Gah! I’ve gone and done exactly what I promised I wouldn’t do – namely, get very behind again on this blog. There’s no new excuse, only the old one – that I’m having such a tremendous time in Malaysia, having fallen hook, line and sinker for the place. So, with the help of my trusty sidekick Andy who is without doubt both the memory and the brains of this operation, I’m now going to cast my mind far, far back in the mists of time to see what I was doing about six weeks ago…
Back when we lived in Argentina, one of our favourite long weekend escapes from the sometimes overwhelming city that is BA was to Bariloche. Up in the mountains, the air was cool, the food was fondue, the architecture Swiss and the dogs St. Bernards. Here in Malaysia, feeling the need to have some respite from the heat and noise and swirling mass of humanity that is KL, we decided to make a similar break, up to the Cameron Highlands. Like a lot of Asian countries that were once colonised, Malaysia has a few of these hill stations knocking around, giving a glimpse into the past and a different stance on life.
Most people get the bus, but we’re not most people. Instead, we took the train. Slightly slower, but infinitely better for the environment, and more relaxing than the bus, the train was clean, efficient, and freezing cold, having the air con turned up full whack. Luckily we were prepared for this, and dug fleeces out of our bags as the train trundled towards Ipoh. Even though Ipoh is one of the biggest cities in Malaysia, we definitely got the impression that not too many tourists passed through that way – leaving the massive colonial railway station, we were faced with a town that was definitely pleasant, but absolutely not touristy. Our first stop was the bus station, where we bought our tickets for the Cameron Highlands for a bus leaving in a couple of hours, with only minimal hassle from the local madman (story of my life – I’ve got one of those faces), and set off for something to eat.
Normally, I’m the kind of person who shudders at the thought of a British pub abroad, conjuring up in my mind the horrors of Benidorm with its all day English breakfast (gaaaaaaah), but there was a place in Ipoh that sounded intriguing. Called the Miner’s Arms, it immediately resonated with both Andy and me, both of us having grown up in old mining towns. We trundled off with our backpacks, and soon enough, a very authentic-looking pub sign swung into view.
After a swift drink and sandwich in the mining-town-meets-cowboy-town interior, we headed back to the bus station, where I popped a travel sickness tablet and prayed for sleep – the road up to the highlands was notoriously twisty, hell on earth for a motion sickness sufferer.
When I woke, it was just in time to see us ascending into the clouds – that’s how high we’d climbed. The air con on the bus was still on, but probably not necessary. As soon as we arrived in the Highlands and stepped off the bus, we realised we were literally in another world, needing to layer up and cover up from the rain that would constantly accompany us for the next day. We got a room easily enough, but it was a room that damp and chill seemed to seep into from all round, and I don’t think either of us felt properly warm all the time we were there. It was sufficiently cold for me to indulge in a hot chocolate when we went out for a walk that night.
The next day, we’d booked on a tour of the surrounding area – we’d normally steer clear of these, but without your own transport, seeing an area like the Highlands becomes nigh on impossible. The first stop was an incredibly cheesy rose garden, replete with tacky statues and Disney-esque buildings. Second was a strawberry farm. Now, strawberries seem these days to provide the Highlands with their whole raison d’etre – everything, and I mean everything, is strawberry themed. There are levels of strawberry-themed tourist souvenirs that you never thought possible. Amazingly, I restrained myself and only went for a strawberry magnet to add to my fridge collection. The strawberry farm was less than interesting – the strawberry milkshakes made up for this, though, and were tasty and fresh and sweet and everything you want from a milkshake. The highlight of the day was a trip to the Boh Tea Plantation, providing tea for most of Malaysia. Interesting to see, and drinking a cup of tea in the cafe there, looking out at the hills on which it was grown is a good thing to do.
We chilled out – literally – for the rest of the day, and in the evening, headed for a Steamboat restaurant. These are local specialities that crop up in certain towns, and involve a pot of simmering broth brought to your table, along with massive platefuls of raw ingredients that you cook in the broth and then eat. We got it completely wrong, much to the chagrin of the owner who kept having to put us right, but we had marvellous fun, and ate like kings.
We set off early the next morning, not too upset to be leaving the Cameron Highlands – beautiful though it was, a couple of days out of the sun had heightened my need to be back in the warmth, and also it was the only place in Malaysia that we found the people to be less than delightfully charming – every other Malaysian blames this on the fact that they are cold and damp all the time up there – and plus, I was very, very excited to be heading for Penang. Back to the island lifestyle…
Tags: Malaysia, Travel