Thursday, November 12, 2009

1 Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Imagine a Boston summer day. Then imagine donning a winter coat and jeans and going for a one mile jog along the Esplanade. Follow that up with pouring a bucket of warm maple syrup over your head and then hopping on a jam packed green line train only to get stuck between Arlington and Copley. That would be about half as hot, sticky, and uncomfortable as walking outside for five minutes in Malaysia. Ok, maybe that is a little bit of an exaggeration, but there is a reason that cool mountain retreats are much appreciated in this country a few degrees north of the equator. We didn't realize just how much until we got to the Cameron Highlands.What we expected to be an idyllic collection of quaint towns perched in the hills was actually an oozing resort destination with highrise chalet-style hotels, golf courses, and even a Starbucks. Our visions of leisurely sipping tea on the plantations for which the region is known were quickly dashed when we realized we'd have to share those small verandas with hundreds of other visitors.

While geographically the area is quite small, the weaving mountain roads make it difficult to get from place to place. So we decided to join a half day tour that would take us around to many of the local farms. We enjoyed the best strawberry milkshake and strawberry tart at a strawberry farm, navigated through "Malaysia's largest indoor maze" at a bee farm, strolled through a rose garden, and stopped at an outdoor market. We even got to taste some tea at the Boh Estate and Factory; the setting was more commercial than we'd hoped, but the sweeping views of the rolling hills and the surprisingly strong, refreshing aroma of the tea plants that covered them made it a pleasant place to spend the morning nonetheless.

In the afternoon we headed out on our own to do a "jungle walk" up Gunung Brinchang. The trail was steep, muddy, and somewhat treacherous--but certainly atmospheric. The best part was that we didn't see another soul on the trail: finally the peace and quiet we had hoped for from the high hills of Malaysia. There are in total 14 trails in the area, varying in both length and difficulty. Back in town, we quenched the hunger we'd worked up with a steamboat--the make-your-own-soup meal that is offered at every Cameron Highlands restaurant. Think fondue, but instead of dipping delicious bread in bubbling cheese we had fish balls and jellyfish to cook in broth. Definitely an experience, but not one we are probably looking to recreate soon.

View more pictures from the Cameron Highlands here.

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