Cameron Highlands: Travel Guide
Cameron Highlands is a popular destination in Malaysia among travelers, probably because it is so different from what you would have expected to see in this Southeast Asian Country. Explore with us Cameron Highlands famous for tea plantations, strawberry picking and watching butterflies. In this travel guide, we share tips on the best things to do, popular attractions, tips on where to stay, what to pack, and how to get around.
Tea plantations. Moss forest. Strawberries. Mist rolling over green hills. Butterflies. Snakes. Fresh Air.
All of that describes Cameron Highlands, a travel destination carrying a non-Malay name, which is between 1200 to 2000 meters above sea level and offers its visitors a much-needed escape from heavily polluted cities or insanely hot beach towns. Cameron Highlands has the right mix of small-town feel and plenty of things to see and do, that it is must-visit place on your Southeast Asia itinerary.
Actually, as soon as you arrive, you will find out that not only the name is English or British to be precise (Cameron Highlands got its name after a British colonialist), but also the architecture (you can stay in colonial houses), cooler, often wet climate and many places serving traditional tea won't let you forget the British influence.
Hadn't there been amazing Asian food, colorful markets, and Malay people everywhere around, you could easily have a feeling of being somewhere in Europe.
We met in Kuala Lumpur our friend we knew from New Zealand, and as soon as we revealed to her our plans of going to Cameron Highlands, she provided us with an overwhelming number of tips on the best things to do, attractions not to miss and must-visit places altogether with information on where to stay, how to get to the region and what to eat.
Evidently, as she told us later, Cameron Highlands was a destination she visited with her family several times a year because they loved the cooler weather and beautiful landscape.
We followed all her advice, and in three days had enough time to see the best Cameron Highlands has to offer.
In case you plan on preparing your Malaysia itinerary, keep on reading, we are pretty sure you might find this post inspiring.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN CAMERON HIGHLANDS
As we arrived from Ipoh, where we visited cave temples, to Cameron Highlands late in the afternoon, we did not have much time to walk around the town, so we only checked-in a hotel, and after went outside to look for something to eat.
Luckily, on the way from the bus station, we noticed several good looking eateries, so we walked only a short way back, and our senses unmistakeably led us to a small restaurant.
As we've already visited other foodie destinations in Malaysia such as Melaka or Penang, we had high hopes for eating out in Cameron Highlands, and boy, it did not disappoint. Because of significantly lower temperatures than in other parts of the country, we ordered hot and delicious noodle soup, which helped us a lot.
The next day in the morning we got up early because we arranged our one-day tour around the best attractions in the area the day before.
Unfortunately, our driver slept in, so we had to wait for almost an hour in front of the tour office. When the guide arrived we jumped in the car and started the adventure.
Our guide seemed grumpy at first (later we found out he was not supposed to be at work that day), he even told us he does not like tea which we found super-funny as the main attraction in the Cameron Highlands are tea plantations, but before we reached the first stop on our itinerary, he put himself together, and overall our experience was great and positive.
The first stop on our itinerary was Mount Brinchang, one of the highest peaks in the area, but the path to the mountain top is paved, so we got there by car, although the drive was at times pretty bumpy.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at the top, it started to rain for a while, and when it stopped soon after, we were surrounded by thick cloud, so the views were close to zero, although we waited for a while in case it clears out.
When it was pretty obvious the weather will be cloudy that day, we continued to Mossy Forest (check out if your tour includes the entrance fee otherwise you must pay additional 30 RM).
The trail made of wooden boardwalks took us through a short section of the native forest, and we could tell from the very beginning where the name comes from as trees around us were covered with moss, and overall this stop was very peaceful and photogenic, although a bit eerie because of the omnipresent fog and lack of sunlight.
The next place on our schedule was for us the highlight of the day, the famous Boh Tea Estate Plantation.
Not only the tea plantation is absolutely picturesque, lush green, but our guide pulled the car several times before we reached the plantation, and told us a lot about the whole process from the leave to the cup of tea. Later, we also went to the factory, where we could see the process in practice, and then we visited a small bistro with great views of the plantation and drank the original Cameron Highlands tea.
As we both prefer tea over coffee, we really enjoyed our time on Boh Tea Plantation, and explanation on how is tea made, where the leaves from Cameron Highlands actually go after harvesting, and how important is the production for the local economy.
After we drank all the tea we could, we headed back to the village, and on the way, we stopped in a garden featuring many plants such as orchids and roses, and beautifully colorful butterflies, and even snakes.
Our guide found funny to give one guy from our group a snake around the neck, and then walked away. We were only happy he did not choose us.
