The Cameron Highlands is a place where you can have a holiday from your holiday. Nestled amongst the mountains in the mid-north of Malaysia, this picturesque destination offers a true escape from the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur and the heat of the lowlands. The air is fresh, the land is lush, the atmosphere is calm and the clouds dance around you like you’re in heaven.
During our time in the Cameron Highlands, we stayed at Gerard’s Place in the quaint little town of Tanah Rata. Like many of the hotels in the area, the aesthetic has a quirky Dutch flavour to it. But Gerard’s is special – a true home away from home.
The family who run the boutique hotel (Gerard, Jay and their son Joshua) are newfound friends. They took care of Ben and me like we were part of their own brood, breaking roti with us, getting us involved in their hobbies (i.e. Land Rovers – Ben was very impressed), sharing local insights with us and helping us in any way they could. Running the guesthouse is not just a business for these guys, it’s their lives, their source of bliss, and a joint venture which brings their family together.
During our time in the Cameron Highlands, we realised there really is something in country living or “the simple life”. Here, everyone knows and looks out for each other; kids can walk themselves home from school safely; the cost of living is low and there’s an abundance of fresh food being grown by the surrounding farms.
Many of the locals view life in the big smoke (i.e. Kuala Lumpur) as completely undesirable. The cost of living is much higher, the workforce is highly competitive, the streets are hectic and the sense of “community” is simply not the same. Big city equals stress city.
Having visited both major hubs and rural towns throughout Malaysia, we can definitely say we felt happier chilling out in the country. In the Cameron Highlands, Ben and I were completely at ease. There wasn’t an overwhelming variety of things to get up to which was actually quite nice. It was a case of: eat – walk – visit farm – sleep – repeat. Literally, that’s what we did for three days, and here are our “simple life” highlights:
1. HAVING LOCAL TEA & SCONES IN A TEA HOUSE: We visited the Cameron Bharat Tea Plantation. While the scones weren’t something to write home about, the tea was beautifully simple in flavour and the views were to die for. Looking out at the sea of green, we couldn’t help but get amongst it and check out the tea plantations up close. There are a number of tracks around, so you can wander to your heart’s content.
2. FEASTING ON A STEAMBOAT: Quite simply, it’s the local must-have dish. “May Flower Restaurant” serves up the best in town and the owner, a man who looks like Mr Miyagi, is a fun character to chat to (he’ll gladly rub your food baby once you’re done). Ben swears Steamboat is the best thing he’s eaten throughout our trip so far. The ingredients were fresh and clean yet seriously flavour packed. Make sure you have an empty stomach before you tuck in. The serving size is seriously generous!
3. VISITING A STRAWBERRY FARM: We hit up the Big Red Strawberry Farm, which came highly recommended by Jay from Gerard’s Guesthouse. The strawberries were an impossible red and practically every one of them looked like something out of fiction. And then there was the taste – OMG! We took up the offer of plucking our own strawberries, which was a lovely experience. We also couldn’t leave without trying a popular dish from the cafe menu – fried strawberry ice-cream. If only they served it like this in the Chinese restaurants back home in Oz!
4. TACKLING A WALKING TRACK: The Cameron Highlands is home to many great walks, some more thigh-n-butt-busting than others. We chose Track 10, which offered a decent workout plus an epic view and it was relatively quick to complete (approx. 2 hour return trip). The track itself was wonderfully diverse. One minute, we were surrounded by narrow ochre walls in a clay-like substance. The next minute we were lost in an enchanted overgrown forest with mossy spaghetti roots bursting out from everywhere. When we finally reached the summit, the clouds had decided to join us – we could practically reach out and touch them. While this was the perfect track for us, do your research, ask around and pick the one that’s right for you.
5. GOING ON A LAND ROVER ADVENTURE: We’re pretty sure the Cameron Highlands has the highest concentration of Land Rovers in the world. But they’re not the brand spanking new, state-of-the-art kind. They’re serious working vehicles and we’ve been told they come to the Highlands to live out their last days.
We spent a day in the life of a Landy-loving local farmer and had the time of our lives. The journey to and from the worksite was a real head-bumping, gear-grinding adventure – yep, this is what Land Rovers are made for. Once we finally reached the farmlands, our eyes lit up and grew to the size of saucers. Every inch of the rolling hills was covered in the most glorious looking fruit and vegetables we’d seen in our lives. We just wanted to dive into it – mouths open!
All-in-all, Ben and I loved our time in the Cameron Highlands. We can understand why it’s a popular holiday destination amongst Malaysian and Chinese city-slickers. There’s the perfect amount of activity and buzz about; but, ultimately, it’s a place where you can relax, take in some fresh air and spend some time with nature. Bliss.
For something affordable, lovely and central with a bit of atmosphere, check out: Father’s Guest House. For something a little quieter and more luxurious, check out: Gerard’s Place.