A different side of Malaysia can be found in Cameron Highlands. There is no beaches, tall buildings or hot and humid weather here. The highlands are close to being in the English countryside with houses built in English style, surrounded with green hills and cooler climate.
As the journey begins from Kuala Lumpur, the scene slowly starts to transform: palm oil trees to tropical trees and pine trees, tall skyscrapers and high rise apartments to small Malay and aboriginal villages and white houses and the chaotic city life to peaceful fields of tea plantations.
Cameron Highlands does not only attracts foreign tourists, but also many local Malaysians who want to spend a quick getaway or long weekend here. Many locals prefer to do everything in groups or join organized tours. On another hand, I myself (as a Malaysian) had taken a half day tour and spent the rest of the time to explore this amazing highlands: visit tea plantations, eat scones and hiking the jungle.
History of Cameron Highlands
This beautiful Cameron Highlands was named after a British geologist and explorer, Sir William Cameron, who first discovered and mapped the Titiwangsa Range in 1885. He saw a plateau of an elevation of 4,400- 4500 feet at an altitude of 6,000 feet (1,800 m) above sea level and the temperature falls between 8°C to 25°C. However, he failed to mark his finding on the map.
The plateau’s location was reconfirmed by Sir George Maxwell during the second expedition in the 1920s. He then decided the present Tanah Rata and Brinchang area would be developed into a Hill Station. Between 1926-1931, the area were zone accordingly to reserve for various functions such as agricultural department, townships, national park and recreational area.
The British planters noticed the potential of its fertile mountain slopes for planting tea, then a prized commodity. John Archibald Russell started his tea plantation, which is the current famous BOH tea plantation.
Cameron Highlands is also known as a major supplier of legumes and vegetables to both Malaysia and Singapore. It also become one of the country’s main tourist destinations. During the colonial era, the hill resort became a haven for the British who stationed here. Some decided to make it their retirement place by setting up bungalows and mansions.
During World War II, this highlands were occupied by the Japanese and used as a base to control the west and east side of Peninsular Malaysia. After WWII, further development was planned, but no progress was made due to the communist insurgency called the Emergency. It was an attempt to destabilize the country in the 1960s.
After the end of the fierce battle, the Hill Station was carefully developed into a popular resort. By 1971, the British Army former military hospital has now become a Roman Catholic convent that sits on the hill overlooking the main street of Tanah Rata.
Best Time to Visit
Cameron Highlands lies on the tropical rainforest and rains a lot throughout the year. There is definitely no escape from such climate, but if you are planning to look for the optimal time to visit, the best time will be between February and April. The temperature is perfect at around 21- 24°C.
It is best to avoid the peak season between May, September, November and December when it gets very crowded during public, school and festive holiday. The roads are narrow and traffic jam often happens during this period.
Cameron Highlands is located between Kuala Lumpur and Penang, a perfect stopover if you are traveling within these two destinations. All buses will arrive and depart at Tanah Rata Bus Terminal.
The closest city to Cameron Highlands is Ipoh, Perak. It only takes 2 hours to reach here. Buses mainly depart from Amanjaya Terinal in Ipoh town.
If you are traveling from Kuala Lumpur, the buses depart from Bersepadu Selatan Terminal (TBS), the main bus terminal of Kuala Lumpur that get you directly to Cameron Highlands within 4 hours. You can get to TBS by KLIA Transit from KL Sentral in the city center or KL International Airport (KUL). Alternatively, you can choose to take Grab car or MyCar.
Also, if you are coming from Penang, buses will depart from Penang Sentral or Sungai Nibong (Penang’s mainland) or Komtar Terminal (Penang Island). The journey takes about 5 hours to the highlands.
If you need to get around Cameron Highlands like Brinchang or Ringlet, local taxis can be found easily in Tanah Rata and the fare is a bit expensive. The good news is the price is at a fixed rate and starts from RM15.
You can also hire a taxi driver to go sightseeing for a minimum of 3 hours and charges is RM25 per hour. Both Grab and MyCar are not present in Cameron Highlands.
The best activities for three days in Cameron Highlands
There are many activities to do and scenic places to see in Cameron Highlands. Below you will find the list of fun stuff to do in the surroundings of Tanah Rata and Brinchang. I would recommend to take a half or full day tour to Mossy Forest and make a DIY (do-it-yourself) tour at a leisurely pace for the rest of the attractions in Cameron Highlands in two full days but with three-night stay here.
1. Eat fresh scones at The Lord’s Cafe
Craving for food after arriving at Cameron Highlands? Stop by at this lovely Lord’s Cafe that decorates in Asian and Western style. After placing your order, wait for your table number to be called to pick up your scones.
