It may have been early 2020 or 2021 when Eddy and I decided to revisit Cameron Highlands. He hadn’t been there since the early 200s, while the last time I was there was either in 1987 or 1988. In a sense, it was nostalgia for him, and for me, it was a discovery of a place that was considered a go-to Malaysian vacation destination.
However, things weren’t meant to be, the torrential rains caused us to reconsider our drive up (landslides, you know), so we cancelled the trip, and the next thing you know, we were either in or back in lockdown (again).
So much like Desaru, we said by hook or by crook we needed to get up to Cameron’s for a break this year.
On a personal front, I was feeling burnt out – every aspect of my life felt stale and some personal matters that causing me concern. I needed to get away, and I thought a trip to somewhere “new” (I think I may have been up to Cameron Highlands maybe three times in my life, and none in my adult life) may help refresh me.
The highland is pretty large, situated in the northwestern tip of Pahang, bordering Kelantan in the north, and Perak in the west. It comprises of three sub-districts: Ringlet, Tanah Rata and Ulu Telom. Its administrative centre is Tanah Rata (where we stayed), and it has eight settlements, the most famous of which is Brinchang. Also, if you travel through the new route (which we did), you’d have to pass by a few other settlements, such as Kampung Raja.
The highlands is named after William Cameron, a British explorer and geologist who was commissioned by the colonial government to map out the Pahang-Perak border in 1885. Cameron described the highlands as “a sort of vortex on the mountains, while for a (reasonably) wide area we have gentle slopes and plateau land.” The colonials developed it into a hill station and farmlands, and it now provides a respite for city-dwellers, just a short drive away (in recent years, notorious for its traffic jams – thank goodness, we only experienced one such traffic jam on the way up).
So we drove up
through the new route, which is on the outskirts of Ipoh. It is further away if you’re driving up from the Klang Valley, but less winding and less steep (apparently – I honestly cannot remember). It is interesting that because of this new route, we heard that many from Ipoh and Gua Musang go over to the highlands for a weekend break, because it is now so accessible.
So accessible, in fact, that we were caught in a traffic jam on the way in, even though we were travelling on a Wednesday. Even so, it wasn’t like the traffic snarls in the Klang Valley, and we ended up in Tanah Rata in pretty decent time.
On the way up, we saw lots of farms, lots of cheesy tourist attractions (time tunnel?) and also lots of temples (oh so many!). In fact, for the most part of our stay, I decided I wanted to visit the many places of worship up there. Who would have thought that there would be so many religious places in what basically is a tourist and agricultural destination?
The ‘flat land’.
We got a nice room in a guest house in Tanah Rata, the administrative centre for the highlands. Brinchang, as seen on the way in, looked interesting but oh-so commercialised (I mean, a shopping mall? Seriously?). Many people said Brinchang is nicer but, to be honest, Tanah Rata came across as having more colonial character to me.
Okay, just a run down: Tanah Rata being the administrative capital has all the governmental centres – police, fire station, park, hospital, boarding school, mosque etc.
Its main street is also something that looked familiar to me, although not the ‘newer’ buildings like the bus station and a bunch of eating stalls lined up along the streets. Also, I admit, Tanah Rata also does have a ‘mall’ together with what looked like service apartments (or possibly a hotel). Ugly huge building, in my opinion, marring the skyline.
Our guesthouse was tucked inside the main areas of commerce. It was a great hideaway, but I was disappointed that there didn’t seem to have pleasant streets to walk along – just dead ends and gutted hillsides with half-built buildings. Maybe I am more used to the quiet and generally pretty streets along Fraser’s Hill one can walk along (please, don’t make Fraser’s Hill ugly like Cameron’s, please pretty please!).
The weather was a huge plus for us, a pleasant 18 degrees in the morning, and hitting only about 24 degrees (while sunny) by midday. We had a great steam-boat dinner our first evening, then took a walk along the main street and back (and some side roads) after dinner.
We decided to check out Brinchang the following day (Thursday) to avoid any Friday weekenders (leading to crowds and traffic jams – we were so warned about traffic jams!). However, because we weren’t that keen on (1) farms (2) food (3) cheesy tourist attractions (4) shopping malls, that left us with places of worship.
The great thing about Malaysia is wherever you go, there will be a place of worship: temples, mosques, churches, you name it, we have it! Thankfully, Brinchang has the very famous Sam Poh (three jewel) Temple, which was bright and airy. We also took a drive up to the Kwan Ti Temple in Kampung Raja.
By the time we had driven to Kampung Raja and back to Brinchang (traffic wasn’t good and there was a police check along the way), it was time for lunch. We avoided the shopping mall (of course!), and had some old-fashioned Chinese coffee shop style food there for lunch.
On the way back, we took a quick stop at Sri Thendayuthapani Swami Temple, Brinchang. According to some research, it is a Murugan temple, but because of our unfamiliarity, we weren’t sure. It wasn’t open, so we didn’t go in (from what I recall), but it is an interesting stop, if you are interested in places of worship.
I woke up early the next day. Actually, I woke up early (for a holiday) on both full days, around 6.30 am, and spent the time journaling and planning, meditating and breakfasting outdoors in the cold. It was invigorating.
We decided to stay put in Tanah Rata on our second day in the highlands. Supposedly, warmer than Brinchang, we didn’t really feel it. It was about 18°C in the morning, which went as high as 24°C around lunch time, although the sign was out at this time.
There were only four places I wanted to see in Tanah Rata. Eddy wanted to see the Catholic Church, Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This was within walking distance form our guest house, and it truly is a scenic church.
Surrounded by hibiscus, the church was being prepared for a wedding the following day. The priest wasn’t in, so we just ambled within the grounds, including up to the priests’ retreat house (which I think is also a restaurant on weekdays – at least, that’s what we were told) further up on the grounds.
We then took a drive to another Kuan Ti temple, this one being much larger and airier than the one in Kampung Raja. The caretakers of the temple were very hospitable and chatted with Eddy at length, offering us tea (which we declined).
After that, we drove off to take a brief stop at Ye Olde Smokehouse, which was packed with people, so no tea or scones etc. for us (which was fine for us).
Then we found the Anglican Church – All Souls Church – around the same area as Ye Olde Smokehouse. It was much smaller and humbler building than the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, but I am guessing the number of Anglicans are far smaller.
In the evening before dinner, we took a walk to the municipal park and field, discovering the Sri Subramaniar Alayam Temple facing the valley of Tanah Rata.
We spent the morning of the last day lazily, with Eddy spending time in reflection and sleep, and me doing yoga videos and photos. I am not sure if I’d call our trip up to Cameron Highlands a ‘success’, but it was a good getaway. It also was great to visit the hillside resort after decades away. Would I be rushing back? Not in a hurry, I don’t think.
What about you? How do you enjoy Cameron Highlands? What do you like about it? Tell me in the comments below!