This was, in short, our day in Cameron Highlands, but in case the time allows, there are other things to do in the area as well.
MORE ACTIVITIES TO DO IN CAMERON HIGHLANDS
Walk Around Tanah Rata | The funny thing about Tanah Rata is, that although every traveler arrives in the town and most of the travelers sleep there, no one actually knows the name. Tanah Rata is the base for visiting the area of Cameron Highlands, but often the town is simply called the same way. Although there is not much to see and do in town, it is an important place for the whole area with banks, ATMs, grocery shops, restaurants, and travel agencies. Tanah Rata sits 1440 meters above sea level, so it is a perfect gateway to the region.
Hiking | 14 hiking trails are crisscrossing Cameron Highlands, and it is not only a perfect activity for outdoor lovers who want to explore the most the region has to offer independently, but it is also super-budget-friendly activity. The only thing you must have is a rain poncho and sturdy hiking boots. Because of the frequent rain, some of the hiking trails can be closed at times because the area is prone to landslides, so be aware of that, and always check ahead how's the current situation. Most of the hikes will take you to incredible viewpoints and waterfalls. In case you want to do more challenging jungle trek, you must hire a guide and obtain a permit.
Night Market | Because Friday and Saturday evenings are the busiest in Tanah Rata, many locals grabbed the chance to sell their (usually eco/bio) products, so they organize a popular night market, where you can buy anything from freshly picked strawberries to flowers, tea, honey or souvenirs. The market is in an area called Golden Hills.
Strawberry Farm | Cameron Highlands is a strawberry paradise, and it seems the fruit grows here all year round. The weather conditions here are simply great for farming. The surroundings are dotted with a large number of strawberry farms, and you can either buy a pack of this red delicate fruit, pick some strawberries on own, or taste it in many different ways, the most popular product from strawberries is a jam here.
Visit Time Tunnel | The only museum in the area shows photographs and artifacts from Cameron Highlands, so seeing the exhibition will give you an interesting insight into the history of the region. This is a great activity for too rainy days.
Orang Asli Settlements | Surprisingly many indigenous people live in the region of Cameron Highlands, and when driving to the town, for example from Kuala Lumpur, you can notice several settlements of the native people. In case you are interested in the way of life of the original people to the area, want to learn more about their culture and practices, hire a guide, as it is not possible to visit these settlements on own. It should go without saying you should behave respectfully, and do not take pictures without previous agreement.
Farms | Strawberries are not the only articles doing well in Cameron Highlands. In case you are into agriculture, or you simply want to see live how things grow, you can choose from visiting a bee farm, rose farm, cactus farm or lavender farm.
Sam Poh Temple | Cameron Highlands is about nature, but in case you cannot live without sightseeing of Malaysian temples (but believe us you will see plenty of them when traveling around the country), you can head to Sam Poh Temple near Brinchang town.
WHERE TO STAY IN CAMERON HIGHLANDS
Cameron Highlands is a super-popular destination not only among foreign visitors, but also local travelers because it offers fresh air, and an interesting landscape, so it often serves as a weekend gateway for Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, which is not far away for the country standards.
Luckily, there are many accommodation options for both backpackers and those who have more money in their pockets.
Some of the hotels are a bit isolated, located high in the hills, so it is always necessary to check the location before making a reservation, especially if you do not have a car.
We've handpicked three best hotels in Cameron Highlands.
Budget | Traveller Bunker Hostel 1 - Sociable modern equipped hostel with clean facilities and the communal kitchen is the best option for travelers on a low budget.
Mid-range | The Smokehouse Hotel & Restaurant Cameron Highlands - English cottage-style accommodation is incredibly cozy, except for wonderful rooms guests can enjoy splendid views over the garden or play golf. Best value for your money.
Luxury | Cameron Highlands Resort - Perfect hotel located in colonial building amidst fresh mountains is the best option for everyone looking for comfort and great service.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
HOW TO GET AROUND CAMERON HIGHLANDS
The best things to do in Cameron Highlands are actually spread around the town in the hills, and to visit the top attractions, visitors must use transport, the only problem is that there is no public transport which leaves you with limited options on how to get around.
The easiest way how to get around is to take a tour. It is only up to you whether you decide on paying for a private or shared tour, the program is usually the same, only private tours are obviously pricier.
The tour usually combines the visit of tea plantation, moss forest, and farms around.
You can either shop around Cameron Highlands and try to bargain for the best rate or shop via this link.
