7 Mar 2010

trip to Cameron Highlands

Late on Friday evening we drove up to the Cameron Highlands, which wasn't really a good idea because traffic was bad, it being a Friday. From KL right up to Tanjung Malim it was practically a crawl and only eased slightly after Tanjung Malim, by which time it was already dark. A lot of KL people travel out of the city every weekend so that means crowded highways usually, especially if its the end of the month too. I'm just so happy that this wasn't a long weekend. Anyway by the time we arrived at the exit for Cameron Highlands it was already 10.00pm. The Simpang Pulai exit is bigger  than the Tapah road exit so at first it was ok but we missed the turning and only realised it after a bit. We arrived at the hotel late at night - around 11.45pm to be exact. I had forgotten that the Simpang Pulai way meant we were coming to Cameron HIghlands from the top, that is Kampung Raja first and then Brinchang. Luckily our hotel was in Brinchang so that was all right. The weather was lovely and cool, especially after the heat of Kuala Lumpur. It must have been around  20 degrees celsus, as compared to the scorching 39 degrees back home.

Strawberry farm in Cameron HIghlands
The next morning was a beautifully cool day, with the sun shining brightly in a blue sky. The temperature was a bit up as compared to last night but still definitely cooler than KL. After a simple breakfast, we decided to drive up to Kea Farm, the Farmer's Market and look at the vegetables and flowers. I love doing that here - the flowers especially are brilliant. The roses, lillies, hydrangeas, camellias and impatiens are just too beautiful to resist. But resist them I did - after years of failure I know for sure they just wont grow as well down in the lowlands. The farmers of course refuse to tell you the truth  - they'll say anything to make you buy their wares. We bought some vegetables - cauliflower, broccoli and peas are so cheap you wouldn't believe it. At RM5 and RM2  per pound bag we'd just buy anything, even chillies. After an hour of admiring this and that flower, taking pictures, and ending up buying 3 types of orchids, we decided to leave the Farmer's Market and go down towards Tanah Rata. Here too we looked around the shops but nothing much had changed. There are more hotels and inns as well as other government buildings but everything else remained the same.

Brinchang though had really grown since I last saw it. From being just a row of shops with one or two hotels, it is now a bustling little town with a lot more shops - mostly restaurants catered to the tourist trade and definitely a lot more hotels coming up. In fact one large hotel was being built directly opposite the hotel we're staying at - Star City Hotel.

                                                      One of the typically English cottages in the highlands
There was one unique place though - The Time Tunnel. It's a museum set up privately by a local man, a Mr See. For history buffs like us, it was a really fascinating place. He had collected pictures, maps, furniture, even cars and bikes of the 1950s and other old memorabilia and has now presented them in a museum to show the Cameron Highlands from the time it was first started as a hill station for the British plantation owners until today. He even managed to get pictures of the original founder of the Highlands - a Mr William Cameron from Scotland, a British surveyor with the then British administration. Mr Cameron, a surveyor with the Land Office in 1885 was asked to survey the mountainous central region  and came across this "beautiful plateau" about 5900 feet above sea level. He sent his report to Hugh Low, the resident of Perak at that time, and praised it highly for its cool climate and suitability as a hill station, that the government   decided to take a look at it too. They made a small though winding path up the mountain and eventually found the plateau discovered by William Cameron. This however only happened much later, in the early 20th century.  But the first official station wasonly built by the British government in late 1925. A government resthouse was built to accomodate British officers who wanted to escape the heat of the lowlands. It had about 8 rooms, a cook , a gardener and a caretaker to look after it. Soon the place became a favourite retreat for the many British officers working in Malaya and a number of them decided to build their holiday bungalows here - away from the humid tropical heat. What was more exciting for them was that they could grow their favourite English vegetables - carrots, potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli and peas and even strawberries and raspberries. Soon the government of the time decided to apportion land - for residential areas, farmland and  also for administrative purposes. By the early 40s and 50s, there was a small township there  and a proper macadamised road. The army had also set up a camp in Tanah Rata, which literally means "flat land" amidst the mountainous terrain. The British enjoyed going there for their holidays - they even set up a riding range. The weather reminded them so much of "home" and today, the bungalows that they used to live in remains as a reminder of the colonial era. Many of them retains the unique English flavour of the English country cottage and even some "Tudor" homes, the most famous of which is "Ye Olde Smokehouse", an inn built by a Mr Foster. Many of the British officers even decided to set up home permanently and still remain in Malaysia as citizens of Malaysia.

A trip to Cameron Highlands would not be considered complete without visiting one of its many tea plantations. I love the tea plantations not just because of the wonderful scenery - vistas of green rolling hills, covered by the tea bushes - but also because of the peace and tranquillity. One can sit in the one of the tea shops, drink a cup of tea and partake of English scones, with strawberries and cream, and imagine that you are back in the colonial era doing just that! The first tea plantation was started by an Englishman and till today its one of the largest tea plantations in Malaysia, ie Boh Plantations.


Nature Nut /JJ Loch said...

Kat, what a magnificent post and photos!!! That strawberry field reminds me of that Beatle song, "Strawberry Fields Forver".

You sure keep your energy level high when traveling. :D What a great time you had.

The museum sounds soooo beautiful.

Hugs, JJ

Kat said...

Thanks so much for the comment Nancy. You don't mind me calling you Nancy do you? I love the highlands - so cool compared to Kuala Lumpur.