The hills are alive
with the sound of music
The roadtrip around Malaysia continues south with a quick stop in Ipoh, one of the largest cities in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur. Once home to a thriving tin mining industry, Ipoh has since shifted to become a self-designated hipster city. It's essentially the Portland of Malaysia! The downtown is small and walkable so I put together a quick self-guided tour as we stopped for lunch. We began at the train station, an architecturally significant combination of European and Arabic style, down concubine lane, an alley once home to the mistresses of Chinese businessmen but now filled with cute little clothing stores and popsicle shops, into a Chinese market for lunch, and a stop for lemon iced tea at Plan B, a textbook hipster "old building turned collection of boutiques and pour-over coffee" spot.
From Ipoh, it's a fairly short drive through winding roads with stunning dramatic views of valleys lined with sloping plantations. The insane heat from Ipoh and the coast faded away into the mountain mist to yield cool, mild temperatures (finally!!). We passed by a variety of farms, mostly growing strawberries, until we got to the largest town in the highlands, Tanah Rawa.
The best thing to do in the highlands is get outside- there are about fifteen jungle treks you can either do yourself or with a guide, you can pick your own berries or visit a bee farm, and there are many tea plantations to see. We got a little taste of everything, starting with the jungle trek. The road getting there was so small and unevenly paved, it reminded me of my dad trying to drive in Ireland! We're in a small car with almost no horsepower and had to choose between hitting an oncoming car or going off the road into a valley- not great choices! We made it to the start of Jungle Trail #1 and were greeted by the sweetest cat that snuggled our feet and climbed up on me to be pet. It was the first time I seriously considered taking a cat home, but I don't think he would have liked to continue traveling with us. The trail in the jungle was not well-marked at all and we were pretty much left to guess which way was less overgrown and try to find our way to the top. After an hour of trekking, with Dain swatting away spider webs with a stick I found for him, we gave up and turned around once we looked on our phone and saw we were going to complete opposite way that the hike was supposed to take us. At least it was good exercise!
The best part of the trip was driving through the tea plantations. The landscape is exquisitely stunning, the perfect mix of rampant nature and neat little bushes of all varieties of tea. We drove through the more rural and removed BOH tea plantation while it was sunny; around every turn was a new view deserving of a new picture.
Next we stopped at Cameron Valley Tea Plantation to grab some delicious, subtle, and well-balanced chai tea and scones, but more importantly to wander the simply stunning grounds.
I could not get enough of the green speckled hillsides, the fresh scones accompanying delicious teas of all kinds, the south Indian curries, or the fresh fruit. The Cameron Highlands are a precious jewel in the magnificent, underrecognized crown that is Malaysia.