76 – First taste of jungle in Cameron Highlands

January 16 -19

When in Malaysia, Cameron Highlands are not to be missed. Even if you don’t trek, you can visit tea plantations, stuff your face with local strawberries, play golf, or generally just chill in a nicer and cooler climate compared to the rest of the country. Located in about 1700m altitude, the temperature reaches very pleasant high twenties during the day, it’s still humid, but not terribly torrid like elsewhere.

Gunung Perdah

Trekking, however, is what most people come to do here. There are no breathtaking views or spectacular panoramas, but it’s fun nonetheless. There are about 14 jungle trails nowadays, established in the 1960 by the english military as patrolling paths, to guard the region against communists and other pests. With a third of the paths now closed or destroyed (notably trail no 1 and 2 in the mossy forest above the BOH tea plantation) or reportedly dodgy (the trail no 9 that goes further down from Robinson’s Waterfall has bad reputation), I don’t need more than two days to hike the two remaining circuits that are of any interest. Day 1: trail no 10 to the peak of Gunung Perdah, and trail no 12 back to the village (the trail ends at the local power station). On day 2 it’s trail no 8 from Robinson Waterfalls to the peak of Gunung Berembun and trail no 3 back. Both are shortish treks, which means you will be back in the village in time for a late lunch.

Few advises: Set off early. You will be deep in the jungle’s shade by the time the temperature rises, but more importantly the weather tends to be fairer in the mornings, while it almost always rains from 3pm on. The area might have been almost impenetrable in the 60s (this is where Jim Thompson disappeared without trace after all), but it’s not the case nowadays. You will hear the ongoing construction works in the village most times, and when you reach the peaks, you will not be faced with amazing views over kilometers of unspoilt jungle, rather hotel roofs, tea plantations and strawberry fields. And some stretches of jungle and mossy forest. Although not completely isolated anymore, bear in mind these are still jungle trails. The paths are muddy, steep, not very clearly marked. It is good fun while you ascend, because holding on to loose roots and lianas makes you forget about going uphill, but you will need every motor skill to get back down unharmed. I shouldn’t think hiking on your own is particularly dangerous, I believe there is no wildlife capable of harming humans, not anymore. There are cobras (I’ve seen one about 2m long just outside the power station), but they will avoid you. The most interesting wildlife I’ve seen was a tiny bird about the size of a hummingbird, but I have no idea if there are hummingbirds in Asia.

After the first trek, I convince a taxi driver to take me to BOH tea plantations (I’d normally hike, but the trail is closed, and there is no joy in walking in traffic on tarmac). The driver turns out to be a great choice, because he is a 2nd generation immigrant, son of Sri Lankans who came to the Highlands as tea pickers, so apart from taking me to all the outlooks, he’s also able to tell me a lot about the tea, the plantations, the changes in society that the tea growing brought to the highlands. It’s the same story as everywhere. As the Malaysians will not do certain type of physical labour, they used to hire mainly Indians and Sri Lankans for harvesting and tending to the plants. Nowadays it’s mainly Nepalese, Bangladeshi and Burmese. The high percentage of Indians among the local population means one thing: great food. (Although a bit adjusted to western tolerance to chilly. If you want your food spicy, tell them.)

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