Two Days In Malaysia's Tea Country
Early this year, I stumbled upon a few photos of beautiful, rolling emerald tea plantations while browsing the web. Imagine my delight when I discovered that those photos were from a place called the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Emmett and I were only a few months away from our own planned trip to Malaysia - how perfect! So, a few months later (after Singapore and a stop-over in Malacca) we found ourselves on a long bus ride to the much cooler climes of the Cameron Highlands.
It was dusk when we arrived in Tanah Rata, one of the few towns sprinkled throughout the Highlands region. Just before the bus stopped, we got a quick glimpse of those same photogenic tea hills outside of town, further peaking our interest. We checked into our hostel and then arranged for a sort of "best of" tour of the Cameron Highlands for first thing the next day.
Day One - Eco Half Day Tour with Discover Camerons
A First Look at Those Famous Highland Rolling Tea Hills
At 7 AM the next morning, we were greeted outside of our hostel by our guide for the day, Appu from Discover Camerons. After a very friendly welcome, Appu ushered us to the Malaysian army-issue jeep which was to be our ride for the day. We made small talk with our groupmates as the jeep ascended into the hills. And then, there we were: finally walking into those pictures I'd seen a few months back. I have never seen such beautiful man-made countryside.
Appu picked a tea stem for us to describe which types of tea can be created from which particular leaves. White tea, for instance, is from the tiny uppermost leaves (also known as buds) on the stems because they are the most tender. He also gave us a brief overview of the history of tea harvesting - it used to all be picked by hand in the Cameron Highlands but nowadays is picked by a machine due to high demand.
The Mossy Forest
Next on our agenda was a very bumpy, 4WD-only ride up to the area known as "the Mossy Forest." After we'd parked, Appu took our group aside to show us native flora. We only had to walk 30 seconds down the road we'd come in on to see delicate tiny pitcher plants on the mossy ground; there were even bigger ones dangling from an overhead branch.
From there, our group strolled along a short 15 minute boardwalk through the namesake forest. Inside the tree cover, it was quite serene and indeed very mossy. I particularly enjoyed trying to spot the small orchids for which the region is famous. There was bummer of a moment though. Our group stumbled upon a trio of guys who had walked completely off of the designated boardwalk and were tromping all over the fragile and ecologically-important moss. Each one of us told them in turns to please not walk there because it is environmentally destructive. The three of them laughed and took their sweet time leaving, leisurely snapping photographs of themselves with a mossy background behind.
Know Before You Go: Bring a raincoat or a light sweater. The Mossy Forest is on a mountaintop and is quite chilly and often rainy.
DO NOT be like those guys we saw who walked off-track. The barriers are there so that you can enjoy looking at the beautiful forest without destroying it.
Exploring BOH Tea Plantation
Appu is a photographer and he was sure to take our group to all of the best roadside views on our way to the BOH plantation, our third destination. Appu even took a few photos of each one of us in the group posing in front of the tea hills. In this day and age, it sometimes feels like having someone who actually volunteers without asking to take a photo for you at a beautiful foreign destination is a dream come true. Thanks, Appu!
After our impromptu photoshoot, the group dispersed to explore the facilities at BOH. There was an insanely long queue of people waiting to order to tea to drink on the viewing platform over the valley (see below). It did look like a lovely place to sip tea but we decided to skip it to have more time to explore. First, we hit up the gift shop and got some small packages of tea to take home. The shop had a ton of tea in a huge variety of flavors and types but we stuck to small packs of black loose leaf since they were the most backpack-friendly.
Once we'd left the gift shop, we walked through a hallway detailing the history of BOH as a company and it's popularity as a tea brand among Malaysians. (Spoiler: it's still quite popular). We then walked through the factory and watched the workers process the tea. As an avid tea drinker, seeing the factory at work may have been my favorite part... solely because the whole place smelled like fresh tea leaves. Yum!
Leaving the BOH plantation signified the end of our tour with Discover Camerons. We had such a great time - I'd say that it was definitely one of the top tours we've ever done abroad. Appu taught us so much about the environment of the Highlands, tea processing, and more. It was wonderful to have such a personable guide and our group was the perfect size. If you're looking to support a local tour company and have a fun time exploring Cameron Highlands - choose Discover Camerons.
***Quick disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Discover Camerons and this is not a sponsored post. I just really enjoyed my trip with their company.***
Day Two - Jungle Hiking and The Ultimate Tea Time
To Gunung Jasar / Jungle Walk No. 10
Tanah Rata is surrounded by jungle-covered peaks, so taking a short hike through the jungle is pretty much a must-do. There are a ton of trails in the Highlands but they're all pretty simply named "jungle walk number ___." Our hostel had a map of all of the trails but it was still pretty obscure. We ultimately just decided to do Jungle Walk Number 10 merely because it was close to our accommodation and one of the shorter hikes in the area. Starting just beyond some apartment buildings, Jungle Trail 10 began as a carved dirt hillside and then turned into a lush green forest with terraced tree roots acting as an impromptu staircase. The dense overhanging trees shaded us from a quick rain storm and we stopped briefly to listen to the call to prayer echo across the valley.
The trees cleared a bit later as we reached a concrete cell tower platform, and we were afforded views of both the tangle of buildings in Tanah Rata and a series of hazy wave-like peaks. I could almost imagine what it must have looked like pre-development.
The walk back down the other side was full of singing cicadas, clearer signs than at the start, and more sun-obscuring jungle. The trail ended near a commercial farm and we were able to hitch-hike back to Tanah Rata once we met a road.
Stunning Views and Delicious Tea at Cameron Valley Plantation
Even though we had already seen some gorgeous views at BOH the day before, we still had not yet had our fill of tea plantation views. (It was our whole reason for coming after all)! We hitch-hiked with a friend from our hostel about 10 minutes out of Tanah Rata to Cameron Valley plantation. BOH tea plantation had been beautiful. But Cameron Valley was STUNNING. For just 10 Malaysian Ringitt each, we walked out into the plantation on our own just to soak up the sun-dappled hills. After an hour of strolling between the hills, we decided to enjoy the views from above this time - at the Cameron Valley teahouse over a pot of strawberry tea. It was definitely one of the most magazine-ready sights I have ever seen. Take a look for yourself:
Now that we've been to the Highlands, if I had to recommend just one tea plantation to visit for views and atmosphere alone, it would be Cameron Valley. Without a doubt.
Know Before You Go:
+ Cameron Valley is open from 8:30 AM to 6 PM on weekdays and 8:30 AM to 7 PM on weekends.
+ It costs 2 MYR to enter the plantation and walk independently. (They do also offer 20 minute golf cart tours for 10 MYR).
+ Go in the afternoon just before closing for the best light for photo-snapping and to avoid earlier crowds.
I think Cameron Highlands may have been the first place I've visited solely based on photographs. I'm glad that our visit did not disappoint, and I would gladly go back to spend more time exploring the surrounding forests... And maybe to see a rafflesia.