We were excited to visit the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia’s retreat in the hills, dotted with tea plantations and a respite from the tropical heat.
We’d based ourselves in Ipoh around 80km away rather than the highlands themselves. Why? Well firstly the Cameron Highlands are not how I imagined them – small trails between tea plantations – there is actually a busy road along which all the major sights are, and they are quite a distance apart, so driving made a lot of sense. Yet the only place you could hire a car was in Ipoh.
In better weather there are countless hikes that can be done in the area, and indeed we did see some hardy souls hiking to the top of some pretty huge hills in the rain – good for them but the car suited us.
The drive to the highlands main road only took around an hour and was an easy drive. However even at this point I was starting to curse the fact we’d got a 1.3 litre automatic with the worst gearbox in the world. Worse was to come.
Once on the main road we drove until we got to the first tea plantation – Cameron Valley Tea, as we were gasping for a cuppa. It didn’t seem the biggest at first but a short walk took us higher where we got our first glimpse of the rolling green hills full of tea. After this exertion we treated ourselves to some lovely blackberry tea.
Next we attempted to stop at a few places to pick strawberries but it was not the season. In fact it wasn’t the season for much at all, as various attractions and cafe’s were sadly closed. So we pushed onto something that couldn’t be close – Mossy Forest and Gunung Brinchang, the highest point in peninsular Malaysia.
Now although it involved quite a steep drive, this still should have been a breeze in most cars. Not ours. The combination of the small engine and inefficient gearbox made it a constant struggle to get up any slope at all. A manual (stick shift) car would have been no problem.
It was also quite a terrifying drive. The whole road was only single track, with Malaysian drivers seemingly unwilling to wait for you to pass (in a passing place) and instead insisting on a death defying overtaking manoeuvre.
The road also kept getting smaller, steeper and more full of giant potholes. In one part a section of the road had actually been washed down the hill. It was after negotiating this that we decided to check the GPS. Unsurprisingly we had gone the wrong way.
After turning back and heading up the correct road, the drive was marginally more pleasant but still pretty scary. My big fear was having to stop for someone on a huge slope, for our small car would have ended up rolling backwards.
Eventually we made it to the mossy forest, in the midst of heavy drizzle and a lot of mist. We were quite high up I suppose but it was frustrating after all that to not be able to see any view. The forest however was amazing, and lived up to it’s literal name. There is a maze of walkways to get around as it would be too treacherous otherwise, so we spent an hour exploring.
From the first it was only a short drive to the highest point, while we knew there was little point because of the mist, it was so close we had to. There wasn’t really a lot there, just one small area you could see the view and an observation tower that I’m not 100% you were supposed to climb, not that we bothered anyway. There are lots of private property notices and big gates as being so high it is home to a number of mobile phone masts.
We started the descent which was thankfully easier (the brakes worked in the car if nothing else) and halfway down the mist finally cleared so we were able to admire the view.
On the way down we visited the Boh tea plantation which was bigger than the previous one and also offered stunning views, and included a very modern looking cafe overlooking them. It was a bit pricey though and we were after some food. So we headed down the road to the town of Tanah Rata for a delicious lunch of roti canai.
The epic trip to the summit had taken a lot longer than we expected so we only had a few hours left. We decided to visit Robinson waterfall nearby. As we started the trail it really didn’t look like it would be worth it, but after 800m or so we reached it and it was pretty good as waterfalls go.
We had time for one more stop – a temple. Despite having seen more than enough of them in Asia, this was a Chinese Buddhist temple and was a bit different. We even got to see some monks chanting, which we hadn’t seen before.
After one final stop to finally buy some strawberries (which were delicious), we made our way back. It would have been an easy drive back had the heaviest fog I’ve ever seen not come in for 10 minutes or so. Luckily Katy was driving at the time 🙂
Thankfully we survived and made it back to Ipoh safely. I was glad I’d finally seen the Cameron Highlands and it was a good day but I think we made the right decision (for us) not to stay there.
If you want to do something similar, the one and only car rental centre in Ipoh is aptly named Car Rental Ipoh. They’ll deliver and collect the car from your hotel. Just don’t get a 1.3 Proton Saga auto!
Petrol is absurdly cheap in Malaysia, 25 litres cost us 50 MYR (just under £10) so it won’t break the bank to drive around.
Cars are right hand drive and they drive on the left, which makes it easy for Brits like us!
Where We Stayed
We stayed at Ipoh Boutique Hotel. While not really a boutique hotel, it had been renovated nicely and our triple room was super clean and boasted a 32 inch TV and good WiFi for around £24 per night.