Jungle and Tea in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia
I pushed my way through the dense, thick jungle. Vines were wrapping around my boots, while I could feel thorns, stones and sticks digging into my legs and arms as I slid and dragged my way along the muddy path that seemed to just disappear before me.
I could just about see the light through the foliage now, and I knew that the wide open terraces must be ahead of me. I was bleeding lightly from scratches, I was dripping with sweat in the uncomfortable humidity and I was being bitten by all sorts of insects that I couldn’t even see.
And all of this because I was searching for a good cup of tea.
The Cameron Highlands of Malaysia
It was raining when I set out from the town of Tanah Rata in the morning. But it always seems to be raining in the Cameron Highlands. Perhaps that’s why the British - when Malaysia was a part of the British Empire - decided to build their colonial getaway far up in the mountains rather than along the hot coastline. Perhaps the rain reminded them of the England they’d left behind.
The Cameron Highlands are found amongst the lofty heights of Central Malaysia, a mountainous region that’s significantly cooler than anywhere else in this tropical country, and a place that has, more than anywhere else in the nation, retained the strange colonial perks of the British, who influenced this place the most.
During my first day in the Cameron Highlands, I’d been enthralled by the enormous quantities of red, juicy strawberries for sale. It was cold enough to put on a jacket in the evening, and I’d even stumbled across the bizarre sight of a red telephone box and a country pub, complete with a white picket fence, afternoon tea and even Sunday roast dinner.
By visiting Malaysia, I was expecting to escape all my home country’s comforts, but it seemed that the local Malaysian tourists couldn’t get enough of it. The tavern was overflowing with patrons, in an atmosphere that seemed to be more British than anything I’d ever experienced in my own local pub.
The British though, hadn’t just cleared these highlands of the dense jungle to grow strawberries and build post boxes. As well as being a grand, colonial summer retreat, the Cameron Highlands became the centre of production of that most quintessential of British drinks, tea.
As the drizzle fell continuously from the grey skies, it was tea that I was setting out to find. But I would soon discover that despite the rain, the Cameron Highlands is a landscape that is very much different to home.
In Search of a Simple Cup of Tea
The Cameron Highlands is home to some of the tallest peaks in central Malaysia, with the highest point reaching just over 1,600 metres in height. As a tourist destination, it’s a place that’s renowned for its walking, as well as for its tea. I was hoping to combine these two pursuits, by hiking along jungle trails to the country’s most historic tea estate, The Boh Tea Plantation.
There are a network of trails and walks that crisscross between estates, plantations and mountain tops, most of them starting from the tourist hub of Tanah Rata. They are dubbed ‘Jungle Trails’, because despite the colder climate, this is still very much jungle terrain.
In my search for tea though, I would very much underestimate how much jungle I had to fight through before I could enjoy a hot cuppa.
Into the Jungle
The Boh Tea Plantation was located around 10 kilometres away from the town and I decided to take the scenic route, past waterfalls and through the forest that would then bring me out amongst the picturesque, rolling hills of the estate, where row after row tea would stretch across the land as far as I could see.
The trail from Tanah Rata took me into the jungle, along what was at first a well-kept path, but as soon as I was past the busy waterfall the tracks deteriorated, and things became awfully dense and muggy. Well, I’d been looking for a jungle hike, and I’d definitely found one.
I was soon completely surrounded by trees and vines, as I dragged myself through the foliage. The rain was seeping slowly through the canopy, but it was thick enough to stop me from getting soaked. Instead, things had turned to a hideous level of humidity, and I was drenched instead from sweat as my boots squelched through the mud. This, I realised quickly, was nothing like England.
All the Tea in Malaysia
I slowly pushed my way through the overgrown jungle, loosely following the trail and wishing for a machete. After what seemed like an eternity, I emerged into the bright sunshine, covered in mud, leaves and scratches.
Now, the sun was shining. There was no fog in sight and I hiked up onto a ridgeline that led to the tea estate itself. I could see across the valley below the beautiful sight of tea. Endless lines of tea plants were arrayed in intricately layered levels, stretching along the hills and over the peaks. It was a glorious sight. This was more tea than I’d ever imagined could be grown anywhere, and now, I was thirsting to try a cup.
The hiking trail turned to road as I neared the entrance to the Boh Tea Plantation. I was passed by buses and cars on the last stretch. This then, was how everyone else was travelling here. I was the only one foolish enough to take on the jungle. Soon enough though, I was through the gates of Malaysia’s oldest tea plantation, and I was greeted by an astounding view.
The Boh Tea Plantation
All thoughts of enjoying a cup of tea disappeared as I saw the endless views laid out ahead of me on top of the plantation’s viewing platform. The valleys I’d seen on the walk up paled in comparison to this. Far towards the horizon and far beyond, the hills, the valleys, the peaks, the entire landscape, all were filled with tea. This must be all the tea in Malaysia, and in fact, it is the vast majority of it.
The Boh Tea Plantation is Malaysia’s most established tea brand, and this is where the vast majority of the country’s tea is grown and processed. Malaysians, I was learning during my travels across the country, and now during my visit to the Cameron Highlands, adored tea. Perhaps more so than the British.
I settled into a seat overlooking the scenery and ordered my well-earned cup of tea. It was an excellent cup of tea. The fog soon began rolling in across the view, and as the temperature dropped and the rain began to fall again, I remembered that I still had to walk all the way back from the tea plantation.
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