Friday, 11 July 2014

The Cameron Highlands: Part 1

From Kuala Lumpur, Angela and I took a bus north to Tanah Rata, the main town in the Cameron Highlands. The region is famous for tea plantations that stretch across miles of gorgeously green, fuzzy hilltops. There are also strawberry farms, bee farms, mossy forests, and jungle treks to be enjoyed in the area. What we enjoyed the most, however, was the town of Tanah Rata itself. It's a very small settlement - basically a short stretch of road lined with restaurants, shops and hotels - but there was something about this place that kept us there longer than any other stop on our trip. Perhaps it was the incredibly friendly and polite locals, like the waiters at a local Indian restaurant, who with smiling faces kept inviting us in to watch the FIFA World Cup. Perhaps it was the chilled out vibe, with storekeepers leaving you to your own devices instead of pestering you to buy something every second. Or perhaps it was simply the mild, European climate, which allowed us to walk around without turning into miserable sacks of sweat, and which compels us to call this place "the Dalat of Malaysia."

Either way, we stayed there for almost a month, most of that time volunteering at a guesthouse and helping a local businessman build a new hostel. More on that in the next post, but in the meantime, here's a summary of our first few days in the town, as we relaxed, indulged in delectable cuisine, and explored those bright, green, fuzzy hills.

Our bus route north from Kuala Lumpur to Tanah Rata.
Leaving the suburbs of KL behind us.
The journey took two or three hours, and at least one of those hours was spent ascending the mountainous region around 1400 metres above sea level, where it was much cooler than the capital. Despite the mild climate, though, it still looked very rainforesty and exotic.

Soon we arrived in Tanah Rata, which would become our home for the better part of a month.
The convent in the distance opened in 1935, and was one of the first buildings erected in the area. Now, the surrounding jungle has been cleared, and a whole town surrounds the convent.

Eating some delicious food at Kumar's, our favourite restaurant in town.
The best restaurant for atmosphere though is this Indian restaurant, whose friendly staff always welcome us inside and encourage us to enjoy the World Cup tournament. We've watched quite a few matches here, and there's always a really pleasant atmosphere, especially when hoards of French or German or Dutch fans come in to cheer on their teams.
Angela cheers for the US during a game against Portugal.
At night here, these gigantic moths come out and flutter around the stairwell of our hotel.
One sunny morning we did a tour of the local countryside.
We started by visiting some of the rolling green tea plantations, for which the Cameron Highlands are famous.

Gathering tea leaves.

From there we ascended to the top of Gunung Brinchang, one of the highest mountains in the Cameron Highlands. At the top is a tower allowing some excellent views.

Just on the slopes of the mountain, not far down from the summit, lies the mossy forest.
We spent a while walking through these woodlands coated in thick blankets of moss.

Hiding in the undergrowth are these carnivorous pitcher plants. They're filled with nectar, which attracts insects such as flies, who slip inside and get trapped before being consumed by the plant.
Here's an even larger one. Malaysians often call them "Monkey Cups," since monkeys are known to drink the nectar out of them.

Emerging from the forest.

More moss-wandering.

Click here to continue the adventure in Part 2!

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