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In the Cameron Highlands

Another insane road and other adventures

semi-overcast 25 °C
View Get Out The Map on The Rymans's travel map.

Our first impression of the Cameron Highlands was that it was, literally, going to be a breath of fresh air after Melaka. At an altitude of 1,500 metres, it’s much, much cooler here; for the first time since we left Canada, we’ve needed sweatshirts in the evenings.

The Cameron Highlands area was originally developed by the British as a tea-growing area, but has since developed a much broader agricultural base (famous for strawberries and other fruits and vegetables) and is also a magnet for tourists. Happily for us, there are several excellent Indian restaurants here, and even more exciting for the kids, tea and scones are a big feature, sold nearly everywhere.

Some of the main things to do here are hiking/trekking in the many varieties of jungle and forest nearby, visiting tea plantations and strawberry farms, and dropping in at a nearby Orang-Asli village. “Orang” is Malay for “man” while “Asli” means original; the Orang-Asli are the aboriginal people of Malaysia. While many are gravitating towards towns and cities to earn a modern living, some still live traditional village lives and it’s possible to visit them while in the highlands.

Yesterday we set out with a number of other tourists on an all-day “4 X 4 jungle trekking” adventure. The idea was to spend the morning on a three-hour hike that would take us to a waterfall for swimming and to a spot known for rare rafflesia flowers. These flowers, named for their discoverer, Sir Stamford Raffles, are known to grow up to a diameter of 43 inches and are quite a sight to behold.

Right after breakfast yesterday, we piled into a Land Rover and set off. There are Land Rovers all over the place here, some dating from decades ago and sitting in rusting, yet apparently still mechanically functional, heaps by the roadside. I wondered how necessary the Land Rover was going to be, thinking maybe it was all just part of the show to get tourists interested in booking the tour—but the need for a 4 x 4 became abundantly clear as we left the main road and started heading up a track into the forest.

The dirt was red, thick, deeply rutted and often wet and slippery, and it wound up the mountain in frightening switchbacks entirely free of guard rails or other such niceties, often with sudden, sharp turns. We could hear the truck’s suspension squeaking and squealing in protests as the driver negotiated the road, sometimes roaring ahead suddenly and other times gearing down and powering up a slippery hill. We rocked so violently from side to side that it was essential to grasp the loops hanging over the windows to prevent having our heads bashed into the windows. Several times it felt like we might overturn entirely. The kids were having a fabulous time, riding along with giant grins on their faces. The ride was scary enough to be interesting, but not scary enough to be truly terrifying, especially since we did feel like we were in good hands with our expert driver, who had told us he does this sort of thing not just every day for tourists, but in his spare time for fun.

These roads made the ones up to our Quebec hunt camp look like child’s play. It often seemed completely incredible that we were even making any headway. Mark took dozens of photos, and as usual I’m having some trouble getting them uploaded in a timely way, but I hope to accomplish that either this afternoon or next week, so stay tuned.

After about half an hour on this crazy road, we arrived at the trailhead and piled out to follow a different guide who would lead us to some rafflesia specimens. After all the work involved in getting to this place, you had to wonder: All this to see a flower??? It was a hot, sweaty walk up and down a sometimes challenging trail, across streams and a river and at least one dodgy bamboo bridge. But when we eventually found the flower, it really was pretty spectacular. There are lots of interesting facts about this flower, for example the fact that there are male and female specimens, and that it can take up to 8 months for a bud to open, after which the flower lasts just 5 days. To get a better sense of the size of it, we photographed the kids next to one. As always, check the photo gallery later!

The whirlwind tour continued on with a swim at a waterfall on the way down, a reverse trip back down the crazy dirt road (all the more frightening for being downhill; we nearly slid ride off the road on at least one occasion--at one point Ciaran said, "I wonder how this story will end. Will I die after we slide off one of those cliffs? Or will we all survive and it will make a great stories to tell my friends?"), and then a visit to an Orang-Asli village. After being given some background information about the Orang-Asli and how they live, we were treated to a demonstration of how they hunt using a blow pipe. The pipe is a long, narrow affair with poison darts plugged into its end, and the hunter’s job is to blow hard enough to send one of the darts into the prey. After the demonstration, we were asked if anyone wanted to give it a try (there was a target for the purpose), and of course, Chloe was keen. After a few attempts, she managed to get the dart just a few inches to the left of the target. Ciaran didn’t want to try, but he did desperately want to buy one of the $7 smaller blow pipes for sale. Mark, who has been hating that we seem to carry around so much stuff everywhere, was an unusually each touch on this, and let Ciaran choose one to keep. It came with a batch of darts and everything needed to work properly, and the kids have been trying it out in the hotel room.

There was a lunch stop after that, but the food was completely unappealing, so we ate lightly; among the choices there was a stew of chicken’s feet and a stir-fry of mysterious organ meats and chicken hearts and skin. We chose iced tea, soft drinks, plain rice and a thing that looked somewhat like an omelette, supplementing that with snacks we’d brought along.

This is getting rather long so I’ll try to sum up the rest of the day: We also visited a tea plantation, which was a highlight for our family tea fiend, Ciaran, and enjoyed a tour of the tea factory and grounds. The kids were excited to see scones for sale again here, but chose a doughnut to snack on instead. The plantation itself was spectacularly scenic, and we took some great photos of the kids hiding and peeking among the tea bushes.

We finished the day by heading up to the top of Gunung Brinchang, a 2,031-metre mountain at the top of which is a cloud forest that is known here as a “mossy forest.” We had a chance to walk through the forest as dark approached, and it was certainly an enchanting, spooky experience; the guide showed us insect-eating plants and a variety of medicinal shrubs and trees.

There is really so much more I could write about this action-packed day, but I’ve been typing for some time now and you probably don’t want to know every detail, so I’ll end it here. Tomorrow we’re off to Pulau Perhentian, a quite remote tropical island where we are unlikely to come across internet access, so this will be my last update for at least another week or so.

Posted by The Rymans 22:09 Archived in Malaysia Tagged family_travel

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Sounds like you're having an amazing time!
I saw your page in the OSCAR today and it was pretty cool.

by Maddy

Hope you are all having a great time. I have been sharing your experience with my girls and they think it is awesome that your kids have the chance to experience this. Who knows, maybe Yann and I will follow in your adventurous footsteps.

Happy Birthday Mark!


by Celia

Hello intrepid travellers!
Wow, sounds like non-stop adventure in the highlands; I hope no innocents have been harmed by Ciaran's blow-dart-pipe contraption!
Happy birthday to Mark - enjoy the remote island adventure and as always, looking forward to more stories.
Ciao, Christele

PS. I am a working cook! Got a job in a 5-star hotel and am quite excited by the prospect of long and sweaty hours :-)

by Christele

Patti and crew! I am loving reading your updates! I was remembering your excitement when you first were figuring out how to make this trip happen and now you are off having all these adventures! Love Chloe learning how to shoot a blow dart and Ciaran being your tea fiend. Look forward to more of your stories.

by Corinne

hi patti! i've been reading most of your posts & the trip sounds absolutely amazing. love reading about your experiences--& have been showing dh, too. hope all continues to go smoothly & that you all have a wonderful time!!

by Jessica

Sounds fabulous. We may cross paths. Not sure when you will be where. We are heading from Victoria, BC to Europe and India next summer. We have been to Vietnam and Chiang Mai and have great kid recommendations if you are interested. We are also going to India, Cambodia and Laos so will be very interested in your adventures, hotel choices, etc. Happy Trails Ryman family.

by Anne-marie

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