Enjoy the delicious scones when they are freshly made and still warm. You can either choose the creamy scone or strawberry fruity scone (order both if you are really hungry). It served with lots of freshly prepared cream, butter and local made strawberry jam.
Location: Jalan Besar, Tanah Rata (opposite Tanah Rata Bus Terminal and on top the Marrybown fast food restaurant)
Opening Times: Daily from10 am to 6 pm
2. Visit the tea plantations
Cameron Highlands is mainly known for its beautiful tea plantations. You will see these tea hills once you drive several kilometers away from Tanah Rata and Brinchang area. There are currently two tea plantations that tourists can go. A visit here means that you can enjoy drinking a cup of English tea surrounding by a wonderful scenic view.
Fun Facts: There was a total of 20 tea plantation company back in the 1980s.
1. BOH Sungei Palas Tea Centre
BOH Sungei Palas Tea Centre is the most popular tea house because of its charming view. You can walk along the tea fields which is a great experience. There is a nice restaurant on the hillside with great atmosphere that can cater up to 350 guests. You can enjoy its original BOH tea or other mixture of tea flavors here with a lovely view of the tea fields.
The name ‘BOH’ is originated from the word ‘Bohea’, where the tea was discovered by Emperor Shennong in the hills of Fujian, China. Bohea was the name of a premium tea in the early tea trade.
Over 200kg of green leaves were harvested by the experienced BOH pickers, enough to make 45kg of tea each day. After careful selection, the leaves will normally take between 12-20 hours process of withering, rolling, fermenting and drying. Later, the tea will be sorted by the grade according to its color, texture and the amount of twist before packing up to be sold. Tours are offered here every 30 minutes in the factory.
Fun Facts: A Malaysian romance drama film named Ombak Rindu was filmed here in 2011, starring Aaron Aziz, Liza Surihani and Maya Karin.
Travel Tips: Keep in mind that this tea estate is very popular, such crowds can cause heavy traffic in the morning. Do wake up early and arrive here before 9 am. You can find some great spot for photography along the way and enjoy your tea in the restaurant.
Entrance Fee: Free
Opening Times: Daily except Mondays from 9 am to 4.30 pm
2. Bharat Tea Plantation (Cameron Valley Tea)
This tea farm is the closest to Tanah Rata with 10 minutes drive from the town. There are two tea houses here called Cameron Valley Tea 1 and 2. I visited the tea farm after the morning half-day tour. There are no tours here, but you can pay RM3 for the entrance fee to walk down to the plantation.
Location: 34 & 34.5, Miles
Entrance Fee: RM3
Opening Time: Mondays to Thursday from 8.30 am to 6 pm and Fridays and weekends from 8 am to 7 pm.
Try brisk walking to Bharat Tea Plantation
This tea house is located about 4 km from Tanah Rata town. A brisk walk from the town is doable, just like what I did when visiting this tea plantation. It takes 30 minutes to go down the hill and 40 minutes back up. Not only can enjoy the cool and fresh air of the highlands, you can also burn some calories away too!
Which tea plantation is highly recommended to visit?
If you have limited time and thinking which tea farm to visit, I would highly suggest to visit BOH Sungei Palas Tea Centre. You can stop by at certain points along the way to take photos and take a tour to learn about the tea process.
3. Wander through the Mossy Forest
This Mossy Forest of Mount Brinchang is an enchanted forest where thick moss hugs around the tree trunks from the top to the ground, complete with gnarly roots covered with lichens, ferns and orchids. Mount Brinchang is among the seven mountains in Cameron Highlands at the height of 2,000 m, part of the Titiwangsa Range, the backbone of Peninsular Malaysia and lies between the borders of Perak and Pahang state.
This preserved forest is home to many endangered flora and fauna which can only be found here due to cooler temperature. It is believed this forest is about 200 million years old and the ancient trees may have existed during the Jurassic period (compared to Taman Negara which is about 150 million years old).
Whether you are here on a cloudy, rainy or sunny day, do climb up to the top of the wooden observatory tower and watch the stunning view of Mount Brinchang, Mount Irau and both sides of the two states.
Travel Tips: Always walk on the wooden path for safety reason and avoid stepping onto the plants or cause soil erosion. The plants are very sensitive to any damages caused by its surrounding environment. It is also advisable to use a 4WD (most likely a Land Rover if you are joining a tour) to Mossy Forest to hilly and uneven road.
Looking for a true adventure at the Mossy Forest?
You can join a group or private tour with an experienced guide to bring you to climb Mount Irau. The hike to the summit will take about 3 hours and you can find many exotic plants in the forest.
