After two months mostly doing nothing in Thailand but laying on beaches or sitting at the computer, it was time to get moving again, so I headed south to Malaysia to find some jungle trekking.
First up was the Cameron Highlands, up in a former hill station for the colonists to keep cool, and similar to Indian hill stations like Darjeeling, this one has tea. I headed there with a couple Germans named Max that I met on the train from Thailand. The journey from Butterworth (mainland city across from George Town, Penang island) to Tanah Rata in the highlands was a long one (maybe six hours) on a big bus, but had some nice scenery along the way up the mountains. It seemed to get more developed as we went up, until most of the slopes were covered with strawberry farms. (For the record, I tried the strawberries, and they are no competition for Norway’s.)
Tanah Rata and surrounding areas have some trails marked in what feels like 1975, and some pathetic maps of the trails pinned to hostel walls. We did two days of hiking and got lucky with no rain either day, at least while we were in the jungle.
Day One was recommended by the Maxs’s German guidebook, Stefan Loose Reiseführer Malaysia, Brunei und Singapore. We started on trail 8 down to the Robinson waterfall, headed north on trail 9, to trail 3 and finally trail 2, ending at a temple in the city north of Tanah Rata called Brinchang. It was a nice hike, not too challenging but with some good elevation gains to get the sweat flowing, just under five hours in the jungle and walking amongst tree roots most of the time. For wildlife, we saw just one monkey, and not many views to speak of either. After lunch in Brinchang, we headed to the BOH Sungai Palas tea plantation for some tea and strawberry treats and a look at the tea factory in operation.
Day Two was simply trail 1 to the top of Gunung Brinchang, basically just straight up almost 500 meters. The hike itself was similar to the previous day, lots of walking amongst tree roots, much more mud after an overnight rain, and the jungle felt a bit less tropical to me. The result after climbing an observation tower was a great view of the surrounding valleys, and then watching the clouds roll in. We walked down the road, not the greatest hike but it did result in nice views of tea plantations (in our case, in the pouring rain).
It was definitely worth a couple nights up in the Highlands, maybe more had we not moved on to Taman Negara National Park. It was much cooler than the lower elevations, and had beautiful scenery of the tea plantations and some nice trails. Tips for others trekking in the Highlands:
- A visit to the BOH Sungai Palas tea estate makes more sense after trail 1, if you walk down the road, because you end up right at the entrance.
- Start early, the weather did seem better in the morning! We were on our way by 8 am.
- A taxi to the Trail 1 trailhead is only 10 ringgit from the Tanah Rata bus station.
- It was helpful to have Maps.me installed since the trails are mapped, but also some of the yellow trail signs had notes written in Sharpie. In particular a sign pointing us to the correct trail 2 entrance was great as it seemed opposite the Maps.me indication.