Peninsular Malaysia is a beautiful place, the closest to the equator piece of land of continental Eurasia. You can find lush tropical rainforests and beaches on the coastline, with a hot and humid climate. But there are places looking completely different. Places, looking more like England or southern Canada, where you can feel cold, almost freezing. It is due to their high altitude. Let’s make a journey to one of these gems of Peninsular Malaysia, called Cameron Highlands!
Basic facts about the Cameron Highlands
There is a long mountain range in Peninsular Malaysia, called Titiwangsa. It is a part of a long mountain chain, distantly connected to the mountains of Tibet by a long watershed. The highest peak of the mountains is Gunung Korbu (2183 m, 7162 ft), and significant parts of its summit are located between 1500 and 2000 m altitude. The Titiwangsa Mountains divide the Malay Peninsula into a western and eastern part, and the main watershed between the west and the east passes on the mountain’s summit.
While the foot of the mountains are covered by lush equatorial rainforests, with equatorial climate, the high areas are cool, covered by different types of forest, and specific types of agriculture. Some of these high areas are not so steep, although not exactly plateaus. And the largest one of them is Cameron Highlands, on the border between Pahang and Perak states.
History of the Cameron Highlands
Since ancient times, this area has been covered by mountain forests. And the only inhabitants of these forests were Orang Asli, the aboriginal people of Peninsular Malaysia. Only recently, this place was visited and gradually inhabited by Malay people, who mixed with the local Orang Asli tribe of Semai.
Then, a British explorer, called William Cameron was sent by the British authorities to this area to research it. He found that the area is not steep, but it has gentle valleys and slopes. At first, the British thought that they can use it to build a mountain resort, but they didn’t do it. Only 40 years later they decided that this land is good for agriculture more similar to the European geographical zones, due to the cooler mountain climate.
Thus, from that time, this area gradually turned into what is Cameron Highlands today. They removed a large part of the forests and replaced them with agricultural fields. Of them, the most spread and popular became the tea and strawberry plantations. The beautiful gentle mountain slopes, covered by tea fields soon drew attention to the tourist with the amazing views that they formed, so it gradually became one of the most popular landmarks of the area and the whole of Malaysia.
Along with this, tourism started to grow. Several towns and resorts emerged in the area, with hotels, golf playgrounds, and many other attractions. Part of the forest, particularly the so-called „Mossy Forest” was preserved, because it remained another attraction too. Thus Cameron Highlands became one of the faces of Malaysia, one of the country’s most important places to visit.
Our trip to Cameron Highlands
We included Cameron Highlands in out 18 days Peninsular Malaysia itinerary. For us, it was not only an important place to visit in the country but also it has a good location, between Taman Negara and Penang- two of the other important and representative places. So, we came from Taman Negara by van (these two destinations are well connected for tourists, although the transport is relatively expensive), and stayed there for one afternoon, one full day and two nights.
The famous Tea Fields
Before our trip, we wanted to identify the places to visit and the things to do in Cameron Highlands during our stay there. In general, there are three kinds of interesting places. The first kind is the agricultural fields, especially the famous tea fields. We would not have enough time to explore all kinds of agricultural areas, but at least we made the tea fields mandatory to visit.
The natural areas
Then the second kind of place is the natural areas. They can be observed outside of the agricultural fields and the towns, and they are interesting because you can get an idea of how the nature of Cameron Highlands looked like centuries ago. We found that the best place is the forest around Gunung Brinchang, one of the highest peaks in Cameron Highlands. Part of this forest consists of trees and bush, covered by moss. This forest is called „Mossy Forest”, and is one of the popular places in the area. Besides this forest, there are some other small natural places, of which the most significant are several waterfalls, although not so spectacular.
The human-made spots
Finally, there are human-made places to visit, various attractions. Some of the most popular of them are some farm centers, presenting and offering strawberries, honey, and other local products. Honestly, for us, they were not so interested. We decided that we could buy these products on the market. And there is a night market in a residential area near Brinchang Town, so we chose this place- not only for the local fruits but also for the specific market atmosphere, which is always attractive.
There are also a lot of other human-made attractions, but most of them (like restaurants, golf playgrounds, amusement parks) are not different than the same places anywhere in the world. However, there is a place which we identified as important- the Time Tunnel Museum, a place with high educational value.
So, let’s take a closer look at these places.
What to see and do in the Cameron Highlands
This is, in general, the area of the Cameron Highlands- a nice and cool mountain place, with a strong „taste of England”. We identified the places to visit, but there is a center, a „base camp” for travelers, from where they can explore the whole area. Actually, not one, but two such centers. They are the two main resort towns- Tanah Rata and Brinchang. There are more, but these two are the best starting points. And there is a road that connects these two towns, as well as the whole Cameron Highlands with the rest of Malaysia.
