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Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

by admin on June 15th, 2010

Cameron Highlands are at the centre of peninsular Malaysia. The main town here is Tanah Rata, a small mountain establishment where temperatures are refreshingly cool all year round (especially pleasant after traveling the rest of Malaysia). Tanah Rata has a mixed population, with a lot of migrant workers from poorer countries like Burma, Bangladesh, India and Indonesia who come here to work on the tea plantations. Other than that, one meets the usual mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian… and a lot of tourists.
Indeed, this is a very popular place, especially with French tourists it seems. The main attractions are, of course, the tea plantations but also jungle trekking and visiting some of the nearby “orang asli” (original people) villages.

Since you need a car to visit all these places, most tourists book half day or a day-long tours offered in Tanah Rata. This is what we did as well, although the pace of these tours is a bit too fast for us (please see http://watermelonnomads.com/articles/view/13 for our more in depth thoughts on the matter).

Anyway, this is a beautiful place and we will let the pictures speak for themselves:

Up at the “rose farm”, the first stop on a “half day tour”:

The butterfly and other insects farm:

These big butterflies were everywhere (including the ground) but they seemed drowsy and not doing too well; the guys at the farm picked them up from time to time and put them on people, which is not good for them (even if the guys said they knew how to pick them up):

Cocoon of a huge butterfly:

What comes out of the cocoon is this – it is actually a moth (pay attention at the design of the wings – they look like two snakes):

They also had some big turtles:

The strawberry farm (they had delicious strawberries, cultivated Japanese-style):

The beautiful, green, undulating tea plantations:

These birds were everywhere in the plantations, singing very loudly and beautifully:

In the past, tea leaves used to be picked by hand to ensure best quality, but this is no longer possible; since workers are paid per kilo of leaves, they need to pick as much as possible – so quantity took over quality. Even like this, they only end up making up to 30 ringgit a day (about $10 US), from what we were told.
They usually come here with a 3 year contract, and even with $10 a day, they are satisfied, as they usually send this whole sum back to their families (and it’s more than they would ever make in their own countries). They don’t need money to sustain themselves here, since they are given free food and accommodation as part of their contract.

This is the way things usually work. However, at the time we were there, local newspapers were writing about the case of a farm that hadn’t paid its workers anything for three months and the government was to take action.

Also, since the Cameron Highlands have been experiencing an economic boom, extensive illegal deforestation for farming (possible of course, with corruption) became a real issue, leading to environmental degradation and poor water quality.

This is how they pick tea leaves nowadays:

Untitled from Greg Bugyis on Vimeo.

The tea making process:

First stage is the picking of the leaves. For the fifth stage, the leftover powder after the whole process is completed is put in tea bags. Tea bags are always worse in quality than leaves.

The local Buddhist temple:

A full day tour: Jungle trekking. We went, like everyone else who comes to the Cameron Highlands, in search of the Rafflesia, the largest “flower” in the world, that can reach up to 1 m in diameter. For more about our jungle-trecking experience, read our article at http://watermelonnomads.com/articles/view/13

This jeep took us on a muddy “road” to the start of our jungle trail:

Large millipede in the jungle. It has tingly little feet that feel funny on the skin and make little waves as it walks. It must be the cutest insect in the world (ok, you are allowed to question my “insect tastes”):

No longer cute, but interesting:

Finally, the Rafflesia. These “flowers” (they are actually a type of fungus) take five years to bloom and only last for about six days. Ours was already beginning to decompose (see the edges):

At the orang asli (original people) village. These people have lived in the jungle for hundreds and hundreds of years, until recently when the Malaysian Government set up villages like this one for them at the edge of the jungle, with access to water. They live in improvised wood or dirt huts, in extreme poverty and typically have a lot of children; however, even if their population is growing, the villages are slowly disappearing as most youngsters move to the city in search of something else.

On the “porch”:

Even if nowadays they even have motorbikes, the orang asli still hunt in the jungle, using their traditional blow darts. In the past, they used poison from the most venomous snakes and frogs for the tip of their darts to kill the game. Now, the government only lets them use a weak natural “tranquilizer” made from the bark of a tree. When strong poisons were used, orang asli usually died by the age of 30 -40, as the poison that killed their food slowly got into their system and killed them.

Back in Tanah Rata, this is a bag of tea in a souvenir shop. Read the description on the label:

From → South East Asia

2 Comments
  1. That bug on Alex’s hand looks like something she cooked for me a while ago.

  2. admin permalink

    Evan, you little brat! One more comment like this and I won’t cook for you at all … whenever we see u again! 😛 😛

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