We did not find information whether it is possible to rent a car in Cameron Highlands, rather not (you can rent a car in other destinations in Malaysia though), but what we know for sure, you can rent a motorbike (expect to pay around 60 RM for a full day) in one of many travel agencies, and be completely independent.
When traveling on a budget, it is possible to walk to some places, but for example, the most famous Boh Tea Plantation is 14 kilometers away, so this option is quite time-consuming, and not very flexible.
Most of the walking trails start in Tanah Rata (this will be your base for visiting the area, although it is commonly known under the name Cameron Highlands), in case you feel adventurous, and your budget won't allow you to take a tour or taxi.
Last but not least option is to take a taxi.
Taxi drivers usually have a fixed rate, but the best way is to ask in your hotel for a cab.
It is only up to you how much you want to spend on traveling around Cameron Highlands, but generally, there is an agreement between taxi drivers in the village, and they usually charge 75 RM for three-hour tour and will take you to three attractions according to your choice.
HOW TO GET TO CAMERON HIGHLANDS
The winding road to Cameron Highlands is very scenic but can be nauseating at times because of many turns, especially closer you get to the town nestled in the hills.
Despite its locating, being Malaysia's top travel destination has the advantage that Cameron Highlands is easily accessible either from the capital Kuala Lumpur or from Ipoh.
Kuala Lumpur is for many travelers the first stop in the country, and after sightseeing, it is easy to head to KL's long-distance bus terminal Terminal Bersepadu Selatan - buses run quite frequently, and the direct bus takes anything between four to five hours, depending on traffic.
We traveled to Cameron Highlands from Ipoh, a quite large city which is often skipped by travelers, but as we wanted to see less-traveled destinations in Malaysia, we headed there to see wonderful cave temples and eat great food.
From Ipoh's Manjaya Bus Terminal, take a direct bus which usually leaves in the afternoon, around 3:30 PM, but you will be in your destination before dusk as the journey takes approximately two hours.
It is also possible to reach Cameron Highlands, from another top tourist destination, Penang.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT CAMERON HIGHLANDS
When traveling to Pahang state, home to Cameron Highlands, one thing is sure. You should pack with you layers and warmer clothes, arriving with only shorts and a tank top would be a real mistake.
The best time for visiting the area is between April to September. Those months bring pleasant temperatures, around 25 degrees Celsius during the day, and 16 degrees at night, and it does not rain that often.
The other half of the year between October and March brings lower temperatures, and it rains quite often.
This is the time of the year when hills around Cameron Highlands are often shrouded in the cloud, moss in the forest is dripping with moist, and everything around is very green.
We visited Cameron Highlands in January, which is the offseason, and although it rained at times, it was not anything which would complicate our visit, but we can imagine that the thick fog might be an issue.
It is good to know that Cameron Highlands is often jam-packed on weekends, especially during the dry season, and we are not even talking about long weekends and national holidays when the Cameron Highlands changes from a sleepy little village to a nightmare full to the brim.
When planning your travels, it is always wise to check for national holidays and important days, as it can significantly change your experience.
Although there are many hotels and apartments in Cameron Highlands and its surroundings, the roads are narrow and curvy, and they were not built for so many cars arriving in the area during days off.
HOW MANY DAYS YOU NEED FOR VISITING CAMERON HIGHLANDS
Unless you are pressed for time and don't have another chance to visit Cameron Highlands in only one day, we recommend you to stay in the destination for at least two nights.
Even though in only one day you will have time to see the best attractions the area has to offer, two or more days will allow you to slow down, soak up the atmosphere, notice small details from the colonial times, enjoy walking among photogenic tea plantations and drink as much tea as you want, admire the beautiful landscape everywhere around, and take a break from the lowland heat.
Although we do not like using the term slow travel, and ourselves are not travelers who are able to stay put in one location for a week, we think two to three days are absolutely enough to unwind, and then carry on in your Malaysia journey, as the country is so incredibly diverse, it would be a shame not to see more.
In case you are an avid hiker, you will need, of course, more time to explore all the hiking trails in the area.
SAFETY IN CAMERON HIGHLANDS
We felt absolutely safe in the town, especially because we had all the time a feeling we were surrounded by tourists, but it does not mean pickpocketing is not a thing here.
As usual, watch your belongings, but in case you will stay on the tourist trail, and visit most of the places with a driver or with a guide, you should be fine.
Robberies have been reported on some hiking trails (not many people indeed opt for this activity and tourist paths are often abandoned), so always ask in your hotel how's the current situation, leave your valuables in your hotel room, and in case you are not sure about the safety, hire a local guide.
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