To escape the heat Erik and I hopped on a bus headed for cooler and wetter climates in the Cameron Highlands. Well, due to the Tour de Malaysia passing through the same area that day a four hour bus ride turned into an eight hour bus ride, some of which was spent at a complete stand still. Several people got off the bus, convinced that they could walk faster. This did, however, allow us to get a pretty good look at some of the more touristy attractions in the area such as the strawberry farms, bee farms, and reptile/butterfly centers which we both decided we would not be visiting to stroll with the throngs of people wearing strawberry hats, strawberry umbrellas and strawberry balloons.
Our room had a little mildew and the owner was a little pushy with his tour company, but the common room was hopping and the showers were hot. Soon, our two-night stopover effortlessly tuned into a four-night stay.
Tanah Rata, the main accommodation hub in the Cameron Highlands was smaller than I expected and centers around a main street about a quarter of a mile long, with small side streets with some hotels, and yes, even a Starbucks. The prices were slightly higher than in Penang, but I think we were spoiled there, and we quickly found our favorite Malay food joint and a good Indian café for our daily morning roti and coffee.
One of the main attractions that we were interested in were the many tea estates that are scattered throughout the area. Although, we could easily have reached some of them by local, bus we choose the more adventurous and cheaper option of hiking to a plantation about a three hour walk away.
The beginning of the trail starting just outside town was tame enough, and even paved with painted slabs, and when we passed a couple veering off onto a very steep trail up a mountain in flip flops I was emboldened.
At some point we had planned to branch off onto a shortcut we had read about, but when we found it and Erik scouted the first hundred feet, it was so overgrown we were sure that we would be lost in the jungle forever and opted to remain on the current path that would lead us to the road the tea estate was on. Further on, we encountered a hand written sign warning that from that point on, the trail could be dangerous and difficult especially when wet and was not suitable for children.
After walking back the 5km to the trail head, we were somehow able to find the end of the trail that we had failed to find before, although I’m not sure that it was much of an improvement. The part we had missed by cutting through someone’s farm was incredibly narrow, muddy, difficult to see and steep! I almost fell several times and managed to miss-step off the trail down a slope and cover myself in mud. It continued to rain on us most of the way back making it quite an adventure but I wasn’t sad to see the outskirts of Tanah Rata on our way back. I think Erik was relived as well.
After he returned and took a warm shower we headed out to sample some of the regions specialties. We found a cute café overlooking the main road named Lord’s Scone that apparently was so named after the Lord himself instructed the café to change its name to the current. We had wonderful scones, fresh strawberry jam and cream although I’m not sure that it could compare to the cream tea that we had in Somerset, England last summer.
One tactic widely used by hostels in Asia is to provide decent rooms at very democratic prices and then hope to make up the difference by either selling tours or transfer services to their guests which they receive a commission from. Unfortunately this was the case at our hostel in Tanah Rata. Upon arrival our host went through a thorough explanation of all of the tours and transfer services offered, and when we feigned ignorance and said we didn’t yet know what we wanted to do he told us to return to him by 6:00pm to let him know. Of course we did not, which apparently gave him permission to ask us several times if we had decided where we were going next or what tour we wanted to do. While Erik was off climbing a mountain he came and sat at my table to tell me all about how guests buying transfer services and tours really helped him out. Again I politely asked some questions and told him that we didn’t yet know where we were going next, a white lie. When Erik returned we quickly went to the bus station to book a seat on a bus to Kuala Lumpur which was considerably cheaper than the minivan transfer our host was trying to push. Of course we awkwardly encountered him on our way back from the bus station and I don’t think he was too sad to see us freeloaders leave the next morning. I felt a little bad because basically our low room price was subsidized by unsuspecting travelers who do book these overpriced services, but believe that as an independent traveler I should be able to seek out the most economic and convenient services that I can find and felt a little satisfaction for not succumbing to our hosts skills of persuasion and guilt.