Alvin's Family Vacation
trip to Cameron Highlands

Alvin wrote to me about his family trip to Cameron Highlands. It's was like a first trip of sorts as he had not been there since he was a child. He wanted a break and thought about Cameron Highlands, searched the web for some info and chance upon my website. Submitted some question in the comment form and we ended up having several long email correspondences. And I found a new friend too. At first he didn't feel like writing, so I thought I would ghost write for him, in the end he decided to write his trip account. And would you imagine that? He wrote a long 3000 words story and thoroughly enjoyed writing it! Oh, wow. Well without much adieu, I'll let him tell you his vacation trip in his own words. Lots of tips in this piece too. So grab a scone or roti bakar (which seems to be the craze nowadays), coffee or tea, sit back and enjoy your read!

It all started in Mid June when I was thinking of taking a little vacation with my family, which was long overdue. Genting Highlands came to mind as it was really the easiest thing to do. But i realised that there were no longer apartments available in Genting. I did not want to stay in hotel rooms with my family as we enjoy cooking and hanging out together in a hall area.

But wait, isn't there another rather famous Highlands area in Malaysia? Yup, Cameron Highlands sprung to mind (Of course, there are many more but you know what I mean. Trying to be a little dramatic here). I had no recollection or memories of CH whatsoever. I was 10 years old the last time I was there and it was via a school trip. We didn't even go anywhere coz we were lacking behind in schedule due to a bus breakdown.

I started searching online for information and came to Jan's website, which was by far the most helpful one in terms of tips and info. I planned some of the places that we wanted to visit beforehand. The places on the itinerary was T-Cafe, Highlands Restaurant for food, Sg Palas plantation, Ee Feng Gu, Butterfly Farm, Kea Farm, Strawberry Farm and the rest of the time would be spent lazing around in the apartment. We immediately decided that we were gonna stay in an apartment, and not the serviced apartment types but the private ones. Firstly, for it being much more affordable and secondly, that we were allowed to cook. It was a tough choice between Desa Anthurium and Puncak Arabella. Desa Anthurium had a balcony and has a much nicer looking facade but it was facing a hill. Puncak Arabella did not have a balcony and looked rather cheap from the exterior but had a fantastic view compared to Desa Anthurium. We finally decided on Puncak Arabella. We contacted Mr Subramaniam and his son Mr Suresh and decided to book their apt which was located on the 2nd Floor and has a great view. They were really nice people and gave us a special rate because we were staying for 2 nights. The first lady (don't want to mention names) that we contacted was rather cocky and it turned us off quite a bit. More on the apartment later.

We travelled quite lightly as i did not even bother to pack a single long pants or shoes. We did bring some food though. Some canned foods, titbits and meats. Everyone was really excited; it was the first time for basically everyone! My two and a half year old son was chanting Cameron Highlands for the last 2 days before we left. He couldn't wait! Honestly, I felt the same.

On the 21st of June, we departed at 6am in the morning from Johor Bahru. Everybody had to wake up early. My maid prepared sandwiches for breakfast in the car. It was too early and everyone decided that it will be fun to have breakfast in the car and it will save us some time and reach CH earlier. We decided to take the Tapah route and everything was pretty straightforward. We practically did not stop, besides some restroom stops and cigarette breaks. The winding road was mildly challenging but i guess we were lucky to not have met with too many heavy vehicles. I could only imagine, after reading other reviews, how horrific the ride would be during peak seasons, with many cars, buses, lorries and worse, traffic jams!

Our ride was however, smooth and we reached Tanah Rata at about 1pm. Everyone was hungry and we decided to head for lunch before checking into the apartment. I immediately checked my notes, compiled and printed mostly from Jan's website for T-Cafe and we found it with ease. It was a Monday and I was still surprised at how difficult it is to find parking. I had read that Brinchang is the place with scarcity of parking spaces but it seems to be the same even in Tanah Rata. We still parked nicely in front of Marrybrown, although on the opposite of the road. We ordered Claypot Chicken Rice, Fried Rice, Mango Lassi (which is oddly not cold), Strawberry Milk Shake, Scones and Apple Pie. My son loved the Apple Pie but it was not well received by the rest of us. My dad loved the tea and could immediately tell the difference between those back home (I don't know, perhaps its all in the head?). My wife enjoyed the scones and her Strawberry Milk shake. The rest was just very ordinary.

