Cameron Highlands
Of water woes and traffic jams

My Church, Grace USJ organized a church camp to Cameron Highlands in June. Little did we know that it was the height of peak tourist season. I have heard about the situation that was faced by tourist from the newspaper that I read. But never knew that I would experience both first hand till now.

Cameron Highlands is a popular travel destination for both Malaysians and Singaporeans. Of course there are other highlands in Malaysia like Genting Highlands, Fraser's Hill, and Bukit Larut as well as East Malaysia mountainous highlands. But Cameron Highlands is the most accessible by road for West Malaysians and Singaporeans if compared against East Malaysia, and has more things to do in comparison with Fraser's Hill and Bukit Larut, and not at all artificial like Genting's theme park style and you won't lose your shirt too because there is no casino here either.

Cameron Highlands is good place for relaxing, and the climate is cool and not too cold like Genting. It has just the nice blend of activities and R&R.

However, its popularity seems to be its own downfall too. It is now one of the people's favourite destinations to go whenever there is school holiday or long weekend break.

So guess what happens when the authorities do not take into account of the higher influx of tourist coupled with poor township planning? You got it! A nightmare which the visitors have to endure culminating into massive traffic jam and water shortage woes.

 Tanah Rata traffic was a heavier than usual with the heavy traffic direction to Brinchang. The heavier traffic was caused by the Brinchang night market.

Grace USJ Church could not organize it on off peak periods because they have to take into account of school going children and working adults. In order to accommodate the congregation convenience the school holiday and long weekend was chosen. It was a four day church camp retreat stretching from Friday to Monday over the weekend with the King's Birthday as a public holiday on Saturday. The church camp was designed with very simple programs with the main aim for a relaxation retreat and fellowship among church members.

Lena and I left for Camerons on a late Friday afternoon as we did not want to rush all the way up in the early morning, though most of the church members had left early in the morning as they want to enjoy the highlands much earlier. It was good decision because we were forewarned by the early birds that the Greenhill Apartment we will stay was having water shortage problems. So before we left we dropped by Tesco to buy some provisions and bought five big 5-litres bottles to take up with us. We needed lots of water because we will be making our own steamboat dinner.

Our journey was rather smooth hampered only by some heavy showers during the journey on the Plus North-South Expressway. The rain was left behind us as we passed by Simpang Pulai toll and made our journey using the new way to Cameron Highlands. We reached Greenhill Apartment without much of an incident though the traffic slowed somewhat while passing by Kea Farm, Multicrops Central Market (Arked Pelandang) and Brinchang's Night Market. I also noticed there are several new shops/markets set up along the main trunk road from Tingkap to Brinchang. We had to slow down while passing through these areas as there are many cars parked at the road side, but since they are newer they didn't cause as much traffic congestion as the bigger, better known markets.

We arrived Greenhill Apartments and checked in the apartment room allocated to us. In order to bring down the cost, each family couple occupied one room in the apartment with family with children taking up the master bedroom. First thing first, was to test the bathroom and kitchen tap, and as forewarned, the main tap was dry. But there was still some water flowing from the main bathroom as the water came from the water tank. The second bathroom faucet on the other hand trickles in very slowly but it was better than nothing.

The next day after our day activities, we organized ourselves to prepare a steamboat dinner. Since the apartment was small, it was arranged into several groups where a few apartments will join in to form one group to have steamboat together. We prepared several portable stoves which we brought up just for this occasion and fire up the stoves with pots of goodies in it. It was a flurry of activities as we prepared the ingredients. Sometimes calling up other groups to request for ingredients that was somehow forgotten to bring up and running to and fro to give and collect it. Despite the water shortage we somehow managed to prepare the fresh vegetables that bought from Kea Farm in the morning and cook our steamboat.

With some time to spare before dinner proper, I went for a quick walk around Tanah Rata. While taking some photos and videos around town for my website, I spotted a Malay stall making sate which smelt great and looked yummy and bought about 50 sticks for the steamboat party.

Some church members due to work commitment or their children who needed to attend some school activities came up on Saturday instead. Though they escaped from having to prepare the steamboat and just join in for dinner when they arrived, unfortunately they face a bigger challenge. Their journey up from Simpang Pulai town was smooth enough till they hit the Kampung Raja / Kuala Terla town. That's when they face a long and tortuous 3+ hour traffic jam just to reach Tanah Rata. Recounting their experience, the traffic was worse when they have to get through the markets and shops because cars will slow down to look for a parking space. In addition, each market seems to draw hoards of tourist with cars and tourist buses parking helter-skelter all around contributing to the chaos.

We decided to do our washing there and then when the JBA was happened to refill the black fiber glass water tank.

After the dinner, we decided to wash up later as there was not enough water and we wanted to reserve the drinking water. Though there was water in the main bathroom we wanted to keep that for taking our bath. Fortunately we used many disposable plates and utensil and only the cooking pots, some plates and utensils needed washing. Outside the apartment, the management has prepared a large black fibre glass tank with water which we could retrieve water for washing. It was quite a bit of work as we recycled our empty 5 liter bottles to collect the water from the water tank and carry it back to the apartment. The queue was longest during dinner time as people needed the water for washing up.

