Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Malaysia’s most extensive hill station, about 60km off the main KL–Ipoh–Butterworth road at Tapah, is at an altitude of 1300m to 1829m. The Cameron Highlands is a vast area of rolling green hills, tea plantations and forests stretching along the road from the town of Ringlet, then through the main towns of Tanah Rata, Brinchang and beyond. The Highlands are inside the state borders of Pahang, but easiest access is via Tapah in Perak. The Cameron Highlands takes its name from William Cameron, the surveyor who mapped the area in 1885. He was soon followed by tea planters, Chinese vegetable farmers and wealthy colonialists seeking a cool escape from the heat of the lowlands.

The temperature in the Highlands rarely drops below 10°C or climbs above 21°C, and in this fertile area vegetables grow in profusion, flowers are cultivated for sale nationwide and wild flowers bloom everywhere. It’s also the centre of Malaysian tea production. There’s a network of jungle trails, waterfalls and mountains, and less-taxing points of interest, including colourful temples, rose gardens and tea plantations where visitors are welcome to try the local brew.

In recent years, development of the Cameron Highlands has increased, and the construction of hulking apartment blocks has changed the old-fashioned English atmosphere. Tragically, massive, indiscriminate and often illegal land clearance has caused severe damage to the environment; hills have been levelled and streams filled in to make way for farmland, causing landslips and floods. Erosion had caused Ringlet Lake to become 75% silted up by 2005, when the lengthy (and messy) dredging operation began, but this is likely to be an ongoing problem. The federal government has introduced tough legislation against water pollution, which has become another worry. So far, the Pahang state government has done little other than impose nominal fines on landowners. After many years of construction, the ‘new road’ running from Ipoh to Brinchang and Tanah Rata is now open, offering a much easier and speedier route to the Highlands. This new ease of access is likely to spur on yet more development. Despite all the changes, the regular rain, dampness and visiting hordes, the Cameron Highlands is still a relaxing destination and one of Malaysia’s most rewarding stopovers.

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