Tanah Rata is the main administrative center of Cameron Highlands district, located at about 1400 m altitude. It is full of luxury and budget hotels, restaurants, shops, and other public places. There is nothing special to explore in the town itself, but it is a good starting point for those to visit Cameron Highlands for a shorter time. It is because there is the main bus terminal that connects the area with the rest of Malaysia. And of course, it is a nice place to relax in the evening after your daytime journey around. However, you can still find some interesting spots near the town.
The waterfalls near Tanah Rata
There are two waterfalls outside of the town, where you can go for a nice walk. The nearest one is Parit Fall. It is small, with a beautiful pond and a decorative bridge over it, and in general, it is more „park-looking” waterfall. The other one is Robinson Fall. It is more natural, higher, and the area around it is wilder. We didn’t have time to visit these two spots, furthermore, we have seen much more spectacular waterfalls in other places in Peninsular Malaysia.
Agro-Technology Park Mardi
Actually, this is one of the farm-type spots in the Cameron Highlands, but just it is made a bit more interesting and attractive. First, it is more like a park and a museum. A park with flowers, fruits, tea, coffee, and other cultures, arranged like a museum, presenting various agricultural technologies. Entrance fee: 5 RM.
This is the other main center in the Cameron Highlands. It is located at 1550 m altitude, around 4,5 km far from Tanah Rata. It is the same type of resort-looking town. Again, there are some small attractions like the Big Red Strawberry Farm, Farmers Arcade Cameron Highlands, and Kelab Golf Sultan Ahmad Shah- the largest golf complex in the whole area. You can get some fun and relax there, but in general, you can’t get too much „explorational and educational”. However, there are spots worth visiting. I would mention three of them, two of which we visited.
Sam Poh Temple
This is one of the largest Buddhist temples in Peninsular Malaysia. It doesn’t have any historic value, because is built in the 70s of the last century, but its architecture and decoration are worth being observed. We skipped it because we have seen a lot more temples, and if you have seen many other temples like us, you would not miss too much if you skip it too. But the other two places are much more interesting, so don’t skip them.
The Night Market
The Night Market is a colorful place. It is not exactly in Brinchang town itself, but in a small residential area near the golf complex, between Brinchang and Tanah Rata. As its name suggests, it is most attractive in the evening. There you can try all kinds of fruits that are produced in the agricultural areas of the Cameron Highlands. And as every lively open-air market, there you can enjoy various snacks, local street food, many other small things, and especially, the market atmosphere. We arrived in the Cameron Highlands in the afternoon, so visiting this Night Market was the first and the best thing we could do before our first night.
Time Tunnel Museum
It is another interesting place, with high educational value. As its name suggests, it guides us through history, and this is the recent history of the Cameron Highlands area. This history starts from the times of WW2 until today and is presented in memorabilia style by various artifacts from the people’s daily life. Those who are older and remember the life some 30, 40 or 50 years ago can see some long-forgotten things like old vintage telephones, turntables, vinyl records of 80s rock stars, etc. For children, it can be exciting too, because unlike most of the museums, the artifacts are freely exposed, and the kids can even touch and try them. Entrance fee: 6 RM for adults, 4 RM for children.
This museum is located on the other side of Brinchang Town, on the main road of the Cameron Highlands. From there, the road gradually ascends, passing by more small resorts, farms (including bee, cactus and butterfly gardens), malls and other attractions. Following the road, you will reach the last resort with several pompous hotels and a big mall, at the so-called „Cameron Square”. And from there you turn left on a smaller road, called Jalan Gunung Brinchang, which will guide you to the most interesting and attractive parts of the Cameron Highlands. The first of them is the iconic BOH Tea Fields.
The BOH Tea fields
You can see them soon after you start traveling on Jalan Gunung Brinchang road. Around 2-3 km ahead, there is another road on the right, called Jalan Sungai Palas, which guides you to the BOH Tea Visitor Center. It is free, and from there you can get more information about the tea. Also, you can enjoy more tea fields landscapes, from the road, and from the center itself.
The abbreviature „BOH” stands for „Best Of Highlands”. Altitude between 1500 and 1800 m in Peninsular Malaysia is its best habitat. And the rolling hills, covered by rows of tea create gorgeous landscapes, some of the best Instragrammable views in Peninsular Malaysia. You can enjoy them from the BOH Tea Center, but if you are looking for the best spot, you have to proceed on Jalan Gunung Brinchang a bit further.
