CAMERON Highlands, with all its poetic charm of rolling greens and English country aura, may be too ordinary for the jaded traveller.
Plus, with the plethora of butterfly gardens and strawberry farms, the highlands have become too kid-oriented. What can adults hope to find that’s entertaining?
And there lies the perennial question. Is there anything left to be discovered in Cameron Highlands? Could it be a case of too much in too little time – when the traveller tries to cram every single sight into a weekend trip, in which case the highland’s real essence and charm would undoubtedly elude you. Hence the need to take a step back and rethink your entry into the realm of this colonial enclave.
The recent opening of Cameron Highlands Resort seemed as good as any catalyst to re-inspect the highlands. Intrigued by its “Trails, Tales and Tradition” tagline, it was only apt to reexamine the things that would make the heart fall in love again with this very English countryside.
All you need to do is take the cue from its unharried lifestyle, where teas are drunk not so much with full artform, but punctuated with a friendly tete-a-tete, so the act itself is religion. Or, where scones are served with just the right amount of cream and jam, and where the enjoyment comes from watching the diner decide whether to break it into bite-size pieces or slice it in half with a knife before being dressed.
In fact, doing the teahouse trail is just the ideal way to discover the tales and traditions of the highlands. After all, Cameron Highlands probably has the highest teahouse per capita than any other place in Malaysia.
Where To Go
The trail perhaps is best started at BOH plantation’s Sungai Palas Tea Centre. Built over a hilltop that offers a sweeping view of the tea estate and its surroundings, it offers just the right nostalgia to begin your quest into the colonial culture of tea and scones in the afternoons. As you crack open a crusty scone, you can view the tea pickers down in the valley as they continue their rich tradition of hand-plucking tea leaves and loading them into bags on their backs. These same tea leaves are the ones that give out the rich aroma at the tea centre, with mouth-watering concoctions such as Earl Grey, Mandarin and Lychee, as well as the original BOH brew.
Make your way down to Tanah Rata to the new Cameron Highlands Resort for an old-fashioned afternoon tea treat. Taken at its Jim Thompson Tea Lounge, the resort revives the fine art of tea-drinking, complete with a three-tiered plate stand and pretty silk napkins, upping the event a notch demurely. You sip your tea comfortably planted in the plush plantation rattan chairs that command a view of the manicured gardens of the highlands golf course. The scones here are smooth with a nice sourdough texture and rich buttermilk flavour and tastes even better with the homemade preserves and clotted cream. And if that’s not enough, you can also purchase the preserves to bring home for keeps or as gifts.
Just around the corner from the resort is the Tudor-styled cottage of Bala’s Holiday Chalet. The building was a former boarding school and now serves as a quaint English-styled inn. Guests approach the chalet from a hilly footpath that winds around before welcoming you to a lush country garden with hanging vines and massive Bougainvillea trees. Tea and home-made oven-dried scones can be taken at the tea terrace or served in the comforts of the sheltered garden and conservatory. We preferred the latter, where you can take your leisure at buttering the scones and soaking in the crisp clear highlands air.
Further down the road in Tanah Rata town is T-café, an upstairs cosy tea room that is a highlands institution. Almost everyone who has ever made it to Cameron would stop here for its friendly service and value-for-money food. It doesn’t hurt, either, that they had a special mention in Lonely Planet’s guide to Malaysia.
Its homely and rustic ambience is miles away from Cameron’s ubiquitous English setting, but therein lies its charm. Its natural wooden floors and lofty, vaulted ceiling plus its mismatched arrangement of wrought-iron chairs and wooden tables create a comfortable cacophony of sorts that draws visitors to its friendly atmosphere.
There’s a book exchange section and an Internet corner for guests and travellers to browse through, while a bulletin board in one corner is plastered with thank-you notes and postcards from past visitors. The scones here are legendary – served with clotted cream and spread with chunks of real strawberries, accompanied by prettily-carved butter!
Further downhill, halfway between the narrow winding roads of Tanah Rata and Habu and tucked neatly at a layover, is the Bharat Tea Estate. Two things make this a good stop – its sprawling views of the plantation and awesome landscape make a welcome reprieve from the snaking highland roads (especially if you’re coming up from Tapah) and the steaming hot Cameron Valley tea that is both rich and robust. Guests sip tea and butter their scones while looking out at the plantation dotted with a lapping stream and tea factory. The scones are huge and crumbly, bordering on the dry side but lovely nonetheless taken with the obligatory cream and butter. There are also shortbreads and tea cookies but many who come here prefer their cuppa with the view.
Whether you end your journey here or tackle the other teahouses in the area, you will love the injection of sugar, carbohydrates and pots of tea that seem to be a highland staple and a nice way to fall in love again with Cameron Highlands.
From the south, drive north along the North-South Expressway. There are two roads leading to Cameron Highlands. One is the old road from Tapah town and another from Simpang Pulai (the new route). Exit at either of the two and follow the signs.
Slice of colonial charm
CAMERON Highlands Resort is the latest resort to open its doors on the highlands, fronting the well-manicured lawns of the Cameron Highlands Golf Course in Tanah Rata. The resort celebrates the richness and charm of the colonial English lifestyle, and pays tribute to the highlands’ long-loved tradition for all things countryside. The cosy resort has only 56 rooms, with each offering an unsurpassed view of the rolling hills. The interiors are styled to resemble a genteel English home. The common Reading Room has the look and feel of a gentleman’s drawing room, complete with plush leather chairs and a working fireplace. The bedrooms are high-ceilinged with elegant four-poster beds. The gardens are reminiscent of the peasantry-styled lawns of English cottages with perennial flowers and plants tumbling over walkways. Cameron Highlands Resort39000 Tanah RataCameron Highlands, PahangTel: (05) 491 1100Website: www.cameronhighlandsresort.com