I knew during my trip to Kuala Lumpur, I wanted to make time to visit at least one big place out of the city while I was here. Since I’m a big tea fan, naturally I planned to do a nice Cameron Highlands day tour to explore the area as efficiently as possible.
About midway through my trip, I decided to take the plunge and go to the highlands for two nights and one full day, as per my friend, Milou’s advice. It’s just a really lovely way to get out of the city’s humidity for a day or two. I decided to leave my laptop behind and travel with only my daypack so I could really try to disconnect.
What are the Cameron Highlands?
The Cameron Highlands (Tanah Tinggi Cameron in Malay) is about 200km or 4-5 hours north of Kuala Lumpur in the Pahang state and sits 2,600 ft – 5,259 ft above sea level. It’s made of eight mountains, with Mt. Batu Brinchang as the highest you can reach by car, and eight settlements, the main one being Tanah Rata. The local aborigines are known as the Orang Asli, though, like most of Malaysia, the population is a mix of Chinese, Bumiputeras, Malays, Indians, and more.
How we know of the area today is pretty much a colonial British creation.
The highlands get their name from William Cameron, who discovered the area in 1885 and promptly died about 2 weeks later. The land only started being developed after George Maxwell visited to see if it’d make a good resort in the 1920s, with construction beginning in the 1930s.
Today it’s known for its tea plantations and nature. Coupled with its cooler, more even temperatures, it’s a great way to relax in Malaysia.
Cameron Highland Tips
HOW LONG TO STAY
So, you can do an actual day trip to the highlands from Kuala Lumpur. This tour starts with a 7am pick-up at your hotel and ends with an 8pm drop off. However, you’re going to be on the bus for roughly 4-5 hours each way, so to me that just sounded kind of exhausting. You’d spend more time traveling than actually seeing the area!
Instead, I did one full day for a tour there and stayed two nights. If you really wanted to slow travel, you could probably spend another day or two, especially if you’re traveling Malaysia and headed towards Penang or Ipoh afterwards.
HOW TO GET TO THE CAMERON HIGHLANDS FROM KUALA LUMPUR
The absolute easiest way is to just book a bus! You can do it all on Easybook, and it should be about RM 35 (~$8.50 USD) each way. It’s the same price as if you book at the stations too — I checked.
On the way there, it took about 4 1/2 hours, and the last 19 miles of winding, uphill road took at least an hour of it! On the way back, it was only 3 hours. I used Uniti Express and CS Travel, and both were cushy, well air-conditioned, and comfortable. They each made one stop at bathrooms.
The buses leave from a few different stations in KL. I left from Terminal Bersepadu Selatan and came back to KL Sentral. Both were easy, cheap Grab rides to and from my Airbnb. The nice thing about KL Sentral is that it’s near Little India and Brickfields, so if you want some Indian food when you get back, you can walk right over. Also, for Bersepadu, just go to the 7-11 for snacks and things. The other place’s stuff was overpriced, and they didn’t offer nearly as much.
The main bus terminal for the Highlands is Tanah Rata Bus Terminal. Just an FYI, there weren’t really any convenience stores nearby, so if you’re the kind of person who wants to bring snacks on the bus, get them before you head over there.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Just an FYI, Grab doesn’t work in this region. If you need to get around and can’t by foot, you’ll have to use a taxi. Apparently, they’re more expensive here than, say, KL, but I didn’t take one, so I can’t be sure.
I also did see a sign advertising motorbikes, if you trust yourself enough to ride one along the very windy roads. The sign I saw was for RM 50 for 5 hours and RM 80 for 10 hours.
WHERE TO STAY
There are quite a few places to stay in the Cameron Highlands, mainly in the town of Tanah Rata. I’d recommend staying here and as close to the terminal as you can, so you avoid taking a taxi.
I stayed at The Cave House, which is set in an apartment complex about a 10-15 minute walk from the terminal. Just use Google Maps to guide you!