Mr Subramaniam (apartment owner) wanted to meet us in front of T-Cafe to guide us to the apartment but it was starting to rain and we didn't want to bother him. So we decided to find the apartment ourselves. I was confident as I had a map with me and I thought I was invincible with it. I was showing off to my parents that i knew all this places before I had even arrived (Yeah, I know...typical of men!). We were already so close to the apartment. All we needed to do was to turn into the Bus Terminal. Instead I went straight and almost went to Brinchang. Luckily I made a detour after seeing Bala's Chalet and realised I am on the wrong way. Checked the map again and reached Puncak Arabella, where Mr Subramaniam was waiting for us. He was very friendly and repeatedly told us to call him if we needed anything. Perhaps it was because my mum could speak Tamil (she's half Indian herself) and they were having a blast.

The apartment was great. Much better than I expected. Definitely worth staying. I give it a 8/10. Only drawback was a not so comfortable sofa and a kettle that exploded on me. Yes, the kettle exploded when we tried to boil water. No one was hurt. We called him to let him know about it and he was extremely apologetic. Wanted to immediately replaced it but we said it was ok. We could boil water with other equipments and drinking water can be easily bought at an R.O water dispenser at RM0.10 per 500ml. Back to the apartment. It was very clean and there were many extra mattresses. The place could easily accommodate 6 of us with extra room to spare. It is complete with all cooking utensils and fridge. The view was great too.

We unpacked a bit and since it was still early, we set off to explore Cameron Highlands. The day was supposed to be relaxing and easy. We did not plan to do much on the day we arrive. Just drive along Tanah Rata and Brinchang all the way to Kea Farm and then turn back, marking the places we were gonna visit the next day. Of course, I also wanted to locate Highlands Restaurant for dinner later. So I followed Jan's directions and indeed found the place. It was raining all this time. Besides making driving a little more difficult, it didn't affect us much. We came back for rest and came out shortly after for dinner at Highlands Restaurant. I told my parents about the charcoal style and they were eager to try it too. We reached at 6.30pm and we were the only one. Until we left, there were only another couple besides us. Once again, this was on a Monday. Well, I didn't find the food to be too tasty. I guess I expected much more from such a highly touted restaurant. But it was a great experience having charcoal style steamboat at such a cooling weather. Let me remind you that it was raining. I did not even break a sweat. The vegetables tasted great but i guess that was to be expected. The portion of meat was slightly lacking in my opinion but vegetables were abundant. Overall, satisfactory.

We went back and I was hungry by 9pm. At the Kea Farm area, I bought some corn and cooked it at the apt as I like it hot. The corn was absolutely heavenly. One of the best corn I've had in my life! A must buy in CH!! Had some snacks with alcohol. Chatted away and went to bed before 1am.

The next morning, we had breakfast at another recommended restaurant, Restaurant No.14. Food was good and price was reasonable, just like Jan recommended. We tried their Thosai with chutney. We were quite worried as weather forecasts showed thunderstorms on both Monday and Tuesday and it came true for Monday. We went ahead with our plans anyway and it was clear skies the whole day. Praise The Lord!

Our first stop was to Sg Palas Boh Plantation. The place was beautiful but dangerous and difficult to travel. It was a Tuesday and naturally, there weren't many cars. A good portion of the road can only accommodate one vehicle at a time and is rather winding. We reached the place pretty smoothly but again, I cannot imagine using that road during peak season. Visitors are supposed to park their cars 200-300meters below the Tea Centre. My mum has weak legs and we saw many cars ignoring the sign and driving up. Me, my wife, son and maid decided to walk and I told my dad to drive my mum up and if anyone were to stop you, tell them that you are senior citizens and can't walk uphill. My dad is a retired police officer. He knows how to use his words so i wasn't worried. I actually enjoyed walking up the tea centre and so did many people.

There were artists drawing the scenery and other parents walking their children up and downhill along the way. When I reached the top, i was impressed by how nice the Tea Centre looked. There were big groups of tourists and the cafe at the Tea Centre was packed. This was when i realised that EVERYONE ignored the sign and drove up. The place was full of cars. The whole place smells of carbon monoxide. Thank God I did not make my mum climb uphill. My son met an English (I think!) tourist in a chicken suit and took pictures with him. I have no idea why he is dressed like a chicken. I did not ask. We went briefly inside the factory, bought some tea (Palas Supreme and Bukit Cheeding No.53 - according to the salesgirl, is the best tea at Boh and not available elsewhere), took some pictures and left. Couldn't stand the smell of the place. What a pity. It was a beautiful place.

Now, I'm going to ignore the flow of this experience and directly skip to the part that I hate the most about CH. I absolutely cannot stand the air pollution. Everywhere you go, you smell smog. You can be driving and when you wind down your windows, you smell smog from the vehicle in front or at the back of you. I went on weekdays and it happened to me each time i rolled down the windows, without fail. You can be eating at Tanah Rata or Brinchang and smell smog from almost every vehicle that passes you by. Even at the Kea Farm area, where I was walking while waiting for the ladies to finish shopping, I was not spared by the smog. I did not even get one breath of fresh air. The only time when the air was free from smog was when we were at the apartment, where it was up on a hill. Absolutely ridiculous!

