Cameron Highlands Malaysia, a travel guide

As we looked back today on our travel in Malaysia I found myself feeling really nostalgic for a spot that not too many people visit.  We loved Kuala Lumpur for the beautiful city life and amazing places to explore, adored the process of looking for and booking an apartment for longer stay in Penang, and reveled in the uber relaxing atmosphere of the Perhentian Islands but the spot I think about most often these days in Cameron Highlands.

Cameron Highlands is a small cluster of towns up in the mountains of central Malaysia.  We originally decided to visit as an escape from the heat but quickly fell in love with the area and ended up staying 3 weeks.

Getting there
There is no airport or train service up to Cameron so you basically have 2 options.  Rent a car or do what we did and ride the bus.  We took the bus from Georgetown in Penang but there is also service to Cameron Highlands from most major towns and cities throughout Malaysia.  The midway point is Ipoh, another really cool little town, and you can take a train there and then the bus from that point but I think the bus ride all the way is the most used route.

The bus ride was about 3-5 hours depending on traffic and how many stops you make.  We opted for the nicer VIP bus but even those do not have bathrooms on board.  No idea why nearly every bus in Asia is missing that vital component but that just seems to be the way it is.  We stopped once and hit a little traffic so start to finish was roughly 4 hours.  I highly suggest going with the VIP bus as the seats were very comfortable and the bus was not even close to full.  I believe it cost about $12 per person.

Where to stay
There are 3 main towns in the Highlands; Brinchang, Tanah Rata, and Ringlet. Most tourists head to Brinchang and/or Tanah Rata as they offer the best proximity to most attractions as well as lodging and food options. There is even a KFC in Brinchang and a Starbucks in Tanah Rata!

We liked Brinchang a lot and it is where you will find the night market but we did prefer Tanah Rata with its cute walking street and parks.  We found it had more green space to play and more of a Swiss lodge feel to the hotels. There are almost too many hotels to choose from!  You can wait until you get there but that can be a bit dodgy and if arriving late you may not want to cart your stuff all around looking for a hotel.  I prefer to book online for a couple nights at least, that way you can relax, have a spot right away, and if you don't like it at least you don't have to drag your stuff all over trying to find a suitable replacement.    

We stayed in a variety of spots in Cameron Highlands.  Our favorite higher end hotels (about $100 a night) were the Strawberry Park Resort and the Cameron Highlands Resort.  Favorite mid range (around $40 a night) was the Hillview Inn with loads of green spaces and fun spots for the kids to explore and the Heritage Hotel. Favorite budget spots (Under $20 a night), which is where we spent most of our time, were the Check in Hotel and the Snooze inn, both centrally located.  Nothing fancy but clean and comfortable!

Where to eat
The absolute best and most inexpensive spot to eat is at the night walking market in Brinchang.  My family of 5 could get pizza, burgers, and amazing corn on the cob (or local fare but we had our fill by the time we discovered this market) for about $10 total!  It was our favorite while there.  Other budget options are the many local street vendors (just go to the ones with the most locals eating at it), and the KFC strategically placed in the town center.

If you want a nice mid range and more local fare there are amazing steamboat cuisine spots where you get a nice boiling pot of water at the table (imagine them letting a boiling pot of water sit at your table in the US) and literally cook your own foods in it.  They bring an assortment of meats and veggies and you dump them in and watch it cook. Pretty cool although the smell was a bit off putting to walk by (think burning hair).  You can also eat at many of the strawberry farms for a decent price. We had some amazing strawberry laced meals and the butter lettuce smoothie was out of this world. We are still trying to replicate it 5 years later!

Higher end you'll want to eat at one of the nicer resorts, that was our experience anyway and not one we really explored too much.  If you are dying to spend $50+ on a meal then that would be your best bet although I discourage the idea as the street foods are so wonderfully fresh and delicious.  

What to do
The list of fun and unique things to do in the area is quite long and since I have already droned on too long I will leave you with this list.  You can find more info here on my site or do some google searching to see if it is a good fit for your family.  We enjoyed each and every one of these spots:

  • Tea plantations
  • Gunung Brinchang 
  • Mossy Forest
  • Strawberry farm
  • Night walking market
  • Cactus farm
  • Parit Waterfall
  • Bee farm
  • Robinson waterfall
  • Jungle walk to the worlds biggest flower (and its HUGE)
  • Butterfly farm
  • Sam Poh Buddhist temple
  • TempleSri Thandayuthapani Swamy Hindu temple
  • Pos Rantau - an orang asli village
  • Cave tour
  • Water rafting

Final Tips
~The weather is nice and cool in Cameron but there is a strong rainy season in April, Sept, and October.  If you want to avoid the rains definitely do not go during that time period.  Even if you go another month you will most likely still get some rain so bring rain gear and warm clothes. 
~If you are going to trek or check out any caves it is best to go with a guide.  It is far too easy to get lost and when the cool rain comes in you'll be glad you are with someone who knows the fastest way back.  Plus they know all the cool spots to check out!
~You can get between the towns via taxi, scooter rental, or bus!  Cheap and easy!  Its too far to walk to most spots and I wouldn't suggest hitch hiking..
~If you are taking the bus to Cameron I would be sure and take some Dramamine if you are prone to motion illness.  It's a beautiful drive but very twisty.

Have you been to Cameron Highlands?  What tips do you have for our readers?  Leave them in the comments below!

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