Day 192 Kea Farm
Opening the French doors onto the balcony we realise how much cooler it is up in the highlands. This is the highest point in the Malaysian peninsula and the temperatures are usually 10 degrees lower than in Kuala Lumpur. We are also met by the most fantastic views of the surrounding agricultural land.
We decide that to be on the safe side we will ask for the room not to be serviced but will pick up towels and other supplies from the cleaners. This will limit the number of people entering the room to just us three. I’m feeling quite anxious about the corona virus now, although STA travels advice is that there are no problems and we should just carry on with our travels.
We stop by the travel desk in reception to ask about a bus tour to the local sights but are advised that these are all within walking distance and are given directions to the nearest tea plantation and other tourist attractions. After eating breakfast in the coffee shop, we venture out of the hotel to explore the area.
There are dogs around but they seem harmless enough and I am going to have to face my fear if I want to be outdoors. Walking down to the junction we are amazed by the traffic on the main road, cars are bumper to bumper. This is the first weekend of the school holidays and it appears that the whole of Kuala Lumpur has escaped to Cameron Highlands.
The area we are staying in is called Kea Farm at the summit of the highlands 7km north of Tanah Rata. A farmers’ market is strung along the main road and the police are directing traffic to ease the congestion. Traders have set up stalls along the side of the road selling fresh crops grown in the local farms including strawberries, corn, greens and fruits of all types. It is so colourful and the produce looks so enticing.
The market also sells many other local products, plants, flowers and handicrafts, although what the sponge bobs and other tat are doing there we can’t imagine. The smell of food cooking over BBQ’s fills the air and Marcus thinks he might like to try some of the local dishes.
I would usually like to peruse the stalls but the crowds are huge and we’re trying to keep a distance between us and others which is impossible. I end up walking in the road as much as possible and we make our way towards the indoor flower market. This is behind the Kea Market hotel which is quite an eye opener. Chalets, which are in effect garden sheds are stood in lines in the garden. These are rented out to guests to sleep in. They are a bit like a wooden tent sleeping up to two people, very unusual but a good use of space.
We leave the flower market and walk down the road in the direction of what we think is the tea plantation. We are completely wrong as we find out when we reach the Rose Centre. There is an entrance fee of just less than £1 per person but it is well worth it. There is an abundance of different coloured roses, other flowers and ornamental plants in a park-like setting.
Steps ascend the hill slope to different levels and terraces leading to mini garden walks with superb views of the surrounding country side. Amusingly there are sculptures and murals celebrating Disney characters and fairy tale stories as well as a giant old woman’s shoe! Right at the top is a majestic viewpoint overlooking the valley. Well worth the climb up. We agree we can’t have Corona virus as we have climbed a considerable way up the hillside.
We can see the Nova hotel from here and realise we should have turned right at the road junction rather than left to reach the tea plantation. Leaving this lovely viewpoint we make our way down to the centre’s entrance and retrace our steps towards the main road.
Following the main road down past the Nova hotel we turn up onto the road just after the Butterfly Garden to Boh Tea Sungai Palas plantation. About 100m further the road narrows considerably and winds up the hill climbing steeply in some sections. We are passed by numerous cars and trucks making their way to the visitor centre and factory. This road is really very busy and we have to squash up against the side of the road to avoid being hit at times.
Eventually we reach the summit and are able to enjoy magnificent views of vast tea fields stretched across the valley and slopes. Here the road is so narrow that police are directing the traffic so that vehicles only travel single file. Whilst picking our way down this steep stretch of road we can see tea pickers up on the slopes above us. Men are also carrying sacks on their heads down to the shelter at the side of the road.
As we approach the visitor centre, we pass houses provided for the migrant workers, a church, a mosque, a shop and a little school. We are reminded of Titus Salt and his village for his workers. The facilities here are better quality then those we have seen in other areas of the highlands. From the car park, we find a narrow road that ascends up the sloping tea garden to the centre.
At the top we join a trip around the factory where we are shown the process from tea leaves arriving to the packed tea leaves. This is quite a small operation as the main headquarters are at the Ringlet plantation.
There is a small museum with plaques describing the history of tea in the Cameron Highlands and in particular the development of the Boh Plantations. We are treated to ice cream by Marcus which we enjoy whilst perusing the exhibition. The shop has some lovely tea gifts but we are limited to what we are able to carry on the rest of our trip so we resist buying.
The café is situated in a modern building perched on the hill with panoramic views of the lush surrounding area. We have tea and shortbread biscuits while looking out over the terraces and valley beyond the balcony. This is the most beautiful place and the long walk has been well worth it.