Ok, back to the trip. We actually wanted to visit the more "famous" strawberry farms like Raju Hill, Kasimanis, Big Red, EQ etc. but on our way to Sg Palas Tea Centre, we passed by a signboard to Mountain Strawberry Farm. So on our way out of Sg Palas, we followed the signboard to Mountain Strawberry Farm as we wanted to be adventurous. It is actually the road to Gunung Brinchang and is very narrow and winding. It took us quite a while to reach and we almost regretted our choice until we reached the place and it looked quite ok. Well, at least we had the place all to ourselves. Although, there were 3 young ladies that were about to leave when we arrived. We would see these 3 ladies later in the day and also the next day.

We were received by the leader there, which is a Bangladeshi worker that can speak decent Malay and English. I was told that there are 4 Bangladeshi workers there but I could only see two. I tried to bargain the price for strawberries as my son loves them and I knew I was being fleeced because they cost exactly the same as strawberries in JB's supermarkets; one kilogram for RM 30. From information gathered on the web, I realised that this is the price more or less all around CH but I wanted to try my luck. He promised 200grams free with every 1kilograms purchased. I agreed.

I knew how to handle Bangladeshis quite well so when he solicited a tip from me, I gave him RM 10, offered him a cigarette and spoke a bit of his mother tongue to him. He immediately transformed from Clark Kent to Superman and gave us VVIP treatment. He brought my father to the vegetable farm behind to pick fresh produce. Chatted with my mum while we picked strawberries and gave my mum the all-you-can-eat strawberry buffet. He took photos for us and made 3 glasses of strawberry juices for the price of two. Gave us discounts for fresh jams and brought my son to the so called "petting zoo" that they have. Wow, it's like they really, really want us to come back! Oh, I was also told that this is the highest strawberry farm in the whole of CH and they will be constructing better road passages to the farm in the near future.

We were very satisfied when we left. Our next stop was Ee Feng Gu. Again, recommended by Jan's site. It was exactly opposite the entrance/exit of Sg Palas. The people there are very friendly. They would suggest that we visit their bee farm before making any purchases. Strangely, they told us to beware of the Middle Eastern tourist that was there. We didn't really understand their meaning so I replied that my size was not small either so I'm not scared of them. We both laughed. We only spent a little while at the bee farm as I was worried that my son would get stung. I love honey so I went to buy some. The price was exorbitant; RM 45 for 1kg! It doesn't matter how much I buy, I would not get a discount. I know quite a bit about honey and I know you can get much cheaper than that for pure honey. They claim that their bees eat good stuff and that pure honey from outside eat inferior stuff. Regardless of whether that is true, I bought 2kgs just to try it out.

My son really wanted to see the Butterfly garden but the rest of us didn't so my wife brought him inside while my parents and I went walking and shopping around. From the website, if I recall correctly, the charges are RM1.50 for children and RM3.00 for adults but I was charged RM 5 for adult and RM 2 for children, which in my opinion was rather high.

We were all hungry by 2.30pm since we had lots of free strawberries to eat and drink earlier. We went to T-Cafe again and ordered more or less the same except this time; we ordered more scones and also the strawberry fruity scones that T-Cafe claims to be the only one in CH. I like the scones....Yum....Yum.

My son was starting to get restless so we went back to rest. We've already decided that we would spend the rest of the day indoors. After sleeping for a while, I woke up and started preparing dinner, which was steamboat using a rice cooker. We had a variety of meatballs that we brought (prawn, crab, sotong, fish, beef, and, that's a lot of balls!), vegetables that we bought in the morning, eggs, beehoon, and some mushrooms. We used a bak kut teh soup base with lotsa garlic cloves and soy sauce. The result was surprisingly magnificent! Of course, there was the star of the night, a 1 litre bottle of Chivas Regal 12yr old: perfect ingredients to a cooling Highlands night. Took a couple of crazy (but not R rated) pictures under the influence of alcohol and must have went to bed at well past 2am.

I woke up the next morning with a bit of a hangover. I wanted to go to Restaurant No.14 again but no seats outside. We didn't want to sit inside so we went to another restaurant to the right side of Restaurant No.14. I couldn't remember the name. Thosai was not as good as No.14 and so was the teh tarik. We had already left the keys at the apartment and so we decided to start heading home. We left at about 12pm using the Simpang Pulai route just for the heck of it. The trip was fun. I'm glad we made it. My whole family enjoyed it. We hope to make another trip soon.

Alvin Yap.

Photos courtesy of Alvin Yap.

Posted on 01-Aug-2008

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