Malaysia off the beaten path: from tea plantations to the beach
I’ll be honest, Malaysia was not on our travel destination list until we decided to spend our honeymoon in Borneo (read more about our eco honeymoon in Borneo).
“You have to go there!” a friend told me just a few months earlier, referring to the Cameron Highlands tea plantations so, since all flights to and from Borneo were stopping over in Malaysia, we thought we could spend one week there on our way back Home.
both of us hiking and tea lovers, the Cameron Highlands immediately
sounded like a perfect destination.
What else to visit in Malaysia? For those who know us a little, you are certainly aware that we are not big funs of sea vacations, but since our honeymoon itinerary looked pretty dense we agreed that few days at the end of the trip to relax on a deserted beach could do the trick.
As you know, we don’t fancy tourist destinations so I scanned quite a lot of websites, blogs and reviews before choosing what looked like the right island-escape for us: Kapas Island!
CAMERON HIGHLANDS TEA PLANTATIONS: TEA AND HIKING HAVEN
Ok I know, you cannot consider the Cameron Highlands as a destination in Malaysia off the beaten path since it is already quite popular among Asian travellers (unfortunately peak season for them is August when we visited) and also hiking-enthusiast Europeans.
Still, this lush plateau at 1100-1800m of altitude 300 km from Kuala Lumpur, is surely worth a visit!
funny to see how differently Europeans travel compared to “locals”
and Asian tourists.
In fact, Europeans usually get here by public bus (a little less than 4 hour drive from Kuala Lumpur), stay at hostels and hike one of the many foot trails available in the region, whereas Asian people tend to travel on group tours or self-driving and mainly concentrate on visiting the lookouts over the tea plantations, the strawberry farms and the popular tea houses.
How to get to the Cameron Highlands from Kuala Lumpur
We chose to travel to the Cameron Highlands by bus from Kuala Lumpur which took approximately 3 hrs 30 min. There are different bus companies (we travelled with Unititi) offering various departure times from KL Sentral station, so we advise you to check which one is more convenient for you and book at least one day in advance since they can get pretty busy. At time of travelling (summer 2019) price for return ticket per person was 70MYR, approximately 15 euro.
The buses are spacious and super comfy with reclining seats, just be sure to bring some drinks and snack as it only stops for a toilet break along the way. Also, be aware of the 1 hr 40 minute of winding roads to reach the highlands.
Where to stay in the Cameron Highlands
The Cameron Highlands comprise 6 villages (Ringlet, Tanah Rata, Brinchang, Tringkap, Kuala Terla and Kampung Raja). We chose to stay at Tanah Rata which is the biggest offering various options of guesthouses and restaurants, because we only had a couple of days and where interested in hikes departing directly from town.
We spent two nights at the Father’s Guesthouse located only 2-minute walk from the centre which is quiet, spot clean with super friendly staff and also convenient (approx. 25 euro a double room at time of writing), so we highly recommed it!
HOW TO EXPLORE THE CAMERON HIGHLANDS TEA PLANTATIONS IN 48 HOURS
When we arrived at the Cameron Highlands, we were a bit worried, first because it was pouring down and the weather forecast predicted rain for the following three days. In fact, you have to know that the Cameron Highlands are a pretty wet region with an average of 2 out of 3 rainy days.
Secondly, because we saw all these big buses and crammed tea shops and we realized mid-August was peak season due to the local holidays.
However, the following day when we woke up the sun was shining and we were pleased to find ourselves completely alone hiking a gorgeous trail through the jungle first and then amidst a huge tea plantation.
Hiking amidst the Cameron Highlands Tea Plantations
Trail number10 starts just few hundred metres southwards of town, turning right where the H2O apartments are. When we visited it was a bit confusing due to some construction works but hopefully when they are finished the signs will be more visible.
The first part is steep and uphill for approximately 45 min / one hour to reach a nice lookout. From there we took trail number 6 that descends into the valley following the electricity line.
You need to pay attention here because the trail is steep and slippery, there is a gum tube to help you but still it is highly recommended to wear proper hiking shoes.
After an hour walking in the forest and among terraced orchards you reach an asphalted road crossing farmers’ villages until you find yourself completely surrounded by the Cameron Valley tea plantations.
It is such a gorgeous lush panorama and with this trail you have the opportunity to walk among the tea plants undisturbed as there is absolutely nodoby at sight!
Also if you are in a popular destination there are always nice spots off the beaten path where you can enjoy the real atmosphere of the place.
From here you access the Cameron Valley Tea plantation from the backyard. It was funny to walk out all covered in mud while hundreds of tourists were descending to the lookout on foot or by electric small trains (be aware that if you access from the main road you are required to pay a small fee). Covering an area of 1600 acres, the Cameron Valley is the second largest tea plantation in Malaysia, founded in 1933 by an Indian family and today comprising eight different companies.
