Monday, May 20, 2013

Travel: Cameron Highlands, Malaysia (and The Story of A Tea Farmer)

We visited Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, early May of this year. It's a place I wanted to visit for its varieties of farms. I thought Elin might enjoy strawberry picking and we can escape the hot weather in Singapore and enjoy the cool weather there for a few days. 

Getting to Cameron Highlands from Singapore (and back)

On the way from Singapore to Cameron Highlands, we took a 9-hour bus ride using Konsortium. One way ticket costs about $60. It makes a total of four stops: Singapore immigration, Malaysia immigration, and two toilet stops. When we arrived in Cameron Highlands, the bus makes stops at various hotels, Tanah Rata, and Brinchang. It doesn't stop at all hotels, including the one that we stayed at (Cameron Highlands Resort). We got off at Brinchang instead and took a 5-minute taxi ride to our hotel. We chose to do this because the timing was just nice for us. It leaves Singapore at 10.30PM, about when Elin goes to sleep, and arrives in Cameron Highlands at 7.30AM the next day. If we had taken the plane, it would take us at least 5-6 hours door to door during the day and we didn't want to waste a day on the road because we were there for only three days. The bus was surprisingly very comfortable and the seats recline very far. I would do this again if we have to go there. On the way back, we flew using Firefly partly because the bus leaves Cameron Highlands at 10.30AM, which means we will be spending the day in the bus. Elin will be up most of the time and we cannot feed her in the bus. The flight is 1.5 hours long. We took a 1.5 hours bus ride from Tanah Rata to Ipoh, ate at a nearby restaurant, and a 20 minutes taxi ride to the airport to catch our mid-afternoon flight. The flight however was delayed. And so it took us more than 7 hours from the time we left our hotel to Changi airport. Not much difference than taking the bus but we still prefer the plane on the way back, because it allows us to grab lunch and feed Elin at our own pace and she can walk around the airport before we depart.

Places We Visited in Cameron Highlands

1. Strawberry Farms
- Big Red Strawberry Farms: This is the biggest strawberry farm there but we weren't allowed strawberry picking when we visited. There was no guide to show us around. We did try their strawberry with yogurt and honey there.
- Raju Hills Strawberry Farms: It's a small farm and only had three rows for picking strawberries. It's not worth going.
- Mountain Strawberry Farms: We like this the best. It's not crowded, in fact we were the only ones there and we were greeted by someone who became our guide while we picked our strawberries, tomatoes (the sweetest cherry tomatoes we tasted, unfortunately they are not organic and so are the strawberries), and showed us the vegetable farms. He also took these funny pictures for us.

2. Butterfly Farm
If you like butterflies, turtles, chicken, and insects, it's a fun place to go. We saw leaf frogs. They really look like leaves!

3. Tea Plantations
- BOH Tea Plantation: This is the biggest and (maybe) oldest tea plantation there. You can watch how tea leaves are processed and they have a nice cafe on top of the tea farm.
- Cameron Highlands Tea Plantation: It is smaller but nicer to take a picture.

 4. Ee Fung Bee Farm
We went here to see how bees make honey and bought some raw honey.

 5. Lavender Farm
It's called a lavender farm but there isn't much lavender products to buy. It's still nice for photo-taking.

6. Parit Falls, CHiMP Cameron Highlands Mountain Park
It's a small waterfall not far from our hotel that we decided to check out.

7. Time Travel Tunnel
This one is surprisingly good and worth every penny. We didn't know what to expect when our taxi driver suggested this place. But this place is a treasure. You can see all kinds of antiques that will remind you of the good old days.

8. KEA Farm
It's an open market where you can buy fruits, vegetables, and souvenirs. I call cameron highlands is a strawberry city because all their souvenirs are strawberry-themed. When I first saw it, it was cute - strawberry pillows, key chains, socks, hair accessories, clothes, bags, anything you name it. After seeing the hundredth souvenir store, I got a strawberry overload.

9. Brinchang Night Market
It's only open on weekend nights. It's fun to stroll along the market and try Cameron corns, apples, strawberries, and their savory, alas unhealthy, dishes.

I love the simple life of Cameron Highlands. My highlight of the trip though, is our encounter with a taxi driver who drove us around on our last day. He is a third generation Indian man who was born, raised, and now lives there with his family. He shared his life story that rebuked and humbled our hearts. His grandparents and parents moved from Chennai, India to Cameron Highlands and worked as tea farmers at BOH tea plantation. He knows everything about growing and harvesting tea leaves and knows too well about how tough working at the tea plantation is. It's the kind of work that used to be very labor intensive and requires very long hours, rain or shine. In fact, when we visited the plantation, it was raining very hard, and I could still see people on the field harvesting tea leaves. A typical worker will earn 10-15 ringgit (about $5) a day harvesting tea with their hands. That’s how much his grandparents and mother earned in the past. Now with the help of tea harvesting machine, a worker can earn roughly 50-80 ringgit a day, but requires two men to operate as it’s very heavy. 

As a child, our driver went to elementary school at the plantation where all the workers and their families lived. When he started secondary school, he had to walk two and a half hours each way to go to school in a neighboring town and he couldn't ride a bike because the hills were too steep. He would wake up at 5AM and get to school by 7.30AM and then he would walk home another 2.5 hours every school day. After he got his college education he decided to work as a mechanical engineer in Kuala Lumpur before going back home to Cameron Highland to take his parents out of the plantation and give them a better life. Then it hit me - how blessed my life is compared to many people but I still grumble and complain about little things. There are people out there who longs to study and go to school, who barely makes it through the day, who gets minimal wage and food just to survive, and many of us who are blessed with a good and comfortable life often take things for granted. Our parents have to force us to go to school, force us to eat healthy food, and we even put up an attitude for not being able to do whatever we want. It's a humbling reminder that I need to be thankful of the blessings God has given me and teach Elin the value of hard work and to have a heart of gratitudeHe will give us our daily bread (not more, not less, but enough).

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" - Matthew 6:26

So when you sip a cup of tea, remember to give thanks.


  1. amen! Thank you for sharing the lesson, sister!

  2. Thanks for sharing vic :)
    A reminder to be thankful everyday.

    Oh yaa. I think it is konsortium, not konsertium, if I am not wrong. I did their office renovation 3yrs ago. Hehe.

  3. How much did the taxi driver charge you for an overall day trip? Do you have his contact number? Thanks...

    1. Hi Sky, they charge hourly, about 30 ringgit per hour. I don't have his contact number, sorry.

    2. It's alright. Anyway, thanks for the info. Your blog is indeed very helpful especially in regards to the places of interest, concise and precise.

  4. Hi, could you please share details on how you returned to Singapore and it will also be great if you could share the average total expenses of the trip. We are a group of friends and would like to plan a weekend to CameronHighlands in October. Is it a good time to go there?


    1. Hi Ranjani,
      We flew back to Singapore using Firefly airline. I've not been there in October but it looks like rainy season in Oct. Expenses will depend on where you stay. Taxis are about 30 ringgit per hour. Food averages $10/person/meal in a regular restaurant if I remember correctly. I would say the cost of accommodation in Cameron Highlands is rather expensive, definitely more expensive than I thought.

  5. Hi I plan to fly to Ipoh & take some kind of transport (taxi, maybe) to Cameron Highlands. Feasible?
    I just cant imagine taking the 9 hr bus from Spore.

  6. Yes you can. Taxi or bus from ipoh.