The ultimate guide to Cameron Highlands
Imagine a place where the air is crisp and the landscapes are painted in varying shades of green. A place where colonial history whispers from the walls of old English cottages and tea plantations stretch as far as the eye can see. Welcome to Cameron Highlands, Malaysia’s elevated paradise. Nestled high above the sea level, this hill station is a blend of natural beauty, rich history, and a touch of old-world charm. Whether you’re sipping on the finest teas, wandering through mossy forests, or soaking in the breathtaking sunrise, Cameron Highlands promises an experience unlike any other. In this guide, I’ll share a comprehensive Cameron Highlands itinerary, spotlighting the best things to do and essential insights for a memorable journey in this timeless haven.
Best Time to Visit Cameron Highlands
When planning a trip to Cameron Highlands, timing is paramount. Here’s a more detailed breakdown to assist you in planning the perfect visit:
- Weather and Climate: Cameron Highlands is nestled at a higher altitude, resulting in cooler temperatures compared to the rest of Malaysia. This hill station is often seen as a respite from the tropical heat, making it a favorite destination throughout the year. However, considering the rain, the best months to visit are generally between February and April (aka the dry season). This period is slightly drier and offers clear days, making it conducive for outdoor activities and excursions.
- Weekend Crowds: Whatever you do, don’t plan to visit Cameron Highlands over the weekend. One of the significant drawbacks of visiting during the weekend is the traffic. The sole, winding road leading to the highlands can become a bottleneck, especially during peak hours. So what should be a picturesque journey might transform into an extended, tiresome ride. Moreover, once you reach, the influx of local and international tourists can dilute the serene experience you might be expecting. Popular attractions, accommodations, and restaurants become crowded, leading to longer wait times.
- Weekday Serenity: If you want to get the best experience, plan on staying in Cameron Highlands between Tuesday and Thursday. The number of visitors drops during these days, giving you a more authentic feel of the highlands. Additionally, you can explore attractions at your pace without feeling rushed or jostling with crowds. But remember to sidestep Monday visits, especially if you have your heart set on visiting the Boh Tea Plantation, as it remains closed.
How to Get to Cameron Highlands
Navigating your way to the scenic Cameron Highlands is part of the adventure. While the journey is filled with panoramic views and tropical sights, the mode of transportation you choose can impact your overall experience. Here’s a guide to getting to Cameron Highlands hassle-free:
- Bus: Buses are a popular and affordable way to reach Cameron Highlands. Regular bus services operate from Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and other Malaysian cities to Tanah Rata, the main town in Cameron Highlands. The bus ride can take anywhere from 3.5 to 5 hours, depending on your starting point and traffic conditions. While the journey is comfortable and scenic, be prepared for winding roads as you ascend the hill.
- Private Transfer: If you value convenience and are keen on a personalized experience, opting for a private transfer might be your best bet. Though pricier than a bus ticket, it offers flexibility in terms of timing and stops. You can halt at picturesque spots, enjoy the journey at your own pace, and avoid waiting for scheduled bus timings.
- Driving Yourself: Renting a car and driving yourself is another option. However, this choice is best suited for those familiar with driving on the right side of the road. The route to Cameron Highlands, especially the final stretches, consists of winding roads that might be challenging for those unaccustomed to such terrain. While having a car in the highlands is advantageous for mobility, the drive up requires skill and experience. Malaysian drive like crazy people, and this is coming from an Italian!
How many days should I stay in Cameron Highlands?
Cameron Highlands offers a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, with its cool climate, verdant landscapes, and serene ambiance. Determining how long to stay here really depends on your interests. If you’re coming primarily for the sights, a single night is sufficient. You can experience the tea plantations, have a taste of the steamboat cuisine, and even indulge in a short trek or two.
However, if you’re into hiking or have a penchant for golf, you might want to extend your stay to two nights. The region offers numerous trails for nature lovers, and there’s a beautiful golf course where you can enjoy the game amidst scenic surroundings.
Where to Stay in Cameron Highlands
Location plays a crucial role when choosing accommodation in Cameron Highlands due to the distance between various towns and attractions. Here’s a breakdown of each town and where to stay:
Tanah Rata, as the main town, offers a range of accommodations from hostels to mid-range hotels. While it’s centrally located (it’s where the bus station is) and undeniably convenient, it might not give that quintessential Cameron Highlands experience that some are after. And to be quite frank, it’s not the most picturesque of towns, it’s actually quite ugly. To be fair, all of the towns in Cameron Highlands aren’t picturesque. The natural landscape is phenomenal but the architecture is not good looking. But the good news is there are beautiful hotels and resorts can tuck away in to enjoy a great experience.
