The Cameron Highlands is a mountainous rural area in central Malaysia. As budget retired travelers, we also found it to be a cheap, comfortable, and shockingly beautiful place.
Brinchang, Tanah Rata, and Ringlet are the three towns nestled between 3,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level that comprise the Cameron Highlands. Access is via a single, steep, winding, two-lane thruway that makes for slow going. Although less than 100 miles from both the large Malaysian metropolises of Kuala Lumpur and Penang, the trip from either place takes about four hours by bus or car.
Despite the travel time, we would highly recommend anyone visiting Malaysia spend some time in this unique and historic place.
Tea Plantations – the big draw
The Cameron Highlands are named after geologist and surveyor William Gordon Cameron who mapped the high jungle area in 1885 during colonial British rule. Around 1930 road access became possible and the massive tea plantations – still the defining feature of the highlands – were developed.
In the 1930’s, well-to-do colonists and locals also began coming to the higher altitude cloud forest to escape the heat and humidity of the Malay lowlands and seashore. Indeed, the crisp, cool air and overnight chill was a delightful change for us.
Strawberries, flowers, produce are also grown and green houses (which can be toured) now cover large portions of the terraced farmland.
In fact, the combination of rag-tag green houses, decaying shopping plazas, and newer high-rise condominium complexes make the towns themselves visually unattractive. Heavy vehicle traffic, especially on weekends, adds to the ugliness.
But away from the main roads and tourist congestion, there are a handful of incredibly beautiful tea plantations that should not be missed.
Thousands of misty, hilly acres are covered with a green, patterned, tea shrub carpet — a sight only seen where perfect conditions and elevations allow in places like India, China, Sri Lanka, and Kenya.
Even better, visiting the plantations is completely free of charge (taxi or tour transport is around $10 from Tanah Rata).
They each offer brief, complimentary, factory tours and exhibits explaining their operations and histories. And of course, there are on-site cafes serving/selling their product. We had a lovely tea party including several varieties of tea and cakes for under $10 while taking in the views at the 6,000 acre BOH Tea estate.
A few other tips:
- Try to visit during the week.
- Visits from city dwellers can create hours-long traffic jams on weekends.There are several tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands. Our favorite was the BOH estate – located a bit further from the towns makes for fewer visitors.
- There are numerous picturesque and free hiking trails throughout the area.
- Be warned, some are long, difficult, slippery, and steep. Get info/maps locally.
- The Mossy Forest is another interesting Highlands attraction.
- It’s a unique ecosystem at even higher altitude. A new $7 foreign visitor fee has been enacted.
- Numerous comfortable daily buses are scheduled to/from Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
- Fares are $8 -$10 per person.
- Hotels, guesthouses, and Airbnb rentals abound in the Cameron Highlands.
- Typical rates range from $15 to $65 USD per night.
- See our ‘different’ accommodations here.
- We opted for a ‘shared’ apartment with private room and private bathroom.
- What it cost to live in Penang, Malaysia for 1 month
- Things to do in Penang on a budget
- Reasons to love Malaysia