This is a guide to the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia’s Fruit Bowl, that should be on every visitor’s itinerary. This mountainous part of Malaysia famous for tea farms, vegetable farms, and flower nurseries – and the fabulous Rafflesia Arnoldii.
While we poor Europeans are travelling to Asia seeking the tropical sun, the Colonialists – no matter from which motherland – were desperately looking for cooler places in higher regions. Here, they were building settlements and mansions to take a break from….being wealthy and having servants.
Whether you go to Da Lat in Viet Nam, Thansur Bokor in Cambodia – or precisely the Cameron Highlands: You’ll find temperate climate, elegant villas and holiday homes, and excellent infrastructure in lush surroundings.
Having been to many of these places, I must say that the Cameron Highlands are a bit less colonial and a whole lot more sumptuous.
These highlands, named after British explorer and geologist William Cameron, range from 800 meters to 1.603 meters above sea level.
There are over 700 species of plants growing here, and the vegetation changes according to the ascent of the mountains.
The highlands are famous for tea farms – BOH being the most popular one, vegetable farms, and flower nurseries. Therefore, in places, ugly, plastic-covered hothouses are obstructing the views. But no worries, it gets better. Once you get into the woodlands, a perfect and undisturbed ecosystem will amaze you.
Besides the sumptuous flora, this area is also a shelter for a wide variety of animals, birds, reptiles, and insects.
And the fabulous Rafflesia arnoldii is the best-hidden gem. Albeit, it’s only a stemless blossom looking like some weird red cabbage. However, it’s the largest single flower of any flowering plant. We’ll get to that later.
There are two main places to stay in the Highlands, Brinchang and Tanah Rata, the latter being the administrative center. However, if you are into hiking and nature and Malaysian life, you should stay in Tanah Rata.
If you are rather into shorter strolls, souvenir shopping, and lots of strawberries, stay with the Asian tourists in Brinchang. You need to know that strawberries are a very exotic fruit in Asia. Therefore, they are a big deal here for visitors from other Asian countries. Picking a couple of these red fruits at a ridiculously high price is one of the major activities.
I’m European, we are drowning in strawberries. I came here to see the jungle. All over Tanah Rata, you can book different combo-tours practically around the clock.
Obviously, you’ll book a tour according to your interests. But if you ask me, I’d recommend taking a hike – no offense! – to see the Rafflesia arnoldii, if it is the season – mostly in April.
If it’s not the season, you do not need a guided tour to explore the jungle trails around; actually, we didn’t even have a map. But if you want to take one with you, you can buy it cheaply at many places in Tanah Rata. Then, just follow one of the 9 designated trails.
However, ask locals whether there is a reason not to go on a particular hiking trail at that moment. Or if they have any recommendations.
You cannot miss the beautiful tea plantations – and one of my favorites was the mossy forest. Normally, moss grows on the tree’s shady northern side.
Here, however, it overgrows the trees and bushes completely. Therefore, you could not use it for orientation like you might in other woods. The mossy forest looks like an enchanted fairytale jungle.
Although the center of Tanah Rata looks really small, you find all the facilities and amenities you might need. This includes various banks and ATMs, a hospital, and the main police station.
The taxi and bus station make travelling to, from, and around the Highlands very easy and affordable. So you don’t need to join necessarily an organized tour.
How to Get There
There are many public buses going mostly by the hour between Ipoh and the two towns in the Cameron Highlands.
Moreover, there are privately run shuttle services catering to George Town on Pulau Penang, the Taman Negara, and Kuala Lumpur. There is also a mini-bus going to the Jetty in Kuala Besut where you can catch a ferry to Pulau Perhentian.
Although I’m a passionate travel planner, I can only recommend not worry too much about how to get from one place to another. As long as you are travelling between the popular tourist spots, they will practically carry you from A to B. And even the places off the tourist route are connected by trains or buses.
How to Get Around
As I said, the Highlands are all about hiking, hence, you’ll get around walking. To get to remote spots, you can take a public bus. Obviously, it’s possible to cycle. But remember that you are visiting a mountainous region – and also, Malaysian drivers are ruthless, to say the least.
Therefore, for individual visits, I’d rather recommend going by cab.
To explore more of the jungle, it’s, obviously, safer to join an organized tour. For solo travellers like me, this is also a great opportunity to meet people.
Best place to sleep
If you are looking for a comfortable place that leaves you happy and wantless, you’ll enjoy the relative luxury of the Century Pines Resort*. They offer everything you expect from a good hotel. This includes an excellent location about three minutes from the Tanah Rata main bus station on one side and the jungle in the backyard.
If you can do with less luxury, want to enjoy the company of other budget travellers, and don’t mind staying a bit farther – however, still within walking distance – from the town center, Gerard’s Place is your best bet. It’s basically a big flat where every guest has its room – some with shared, some with en-suite bathroom. The owners get out of their way to assist you with everything you might need.
Check out the Century Pines Resort‘s* if you’re in the mood for a little bit more at a great price. Or check out Gerard’s Place* if you’re looking for comfort yet contact and togetherness with other travellers.
On this map, you can check out more convenient lodging options*:
Best Place to Eat
Like everywhere in Malaysia, in Tanah Rata food is a very important asset. In the city center are many good Indian restaurants. Nevertheless, the big thing here is the Steamboat, sort of a fondue where you cook ingredients of your choice in a broth.
The only thing that’s a bit irritating is the seafood formed from some….paste. Don’t get me wrong: They have an incredible variety of veggies and real fish and meat. But, nonetheless, some weird formed stuff, too.
However, it is a very enjoyable and entertaining way of eating. I guess it’s the more the merrier. In our case, it was only the two of us, but we had a great time.
To enjoy the best of both worlds, i. e. Malaysian tea, British scones, and local strawberry jam, you absolutely have to pay The Lord’s Café a visit. It’s located basically across the street from the bus station on the upper floor. A real – local – treat.
What to See
If you don’t have much time to spare in the Cameron Highlands, an organized day trip from Kuala Lumpur might be a great alternative. Therefore, here are some great suggestions on how to get there*:
The Cameron Highlands were only one place I’ve visited on my road trip through Malaysia. Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I’ve visited? Then go to the main post and take your pick!
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Note: This post is being regularly completed, edited, and updated – last in January 2021.