For an immersive experience that takes you back in time, consider splurging on the Cameron Highlands Resort. This place exudes old-world charm, with its colonial architecture, lush green gardens, and impeccable service. The resort truly captures the essence of bygone eras, allowing guests to enjoy modern luxuries while feeling like travelers from the past. An added highlight is the high tea ritual at the Jim Thompson Tea Room, where you can savor the renowned BOH tea. Though a stay here might be on the pricier side, booking in advance could get you a deal around €165, a worthy investment for the memories and experience you’ll gain. We stayed here and it was totally worth it.
Another good choice is the Strawberry Park Resort. Nestled amidst lush greenery, this resort combines the rustic charm of its Tudor-styled architecture with modern amenities. The cozy ambiance and scenic views of the surrounding hills and valleys make it a popular choice among tourists. It’s an ideal spot for those wanting to be close to nature while enjoying a touch of luxury.
For those seeking a more budget-friendly but comfortable experience, the Century Pines Resort is another option. It’s a sizable establishment, and while it offers numerous amenities, it definitely doesn’t replicate the intimate, historical ambiance of the Cameron Highlands Resort.
Nestled closer to many of Cameron Highlands’ main attractions, Brinchang is the energetic counterpart to Tanah Rata. It comes alive, particularly during the evenings, with its bustling night markets where tourists and locals alike hunt for souvenirs, fresh produce, and street food. However, much like Tanah Rata, Brinchang isn’t known for its scenic beauty. Its primary appeal lies in its position as a central hub, putting visitors within easy reach of nearby attractions.
For those seeking luxury amidst this hubbub, The Lakehouse stands out. This Tudor-style boutique resort promises an idyllic escape from the urban setting of Brinchang. Perched on a hillside and overlooking a tranquil lake and rolling hills, The Lakehouse evokes a sense of 19th-century English elegance. Its interiors are adorned with antique woodwork and cozy fireplaces, making it an intimate retreat amidst the highland chill. Guests can look forward to hearty English breakfasts, serene high tea sessions on the terrace, and evenings by the fireplace with a book in hand. Brinchang is located about 10-15 minutes by car from the Mossy Forest and around 20 minutes from the BOH Tea Plantation.
As the first town greeting visitors entering Cameron Highlands, Ringlet offers a more authentic slice of local life, away from the tourist throngs. The pace here is decidedly laid-back, with fewer commercial establishments and more glimpses into the daily routines of residents.
The crown jewel of Ringlet in terms of accommodations is The Smokehouse Hotel & Restaurant. This English-themed boutique hotel mirrors the charm of a countryside manor from a bygone era. From its brick and timber facades to the classic furnishings inside, it’s a nod to the colonial past of the region. Amidst Ringlet’s simplicity, this hotel stands as a beacon of luxury. Its gardens are impeccably manicured, punctuated with colorful blooms, and the restaurant is renowned for its traditional English fare, from roast dinners to scones. Ringlet is approximately 20-25 minutes by car from the Mossy Forest and about 30 minutes from the BOH Tea Plantation.
What to Eat in Cameron Highlands
When in Cameron Highlands, you have to have steamboat, or “hotpot”. It’s an interactive dining ritual, where diners cook a variety of ingredients in a simmering pot of broth at the table. You start off picking two different types of broths, you then start cooking the ingredients, first the vegetables, then the meats, then the seafood and you put in the noodles for last. At the Ganbei restaurant in Cameron Highlands Resort, the steamboat session was unforgettable, marked by top-notch ingredient quality.
But, a word of caution – not every ingredient might be to everyone’s liking. I had a mixed experience, loving most of what the steamboat had to offer but being caught off-guard by the fish balls, which had a peculiar taste that wasn’t quite my cup of tea. That said, the steamboat isn’t the only thing on the menu in Cameron Highlands. Tea, of course, is a big deal here. The BOH tea served at the region’s plantations is a must-try. The robust flavors of the freshly brewed tea set against the backdrop of expansive plantations make for an experience you wouldn’t want to miss.
