There’s not a lot to do in the Cameron Highlands but take in the cool air and plentiful nature. There are a number of standard treks through the forest of various degrees of difficulty. Unfortunately, the locals don’t take particularly good care of what they have, as this rubbish-adorned waterfall shows:
However, tucked away in the undergrowth there are some strange delights, such as this Cobra Lily, which is carnivorous:
The area is a leading tea producer, with “Boh” tea being the best-known brand. Vast areas of valley have been cleared and planted with tea bushes:
In the old days the bushes were kept in check by armies of workers who plucked them every few weeks.
However, now much of the cutting is done by machine, a sort of chainsaw on a sled, which is dragged along the tops of the bushes. It’s still necessary for tea pickers to go through the trimmings to sort out the leaves from the twigs.
Many of the tea workers used to be from Tamil Nadu, but now they mostly come from Bangladesh. Their accommodation is provided by the tea plantation owners. Here’s one such village, including a Tamil-style temple.
Some Indian tea workers have set up in business in the towns; there are numerous Indian restaurants and stores.
A couple of the tea plantations have a visitors’ centre where one can see and smell the tea being processed before being channelled into the gift shop. A few years ago I visited the Boh visitors’ centre – it was terrific, all caked with tea dust, the air filled with an intoxicating aroma with the clang of Victorian-age machinery all around. It seems, though, that Health & Safety has come to the Cameron Highlands, and one is now kept behind a glass partition and not allowed to see the dustiest processes. How things change … and only rarely for the better.
Tea is, of course, a type of Camellia. There’s a small garden specialising in Camellias that I visited. There were a few in bloom, but nothing spectacular. Indeed, the garden was more memorable for a vicious-sounding guard dog that took objection to my presence. Fortunately it was chained up.
One of the local culinary specialities is “steamboat”: a large pot of boiling stock is brought to your table, along with an assortment of fresh vegetables, meat, noodles. prawns and processed fish products. You cook the food at your leisure, waiting for the pot to reboil over a small gas ring before eating the food with a little chilli sauce. To be honest, it’s very similar to what the Thais call “suki” (from the Japanese “sukiyaki” – though, of course, the Japanese version is a dry dish, not a wet one). There are a couple of chain restaurants here in Thailand specialising in suki, and (to be honest) doing it better than the Cameron Highlands version.
The highlight of my trip had to be a walk in The Mossy Forest, or, as the tourist leaflets style it “The Lord of the Rings Mossy Forest”. It’s located near the peak of Mount Brinchang and appears to be permanently engulfed in mist. Here moss tumbles from almost every branch creating strange, unfamiliar outlines:
The park authorities have built an elevated walkway through the forest so that visitors have a minimal impact upon the environment.
Apart from the moss, there are occasional pitcher plants hanging from the branches, waiting for an errant insect to fall in.