The Cameron Highlands is a hill stations retreat in Peninsula Malaysia in the state of Pahang. If you’ve been travelling around sea-level Southeast Asia for some time then the climate of the highlands will come as a shock. The air is cooler up here, with a mean annual temperature of 18 °C. It’s no wonder the British found their way up here, with the region being named after Sir William Cameron, a surveyor mapped out the area in the 1880’s.
Today the Highlands still retains a bit of a British flavour – perhaps inspired by the weather – with old Range Rovers patrolling the roads, and faux half-timbered Tudor house’s being a popular architectural style.
Another positively English thing is the obsession with tea. The climate is ideal for growing tea and as you drive around the area you’ll see the beautiful tea fields everywhere. The BOH Tea Plantations have the largest tea plantation in Southeast Asia and their cafe overlooking the rows of tea shrubs is a quintessential Highlands experience (even for this coffee drinker!) You can take a tour of the tea processing factory and go for a walk in the plantation.
[BOH Tea Plantations.]
Prominent on cars all around the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia are these CH stickers.
[Confoederatio Helvetica? No, Cameron Highlands.]
CH is also painted on the sides of the old 4WD’s in the area. CH is the country of origin sticker for Swiss cars (CH is for Confoederatio Helvetica), so I couldn’t help but think I was seeing Swiss cars all the time.
The Cameron Highlands are certainly mountainous enough to stand in as Switzerland, just not as organised.
[Switzerland – CH Car Sticker]
Along with the climate, the pristine forests are also a welcome relief after travelling through the palm oil plantations in the low lands. There are plenty of walking tours available, or follow one of the marked walking paths. If you are lucky you may spot the elusive Rafflesia. This giant flower is rarely in bloom so ask at your hotel if there have been any known sightings recently.
[Welcome to the jungle.]
Be careful not to stray too far off the paths as the jungle is dense. The Cameron Highlands are famous for being where Jim Thompson – the American entrepreneur based in Bangkok – mysteriously disappeared in 1967.
If you’re there on the weekend then the night market at Brinchang is worth a visit. Brinchang is about 5km from Tanah Rata and the market has a lots of street food, local produce from the surrounding farms, and other souvenirs.
At just over 2,000 metres (6,667 ft) Gunung (Mount) Brinchang is the highest point in Malaysia that is accessible by car, and has commanding views of the highlands. At the mountain you can take a walk through the Mossy Forest. A boardwalk goes through this forest which has a dense layer of moss on the forest floor.
Getting to the Cameron Highlands
The main town is Tanah Rata, which has the bus station for services to Ipoh, Penang, KL, and Singapore. There are also mini bus services to Taman Negara and Pulau Perhentian. From Tanah Rata you can arrange tours to the rest of the area. There is no train service here so the nearest train is at Ipoh.
Accommodation types range from budget guesthouses to resort-style hotels. The towns of the highlands are spread out, so if you’re travelling by public transport I would stay in Tanah Rata. If you have a car then you have more freedom to pick what appeals most. You can search for a Cameron Highlands hotel on Traveloka, who have an excellent selection of hotels throughout Malaysia.
Cameron Highlands District Council – Official region website with information on transport, places of interest, shopping, and recreation.
5 things to do in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia – A bloggers experience of a trip to the highlands, by thetalesofatraveler.com.
Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei (Travel Guide) has good coverage of things to do in the Cameron Highlands. If you are travelling throughout the region get the Lonely Planet Southeast Asia edition.