Had enough of the chaos in Kuala Lumpur? Get away from the hustle and bustle for some down time up in the Cameron Highlands and explore the beautiful Taman Negara National Park.
Tip: Despite warnings about being ripped off by booking excursions through hostels, I found in Malaysia generally that hostels gave pretty competitive rates and it was easier to have everything arranged by them, in case anything went wrong. Saying that, it’s a good idea to shop around for comparison.
It takes between three and three and a half hours to travel from Penang or Kuala Lumpur by bus to the Cameron Highlands. If you’ve arranged a tour from your hotel or hostel then you will usually be picked up with right outside your door. If you’re planning on getting a cross-country bus, expect it to run to it’s own schedule (as with most transport timetables in Southeast Asia) so arrive early to avoid missing it – and expect a wait when it’s inevitably delayed.
The best time to visit is during off-season (avoiding public and school holidays) as it’s quieter and there are fewer bus loads of local Malaysian tourists. Expect rain all year round, but monsoon season runs from February through to November, so check when you plan to travel in this region and avoid a complete washout – I did not have this foresight and was forced to spend my first afternoon huddled in a local market skipping over the rapids of rain gushing through the streets.
Strawberries are a massive crop in the Cameron Highlands, with plenty of farms where you can pick your own (if in season). I found a strawberry milkshake lifts the spirits if you do end up soaked to the skin due to poor weather planning.
There aren’t too many options for places to stay in the Cameron Highlands. The most popular hotels are Cameron Highlands Resort and The Lakehouse, both of which are in a good location but are on the more luxury end of the scale. If you’re travelling on a budget then there are a few cheap hostels worth considering. I stayed at the Cameronian Inn, a cute place ten minutes from the main part of town with clean bunks and warm running water. They also have a communal dining area (with free tea and coffee) which is a great place to meet fellow hikers if you’re travelling on your own and want to join a group for tours or excursions.
Tip: Don’t bother paying for maps in the hostel, use the free WiFi to find routes, or buddy up with someone and go exploring. There are plenty of trails, but be sure to go with someone or let the hostel know what your plans are in case you go too far or end up getting lost.
Although I’m generally dead-set against organised group tours, when you’re travelling solo and/or on a tight schedule, it’s the easiest, most cost efficient way to get around in Malayasia (and in fact most of Southeast Asia). I would never have been able to cram so much in if I hadn’t joined the much maligned coach tour; you can hire a scooter, but with all the rain I didn’t fancy my chances on those mountain roads, plus you miss all of the insightful information that a local expert guide provides.
One ‘must-see’ in the Cameron Highlands in the BOH tea plantation: spread over 8,000 acres, it’s the largest in Southeast Asia, and the swathes of tea trees rolling across the fields like a green ocean is really something to check out! Stop at the shop, although it’s a tourist centre designed to get you to spend, the views from the café terrace are worth it – and the tea and cakes aren’t bad either, if slightly over-priced (which by Asian standards means they’re still pretty cheap).
Tip: Pack layers and warm clothes. During rainy season (October is the wettest month) it gets a bit chilly come nightfall, and there’s nothing worse than having to wear wet socks all day.
Walking through the fields and touring the factory can take up the best part of a morning. You can easily fit in two other main sights into your day’s itinerary: a trip to one of the many strawberry farms and a stroll through a butterfly farm. Snacking on strawberries is a sweet experience, seeing cooped up butterflies being tortured by annoying kids who just want to pull their wings off less so. My advice would be to skip the butterfly farm, unless you like seeing some depressed turtles in tiny cages and dead butterflies scattered everywhere, but I am very much anti-zoos so I’m unlikely to have a very high opinion of the place. It’s one of the area’s main attractions so it’s worth a mention, you can decide for yourself.
But these are just sideshows: the main reason backpackers, holidaymakers and local tourists come to the Cameron Highlands is to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city, to explore some truly unspoilt landscapes and for a huge lung full of some of Malaysia’s freshest O2. Hiking through Taman Negara National Park (when it’s not pouring down with rain) is rewarding and reinvigorating. Admire the tea plantations from afar, scurry through the forest undergrowth spotting rare and exotic flowers and scale the park’s peaks for stunning views across this protected area and into other neighbouring states. I would recommend getting a guide so that they can point out all of the interesting flora and fauna the park has to offer, and so that you don’t get lost!
They say a cup of tea cures everything. A weekend in the Cameron Highlands is the perfect escape if you’re looking for a short break from either Kuala Lumpur or Georgetown. Relax and recuperate here and you’ll be ready to get back on the road in no time.
Looking for more ideas for trips in Malaysia? Check these out:
Get to grips with Baba Nyonya, learn about the unique world of Peranakan and fall in love with the food and art of Penang.
A photo tour of Penang’s most famous street art and murals – captured on camera before they disappear forever!