The „Best Landscape Spot”
There is a spot in Google Maps, called „Best Landscape Spot” (you can easily find it on the map), but in fact, this place is a few hundred meters before the spot on the map. The main difference from the other tea field spots is that here you can see the tea rows from above. It is located at 1750 m altitude and is the highest point of the BOH Tea Fields. From this point, you proceed up to the highest areas of the Cameron Highlands- the area around Mount Gunung Brinchang.
Gunung Brinchang and the Mossy Forest
The road proceeds by several strawberry farms and gradually enters the local natural forest. It is a high altitude rainforest with subtropical features and is considered one of the oldest forests on the Earth. You can notice that some of the trees are covered by moss. Meanwhile, the road ascends and curves until finally reaches the summit of the mountain. There is the most beautiful part of this forest- a spot, called „Mossy Forest”.
Usually, people hiking a mountain don’t like fog. But the things in the Mossy Forest are different. It is more beautiful during fog. In a foggy time, the forest becomes mysterious and fantastic, a „Lord of the Rings” type of place. Fortunately, fogs are often around the summit of Gunung Brinchang. We were lucky to catch such „bad weather”, which in this place is „good weather”.
The spot „Mossy Forest” is located on 1975 m altitude, and is arranged by a wooden bridge through the forest. There is an entrance fee: 30 RM for adults and 15 RM for children. Yes, you can see more of the forest outside of this spot, but still, the most beautiful part of it is inside. Also, there is an observation deck, from where you can enter the high layers of the forest.
Mount Gunung Brinchang
From the Mossy Forest, the road proceeds to the peak. Gunung Brinchang is 2032 m high, and there is a communication tower on the top. Unfortunately, now it is closed, so you can’t reach the peak. Mossy Forest remains your last and furthermost point, if you reach it by car, or if you don’t want to hike. Otherwise, the only way to proceed further is to get on one of the two hiking trails through the forest.
If you are more adventurous, you can reach the Mossy Forest on foot from the main road. And then, you can back to Brinchang Town on a hiking trail. There was a short hiking trail descending to the town directly from the peak Gunung Brinchang. But since it is closed, you have to get on another, longer path, starting directly from the fence before the peak. It was our plan initially, but we were warned that it is a difficult trail, especially during wet, rainy and foggy weather.
And indeed, I tried only a few hundred meters on the path, but I realized that I was not prepared for that, so I back on the road, with my whole legs covered by mud. The people told us that the whole route on the path would take at least 5 hours because it is difficult and slippery. It was afternoon already, so we gave up and back on the main road. But I am sure if we were better prepared, it would be an exciting adventure.
Another trail starts from the other end of the Mossy Forest. It reaches Gunung Irau (2110 m), which is the highest peak of this subrange of Titiwangsa, although it is considered outside of the Cameron Highlands. Then the trail gradually descends to the northern road from Tanah Rata and Brinchang to Ipoh.
Other places and activities in and around Cameron Highlands
If you have more time and money, you can join a tour of some more exciting places in the area. These tours will guide you to spots that are far and difficult to reach. They are difficult not technically, but mainly because the spots they lead to are difficult to find.
Orang Asli Villages
It is an interesting tour for explorers who want to research the life of the local Semai tribe. Semai people belong to the Senoi (Austroasiatic) group of Orang Asli. They live in small wooden and bamboo huts, covered by straw, and still practiced the so-called „shifting cultivation” and hunting by a blowpipe. There are several villages, not far from the road from Tanah Rata. The nearest one used to be near the Night Market, but now the locals don’t live there anymore. And the other villages are farther. The best way to visit them is by a guide, which can be arranged by local travel companies. He would not only guide you to these people, but you can get a lot of information about them.
This is the largest „flower” on the Earth. It is not a real flower, but a parasitic plant with bad smell, looking like a flower. However, now it is extremely rare in the Cameron Highlands, so there are not regular tours to Rafflesia spots offered by the local travel companies. The only way to reach it is by joining a private tour (https://www.ecocameron.com/the-giant-rafflesia-of-cameron.html), which can be organized only if they get information that currently there is a blooming Rafflesia somewhere.
In general, this is what you can explore in the Cameron Highlands to get the best impression of this place. Now, let’s see these two important elements of your trip, to plan it better- accommodation and transportation.
Accommodation in the Cameron Highlands
Finding good accommodation in the Cameron Highlands is easy. It is a touristy area with towns, resorts, hence with a lot of hotels, from splurge to budget. You can easily find your desired option from Booking or Agoda.
