Road to the highlands

BOH Tea plantation at the Cameron Highlands

Getting out of Kuala Lumpur’s busy urban jungle is an affordable move if it involves a four-hour bus ride and a three-night stay in a backpacker’s lodge.

It was October and it was my fifth time to visit KL within a span of 10 months so I was looking for an alternative experience besides Malacca and Penang. The companion for the five-day Malaysia sojourn was the husband whomI dared to go on a five-day spontaneous, backpacking trip with me in a country with direct flights from Cebu.

He was free of work obligations while I was trying to make sense of what to do with the piles of work requirements needed for graduate school.

We found an airline that flies directly to Kuala Lumpur for a price of less than P8,000 round trip for the two of us, booked five days before the trip.

The destination I had in mind was Cameron Highlands (CH), situated 1,500 meters above sea level hence, the cooler climate, making it the escape destination for urban settlers; sort of a Tagaytay or Baguio in Philippine climate parlance.

Fresh produce at the KEA Farm market

It is also famed to be the location of an 8,000-acre tea plantation and the aspiring tea connoisseur in me wanted a glimpse of Malaysia’s tea culture.

From Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, it is easy to get to KL Sentral where it is convenient to catch KL’s myriad of transportation options.

The Hop On, Hop Off Bus has a stop at KL Sentral too. Bus ticket only costs less than P200 (RM 15) for a one-hour ride. Pick a hotel/lodge by KL Sentral, there is plenty to choose from.

I picked PODS: The Backpackers Home and Café and MyHotel for the affordable rates. To reach CH, you have two options: (1) take the KTM
Komuter Train or the KLIA Transit and stop at Bandar Tasik Selatan then walk across a pedestrian bridge to Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS); or (2) book a Grab Car from your KL Sentral hotel to TBS.

Fresh produce at the KEA Farm market

I suggest buying your KL to CH tickets in advance via Easy Book ( so all you have to do is arrive at the terminal and go to a special counter. They print out the tickets for you. Price is at P455 (RM 35).

Once you have your ticket, you only need to go to your assigned gate and wait for your bus to arrive.

TBS is a clean and modern bus terminal which is a million light years different from Cebu’s North and South Bus Terminals.

After a four-hour drive, we alighted in a small town called Tanah Rata, the jump-off point to CH.

The town has travel agencies, a wide range of accommodation options and the Travellers Pub and Bistro, which employs Chef Kabir, a man from Bangladesh who has since called Malaysia his home.

He made the best grilled lamb with a side of red bell pepper and some potatoes for my husband while I was having my fill on two bottles of beer, a luxury these days given that we had three mutant toddlers to take care of.

Tanah Rata is a foodie haven with Chinese, Malaysian, Thai and Western cuisine meet on a short strip by the town center. Street food is in abundance with deep fried chicken breast as my favorite. I counted three Thai massage places.

I settled on one with two Thai ladies, Apao and New, who told me that my sleeping position has a lot to do with my back pain.

Traditional Malaysian and Western breakfast is in abundance in Tanah Rata and that was exactly what we did before we went to C.S. Travel and Tours office for our 8:30 a.m. countryside tour of CH.

Fresh produce at the KEA Farm market

CH can be explored for an entire day or for four hours depending on your preference.

A basic six-hour tour is dirt cheap at P345 (RM 26.50) per person and allows you a visit to a farm market, tea plantation, strawberry farm, the honeybee stopover and butterfly farm.

Frankly, skip the bees, there is not much to see there. The good part about the butterfly farm are not the winged creatures; the snakes and the flowers are.

The KEA Farm Market was an eye treat being the most popular and biggest fruit and vegetable market in CH.

I would have loved to take home some of those potted plants but I had no plans of being a flora smuggler so I settled on pictures and learning a few words in Bahasa Malaysia.

The tea plantation is the highlight of this tour which includes a trip to the BOH Sungai Palas Tea Centre.

The writer and her
husband Jeff

It is a scenic route to the top despite the narrow and winding road.

Visit on a weekday and avoid the weekend and holiday crowd for maximum appreciation of the tea culture.

I bought several boxes and cans of tea which fortunately fit just fine – and without the extra weight – for my carry on backpack.

The following day, we went back to Kuala Lumpur and checked in the hotel with a dizzy husband who insisted that we skip the cooking class I previously scheduled, and just eat at the Outback Steakhouse in a mall called NU Sentral.

Right in front of huge cuts of porterhouse steak and rib eye, he made me promise that I will not torture him again with another four-hour bus ride.

I nodded, smiled.

No more four-hour bus rides, Babe. We’re moving forward to six, maybe eight.

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