The Cameron Highlands, well named that they are, are the tea growing centre of Malaysia. The temperature up the top is a good 4 degrees less than in the cities and a nice breeze helps take off a few more. It is a place of gentile rolling tea fields under mountainous peaks. I found this much more to my liking!
The journey up there by bus is up the ever winding highway 1, which has great views of the surrounding lands and peaks of the mountains.
This lends itself spectacularly to photography on the way, and to loosing your lunch as the corners are all negotiated at light speed by a bus driver who must have realised that he had left the gas on at home.
Our final destination was the town of Tanah Rata, which is along the road on which all the sights are situated.
The night market
Transport around the sights is best performed by either taxi or tour, both options being expensive. The town itself is quite nicely laid out along the road and has all the needed shops and even a Starbucks! Yes the people of Malaysia have discovered the value of this area and are very busy putting in new shops, hotels and guesthouses.
We had booked ahead and secured ourselves a room in the Father’s Guest House which is atop a small hill and overlooks the town splendidly. This guest house is comprised of a large classic house and garden which has been extended towards a smaller office building making a roofed off area. This office area contains the kitchens, offices and communal areas. Slightly down the hill from this is the cheaper end of the accommodation which is essentially bunkers converted to be simple rooms. We had a double in one of these and found the room to be ok, if a little run down.
We arrived around 3pm and the heavens had opened. Apparently this happens every afternoon regularly and there is nothing for it but to go out during the morning hours. We nestled down and watched the communal DVD presentations and enjoyed the onsite restaurant. We also booked a tour for the next day.
On awaking we met our tour guide and the other tourists, some nice people all western, and made our way up to the first stop which was an overlook of the tea plantations.
Then we visited the highest point in the area and climbed a tower to view the jungle. I defiantly have improved my fear of heights since the Nevis jump in NZ! Next we went for a walk in the very overgrown Mossy Forest. This short walk was a little light for those of us fresh from New Zealand, but since more than one of the tour got stuck in the mud – to the general hoots of hilarity from the others – we didn’t mind.
During this walk we saw some amazingly exotic flowers. After this we made our way to the Boh Tea plantation, which was a fascinating trip around the factory and induced a very interesting video about how the tea is made, picked and shipped.
We then went into the shop and sampled some of this magical brew.
All in all I feel the tour was well worth the bother and expense.
That night we met a nice couple who were literally biking their way from Canada to SEA and who had rode up the mountain to get to the guest house. We all went out to dinner and had a very nice “Steam Boat” Chinese meal which is basically a boiling tub of water & spices and a lot of uncooked meat. They very helpfully gave us a ton of tips about the places we were due to visit and we have been following this sage advice ever since! Their website is www.bikingtwo.com and is well worth a visit.
Soon, all too soon, we decided to descend the mountain – back into the heat, and move on. We head heard all sorts of stories about the jungle experiences you can have in Malaysia and eventually voted to pass on it entirely as I personally don’t like leaches and the rains were over the jungle.
We decided to head to heaven. Heaven being the Island of Langkawi. However in order to get there we had to go through Purgatory; Georgetown. All in all I think I am probably maligning Georgetown, but frankly I don’t care. I didn’t like the place at all. Georgetown is the capital of Penang and I what I can most say about it is that the food is very good. We found a real bakery, twinned with one in London no less, and a fantastic Chinese restaurant hidden down an alleyway (off Chulia road near the Love Lane). It also has a pleasant sea front promenade that leads around some old buildings and sights. Out of town it has many sights to see on tours, and a large India town and, of course, a China Town.
The sights of Georgetown
However, the main drag is full to the rafters with western tourists and unless this is what you want from travel, I would pass though.
We did and didn’t look back.
To get out to Langkawi you catch the morning ferry. This deathtrap on the waves has to be experienced to be believed and in a storm would scare the bejesus out of Noah. Luckily for us the weather was fine and we cruised into the island about 3 hours later.
Langkawi is about 30km off the mainland and halfway to Thailand, as such it is the holiday destination for much of Malaysia and the government have seen fit to make it a tax free island. That means beer is only 2 ringgits. This should give you some idea of what is to follow…
Apart from the wonderful high jagged cliffs the island has much in the way of beaches and is littered with high class hotels and resorts. Thankfully the island is large enough to swallow all these. Hidden amongst them are a mass of smaller operators and it is to one of these places we booked. Zackry Guesthouse is off the main road out of Kuah and near a large beach.
Our room and the drinking area of Zakry’s
It is surrounded by about 15 or so restaurants of all types, shops and facilities (such as a money changer – who wont accept UK Pounds). It is a enclosed social type place and we quickly discovered how social. That night we met some great people and got smashed to Christmas and back. A twenty man drinking game of epic proportions, drunken movie watching, talking-toot and having a whale of a time.
Which we repeated the next day.
And the next.
Meeting people is always fun and we have met some real characters on our journeys so far, but the Zackey’s crowd were concentrated. There was Taz, the fun loving Mancurian lass with reality based outlook on life. Ben, a massive bear of a man who sports the only Conan the Barbarian tattoo I have ever seen (“two snakes!”). Nick the quieter American thinker with a very international outlook and sense of humour. Grey, Taz’s other half, who is an Art director in Manchester. All loved fun and drinking as much as we did. Keeping up with the antics of this lot on Facebook is fun in itself!
During the days we lay on the beach and enjoyed the wonderful weather. The view from the beach of the islands was fantastic. We truly didn’t want to leave, but we knew that we had to eventually. Utilizing the Zackry’s WIFI we decided on an adventurous plan. One that would prove to be almost prescient.
We would cross the border into Thailand and immediately head to Hati Yai airport, where we would fly to the very north of Thailand and visit Chiang Mai. This was for many reasons. Firstly, the south of Thailand was in bad weather. Secondly, the journey would balance out better if we did Laos in December we would be able to be in Vietnam during Xmas and back in Thailand’s beaches for New Years eve. Little did we know, but by hopping over Bangkok we would be avoiding some of the most turbulent times in Thailand’s recent history.
The next day we got onto the ferry and wished goodbye to Langkawi. Definitely somewhere worth the visit and the highlight of my Malaysian adventure.