle of the undergrowth got louder and the musky scent of the animal became more pungent, we were most certain of an all-show.
But just then the wind direction changed and the creature caught our scent in the air and bolted off the other way.
But if you are not accustomed to such surprises then best to stick to well trodden paths. An alternative route to the tough descend to the power station that trail 9 has to offer, is to take trail 9A which branches off to the left from the metal gate. Along the way, look out for a great variety of montane forest birds and even the excruciatingly shy banded-leaf monkeys up on the treetops. For a better look, its best to keep as quiet as possible so your actions will not scare them off.
Trail 9A ends up at the foot of the hill on Boh Road. Either take a left to the Boh tea plantation which is another 3km (to the gates of the plantation) and another 1.5km to the factory. Or take a right to the junction of Boh Rd. And the main road, where you can catch a local bus back to Tanah Rata.
Tip: It is an easier downhill stroll from Tanah Rata to Boh Rd than the reverse.
Difficulty: Easy walk
Time: approx. 1 hour including climb up to watchtower
Trail 4 to Parit Falls begins just beside Century Pines Resort at Tanah Rata
Take the road opposite the police station at Tanah Rata. The large signboard at the entrance to this road indicates ‘Parit Falls’. The trail is unfortunately paved for the convenience of the ‘trekkers’. About 15minutes into the walk, the area opens up into a concrete recreational square which seems to have been completed recently. There is also a new road that now leads almost to the doorstep of Parit Falls where bathers can drive and park by the river.
Look for a footbridge which takes you back onto trail 4. The bridge leads you up a flight of stairs and then onto the paved trail again.
This trail snakes its way through a patch of coniferous forest and ends up at the Forestry department. As noted in the Lonely Planet that the Parit Falls is more like ‘sewage falls’, well, that is indeed true. After all, the word ‘parit’ translates ‘drain’, and in rural Malaysia, drains are often used as convenient disposal systems.
There is a watchtower at the top of quiet a steep hillock about 25mins from the footbridge. It seems that this trail was a favourite in the old days as a pleasant alternative for a cool, refreshing stroll through the jungle rather than walking down the main road.
Difficulty: difficult; needs physical preparations prior to climb
Time: approx. 2 1/2hrs
This trail starts just a short distance from Robinson Falls and up a steep slope to the left. A signboard shows the way. This steep incline continues for at least 1/2hour and then takes a turn down into a valley. At the bottom of the valley, take the path to your right up a steep slope until you get to a ledge with an electrical pylon sitting on the edge. From here, the slope increases quite drastically until it levels off and begins a more gradual climb to the peak of Gunung Berembun at 1840m. Just before the peak, trail 7 veers off to the left and down towards MARDI in Tanah Rata. There are a number of trails in which you can make your descend from the peak. This depends on where you want to end up at.
The mossy forest on trail 8 and 3
You could follow the same way you came, take Trail 7 as mentioned above. Or you can take trail 3 which is the trail that will lead you to a small levelling after 1 hour’s trek. At this levelling, there are several alternative routes as indicated on the signboards. Trail 3, Trail 4 (or mistakenly printed as trail 6 on the board), trail 5 all descend from this junction.
Difficulty: nice stroll but more difficult then Trail 9 and 9A
Time: approx. 1 1/2hrs
The paths on Trail 5 and trail 9 are clearly laid out
Trail 5 is a pleasant route to take if you have attempted trail 8 or trail 7 and have already tested your endurance. This takes you downhill on a gradual slope so you have time for a stroll rather than a trek. The trail goes through a short stretch of clearing and ends up at the back of MARDI’s staff quarters.
Time: approx. 3hrs
Trail 3 starts off just to the back of Arcadia cottage, south east of the golf course. This is a pretty difficult climb and leads all the way to Gunung Berembun. The trail is a steady incline all the way and gets very steep towards the end of the climb to the peak. If you would rather not make the climb to the mountain top, there is an alternative where you can opt to take trail 5 and head downhill back to Tanah Rata. Trail 5 ends up just behind the staff quarters at MARDI.
Activities at Camerons
At RM3 per entry per adult, Butterfly Farm is nice to visit not so much for the butterflies as the variety is limited but perhaps more for the other insects such as the leaf insects, Rhinoceros beetles and even reptiles. Next door is Butterfly Garden with almost the same display of insects and reptiles but they have quite a collection of cactus on sale in their shop.
Both places open from 9.00am to 6.00pm daily.
Standing at 2031m, Gunung Brinchang has a telecommunication tower at its peak and is the highest point accessible by road on the Peninsular. It is 7km from the base of the turn off from the road into Sungei Palas tea estate to the peak and is a steep uphill climb. Best not to make it in the afternoon as it can get a little hot during the climb. The views can be beautiful but sheets of mist float by and this can linger for quite some time....so be prepared to wait for a while to catch the view.
Please Note: The thing is, after a steep climb to the top of Brinchang, what you see down below may not be to your liking. The view shows lots of slope scarring and development. Unfortunately not seeming to blend into the environment is a forte with developers here. So, it's really your choice to make the effort for the view but personally, I'd rather take a trail walk.
