Cameron Highlands

31 Dec

We left Penang for the Cameron Highlands on what was supposed to be a 1:00 PM bus. We had heard that Malaysian transportation was great so we eagerly awaited being blown away by timely buses driven flawlessly by friendly Malaysian drivers. We were picked up by a steaming hot minivan at 12:30 and brought to a familiar spot by the mall, where the bus was to pick us up. A half hour late, the bus pulls up to gather everyone. However, we were told that it was the bus going to Kuala Lumpur and we would have to get on it to go to a different bus station where we would transfer to the bus for the Cameron Highlands. The bus was completely filled and Angela and Josh had to sit on stools next to the driver. We arrived at the bus station and were told the bus was late and wouldn’t arrive for another hour. By the time the bus had finally arrived we were two hours delayed from what should have been our departure time. Looks like Malaysian travel is as cursed as the rest of Asia. What was supposed to be a five hour bus ride turned into a nine hour bus ride, with most of the delay spent in terrible traffic for the final few miles to our destination. Turns out that the highlands is a really popular holiday destination for locals and we were arriving during prime school holiday time. We arrived late in the darkness and started the walk to our hostel, which was a bit removed from town, when a man pulled over and asked where we were going and told us he would happily take us there as he works there. We were too tired to say no, so with Josh’s switchblade in pocket we hopped into the car and were taken right to the hostel, where the man proceeded to get out of his car to make sure the guy working was around to check us in. I’m unsure as to whether we will ever get used to the genuine, helpful nature of the Malaysian people. As an original colonial building and the house of a general or something, the hostel was the definition of grungy with dust and dirt in nearly every crevice, crumbling paint and beds that literally screamed for help at every toss and turn. It’s only saving grace, which we didn’t take advantage of that night since we went right to sleep, was the outdoor area, with a bonfire and plenty of places to hang around and drink.

The Cameron Highlands is known for a few things: trekking, strawberry farms and tea plantations. Given the altitude, it’s also much colder than the Asia we’re used to. It is definitely the coldest that I have been in my travels and we didn’t have the sweatshirts necessary to combat the chilly evenings. Anyway, I digress. We woke up the following morning to tackle a trek on trail ten (I believe there are about 12 trails in the area?). The entrance was close enough to town so we walked over, through a garden and a teeny tiny thin trail to get to the forest. The trek started simple enough with barely any incline. It felt as if we were walking around the base of the mountain. Just when we were starting to believe the trail didn’t lead to a peak, we started on an up incline. The hike wasn’t as difficult as our death hike in Koh Phangan, probably because of the cooler and more breathable climate, but it was difficult. We made it to the top after about an hour and a half to beautiful views of the town and the surrounding mountain area. A fog started rolling in across the valley, allowing streams of sunlight through onto the landscape, illuminating the nearly neon green of the tea plantations. I think it was more magical than a perfectly clear day. We went down the opposite way, which was so mossy and earthy that you felt like you were walking on a sponge at points. The exit itself was far less romantic, spitting us out by a power plant which we had to scale the fence of to get to the road. We were much further from where we had started and embarked on the two mile walk until we were stopped by a closed road. We asked a guy working there if we could walk down the road and he told us we could, a few minutes later he pulled up beside us and told us he would drive us down as far as he could. We were thankful he did because we came to a complete road block where he had to direct us across a completely dismantled road and send us on our way.

After our hike we went for tea and cake and to soak up some wifi since our hostel did not have any. We tried the Cameron tea and thoroughly enjoyed it as it was very similar to an English breakfast tea. After tea time we set out in search for another hostel since we knew we couldn’t handle our current one for another day. We looked up a few and settled on going to see a guesthouse, KRS Pines, where we booked a private ensuite room for less than our crappy mattresses at De Native. Feeling accomplished we went for Indian food, which included tandoori chicken, naan with multiple dipping sauces and rice. We also stocked up on stupidly cheap vodka for the evening, including a lychee flavor. We went back to the hostel and hung around the fire for a brief time before the smoke seared our eyes and we moved to the tables to play cards. Consequently, the following day was a hangover day and after moving all our things to our new abode and having a massive breakfast, Angela and I slept the day away. We had intended to take a small nap before heading to trail one, but I was completely unable to open my eyes and determined the day a goner. After more Indian for dinner (Chana masala and garlic naan mmm) we all crawled into bed, to read or curled up on couches to watch Netflix.

