Getting to the Cameron Highlands from Penang is very straightforward. We purchased our bus tickets the day before we wanted to travel, using the easybook app. Within the app there a several comapnies to choose from, and we used Perak Transit which allowed us to select child tickets at RM24, while the adult tickets were RM32 (about £6).
We departed Penang’s bus terminal shortly after midday. As we have discovered over a number of journeys, these buses don’t seem to leave quite on time, and there’s rarely anyone to put your bags on the bus or check your ticket – you check that the bus number, which is displayed in the windscreen, matches your ticket, load your bags yourselves, and get on. Eventually, seconds prior to departure the driver comes down the bus to check your ticket (you can just show this from your mobile phone) and that’s it! Disconcerting the first time, but you soon get used to it.
The scenery changes along the route from the flat coastal lands of Penang to areas, near Ipoh, dominated by huge, towering, tree-covered rocky outcrops, often with huge overhangs near the base (some of these outcrops are home to cave temples and impressive cave systems that I wish we’d known about at the time – see for example Gua Tempurung). Then as you get into the highlands the road becomes very windy and you discover that the hillsides are covered in huge greenhouse structures that allow the area to produce vast quantities of fruit and vegetables for the rest of the country. The drivers throw the buses around the corners at much higher speeds than they would in the UK, making the last hour and a half of the journey a bit of a ride.
We reached our destination, Tanah Rata, just before sunset. Our hostel accommodation was right on the main street – almost opposite the bus station – and just along the road were plenty of (mostly Indian) restaurants and shops. Elliot in particular was very happy about this as it meant Rotis and Nan breads which are his favourite!
As hoped, and very welcome indeed, was the cooler climate of the highlands, similar to that of the Sri Lankan hills. However, our accommodation was not so welcome – our room of bunk beds was on the very noisy street, with windows that wouldn’t shut due to layers of paint added over the years, so we didn’t sleep well. We had only booked a couple of nights fortunately, so moved a few hundred metres down the road to a much more modern hostel for the remaining nights, with a better room for us (2 double beds) and a large shared kitchen/lounge area which we made good use of.
The Cameron Highlands were much more touristy than we’d imagined, and were pretty busy (and this was low season). After some research, we caught a taxi (there’s no Grab service here) to the Big Red strawberry farm in the next town, Brinchang, about 5km away. Here, they grow several varieties of lettuce in addition to strawberries. We paid for a couple of punnets at a price that made me feel a bit light-headed (and light-walleted), and quickly filled these (carefully only to the 500g mark) with juicy strawberries from individual plants growing in pots raised about a metre off the ground. we tasted a few (good, but not as good as out home grown ones) before saving the rest for some cream later. This turned out to be a flawed plan, as the nearest thing we could buy to cream was plain natural yoghurt, so strawberries and yoghurt it was – try it!.
From the strawberry farm, we walked into Brinchang to find somewhere for lunch, and after, took an ageing Mercedes taxi, with similarly ageing driver, a couple of kilometres further down the road to a Butterfly farm. This turned out to be a mini zoo, with various reptiles, giant grasshoppers and stick insects, spiders, beetles, various fowl and even a kangaroo. The butterfly enclosure was quite nicely laid out, and contained some very pretty (and sometimes dead, which made them easier to photograph) butterflies. The kids enjoyed all of this, taking countless photos on their phones – we went around the whole place twice, before walking to the bee farm a little further down the road.
The bee farm was much smaller, essentially a shop with bee-related stuff and honey for sale, with gardens out the back containing the hives. There were some well written information boards by the shop describing the life-cycle of the bees and honey production. In her inimitable style, Jessica was totally absorbed and read every word, soaking it all up (saves us effort on the home-schooling front!).
We found our morning taxi driver waving at us once we got outside. This was either chance, or he’d kept an eye on our whereabouts for the last few hours, to guarantee a return fare to Tanah Rata (tin hat on?, maybe). So we jumped in and got our ride back.
On our last full day here, we went for a walk to Robinson falls in the local forest. It threatened to rain, as it had for a full day, the day before, but held off as we extended our walk beyond the falls; we attempted a circular route using 2 paths shown on OpenStreetMap, but these took us into fairly thick jungle and the way was blocked by the occasional fallen tree which we had to clamber over (the path was on a very steep hillside, so this had to be done carefully). After I had to pluck off a leech, the kids got a bit freaked out, and although we managed to go on further, the way was soon completely blocked and so we turned around. Happy kids! About 200m from our hotel, the heavens opened and we ran back, spending the remainder of the afternoon playing cards.
We took the bus from Tanah Rata direct to Kuala Lumpur, again using easybook so that we could get discounted tickets for the children – the agents in Tanah Rata wouldn’t/couldn’t do this.