When you think of Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands, you imagine an idyllic and impossibly green paradise as far away from Kuala Lumpur as can be, both in terms of its altitude as well as its calm vibe and clear air. The reality of the Cameron Highlands, however, is slightly different than your dreams.
To be sure, a couple days in the Cameron Highlands on your way between Kuala Lumpur and Penang is absolutely a good idea, if only because it’s en route. On the other hand, you should be prepared for what to expect when you arrive—outside of the region’s main tea plantations, it’s a surprisingly hectic place.
Tea, As Far as the Eye Can See
Let’s start by giving credit where credit is due: Cameron Highlands’ tea plantations are amazingly beautiful, particularly its two main ones: Boh Tea and Cameron Valley Tea. In my opinion, Cameron Valley offers the best view while Boh has the nicer scones (and tea!) of the two, but both of these places offer a great glimpse into what ultimately motivates so many people to visit the Cameron Highlands.
Beyond this, the region is home to a rose garden (in Brinchang) as well as a number of strawberry-filled greenhouses that have great fruit, if not completely charming ambiance. Indeed these things (and, perhaps, the Gunung Brinchang viewpoint) are among the only elements of the Cameron Highlands that live up to the impression I had of it before I visited.
What to Do in the Cameron Highlands—Besides Tea
The Cameron Highlands is home to two towns—Tanah Rata and Brinchang—which are so busy and rife with development that I almost consider them proper cities. The majority of lodging in the region (certainly, the majority of convenient lodging, if you don’t have a car) is located in these places, which means that relaxing within your room can be difficult (although I have to say, the place where I stayed was a lot quieter than I expected).
Then again, the level of activity in Tanah Rata and Brinchang is advantageous in other senses. You can eat a super-early breakfast at the various “Mama” restaurants there, which serve Halal Muslim food that’s incredibly delicious. There are also plenty of taxis to be found, which as I mentioned is absolutely key since you’ll otherwise need a car to get around.
Where to Stay in the Cameron Highlands
I stayed at Arundina Guest House, an affordable mid-range spot located close enough to the main drag of Tanah Rata to be convenient, but far away enough that I got a good night’s sleep, as I mentioned earlier. The guest house also had a beautiful garden, which was home to some of the strangest orchids I’ve ever seen—they looked fake!
If you have a car, your options for lodging in the Cameron Highlands greatly increase, both in terms of selection as well as in terms of quality. You can stay in one of the chalets far outside of Tanah Rata or Brinchang, for example, since you don’t have to worry about finding taxis or being in close proximity to the bus station.
The Bottom Line
There are idyllic experiences to be had the Cameron Highlands, but be prepared for the large size and heavy industrialization of the region’s main cities, Brinchang and Tanah Rata. Having a car allows you to bypass much of this, mainly in terms of where you stay; if not, you will need to depend on taxis (or be comfortable walking very long distances) in order to make your way through this beautiful, but imperfect place.