We started our 3,5 km walk on the main road to go back to town, but after only 10 minutes a nice local couple stopped and offered us a lift, confirming our impression of Malaysians as super kind and welcoming people.
Since we missed some exercise, we decided to go for another walk in the afternoon, leaving from the town centre with trail number 4 which is an easy paved path along the river taking you to a small waterfall (approximately 30 minutes).
At the end of the walk, we couldn’t miss the typical afternoon tea with scones at Lord’s Café, a small cafè located at the first floor on the main road. Don’t expect a fancy tea room as it is quite simple, you need to order and pay at the counter and then collect your order once ready as they don’t do table service. However, it is pretty cheap and we found the scones better then the ones you get at the tea plantation tea houses (plus they have homemade jam 🙂
In Tanah Rata you can choose among a wide offer of restaurants with affordable prices. Our favourite was Singh Urban Restaurant, a small Indian restaurant just few metres off the main road. They don’t accept reservations so it is advisable to get there early (they open at 6.30 pm and they already have people queueing 🙂
Cameron Highlands tea plantations tea house and factory visit
If you love tea and are interested in the tea process BOH Tea Plantation is definitely a must.
Be careful because there are actually two BOH plantations, the less touristy and original one is the one in Habu. This estate was the first in the area established by a Scottish family in 1929! With its 3600 acres is the biggest in South-East Asia and the only one where you can actually visit the factory and learn how tea is processed.
can reach the plantation via a hiking path but since we didn’t have
enough time because our bus was leaving at lunch time, we took a taxi
ride which is about 30 minute.
We were absolutely speechless in front of this vast tea plantation. Getting there early before 9 am allowed us to walk to the lookout completely on our own, be back on time for breakfast on the terrace and the free 10-minute visit of the factory.
Miles and I both adore tea so it was very interesting to learn how it is produced. Indeed, tea goes through a 16-hour process of cleaning, drying at 140°C, fermentation, sorting of the leaves and packaging.
We usually don’t buy much souvenirs when we travel but here we couldn’t resist and took Home 5 kg of tea 🙂
If you come here, just bear in mind that in the Cameron Valley only black tea is produced, so if you see green tea on sale be aware that it actually comes from China (which doesn’t mean it is not good!).
We only spent two days in the Cameron Highlands but we absolutely loved it! If you manage to find the right trails and combine with a good timing you are actually able to experience this amazing place far from the crowd.
PERENTHIAN ISLANDS? NO, KAPAS!
We usually don’t choose beach destinations for our holidays as we prefer more active and adventure, but still water is our common element and we decided to pamper ourselves with a few days off on a secluded island to unwind after a two-week activity-packed itinerary.
I started to look up for beach destinations in Malaysia, Perenthian
Islands appeared to be the number one choice. That’s the reason why
we didn’t choose them 🙂
With more research about Malaysia off the beaten path destinations, I found out about a smaller island close to the coast of Kuala Terengganu that seemed much less touristy and laid back. That was perfect.
Kapas Island is only 15-minute by water taxi from Jetty Marang, located 40 minute drive from Kuala Terengganu airport.
This pretty small island was exactly what we were looking for: crystal water where to do nice snorkelling, deserted beaches to walk at sunset, no commercial activities besides few small resorts, and a handful of travellers who come here to unwind and enjoy (not the right destination if you are looking to party then 😉
We stayed at the Turtle Valley Resort located at the far south-end of the island and offering a bunch of relaxed basic seaview bungalows with a private beach. We liked the exclusive atmosphere and the food, however we found the service and the rooms not exceptional.
What to do on Kapas Island if like us you get bored quite easily spending all day sun bathing?
1- As soon as we arrived, we set off for some snorkelling in the reef in front of our resort (free snorkeling gears provided)
2- Each night we enjoyed long sunset walks on the western beaches, really romantic
3- We ventured off by kayak paddling all around the island, which is 4 km of rugged coast offering gorgeous inlets where to stop and snorkel especially in the northern side. Our favourite was Long Beach where we returned on foot also on the last morning with the intent to swim our way back following the reef but unfortunately that day it was full of jellyfish so we had to give up quite soon and walk back to our resort. We still enjoyed some snorkeling here. The coral is mainly dead but we saw a number of colourful fish including nemo, giant clams and at least 6/7 reef sharks. We have been told by other guests that it is not uncommon to see turtles but unfortunately it was not our lucky day.
Overall we loved Kapas Island for its tranquil atmosphere and gorgeous beaches. We surely recommend it if you are seeking an island in Malaysia off the beaten path but be aware it is not comparable with Thailand or the Maldives 🙂