It’s a nice, budget-friendly place, and I only paid $29 USD for 2 nights in a private room, shared common area, and bathroom. Since I was also continuing to pay for my place in KL for those same two nights, I really didn’t want to spend too much for somewhere I was literally just sleeping! They have a free breakfast of toast and jam and tea and coffee, and there’s a filter to refill your water bottle. It’s also near some restaurants if you’re hungry, but I wasn’t, so I skipped dinner while I was there.
It is in an apartment complex, and sound carries a lot, especially if you keep the windows open like I did. Who knew small children could run around outside at all hours of the night and still have energy? If you’re a light sleeper, bring ear plugs.
If you can splurge a bit, I’d try the Cameron Highlands Resort, which is uber luxurious. Or, on the opposite end, if you’re on even more of a budget than me, try Traveller Bunker Hostel 1, which is only an 8-minute walk from the terminal.
There are also some Airbnb options if you want to set up shop here for more than a few days. If I was properly traveling through Malaysia and needed somewhere quiet to work, this is probably what I’d do. This apartment is in Brinchang, which is where the main attractions are, and pretty inexpensive while still being spacious and cute.
WHAT TO WEAR & THE WEATHER
The highlands were a LOT cooler than Kuala Lumpur, which was lovely since KL was going through a heatwave. My room didn’t even have A/C in it because the temperature is so regularly cool.
If you get cold easily, then I’d probably wear loose pants and a comfortable top, like my go-to UNIQLO lounge pants. It also can get rainy, so if you’re worried, bring a light rain coat as well. I just wore jean shorts, short sleeved shirts, and black Nike sneakers. If I’d realized I’d be trekking like I did, I would have brought my hiking sneakers on this trip, but my Nike ones were fine.
Guys, I kept track this time! Since it was such a short trip, and I didn’t spend much, it was easy to remember:
- Bus to and from KL – RM 70
- 2 nights hostel – RM 120
- 1 day tour – RM 90
- Lunch – RM 15 (or less can’t remember exact)
- Cake & Iced Tea – RM 20 (or less)
- Tea Souvenirs – RM 90
Total: RM 405 (~$99 USD)
Not too shabby for a big day, fairly touristy day trip! If you really wanted to make this cheaper, skip the tea souvenirs and get an even cheaper hostel. Obviously, if you do get hungry, you’ll want to add about RM 30 more for two dinners.
My Cameron Highlands Day Tour
I booked my day tour through the Cave House, and it wound up being with Eco Cameron Tours. You can shop around in Tanah Rata if you want to compare prices, but mine was RM 90 (~$22 USD) for the day, which seemed fair enough for me. Our tour wound up being a teensy bit different, so here’s what you’ll probably wind up doing if you do the same tour as I did with them.
8:45 AM – PICK-UP
My guide, Hema, picked me up right in front of my guesthouse. There were a total of six people in our group, and I was the second stop. They use a manual jeep, which is a pretty fun ride on the roads.
9:15 AM – MOSSY FOREST
Instead of taking us to the normal walk in the Mossy Forest, Hema took us trekking. He asked us if we’d prefer to the normal walkway, which now costs RM 30, or if we’d like to go trekking on Eco Cameron’s private trail nearby. We decided to do the trekking.
Guys, I WAS NOT PREPARED. In my head, I didn’t think it’d be such an uphill trek, but it was. I almost wore my Birkenstocks for this trip. Can you imagine what a mess that would have been? It was pretty muddy because of the recent rain, and the pathways are literally just dirt.
We did get the whole thing to ourselves, and the view from the top was amazing. Just make sure you’re not wearing white (like me…) and be prepared to get quite dirty and sweaty. My backpack had mud at the bottom, I fell into a hole, so my one leg was dirty, and, of course, my hands were constantly dirty from balancing myself and jumping up or down things. Luckily one of the girls on the trip share her wet wipes with us, but I was still picking dirt from under my nails later in the day.
