Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, 2008

The Cameron Highlands are part of the central ridge of mountains running down Pensinsula Malaysia. They were opened up up by the British as a ‘Hill Station’ i.e. a place where officials could go to to escape the heat of the city.

They are about 2h drive from KL, about an hour up the main North/South highway (E1) and then another 1h up into the mountains on a winding road that climbs to about 1000m.

Once you leave the valley and start climbing, you enter original forest (which is fast disappearing in Peninsula Malaysia) and can expect to see monkeys on the road and roadside.

The Hill Station itself is a curious mix of original ‘bungalows’, i.e. the houses built for the British officials, some more recent houses built in the 70s and 80s in a sort of mock tudor style and then a few modern hotels built in the usual brutal modern hotel style:-)

We chose to stay in a former girls boarding school. Originally built for British school kids, it has been converted to a hotel. It’s pretty basic, has some damp problems but is in a lovely location with good views over the surrounding hills.

We paid a visit to the Boh tea plantation – again set up by the British, using imported Indian labour. It’s now expanded into a high-tech modern operation.

However they have kept the original plantation, including the original processing plant which is open for visits. You can wander around the tea bushes, watch the processing of the leaves and then try the tea in a small friendly cafe.

Apart from tea, the Cameron Highlands have some excellent jungle hiking. Slightly cooler than the lowlands, where it is always 30-33 oC, the highlands at 1000+m hover around 22-25oC, which is still hot enough!

Kapur trees (Dryobalanops aromatica) that tower high above and form the top canopy suffer from ‘crown shyness’, i.e. the leaves that form the crown shy away from their own kind, resulting in the crowns always keeping a minimum distance of 20 cm from one another and creating these beautiful, puzzle-like patterns.

If you’ve ever wondered where Land Rovers go to die, now you know. The hill villages are full of them, some class vintages but all seemingly kept alive by love, prayers and bailing wire.

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