The water tank was refilled by JBA in the morning on a regular basis. One morning we happen to bump into them while they were refilling the water tank. They inform us that the main pipe linking to Green Hill was burst and that they should have it repaired by nightfall. I think this explanation was just a load of rubbish just to hide the fact that JBA could not cope with higher that usual water usage during the peak tourist season because the water shortage phenomenon is recurring on a regular basis.

The afternoons was scheduled with teachings and learning, but with a light rain falling outside the apartment we could not go anywhere anyway. It was good time to snooze too and I caught myself dozing off with some of the lectures! Shhh…, don't tell! While the nights was spent with church members gathering together socializing and playing Taboo card games and solving riddles. This game was getting very popular especially with the Light and Easy radio channel playing this game in the early morning, they changed the name and gave a 15 seconds guessing time and does not have restricted words rule unlike the Taboo card game. With a light rain, a cool breeze blowing it into the apartment and friends all around, it felt great despite the negative experience of water shortage and traffic jam.

Where there is one, two or more gathered, so would the Holy Spirit! Here we have our Sunday Church Service with grey open skies and muddy earth (having rained the night before).

On Sunday we had a morning service which we held it on the grass compound of the apartment. It was an interesting experience because we had church service in the open. I lead the praise and worship with just a guitar without the backing of a full band of drums, bass, piano and synthesizer keyboard. Just call it praise worship unplug version! There were some curious onlookers but hey, we had fun praising and worshipping God in the open!

After the service, my apartment group decided to visit a tea plantation. Our initial idea was to go to the new Boh Tea Centre in Sungai Palas. But one of church member who went to Kea Farm earlier reported that Brinchang all the way to Kea Farm was jam packed and the traffic police was disallowing people to enter Sungai Palas road because there were just too many people!

Oh, well second choice then, to Boh Tea Plantation in Fairlie estate near Habu town. Travelling down from Tanah Rata was a breeze though there was a slight congestion at the Bharat Shalimar Tea House with cars and buses parking along the road. Upon reaching Habu we turn left into the small road heading in to Boh Tea Plantation. Frankie, who was tagging along in his car was running low on fuel with his petrol light indicator blinking away, and I had to advise him to travel further down to Ringlet to pump up as it was meaningless to go to Brinchang to fill up the car tank. Ringlet was not very far from Habu and it took him about ten minutes drive to get there.

It did left me thinking that perhaps during a super peak season, the better route to use going Cameron Highlands was to use the old way. Why? Though the road is winding and not as wide and easy to drive as the new route, you will not face the frustration of getting stuck in a 3+ hour traffic congestion. There are less popular markets and shops along the road, maybe a little slow over at Bharat Shalimar Tea Shop but overall reaching Tanah Rata should be a breeze. Of course if you book your accommodation at Equatorial Hotel you still have to face the heavier traffic at Brinchang and Kea Farm.

The harvester tracktor was blocking the way. Traffic was heavy and we had to wait while they finish loading up before they moved one side to let the cars pass.

The drive up the narrow winding plantation road to Boh Tea Shop was a little slow going with many cars on the way there too. The less skillful drivers really drove excruciatingly slow and many a times we have to move to one side to allow oncoming traffic to pass through. Arriving at the Tea Shop, parking was another issue, though with many people coming and going, we didn't have to wait very long for a parking space.

We enjoy our time at the Tea House and the children decided to climb up the hill lookout point next to the factory and enjoy the panoramic view of the tea plantation. The Boh factory here was running unlike the one at Sungai Palas, and I took the opportunity to go in to take some pictures and videos.

While the rest of them decided to enjoy themselves with a cup of tea at Tea House. Alice, who sat along in my car was feeling under the weather. It seems she could not stand the winding road as she got motion sickness. I guess some people are more sensitive to winding roads, because later after returning to Tanah Rata she threw up in my car! It was very, very fortunate that Lena passed her a plastic bag in anticipation from Alice's nauseous condition.

Finally on Monday, our church camp was over and we packed bags for our return journey home. Most tourists have gone back on Sunday, so the traffic on Monday was ease off a little. However, there was still some traffic congestion from Brinchang to Kea Farm with the worse stretch from Brinchang to Multicrops Central Market. But we didn't have to suffer too much. We used this way because Lena and some church members wanted to buy some vegetables, especially that dual coloured sweet corn which tastes really great. It seems there are 3 grades available, and the farmers labeled it grade A, B and C. The A grade was really expensive! Three pieces cost RM10 and taste the best while B grade was about RM10 per 4 to 5 pieces while C grade was smaller in size and cost about RM10 per 6 to 8 pieces. After the marketing we headed back down to good old Kuala Lumpur.

My cell group was pretty jovial for this church camp outing. After all, we have endured much worse condition during our Sabah Borneo Mission Trip and this was rather minor in comparison. Of course with good company cheering each other up, the trip was not just tolerable but I would dare say it ended up pretty well too. However, such water shortages and traffic congestion does not bode well for Cameron Highlands and leave quite a negative impression. Serah, who hails from Thailand, had a very negative view about Cameron Highlands after having experience all this inconveniences and this was her first trip to this highland. If I had not been here so many times already, I would probably feel the same and there would not be this travel destinations website set up just for it. Just let it be known this rule: if one person has a good experience, he will tell it to one person, but if one person had a bad experience, he will tell it to ten persons! So authorities do take note! And you call this Visit Malaysia Year 2007?


Posted on 14-June-2007

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