Archive for the ‘Malaysia’ Category

Getting About

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:

Cameron Highlands waterfall

However, tucked away in the undergrowth there are some strange delights, such as this Cobra Lily, which is carnivorous:

Cobra Lily, Cameron Highlands

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:

Tea Plantation, Cameron Highlands

In the old days the bushes were kept in check by armies of workers who plucked them every few weeks.

Tea Bushes, Cameron Highlands

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.

Tea Pickers' Village, Cameron Highlands

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:

Mossy Forest, Cameon Highlands

The park authorities have built an elevated walkway through the forest so that visitors have a minimal impact upon the environment.

Mossy Forest, Cameron Highlands

Apart from the moss, there are occasional pitcher plants hanging from the branches, waiting for an errant insect to fall in.

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Getting There

A few years ago I visited the Cameron Highlands, a hill resort from Malaysia’s (or Malaya as it was then) colonial era. I spent a little longer there than I’d originally planned – but then a dislocated knee doesn’t exactly help with mobility. However, I remembered the deliciously cool climate and English charm and decided to visit again.

The flight from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur was delayed; isn’t that always the way with Air Asia? And the plane landed in the middle of a tropical storm at KL’s LCCT. (I believe that stands for “Low Convenience and Comfort Terminal” – though others maintain it’s “Low Cost Carrier Terminal.) There was the dash through the pouring rain to a corrugated-iron covered walkway which led (eventually) to a large tin shed which passed as Immigration. The queue there was one of the worst I’ve ever encountered (possibly only surpassed by JFK on a bad day). Almost an hour later I made it to the head of the queue, on to collect my baggage – which still hadn’t been unloaded.

The trip into the city centre wasn’t much better: the bus broke down. Being the good citizen that I am I joined the chain that unloaded the bags from the broken bus. That mean that when the replacement bus arrived I was at the back of the queue and didn’t get on it. Another long wait until a second replacement bus eventually arrived.

I had arranged to meet a good friend of mine, D., for dinner, but was now running seriously late. A few text messages later, D. offered to pick me up from the bus station and drive me to my hotel. I gratefully accepted. I’d been travelling for almost 12 hours and was decidedly hot and sticky (and not a little malodorous). After check-in and a quick shower I was ready to head out for dinner – Indonesian food. We had fried chicken, crispy fried dried eel, a green leaf in a green curry sauce, beef rendang and – a first for me – a beef tendon curry. The tendon was meltingly soft. To be honest, I thought it was hunks of beef fat.

The next day was devoted to shopping until I met up with D. again in the evening. He showed me around one of KL’s most popular stores: Ikea. It wasn’t that different from such establishments in the UK – vast and packed. Then we went for dinner at a Nonya restaurant – that’s the cuisine of the Chinese immigrants to Malaysia and blends Chinese techniques with local herbs and spices. The food is spicy, aromatic and somewhat herbal with a pleasant balance of sweet and sour. It was, needless to say, delicious.

The following morning I boarded a bus to the Cameron Highlands. It was filthy and clapped out, barely capable of climbing the steep, twisting ascent to the Highlands. However, that simply made for more time to take in the view. The greenery changes from the vast palm oil plantations of the lowland as one climbs. Deciduous trees take their place, and wild banana palms and, eventually, tree ferns.

Tree Fern, Cameron Highlands

The bus arrived at Tanah Rata (the main town of the Cameron Highlands) in the midst of another tropical storm. Fortunately there was a local bus waiting to depart which stopped outside my hotel. So, finally I’d arrived back in the Cameron Highlands.

Tree Fern Detail

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