On our final day in the highlands we set out for trail one, the “jungle” trail, which is probably the most well-known trail. The trail start is a few miles outside of the town we were staying in, so we would have to go by car to get there. We were informed by Jess that you can hitchhike and, while you will feel stupid, you eventually do get picked up. Well, we did feel stupid and we definitely did not get picked up. Eventually a cab stopped and told us it would only cost 10 ringgit, which is absurdly cheap. We took his vintage cab to the trail start and, after walking up to the true entrance, were greeted by a sign detailing the closure of the trail for rainy season. The sign was small enough and pinned to a tree so we figured we could claim we didn’t see it. That is, until we got a bit further and a large banner blockaded the entrance with the same closure information, reminding us that there would be repercussions for those caught. I certainly did not want to risk it, so we turned around and embarked on plan B: visiting a strawberry farm just down the road. The farm was uninspired, with all the plants growing hydroponically, but there were plenty of photo opportunities with big cutout strawberries. We also ate some fried ice cream and Josh finally won a crane machine, saving the beautiful Ollie the octopus from the crane orphanage. Afterwards, we went to a big market where we attempted to bargain down matching “Vans” sweatshirts and failed, and I bought some terrible “Apple” headphones while Josh splurged on some 5$ “Beats” headphones (they are now broken). We also got a surprise hand bleaching when we were ambushed by a bunch of Malaysian salesmen rubbing products on our hands that we realized made them whiter. We ended the adventurous day by walking all the way back to town. After a shitty dinner of bland noodle soup and a delicious Nutella crepe cake (the Cameron Highlands had good cake, which I cannot say about any other place I have been in Asia so far), we were off to sleep.

After reading my blog about Penang, Johnny and Laura decided they had to go and hunt down the watering hole. With two of our favorite people going to our favorite place, we knew we had to return. So the following morning we took a bus back to Penang, which dropped us at the bus station, forcing us to take a local bus into George Town. We tried a new hostel this time, House of Journey, which was just down the street from our beloved Danish Biryani House. The hostel was much better than the previous ones, with the exception of a constantly beat-boxing worker and other staff members who played guitar and sang terribly for endless hours. We ate Indian, did laundry and walked around our favorite city again, happy to be back, while we waited for Johnny and Laura to arrive. Once they did, we went to the watering hole where we met two more Americans and played some games before calling it quits early.

Laura and Johnny wanted to go to the beach the next day and since we had never been we obliged. The beach, Batu Ferringhi, is about an hour bus from George Town. Here, you’ll find more of the hotels and resorts, including a Hard Rock Cafe. While it was certainly a more touristy feel than the rest of Penang, the beach was nice enough and a man gave us chairs to sit in at no cost. On the way back from the beach I made Angela and Josh stop at Gurney Drive with me, which has one of the more well known Penang hawker sites. There were endless carts and food types but I settled on an Assam Laksa again, wanting to try this “most delicious food” at multiple places. Again, I loved it, while Angela was less than impressed with her Wan Tan Mee. That night we went back to the watering hole and bought the most ratchet vodka they were selling that read +/- 40% for alcohol content and was taglined “light & healthy”. After a few too many games and a few too many times having to serenade the crowd with Justin Bieber as a rule in 21, we headed home.

The next day I had a hangover and didn’t feel like moving so Angela and Josh brought me back a McDonalds burger. When I had risen from the dead at about 4:00 PM we went to see Moana, which was a kick ass animated movie. After Subway for dinner, I started to feel achy and feverish, which continued into a fever and chills for the next few days, leaving me in bed and away from the fun. The others didn’t get up to much, going to the watering hole, sleeping in and seeing Star Wars were a few of the things I missed out on. When I finally started to feel slightly better on our last night before going to KL, we went back to the movie theater to watch Ballerina, a terribly done animated film. We left Penang for KL the following morning having seen nearly every movie the theater had to offer.

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