11:00 AM – BOH TEA PLANTATION LOOKOUT
Once we finished our hike, we went over to the real selling point of the whole area — Boh Tea Plantation! First we stopped by the famous lookout point while Hema told us a bit about the area:
- It was started by a Scottish family in 1929, and the granddaughter still runs them now
- BOH just means “Best of Highlands” or “Beauty of Highlands” LOL
- They ONLY produce black tea
- 85% of the workers are women
- It’s not very high, about 1,500 above sea level
- 95% of the tea goes to Malaysia and only 5% is exported to nearby countries
11:30 AM – BOH TEA PLANTATION
We then had about an hour to enjoy the plantation, including doing a tour to see how the leaves are made, enjoy the crowded cafe, and buy some tea for ourselves. I didn’t wind up doing a factory tour, but I enjoyed the views with carrot cake and peach iced tea, and then got two different kinds of tea to bring home with me.
In retrospect, this and maybe the hike were my favorite parts of the day. So if I didn’t want to do a tour next time, I’d just get a taxi or figure out a way to come to the plantation and stick around longer.
1:00 PM – BUTTERFLY GARDEN — DO NOT RECOMMEND
UGH. I didn’t even think about this place not being very animal-friendly because I didn’t even really think about going when I glanced at the itinerary. I think all day tours go here, which is really sad because it sucks. Like in my notes, I literally wrote “Sad, horrible place.” It’s not a conservation, it’s just… idk. If you’re on your own, DON’T GO, and if you’re on a tour, just tell them you’re not interested in going in. Maybe if your whole group is disinterested, you can stay longer at the tea plantation or head to your next stops.
Not only are there butterflies, there are other animals and insects held in cages, some of them obviously too small. If Wild Florida was a place where the animals were beyond loved, this was the EXACT opposite. There’s no one in there watching them and making sure bratty kids aren’t constantly trying to touch the butterflies, and it just looks miserable. I finally left when I snapped at a 3-year-old kid for kicking a cat while his stupid parents said nothing. I tried seeing if the cat was ok, but, rightfully so, that guy jetted off away from humans.
Dear all Cameron Highlands day tours, especially Eco Cameron, STOP INCLUDING THIS IN YOUR ITINERARY.
1:30 PM – LUNCH AT RESTORAN YAO YAT
After the gardens, we went to lunch at Restoran Yao Yat, which was… okay. I was still upset over the Butterfly Garden and the cat kicking, so I wasn’t exactly hungry. I got the Nasi Lemak and ate maybe a few bites of the chicken and some rice because I mixed in the sauce and realized I didn’t really like it. There were also flies everywhere, and we spent half our time swatting them away.
2:30 PM – LOCAL MARKET
We then had some time to wander around the local market. I got handmade green tea ice cream, which was pretty delicious, and just enjoyed the cooler air and peeking into the different stalls.
3:15 PM – RAJU’S HILL STRAWBERRY FARM
Near the market is Raju’s Hill Strawberry Farm. You can tell where it is by the rainbow colored stairs leading up. There Hema told us about the Cameron Highlands and strawberries before we tried some organic jam and juice. Big fan of that strawberry juice (no added sugar).
3:40 PM – TIME TUNNEL MUSEUM
This is such a fun little area that feels more like wandering through a cool thrift shop! It takes you back through the highland’s history from the Orang Asli to how it became known for its tea and more. There are a bunch of retro set-ups from the 50s and 60s as well. You can walk through the whole place in probably 20 minutes or less.
4:05 PM – SAM POH TEMPLE
Our last stop (and right before the rain hit) was Sam Poh Temple, a large, colorful Buddhist temple. There’s not much to see once you’re inside, so it really isn’t a long stop at all.
4:30 PM – BACK TO OUR HOTELS
We were then dropped off at our respective hotels! I immediately took a shower and shoved all my dirty clothes away before spending the rest of the evening reading and texting with friends. All in all, a peaceful end to an adventurous day!