Open to public. Located opposite Cameron Highlands Resort. Weekend rates go for RM84 per day, weekday rates for RM45 per day. Retirees have a better rate, please ask for the discounted rates - only for OAPs! After 5pm, tee-off are half rates. Check the rates as often golfers are not informed of these available rates.
Organic Farms / Hydrophonic Farms
What to bring
- Raincoat for trekking
- Binoculars, camera, videocam etc. Films can be bought in Tanah Rata
- Medication, toiletries etc
- Normal clothing and trek shoes, slippers, track pants. Try not to wear pumps like the nike or adidas walking shoes - when wet, their grip are not strong.
best time to go
There is a wide range of accommodation in Cameron Highlands. Choice is based on your budget. The best advice is to book early if you choose to visit during a local holiday or even school holidays. You may find it difficult to get a place to stay. Also most accommodation charge a surcharge during public holidays and some may even double their normal rates which means a very poor deal for what you get.
There has been a bout of water shortage on Camerons in recent years especially during the 'summer' months ie June & July. If possible, try not to visit the highlands during the dry spell. Call the resorts/hostel just to double check on the water situation.
There are banks in Tanah Rata such as the HSBC(Hongkong and Shanghai Bank), Maybank, Bank Bumiputra.
Internet and telecomm
Phones are available everywhere in town and at the hostels. The backpacker motels offer internet services
A night market starts in the early evenings during weekends in the carpark lot in Brinchang central.
Kea Farm offers a wide variety of flowers, vegetables and fruits for sale, brought down from nearby farms.
At Tanah Rata town next to HSBC bank
Places to Eat
Restaurants in Tanah Rata seem more reasonably priced generally than those in Brinchang.
- good roti canai and simple southern Indian Food, try Restoran Kumar
- good chinese food, try Restoran HongKong
There are plenty of chinese restaurants to choose from but some costs an arm and a leg for a simple meal so check out the prices first.
- the most popular seem to be Restoran You Hoo on the main street for steamboat . This place also whips up decent noodles at average prices but can get very crowded.
- the least value-for-money place that we tried was at Hotel Silverstar for steamboat and expensive but not tasty dishes.
- Kowloon Hotel has a pretty good reputation for its western cuisine.
Tapah Road (The Original Road to Cameron Highlands)
Exit the North-South highway at Exit 132 (Persimpangan Tapah), approximately 143km from KL toll. As you exit from the toll, turn left at the traffic junction. Follow the roadsigns. Tanah Rata is 59km from Tapah town. This road is the most pleasant, although a little winding... its more scenic then the alternative routes which were built in the past decade.
The new mountain road from the Simpang Pulai junction off the North/South Highway. Exit at the Simpang Pulai toll, at the first traffic lights turn right. Go down this road and when you get to another set of traffic lights, turn right again. This road will take you all the way to Kampung Raja in Cameron Highlands. This road is a definite no no during public holidays ie. christmas, chinese new year, deepavali, hari raya - avoid taking the new roads as traffic can be very heavy at the Kea Farm and Brinchang town area due to shoppers stopping to buy vegetables and fruits from stalls lining the road. Unless you're staying at Brinchang, there's no need to get all riled up on holiday being stuck in traffic. However, as all that happens in Malaysia, building highways, dams and other mega projects also means an opportunity to conduct large scale logging. So if you're into scenery...you may be sorely disappointed if you choose this route. But not as disappointed as the next route..
This route leads from the North East of Peninsular Malaysia in Kelantan and will end up at Kampung Raja in Cameron Highlands. Kelantan as an opposition state has had little financial help from the Federal Government and hence have had to boost its domestic economy by supplying timber. As you drive down the 1hr 15min stretch, you will see as far as the eyes can... bald hills and valleys. Once the area is completely raped, the palm oil plantations will move in and win the battle of biodiversity. Having said so, the vegetable farms and nurseries lining the peak along this highway, closer to the Blue Valley is quite breathtaking at night. See.. the lights...
For those leaving Cameron Highlands for Perhentian Islands, take this road down to Gua Musang and from there head north towards Machang using Federal Route 8. From Machang, head south-east towards Jertih, and there will be road signs to Kuala Besut jetty which is the take off point for Perhentian Islands. Try not to arrive too late as the last boat leaves around 4pm. (earlier if during monsoon season)
Take the train to Tapah and from here take a taxi to Tanah Rata. The taxi costs RM80 in the morning and RM100 in the evening, per way per taxi. Or you could wait for the bus if its not too late in the evening. There are regular local buses arriving at the Tapah Road train station and leaving for Tanah Rata. The fare costs about RM4.00 per way.
For more on train schedules; take a look at our trains page
Just a note of advice, buy your bus tickets early as the buses to KL, Penang and Ipoh are often full. Those intending to connect to other parts of Malaysia, take a local cameron's bus down to Tapah and connect with other interstate buses there. Be warned though that during festive seasons, these buses may charge double of the stated prices due to demand. If you want to ensure a ticket, book with your resort.
The Bus Terminal is located in Jln Besar, the main street in Tanah Rata