But as we always do when plan our trips, we look for a good location and a low price when we choose our hotel. You can find cheap hotels in Tanah Rata or Brinchang. There are hotels outside of these towns, located in some smaller resorts, but they are more expensive. So, as I mentioned above, if you go to the Cameron Highlands for a shorter time, or if you have to leave it early in the morning by bus from Tanah Rata, it is better to choose your hotel in Tanah Rata. But if you are not so urgent, or your bus is not early in the morning, better find a hotel in Brinchang, because it is closer to the places of interest in the area.
We chose Check-In Hotel in Brinchang. It is a popular hotel for backpackers and other budget travelers because it is located exactly in the center of the town, at its main square, where most of the taxis wait for customers. Besides, the hotel itself is cozy, clean, with nice and helpful staff. Maybe the only inconvenient thing is that the toilet and the bathroom are shared, outside of the rooms. The hotel has two buildings- Check-In 1 and Check-In 2, and there are a lot of restaurants, supermarkets, cafes and other public places around the hotel.
Transportation in the Cameron Highlands
Transportation is another important thing. Fortunately, reaching the Cameron Highlands is easy, and there is a bus terminal in Tanah Rata, which is well-connected to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and other travel destinations. The question is, once you arrive in Tanah Rata, how to move to different places to visit.
First, there is the main road, coming from the south (from Kuala Lumpur, or Jerantut). It goest northward through Tanah Rata and Brinchang, then leaves Cameron Highlands on their northeastern side, then divides into two roads- westward to Ipoh, and eastward to Gua Musang. And most of the places to visit are located not far from this main road, except the Tea Fields, the Mossy Forest and Mount Gunung Brinchang, which are reachable by the smaller Jalan Gunung Brinchang Road.
Public buses are traveling on the main road. It is a cheap option, but the buses are extremely rare. Honestly, we didn’t see any bus, we just read that there are such buses, and the hotel staff told us about them, but even they didn’t know their schedule.
So, the most popular option is a taxi. The taxi drivers usually take 10 RM between Tanah Rata and Brinchang, and 25 RM from Brinchang to the intersection of Jalan Gunung Brinchang and Jalan Sungai Palas (at least it is what we paid). There is no Grab in the Cameron Highlands. However, there are other options too.
By motorcycle and bicycle
You can also rent a motorcycle. It is convenient and you can use it for exploring the places along the roads, including the summit at the Mossy Forest. The only inconvenient situation is if you want to go or back by hiking through the forest.
There are several motorbike rental companies, located mainly in Tanah Rata. I haven’t found such a company in Brinchang, but many hotels where you stay can arrange a motorbike for you. Prices are usually from 35 RM per hour to 50-60 RM for the whole day.
As I know, there are some places where you can also rent a bicycle, but due to the mountainous terrain, it is not so convenient for most people. So, this option is not popular in the Cameron Highlands. Finally, the best (although the slowest) option is your own feet.
Yes, a significant part of our traveling within the Cameron Highlands was on foot. The distances are not too long, and if you are well-prepared, you can make one-day trekking from Brinchang on the road to the Mossy Forest, then on the hiking trail back to Brinchang. Just take a taxi from Brinchang to the intersection of the small roads (Jalan Gunung Brinchang and Jalan Sungai Palas). Don’t proceed further by taxi, because the price the drivers demand suddenly jumps to 60 RM or more. Besides, it is better to observe the Best Landscape point on foot, as we did.
The average altitude of the Cameron Highlands is high, between 1400 and 1800 m. So, the climate is cool. You have to prepare for that because it is not the hot and wet eternal summer in the lowlands of Peninsular Malaysia. Normally, the temperature seldom rises more than 25 C, and in the night often drops to 15, 12, 10 C, even lower. You can feel a bit chilly at night.
Also, the climate is wet. There are short rainfalls throughout the whole year, and the high peaks are often hidden in clouds. But, as I mentioned above, if it normally considers a „bad weather” elsewhere, it is a benefit for those who want to enjoy the Mossy Forest. Just prepare yourself accordingly. And still, there are a lot of nice cool sunny days too.
To Penang, our next destination
We spent two nights in the Cameron Highlands. First, we arrived in the afternoon in Brinchang and visited the Night Market on foot. On the next day we reached the Mossy Forest by taxi and on foot, then back on the same road (again first on foot, then by taxi) to Brinchang, and visited the Time Tunnel Museum on our way back.
Finally, on the third day morning, we went to Tanah Rata and left the Cameron Highlands. We got the bus to our next destination in our Peninsular Malaysia itinerary- Penang. And we can say that this cool mountain area left a nice impression as one of the most representative places in the country.
Get more impressions from the Cameron Highlands from the video below:
Check some travel books about the Cameron Highlands and Malaysia!
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