Monday, 26 November 2012

Cameron Highlands Tour

Hi everyone,
Yesterday we joined an all-day coach tour which took 40 Sail Malaysia participants to the Cameron Highlands.  The highlands are in the mountains which run along the "spine" of the Malaysian peninsula.  The highlands were discovered by a British man (can't think of his name :)) and used as a retreat from the heat of the coastal areas in colonial times.  The British quickly discovered that tea grew very well here, and there are still large plantations.  Vegetables of many kinds are also grown.  The farms are 1000-1500m above sea level.

The highlands became a popular retreat area and are now very popular with Malaysians.  Since it's school holidays at the moment the traffic was intense, with long queues and slow progress.  Despite this we managed to visit the Rose Garden, the Butterfly Park, the markets, an Orang Asli village and the Lata Iskandar waterfall.  We had lunch in the main town, trying out "steamboat" cuisine which is a Chinese version of Swiss fondue.

One of many, many Land Rovers
One very noticeable aspect of Cameron Highlands is the number of Land Rover vehicles.  They are everywhere - old and new, shiny and beaten-up, some with interesting adornments.  Not a Toyota to be seen.  One item of British influence has clearly not yet departed.  They love their Land Rovers here.

The tea plantations are very scenic, and cover entire valleys as far as the eye can see.  We visited the BOH plantation, one of the few which welcome visitors.  We toured the factory which was operating on Sunday since the fields are worked on Saturday.  Malaysian tea is mainly sold domestically and around SE Asia since Sri Lanka has far higher production and sells worldwide.

Rose Garden
The Rose Garden and Butterfly Park are both in the central town area in the highlands.  The town is very busy and crowded with tourists.  There is a lot of development going on with massive high-rise apartment/hotel blocks being built where farmers have sold out to developers.  Very ugly.  There are some small, original British hotels from the 1920s which mostly have a mock-Tudor style.  Quaint.  The same style seems to apply in the old tea plantation houses too.

Tea Plantations
Butterfly House
Reptiles in the Butterfly House
We visited an Orang Asli village in the afternoon.  "Orang" means people and "asli" means original.  These people are hunter-gatherers who inhabit the Malaysian jungles.  Some of their communities live on the edge of the jungle, such as the one we visited.  The people of the village have recently converted to Christianity.  According to our guide they chose Christianity over Islam since they could continue to drink alcohol and eat pork - both of which they traditionally do.  The Malaysian Government strongly encourages Islam but religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution, so this development was an interesting case study.  One small win for a permissive religion!  ;)
Blowdart Demonstration
The Lata Iskandar falls aren't particularly spectacular, considering I've been lucky enough to visit Niagara and Victoria falls, but they were interesting to visit nonetheless.  The amount of rain here is impressive, with constant roadwork required to make good flood and landslide damage.  The jungle above parts of the main road has been terraced to try to stop landslides.
Lata Iskandar falls
Blowdart anyone?
The guide claimed Malaysia has all-but ceased cutting down their rainforests.  The forests are the oldest in the world, being much older than the Amazon rainforest for example.  Apparently 60% of the original forest is still standing in the Malaysian peninsula States, but the situation in Malaysian Borneo seems less clear.  The guide mentioned a Swiss activist Bruno Manser, who worked with the Orang Asli tribes in Malaysian Borneo.  He went missing in 2000.  See his web site here.

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