Entrance Fee: For locals, RM10 for adults and RM5 for children. For foreigners, RM30 for adults and RM15 for children
Opening Times: Daily from 9 am to 4.30 pm
4. Visit the Butterfly Farm
You can see butterflies, other insects and reptiles in this greenhouse. All this tiny creatures can also be found in the wild in Cameron Highlands. This is definitely a fun place for family with kids and recommend to spend around 45 minutes here.
Entrance Fee: RM10
Opening Times: Weekdays from 9 am to 6 pm and weekends from 8 am to 7 pm.
5. Grab dinner at the Golden Hills Night Market
There is a night market on every Friday and Saturday evening starting from 5 pm. The market is located in Brinchang area and is near the golf course. You can find local food, beverages, fresh strawberries, sweet corn (jagung susu and jagung mutiara in Malay), tea and fresh fruits.
Opening Times: Fridays and Saturdays from 5 pm to 11 pm.
6. Step back in time at the Time Tunnel Museum
The Time Tunnel Museum is an interesting and fun museum that makes you feel like walking down a memory line of the past. You can learn the history of Malaysia, Cameron Highlands, this country during World War II, how people used to live here and the disappearance of Jim Thompson in 1967.
You can spend an hour here and discover the collection of antiques including household and kitchenware items, the 80’s music and movies, office equipment and toys.
Location: Jalan Sungai Burung, Brinchang
Entrance Fee: RM6
Operating Times: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm.
7. Taste the Strawberry Nasi Lemak
Thinking of having something out of the ordinary for lunch? Malaysia is known for its popular nasi lemak. Cameron Highlands itself has its own version and specialty called Strawberry Nasi Lemak. This Abang Strawberry served this tasty meal with pink rice, fried chicken, egg, nuts, cucumber, original sambal and strawberry sambal. Their strawberry sambal was not sweet, but surprisingly spicier than its original flavor.
Location: Abang Strawberry (200 Seeds Cafe), 24, Kampung Taman Sedia
Opening Hours: 8 am to 8 pm
8. Take a break at Parit Falls
Have some quiet time and relax at the Parit Fall. This place is hidden behind the crowded Tanah Rata town. There is an easy walking route that takes you around the small waterfall.
Location: Tanah Rata, a bush walk next to Century Pines Resort with 400 m walk to the waterfall
Entrance Fee: Free
Opening Hours: 24 hours
9. Take an off-the-beaten path along the Robinson Falls (Trail 9A)
Take a hike on Trail 9A and you will come across the Robinson Falls, an amazing waterfall just outside the town. It is also an easy trail but much longer path that takes up to 2 hours walk. (Click here for the location)
Entrance Fee: Free
10. Enjoy ice cream at Mr. Aisu
After having a long day of walking, chill out and dip into the yummy Mr. Aisu’s ice cream. There are 24 out of 37 flavors of homemade ice cream to choose every day. I had visited here twice to try their recommended waffle with Belgian chocolate ice cream (my choice of ice cream) and a single scope of savory Passion Fruit ice cream. The ice creams are not cheap, but well worth it.
11. Visit the Big Red Strawberry Farm
Located in Brinchang area, this Big Red Strawberry Farm is one of many different strawberry farms in Cameron Highlands. You can pick the strawberry by yourself and just pay RM25 for every 500 grams. This farm is also a nursery for a variety of plants and use for lettuce harvesting.
Entrance Fee: Free
Opening Hours: Daily, 8.30 am -5.30 pm
Looking for A Guided Tour?
Here’s a recommended travel agency, TJ Nur Travel and Tour that offers affordable tours in Cameron Highlands. Their well knowledgeable local guides will take you on a memorable half-day or full day tour.
- Taxis are easy to find in Tanah Rata town. The fare is on fixed rate that starts from RM15 and additional RM5 applies after 6 pm. Grab car and MyCar are not present here.
- You can also hire a driver to take you around for a minimum of 3 hours and charge RM25 per hour.
- Scooters can be rented in Tanah Rata area and easy to get around when there is traffic congestion.
- Catch the local bus from Tanah Rata Bus Terminal. You can get to Brinchang, Kea Farm, Tringkap, Kuala Terla and Kampung Raja. However, it is not advisable to use this bus if you are on a tight schedule because it only operates from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm for every 2 hours.
- Try hitchhiking if you are having trouble getting around. There are plenty of cars that most likely heading the same direction as you too.
- Bring warm clothes as the temperature here can reach 15°C at night.
- Wear comfortable shoes and use insect repellent when hiking on the trails.
- Get an experienced guide if you are planning on a hike on the trails of Mossy Forest.