Tuesday 8 October – The road to the Cameron Highlands started out as a highway. During a toilet break an Indian guy tried to give us directions, which I don’t think we ended up following as we just followed the signs which he said not to do as the road was really windy. The turning we took, took us through a huge marble mining area where they have little blown the landscape up. Just past this, is the start of the bends all the way upto the highlands. The roads were in perfect condition and there was barely any traffic making it a nice ride all the way to the top. The temperatures dropped but the rain held off for us today. As we approached the outskirts of Tanah Rata every inch of land was being used for some sort of vegetable growing, mainly strawberries. It’s a little unsightly with the huge plastic canopies covering most of the landscape, but its also evidence of a thriving agriculture industry employing lots Indian labourers. The towns in the area are a little strange, an odd mix of really run down buildings inbetween mock Tudor hotels with quintessential English gardens, then Chinese/Malay/Indian ‘restorans’ and endless strawberry souvenir shops slung into the mix.
Tanah Rata is much of the same only with a slightly more laidback feeling as it targets backpackers. Finding accommodation was easy as a guy approached us from the guesthouse Paul had already bookmarked and guided us there.
After settling in we went to try and find a local waterfall, which we found but as we’ve discovered with most of Malaysia tourist highlights it wasn’t well maintained in terms of beauty. There were a few jungle walks marked out and they didn’t look too difficult so we set off, three hours later we were 10km away from the town and the sun was going down. The end part of trek became difficult and our choice of footwear was probably not too appropriate [flip flops], so we had to use the very sweetly marked ‘escape route’ through the adjoining fruit farm. It was a pretty pleasant jungle walk probably because we started late afternoon and therefore it didn’t get too hot and sweaty. Wildlife was pretty non-existent though, we saw a millipede and that was it.
We began walking down a barren country lane with nothing but aubergine plants growing in fields in the hope that a taxi would pass us. Paul was flapping around just as a taxi pulled along the road we were walking on. A fly had flown in his eye, which the taxi passenger said she saw fly in there. I doubt that to be true but she directed me in scooping it out anyway. Turns out the passenger was the driver’s wife and they spotted us on their way somewhere. We would have not made it back before midnight if they hadn’t of spotted us. We ate yet another Indian meal and called it a night, there is no nightlife in Malaysia.
It’s probably an obvious statement but the highlands have a very different climate to the low lands. Its only around 1500 metres up but the temperatures really differ, we even had to pull out the matching DLX 200 fleeces during the evening. The first time in quite a while.
The second day in the Cameron Highlands was spent doing very English themed tourist stuff. We travelled to the BOH Sungei Palas tea plantation in Brinchang, the next town along, ate cake and then when to the strawberry growing centre and ate strawberries. The tea plantation was pretty but not that exciting. The strawberry centre was not even pretty but the strawberries were delicious. The windy hills around the highlands and the scenery were worth the journey alone, even if the attractions weren’t up to much. The narrow approach to the tea estate was particularly picturesque, passing hillsides adorned with the fuzzy little patchwork of tea bushes and blue sheds that are actually the workers housing and the odd Hindu temple thrown in for the ever present cultural mish-mash. The picture on the front of the Lonely Planet is of the tea hills, yet I’m not entirely sure our [my] pictures do the area any justice. Just for a cultural mix, which probably defines Malaysia, we stopped at the Sam Poh temple which is a Chinese shrine/temple with some huge Buddha’s inside. Most temples are quite majestic, but I’ve got a bit blasé about them, as with most religious architecture you can only see so many before it’s a bit dull. Buddha’s chubby cheeks are a bonus though.
We once again ate Indian, although Tanah Rata is billed as the busiest tourist area in the highlands there is not that much culinary choice. We’re still yet to fully trust the shanty shacks serving Malay dishes and TomYam soup which I always thought was Thai, but seems to on very menu here.
Thursday 10 October – Just as we were about to set off from Tanah Rata, a lady came over to ask where we were from and if we had drove from the UK. Turns out Toni, and husband Iain were also riding from the UK and were emigrating to New Zealand. They set off just three days before us but took a different route as they were travelling as an organised group which meant they could afford the China stint. Driving through China is usually off limits unless you’re loaded or part of a group, as you have to be chaperoned by a guide that can cost in excess of $1000 a day. After passing on our details to Toni and Iain we set off for the Jungle. You can see their blog at http://cuentosdelcamino.wordpress.com , they have some great videos!
After a short passage on the highway we turned off and we’re on windy roads passing through wild rainforest. With hardly any traffic on the road, cool temperatures and almost perfect road surface the drive was enjoyable. The last 100km or so offered slightly less of breeze and some giant pot holes cropped up along with ripples in the road surface. Sometimes they were hard to see until the last minute as the road was often like a wave going up and down. We saw a few monkeys, usually rummaging in the rubbish which had been chucked out of a car window and signs to beware of the elephants but the signs were the only sightings.
We stopped only once at a petrol station which was pretty tough going as the drive ended up taking 6 hours. The sweaty jungle town of Taman Negara is pretty small and only a handful of guesthouses around, all of which had a lack of safe parking. Two little kids appeared with chocolate cake out of one and the reception desk was manned by a slightly older kid, that was the guest house for us. The parking was dodgy, a tiny space usually reserved for the clothes drying rack for the laundry service they offered, but was adequate enough.
Paul basically flopped onto the bed as the humidity of the jungle hit us and we immediately felt drained. The rains set in for the evening around 6ish, and its full on tropical rain. So a quick dash was made to a typical Malay shack opposite the guesthouse. The food was tasty and the vegetarian option was actually meat free. Chicken has made an appearance in a few of my meals which I’ve had to fish out.
Friday 11 October – Jungle exploration was the thing to do obviously. So off we went across the murky brown Sungai Tembing river via a 1 ringit river taxi trip to the entrance of the national park. Park permit and camera license purchased for less £1.50 we headed for the jungle canopy in the hope of spotting some of the dense jungle inhabitants which are rumoured to include tigers, elephants, leopards, rhinos, snakes, lizards, monkeys, deer and tropical birds.
The ‘hike’ to the canopy walk, which isn’t really a hike as there is wooden decking sat above the jungle floor all the way so it’s really an easy stroll, is the shortest of all the walks in the jungle taking about 40 minutes. The canopy walk it’s self was partly ‘closed for maintenance.’ That’s the second time a bridge has been closed for maintenance in Malaysia, so it only took us 15 minutes to walk though the suspended bridges on offer.
We saw not one glimpse of wildlife, even from the vantage points the bridges suspended in the huge trees offered, it was fun all the same and being high up took us away from the threat of leeches. The short walk to the canopy was draining because of the hot humid air of the rainforest. We spotted a small lizard and a few pretty butterflies on the way back which were the only jungle inhabitants we saw.
We re-couped in the heaven sent air-con room for the rest of the afternoon and made a decision we’re not really jungle trekkers, it always seems to be a bit of anti-climax. I can’t deny I did enjoy my previous jungle trek in Thailand and Nepal but they seemed more bona-fide as the track wasn’t pre-laid and perhaps spotting two Rhinos makes the curls worth it. I hate my curly frizzy hair which no amount of conditioner can tame in the Jungle. Yes, that’s the real reason I have taken a dislike to the Jungle.