It was strange to leave Penang. We had only been in George Town for five days, but it felt like a lot longer than that. In that short period of time we had already become familiar with the city. We had already discovered our favourite food spots; we even knew our way around pretty well without a map. But, as with all travel destinations, the time had come to move on.
Our next destination in Malaysia was the Cameron Highlands, which would prove to be vastly different in contrast to the rest of the country that we had seen so far.
Hopping on our first bus in Malaysia, our journey took us south along the island of Penang, before crossing the long bridge that connects the island to the mainland, and headed to the somewhat lesser visited Ipoh. The “lesser visited” tag that the city seemed to receive instantly put it on my radar, but that would have to wait for another trip. On this journey, Ipoh was just a bus station and a toilet break.
From Ipoh, our bus headed inland and began climbing up into the lush green mountains that make up the Cameron Highlands. Here, we were up in the clouds and amongst the rain forest. The palm oil plantations on the lowlands were now replaced with plastic covered “glass houses” where vegetables and herbs were grown. There were signs up for fresh strawberries, honey and other things that seemed to be rarer in this part of the world.
The winding road took us through a couple of small towns and villages, before finally pulling into the bus station at Tanah Rata – the “capital” of the Cameron Highlands.
Hopping off the bus, I could instantly feel the change in temperature. It was hot and humid down on the coast. Here, it was somewhat cool and refreshing. We wandered along the main street in town with our backpacks on our backs, which would normally be a sweaty experience in the rest of Southeast Asia. This walk was surprisingly pleasant as we made our way through town to find a guest house.
In some ways, Tanah Rata almost felt like a mountain ski village without the snow. European style “chalets” and larger apartment blocks with a similar design are built on hillsides. The main street is lined with shops and cafes where you can go to escape the cold. It was definitely a change, and although it is the main town in the Cameron Highlands, it certainly isn’t a big place, nor is it very busy. I was going to like it here.
We found a guesthouse pretty close to the centre of town, but just enough out of the way to feel like we weren’t really in town. Our guesthouse had paper thin walls and shared bathrooms, but it would do for a few days. I had the feeling that we wouldn’t be spending much time in our room in a place like this.
With the weight of our backpacks off our shoulders, we wandered back into town for a cup of tea and some dinner. For the first time in many many months, we had to put a jumper on. This place was definitely different, and I couldn’t wait to explore it more over the next few days.