Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

(sorry, I've wanted to catch up by back-posting blogs from our trip through Indonesia from last year, but just haven't gotten to it).

We've been talking about wanting to go see the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia for awhile. But boat work just seemed to be taking up all our time. Dave finally figured out a way to work in a trip. He found out from another cruiser that there was a place in Kuala Lumpur (capital of Malaysia) that does hydrostatic testing on dive tanks really cheaply. And, in testing our ham radio, he found low power output, and there's a guy someone knows that repairs ham radios, also in KL.

So, he decided we just HAD to go to KL and take our stuff there, and while we were waiting for the stuff to be finished, we could take a short side-trip to Cameron Highlands. When he decided that, he hadn't looked at a map--he thought KL would be a shortcut to the highlands. But (see the map), Cameron Highlands is not very far inland from where we are at Pangkor Marina. Google says we can drive there in 3 1/2 hours (on a weekday). But going via Kuala Lumpur extended the trip to 7 hours!
The "Short Cut" to Cameron Highlands via Kuala Lumpur

So we decided to stay overnight. I found a great deal at a Hilton Garden Hotel near our first stop on Monday morning (SK Cryogenics, the hydro test people) for only $50 per night. With a car, in a big city, "free parking" is one of the first amenities you check when booking a place. This was a nice hotel with a buffet breakfast (extra cost), a VERY comfy bed, and a decent view of the city. Highly recommend the Hilton Garden Inn Pahong if you're spending a night in that part of the city.
Our Room at the Hilton Garden Inn
Bed Decorations!

One thing we didn't realize before we took off was that the roads in Malaysia are pretty darned 1st world, which also includes tolls. But they don't have the ticket system that they have in the USA, and of course, having never been out of the immediate area of the marina, no electronic toll device. And there's no "toss some coins at the machine" booths either. You have to go through the truck lane, and the person in the booth looks at you like you have 2 heads. "You don't have a Touch n Go card?" And of course the cars behind you are backing up while the toll person writes out a receipt... After doing that a few times on our way into KL, we vowed to get our own Touch n Go card. One of the ladies in a toll booth said "get them at any gas station or 7-11". Someone else told us, "get them at the toll booth admin building" (just after most toll booths). Well, we stopped everywhere, and everyone has "top up" (add credit to a card you have). Nobody is selling the cards.
First World Driving!

The guy at SK Cryogenics, when we dropped off the tanks, took pity on us and loaned us his spare card. We vowed to find our own card and return his when we came back to pick up the tanks in a few days. We probably stopped at 10 places before we gave up. No one is selling the cards (but you can buy them online), not even the toll booth admin buildings.
SK Cryogenics - Bauer Dealer and Tank Hydro

I knew we were in trouble as we started out of KL after dropping off both the tanks and the radios (of course, on the other end of the big city). I zoomed in on the route and saw that though the first 3/4 of the trip was all freeway, the last 1/4 was very a winding mountain road. It's only 60 km, that last bit, but it took us over 2 hours of fairly stressful driving.
The Wiggly Road to Cameron Highlands
A Quick Stop at a Waterfall on the Way
Local Handicrafts at the Waterfall

We finally arrived in Cameron Highlands around 5pm. Fortunately we had no trouble getting into our (privately-owned AirBNB-type) room that we had booked on Agoda. It was mostly as described and OK for a couple of nights. The price was right and the location was pretty good--near town but not IN town. However, after staying there for a couple of days, we wouldn't recommend it. Though that apartment was decent, the condo building it's in (Barrington Square) is not being maintained, the stairways are full of trash, and the last night in a different unit in the same condo (because we wanted to extend and had to move to a different one), we killed about 20 roaches (mostly new hatchlings). Also if you came by bus and didn't have a car, it's a bit far into town for walking.

We spent 3 full days there. We booked one half-day tour to see the highlights of the tea farms, the butterfly sanctuary, etc. And we did some exploring on our own the other 2 days.

Cameron Highlands is a popular weekend spot for Malaysians, and we had been specifically warned to visit mid-week vs on the weekend. But it was still very busy and the traffic on the 2-lane road was pretty solid all the time. I can't imagine what it's like on summer weekends when the kids are out of school.

There is some historic value in the Highlands, as the Brits in the 1800's who could afford to, would retire to the Highlands during the hot months. It is definitely more pleasant in the Highlands during the summar. We enjoyed visiting the museum showing some of that history. We did enjoy a couple of walks in the forests, one with the tour and one on our own. But it was sort of a "meh" experience for us.
Historical Stuff at the Museum

We did discover "hot pot" (also called "steamboat" there at Casa Osiana. This is where they put a cooker on your table, with a pot with 2 compartments, and some broth, and several plates of meats and raw vergetables. And you cook your food yourself right on the table. We requested a Thai Tom Yam base without any spice, and it was really delicious. The nice restaurant was empty except for us.
Nice Restaurant-Casa Osiana
Our Hotpot Before Cooking
Look at all that Seafood!

On our last night, we had dinner at The Smokehouse Hotel and Restaurant. That was also very good. And I'd recommend either of these places as a place to stay in a historic location. There are a ton of hotels and eateries in Tana Rata town proper.
The Old Smokehouse Hotel and Restaurant
A Properly British Garden for Afternoon Tea
And a Cozy Place for Cool Nights in the Highlands

The most recommended tour company (in an older Lonely Planet as well as online) apparently went bust during the Covid Pandemic. We walked to the location that was listed for it and nothing was there but a hotel. But that hotel booked us the tour we were looking for from a different operator. They all seem to go to the same places.
The Tour Company We Used

Sights from our Tour Below
A Short Hike to the Famed Mossy Forest
Butterfly Farm
Butterfly Farm
Butterfly Farm
More than Just Butterflies at the Butterfly Farm!
And we Visit a Strawberry Farm
Strawberry Farm
U-Pick Strawberries

And of course, no visit to Cameron Highlands would be complete without a visit to a Tea Plantation.
Acres and Acres (Hectares) of Tea
Acres and Acres (Hectares) of Tea
Acres and Acres (Hectares) of Tea
Acres and Acres (Hectares) of Tea
Harvesting the Tea
Tea Tour and Tea Tasting
Final Stop on the Tour - A Hindu Temple

And we did do a little hiking and exploring on our own...
We captured the hiking map on our cell phone
A Sunset Drive and Short Hike to See the Far Valley
Robinson Falls - A Nice Easy Hike