We make our way back to the car park down the boardwalk and staircases through the pretty gardens and tea bushes. There are lots of visitors which is a testament to the popularity of the place but most probably only spend an hour or so here.
The walk back to the main road takes just under an hour as we have to climb out of the valley and up to the summit before the gentler descent back to the Nova Hotel. We call at the shopping centre under the hotel and buy snacks.
Mark and Marcus go down to the restaurant but I’ve decided I really don’t want to eat in the hotel restaurant tonight. It’s a bit of a nightmare for them as the Chinese restaurant is closed due to a conference and the other restaurant warn it will take over an hour for any food to be served as they are busy. They end up eating snacks in the coffee shop. I’m glad I didn’t bother, what a poor excuse for a hotel!
Day 193 Tanah Rata
The news from home isn’t great and family and friends are keeping us informed. There is still no advice from the FCO regarding travel in Malaysia and Thailand although Vietnam and Cambodia have closed their borders to travellers. I am feeling quite anxious and the lack of measures being taken by the hotel is leaving me quite concerned.
We want to spend as little time in the hotel as possible and decide to walk the 8km down to the town of Tanah Rata. The road is quite windy but there are pavements albeit they are uneven and broken in many places (I really don’t want to cobble over and hurt my ankle). There is also an inordinate amount of traffic going where we cannot begin to guess. The market is very busy but surely that cannot account for it all.
Just before reaching Brinchang we come across the Galleria Time Tunnel which we decide to have a look around. After paying we enter a treasure trove of over 1000 exhibits which were collected by See Kok Shan, a Cameron local. The museum is dedicated to preserving the historical memory and cultural heritage of the area. We spend quite some time making our way around the museum gaining information on the European and Japanese occupation of the area and the day to day life in the Highlands from plantations, tourism, education and agriculture.
Leaving the museum, we continue through Brinchang with its many hotels and apartments. This is not a pretty community and reminds us of Pas de la Casa in Andora. There is more to do here and there are more restaurants and cafes but the views certainly don’t measure up to those at Kea Farm.
Further along the road we come across the Cameron Highlands Golf Course. There is a competition taking place today so we are not allowed to walk over the course to cut off the corner but we have a look around the club house and the pro shop. The views across the course are lovely and the course itself is very well kept.
We take a small side road past the SmokeHouse Hotel which is adjacent to the golf course. Built in 1937 in Tudor style during the early hill station days of Cameron Highlands, the hotel was the first of its kind in the region and the most famous building in the area. Originally serving British expatriates and their families it is now a boutique hotel and restaurant.
Continuing on this side road we come out at the back of the golf club and here we find a hamlet of small hotels, homesteads, a market and restaurants. Again, this area is extremely busy and the traffic horrendous with snarl ups as traffic attempts to make its way along streets never intended for the car. It starts to spit so we pop into a café with a covered terrace to get a drink while we wait for the rain to cease.
On reaching Tanah Rata we soon realise just how large this town is. It is the administrative centre of Cameron Highlands and is built on a flat plateau. Here is the local bus and taxi terminal as well as many other amenities. We wander round the centre passing banks, shops, restaurants, hotels, travel agencies, schools and a monastery.
Making our way to where the bus dropped us two days ago, we enquire about buses to Ipoh. These can be booked online so that is a job for me when we get back to our hotel. This area is full of restaurants so we pick one where we are able to sit on a large terrace and order food for a late lunch. Mark and I both have a curry with parathas and Marcus has Ramen; the food is excellent.
Walking across the outdoor market we make our way to the container market. This is made from containers remodelled as shops and cafes. An unusual and novel market place selling a plethora of products. However, the sky darkens and then the rain starts to come down; it’s torrential and we need to find shelter and a taxi to take us back up the hill to Kea Farm.
There are no taxis available as they wont travel up the hill at the moment due to the traffic. The hotel fails to inform visitors of this which is another downside of staying at there. We are told we will be able to get one later, probably after 6 o’clock. We’ll have to wait so we make our way to Starbucks just along the street for coffee. Suddenly the taxi driver we spoke to appears at our table saying he will now take us to the hotel. He must have assumed that as we were Europeans we would be in Starbucks! Not that we make a habit of grabbing coffee there.
The journey is quite congested but the driver tells us it will be quiet tomorrow as it is Monday and many of the tourist sites are closed and people will be at work. That’s a relief as we will need to get to Tanah Rata for our bus to Ipoh. Mark and Marcus make a trip out to Dominoes Pizza at the Nova hotel for take outs instead of braving the hotel restaurant again. I must admit I really enjoy the familiarity of this food.