Days 335-336 Thursday-Friday March 20-21, 2008 – Genting Highlands to Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
While Genting Highlands does provide a bit of fun for the family, it was a little over the top for us. After our hit or miss day in the theme parks, come Thursday morning we were ready to get going. Our next stop on this journey would be the small town of Tanah Rata, which is located in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands about four hours north of Kuala Lumpur. Getting there involved riding the cable car back down the mountain, taking a bus into Malaysia’s capital and catching another bus for the four hour journey to Tanah Rata.
In doing some research, we found that a bus for Tanah Rata left the main station in Kuala Lumpur at 12:30pm. We decided to leave the hotel room just after 10am to time everything as well as possible. Our plan worked and we reached the bottom of the cable car at 10:45am and caught the 11am bus to KL. The bus dropped us at the station around noon and after buying our ticket it was 12:15pm. By the time we reached the bus it was only five minutes before departure time. From one step of this journey to the next, our timing was impeccable. Since it doesn’t happen often, we really appreciate when everything works perfectly.
For the first two and a half hours of the drive we passed through the typical Malaysian low land tropical climate. Things quickly changed for the last hour and a half as we climbed into the mountains on very curvy roads. Our driver showed no fear in his attempt to stay on schedule and we struggled to keep motion sickness at bay. (Shawn Reece failed!) During the drive we also saw a few small villages hanging onto the narrow cliffsides along the road. The villages were really little more than a few small wooden houses built on stilts. The only thing that seemed out of place to us was that almost every one of these houses had a satellite dish!
Tanah Rata is a small town located in an area known as the Cameron Highlands. Cameron Highlands is known for its tea plantations and hiking trails. While reading through travels sites internet, I gathered the names of several guest houses that came recommended by others. The one on the top of our list was the Papillon Guest House, but since they didn’t have a van waiting at the bus terminal, we decided to go to another guest house instead. After settling on a rate of 50MR for the night, we locked up our bags and walked into the center of town.
We arrived in town just in time to witness the celebration of a Hindu Festival. Unfortunately we never learned what they were celebrating, but the parade was very entertaining and enjoyable. Following the parade, we had dinner in a great Indian/Chinese restaurant before heading over to the Papillon Guest House to check it out.
At Papillon we met James the owner and it was obvious why his guest house came recommended. We agreed to take the family room for Friday night and James told us to come early for breakfast. He also generously volunteered to drive us to the tea plantation in the afternoon. This would save us from having to catch the public bus, or worse yet booking an expensive tour.
At 10am on Friday morning we woke up and carried our bags over to Papillon. James had gone out in the morning, but the very friendly housekeeper welcomed us and quickly brought out tea and toast with jam for breakfast. We spent a couple of hours reading the newspaper and bumming around before James returned and drove us to the next town where the tea plantation lies.
The Toh Tea Plantation is now owned by a corporation, but has a long rich history in the area. As we descended into the valley where the tea factory is located, the scenery became more and more beautiful. The rows of tea bushes provide a lush green backdrop to the already pleasant scenery. After James dropped us off and explained how we could get back, we proceeded to the restaurant and ordered some tea and a couple of snacks.
Following our snacks we joined the free ten minute tour of the factory. Our guide explained in very rough English how the tea leaves are processed to make the delicious beverage we all love. After leaving the factory floor we headed to the gift shop and bought a couple of boxes of tea to enjoy.
On the car ride over, James told us not to be shy in exploring around the plantation. From the factory we walked down the hill and made our way through some of the tea bushes. James had also suggested that we pick a few leaves to let dry over the next week. He said that we could then crush them and make our own brew. This sounded great, so we picked a leaf here and there and eventually had quite a collection.
To road into the plantation is a long one and James told us to just ask anyone for a ride out. (Apparently this is common in the area.) After walking for a bit, we spotted a young couple with a baby and asked them if we could get a ride to the main road. They were happy to oblige and very generously gave us a lift.
Just down the road from the plantation is a butterfly farm which James also said was worth visiting. After getting dropped off by the couple, we walked to the butterfly farm before making our way to an adjacent strawberry farm. While the butterfly farm was interesting, we found way too many injured and dead butterflies for our taste. By the time we left, a slight feeling of depression had set in. After visiting the strawberry farm we were ready to get back to Tanah Rata and eventually found ourselves forced to hail a taxi after we waited thirty minutes for the bus which never showed up.
The Cameron Highlands are also famous for having several great hiking trails. We mulled over whether or not to stay another day to hike, but ultimately decided to move on. After asking for suggestions from James and others, we decided to head to Penang, which is an island on the west coast of Malaysia. The bus trip to Penang takes six hours and we decided to book our tickets ahead of time.
James and his wife Yvonne at the Papillon Inn provided what has probably been the friendliest atmosphere and service we have seen on the entire eleven months of our journey thus far. What the guest house lacks in looks, it CERTAINLY makes up with friendliness. From things like giving us a ride to the plantation to letting me use his cell phone to book accommodation in Penang, everything was wonderful. Thanks James & Yvonne!
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The Coomer Family