While the BOH tea plantation does offer scones and other edibles, I found them falling short of expectations. The tea is the star here, and while the accompanying snacks could use some improvement, sipping on that aromatic brew while taking in the plantation views is still an experience to cherish. Cameron Highlands also boasts a range of local eateries and stalls where you can dive into traditional Malaysian dishes. So, as you journey through its winding roads and lush plantations, make sure to treat your taste buds to the region’s culinary delights.
What to do in Cameron Highlands
Cameron Highlands is more than just a picturesque escape; it’s an adventure waiting to be experienced. While the serene ambiance can lull you into relaxation, the region is packed with activities that can ignite your adventurous spirit. I recommend you book a tour with Discover Camerons. We opted for the Sunrise Tour (6am) which I absolutely recommend. Our guide, Appu, picked us up at our hotel with a super cool Land Rover, we were a group of 8 people, all couples and of different nationalities. His vast knowledge and friendly demeanor, made the experience unforgettable. The price was also amazing, we paid 65RM per person (€13 per person) and had a blast.
Sunrise view of the tea plantations
My first brush with the vast expanses of tea plantations in Cameron Highlands was nothing short of magical. It’s not just about looking at an endless green carpet; it’s about immersing yourself in its story. It was 6am and we were standing amidst the plantations, watching the sun cast a golden hue on the tea leaves. It was literally just our group soaking up all this beauty. Plus, Appu takes amazing pictures and videos and he was able to get amazing shots of us!
Explore the BOH Tea Plantation
After watching the sun rise, we walked to BOH Tea plantation. The BOH Tea Plantation, nestled in the Cameron Highlands, stands as a testament to Malaysia’s rich tea heritage. Founded in 1929 by British businessman J.A. Russell, this iconic plantation has been a beacon of tea cultivation for nearly a century. Under the continuous stewardship of the Russell family, BOH has not only withstood the test of time but has flourished to become the largest tea producer in Malaysia. At the heart of their production is black tea, a full-bodied brew that undergoes a complete oxidation process, resulting in its distinct dark color and rich flavor.
You can definitely say that no visit to Cameron Highlands is complete without stepping into the BOH Tea Plantation. Which means that you shouldn’t come here on Mondays as it’s closed. The tea plantation opens at 9am and we were the first to get in, so with a sunrise tour you don’t just get an amazing sunrise, you also get amazing views without the crowds. While the stunning vistas at the plantation are unquestionably its highlight, there were a few aspects that didn’t quite meet expectations. The scones and in general the food fell short in taste, and the ordinary tea cups seemed a touch out of place in such an iconic setting. A little attention to these details could enhance the overall experience immensely. That said, the tea itself was an absolute joy, and the panorama stretching out before us was nothing short of breathtaking. Embarking on the tea factory tour provides an enlightening look into the tea’s voyage from verdant plantation to the comforting warmth of a cup. Before you leave, make sure to swing by the gift shop — it’s the perfect place to pick up some of their delightful brew to take home.
Venture into the Mossy Forest
After soaking in the sunrise, the adventure led us to the Mossy Forest. It’s a unique ecosystem, shrouded in mist and mystery. Walking along its paths, you’ll encounter a world of carnivorous plants and flora you’ve likely never seen before. The expertise of a local guide, like Appu, can give you an in-depth understanding of this otherworldly environment.
For those who’d like to engage in a lighter activity, the strawberry farms dotting Cameron Highlands offer a delightful experience. Walk through rows of strawberry plants and pick your own juicy fruits. It’s a therapeutic and fun activity for both adults and children.
Is It Worth Visiting Cameron Highlands?
Absolutely. Cameron Highlands, with its verdant landscapes and colonial charm, offers a refreshing break from the urban hustle. But what made it truly special for me was the sunrise tour. Standing amidst the vast tea plantations, watching the sun rise and cast its first light over the undulating green fields, was a moment of pure serenity. It was more than just a visual treat; it was an emotion, a connection to nature that words can hardly encapsulate. That feeling, as the world around me woke up in the gentle embrace of dawn, remains etched in my memory. It was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my 3-week trip to Malaysia, a moment of reflection and awe. So, when you ask if Cameron Highlands is worth the visit, my answer is a resounding yes. It’s not just about the sights; it’s about the moments that stay with you, long after you’ve left.
While exploring, remember that some areas of Cameron Highlands have reported cases of robberies and even assaults on lone travelers. Always opt for group tours, not just for the safety but for the shared experience and insights that a local guide can offer.