By Liz Ledden
THE Cameron Highlands is to Malaysia what Darjeeling is to India, or Nuwira Eliya is to Sri Lanka – a hilly, lush, green region in the country’s interior that grows premium quality tea, with cooler weather offering welcome relief from the otherwise steamy climate.
With the towns of Tanah Rata and Brinchang at its core, the Cameron Highlands is one of Malaysia’s most fertile areas. Here, steamy tropical rainforest gives way to a temperate climate, with rolling hills and glossy green tea plantations at every turn. Tea aside, the area is dotted with butterfly gardens, waterfalls, vegetable farms and strawberry plantations, offering many places to visit and sample fresh produce. The former British hill station has a decidedly cooler climate than the rest of the country, and remains a popular holiday spot for Malaysians escaping the city, as well as visitors seeking an alternative or additional destination to Malaysia’s much-loved coastal and heritage towns.
A trip to Malaysia’s interior
After a fun-filled introduction to Malaysia via the bright lights and delicious eats of Kuala Lumpur, I was looking forward to seeing more of what the country had to offer. The beautiful turquoise beaches of Langkawi and the Perhentian Islands I was aware of, and the historic buildings and delicious cuisine in Penang was also on my radar, yet the Cameron Highlands was a part of Malaysia I previously knew little about. All was about to be revealed after an easy bus ride from the country’s capital to its agricultural heartland.
My first impressions were that it was lush, green, fertile and beautiful. I found the Cameron Highlands charming, with its occasional architectural nod to its colonial heyday adding character, and enjoyed the proliferation of places to stop, eat at and explore. As a tea lover, I was particularly enamoured with the first tea plantations I’d ever seen.
Where to go and what to expect
One of the biggest plantations is BOH Plantations, a company established in the 1920s that has several large plantations in the area. BOH Sungai Palas Tea Estate is one of the most popular and accessible to visit, located a short drive from the town of Brinchang. The stunning views of the rolling plantations alone are worth the visit, but for tea aficionados the estate offers a solid introduction to how tea is grown and processed, with an educational tour of the factory and lots of information to peruse. Afterwards you can sample some of the freshest tea on the planet in the onsite café.
An alternative to BOH is a plantation run by Bharat, who produce the Cameron Valley brand of tea. They have several plantations with teahouses along the main road just outside Tanah Rata that can easily be visited, though at peak times they can get crowded. The CameronValley tea house is perched over the vibrant green plantations, and if you’ve had your fill of plain black tea, it offers some more exciting takes on the world’s second most popular beverage. The masala chai and cardamom tea is fragrant and flavoursome, while the teas infused with fresh lemongrass or mint are highly recommended. There’s a café with lots of sweet offerings here too (think brownies, cheesecake and ice cream).
From crop to cup
A tea plantation visit offers interesting insights into the tea growing, sorting and fermenting process, though for some people, the amazing views over the plantations and the tea sampling itself end up being the highlights of their visit. Particularly if the tea is consumed in a spectacular tea house extending up and over the plantation grounds, where you can easily end up sitting for an hour or two.
By visiting some of the plantations in the highlands, I discovered a new appreciation for the hard work that goes into producing tea. Labourers picking tea leaves by hand out in the sun is something you don’t often think of while indulging in your daily caffeine boost. A trip to your tea’s source makes you realise the hard work that goes into not only growing and cultivating tea, but transforming the leaves into something palatable and ready for consumption. The plantations offer many wonderful photographic opportunities too, for a quintessential shot of the Cameron Highlands’ endless, rich green hills. Jungle treks and food forays aside, a tea plantation visit is definitely something well worth doing in the beautiful Cameron Highlands.