The Cameron highlands are best known for hidden hiking trails, expansive tea plantations, and abundant strawberry farms. The little mountain neighborhood is packed with shops and shacks serving cheap, authentic Malaysian food.
Getting to the Cameron Highlands
Kuala Lumpur has multiple buses per day heading in all directions - it’s easy to grab a taxi to the main bus terminal and book a ticket day of. The ride is a windy two hour journey through the mountains in a big comfy bus seat. Try to get a window seat to gaze out at the passing landscapes, they’re captivating.
You’ll arrive at the Tanah Rata bus station, which is where you can find the local bus or any onward travel. After our adventure in the highlands, we booked a comfortable van that brought us straight to our hostel up north in Georgetown, Penang.
There’s one main road that runs through the Cameron Highlands, connecting Tanah Rata, Brinchang, and Kampung Raja. The local bus runs between Tanah Rata and Kampung everyday - but since there’s only one bus, the times are pretty infrequent.
The bus doesn’t run on a rigid schedule, so make sure to be at the stop a bit early.
Hiking the Highlands
Just by coming to the highlands, you’re obligated to take at least one hike. There are tons of options, whether it be heading down to a waterfall for an hour or up to the top of a mountain for the afternoon.
Hiking in the Cameron Highlands is done by “paths” with numbers. Not all of the paths are well maintained, so it would be wise to check with your hosts as to whether your choice path is in good enough condition.
The most popular option is Path 10 up Gunung Jasar. The beginning of the Path is straight through someone’s driveway, but they’ve curated a little garden for passing hikers to enjoy.
It takes about an hour to get to the power lines at the top, and the view is quite breathtaking. We opted to just return back down Path 10 since we only had the afternoon, but if you’ve got time, you can continue along Path 12 to Gunung Perdah. It takes another hour and a half to circle back around.
An easier option, and very close to downtown Tanah Rata, is Path 9 to Robinson Waterfall. To get to the path, you walk through the town park and along the river. There are signs to guide you towards the path. You’ll pass right by some local homes before heading into the forest. It’s only about 10 minutes until you see the waterfall.
After that, you can either continue down the EXTREMELY STEEP path to the Robinson Power Station (which may or may not be trespassing?). At that point, you won’t want to backtrack back up the cliff you’ve descended, so just continue along the road you empty out on. It’s another half an hour to the main road. The walk is a great way to see what the “real” Cameron Highland farms look like.
Once you get to the main road, you can either hike back for 10 kilometers, hitchhike with a friendly-looking passerby, or hail a taxi for a buck or two. We stumbled upon a taxi before we reached the main road, so we all just piled in.
Path 2 is only for the true adventurers. We sort of stumbled into it without realizing what we signed up for, but apparently it’s the least maintained, most-wild trek of them all.
It begins at the Sam Poh Temple, which is most easily reached by taking the local bus up to Brinchang in the morning. The walk from downtown to the temple is really enjoyable if you go for an early morning stroll. The neighborhoods are just waking up, and it’s a fun way to explore the less busy areas of the highlands.
The Temple is not crowded at all. It’s a nice way to start the day before trekking through the jungle. From Sam Poh, you go back down the main drive and make the first right. Follow that road until there’s a dirt driveway on your left, and a pinkish apartment building on your right. It’ll seem really strange, but the trailhead is up through the lower level of the apartment building on the right.
The beginning is a crazy scramble up a steep hillside until you get to the first trail sign. Fellow hikers have written warnings of steepness, and they’re not wrong. The rest of the trail is a series of ups and downs through some pretty authentic jungle highlands. Expect to cross over riverbeds, duck under fallen trees, and wonder for a few moments which way the path goes.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed Path 2 the most. It’s not so much of a hike up a mountain as it is a wander through the woods. There were so many moments that we stopped to sit and listen to the jungle around us. The sounds of water trickling through the rocks, or birds calling in the canopy. It really is a peaceful way to experience how alive Malaysia is.
Near the end of Path 2, you can empty out near the golf course, or fork back into the jungle for a shot at Path 3. Both will take you south towards Tanah Rata, but the path will take much longer. We headed out towards the road and walked along the golf course and through the outskirts of town. Again, a fun way to see the area!
The Mossy Forest was by far my favorite activity. At the very top of a rolling, tea-covered hill, an elevated boardwalk wanders through native highland forest. The dripping wet leaves, glossy palms, moss-coated trees, and drenched brown boardwalk planks will make you feel like you’re in the middle of one big raindrop.
It’s like you can hear the moisture among the silence of the forest. This is what the very highest of the Cameron Highlands were like before the tea plantations.
For a surreal experience, go in the morning before the clouds lift and the crowds arrive. Catch the 8:30 bus and let the driver know you want to get off at the Cameron Square Shopping Centre. He’ll drop you off at the bottom of the very long hill. We originally planned to walk up, but decided it would be way easier and faster to hitchhike up. The couple that picked us up were visiting the Highlands on their honeymoon! Less romantically, there are a number of tour companies in town that offer trips to the Forest as part of a larger package.
There are some areas at the back of the forest that are not a part of the main boardwalk. They are usually muddy, slippery, and dangerous. We chose to stick to the in-bounds boardwalk, but if you choose to go rogue, remember that the rangers will not be able to help you. And if they find you, you might get in trouble. That being said, we bumped into a girl who wandered back there and said it was cool - pretty much the same as the regular forest area, but muddier.
Head up to the top of the lookout tower to really get your head in the clouds. It’s beyond peaceful to be surrounded by the grey, windy, morning forest air up there. Apparently if it’s a clear day, the views of the surrounding plantations are incredible.
But if the wispy clouds are all you get up there, just take a slow meander back down to the bottom of the hill to really appreciate the plantations. It’s a two-hour descent back to the bus stop without stopping. But of course, we stopped at each of the roadside viewpoints to snap pics and get the drone in the air.
Only after landing did an officer scoot up to inform us that it is indeed against the rules to fly drones above the plantations. Oops.
Boh Tea Plantation
If you have the time to pitstop at the Boh Sungai Palas Tea Centre. You walk past the fields on your way up or down. It’s a bit of a ways of the road, but if you opt to go into the plantation, there’s a restaurant/tea house overlooking fields.
Sit for a quick snack or tea. If you can snag a seat outside, there’s a great view off the balcony. We got the blackberry iced tea - worth the walk!
There are a couple of options around Brinchang. We didn’t have time to get to any of them, but it’s a fun activity for an afternoon if you’re already up there! Check out one of the butterfly farms while you’re at it!
Digs in Cameron Highlands
Map Travelodge - Awesome travel-themed hostel with amazing photos lining the entrance stairwell. Plus an entire wall of postcards for sale, all taken by the owner of the hostel! We seized this opportunity to write some hellos to friends back home - reception will even postage and send them out for you!
Cameron Curry House - uh-mazing Indian food on the corner of the main street. Went there 3 times.
Jungle Bar - at the very far end of a small street off the main road. Chill vibes, good old pool table, cheap liquor and even an outdoor fire pit!
Travellers Bistro & Pub - near our hostel, sells Tiger beer towers. And fries.