Picturesque tea plantations, a cool climate, and lush scenery lure hordes of tourists upward into the famed Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. These jungle-surrounded summits in Southeast Asia beckon backpackers and adventurous outdoor lovers alike.
The tropical trails here spider through tea plantations, leading trekkers through a confusing matrix of established brick paths and barely-noticeable dirt tracks to its renowned peaks. Many of them are steep, poorly maintained, and difficult to navigate, but trail maps of Tanah Rata are cheap and the uncharacteristically cool temperatures are just too tempting to skip.
Some may be apt to join a guided tour rather than venture off into the jungle alone. Booking these through a hotel or hostel is the best way to ensure that a company is reputable and legitimate.
Mount Brinchang, at an elevation of 6,666 feet, is the highest peak in the Cameron Highlands. An observation tower at the top provides panoramic views of the Titiwangsa Mountains, but because it's accessible by road (and is a popular destination for tour groups), don't expect to be rewarded for this strenuous hike with solitude.
Those who choose to make the journey sans guide will start on Trail 1, which is located on the left side of the main road north of Brinchang, just before Multicrops Central Market. Look for a white stone labeled "1/48." The steep trek takes about four hours for fit hikers. Start early before the afternoon mist obscures summit views.
For an easier, more family-friendly hike, take Trail 4—north of Century Pines Resort in Tanah Rata—to a hidden waterfall. The short walk to Parit Falls passes through a recreational nature park and small community, eventually spitting trekkers out at the only golf course in the Cameron Highlands.
Sam Poh Temple
In Malaysia, temples reign. The Sam Poh Temple just south of Brinchang is the largest religious structure in the Cameron Highlands. This walk is challenging (albeit rewarding) and, in some areas, poorly maintained. Getting to Sam Poh Temple may require some bushwhacking.
Trekkers will begin at Trail 4 past Parit Falls and turn right at the golf course to continue walking on Trail 3 (look for a private drive on the right side of the road and find the trailhead behind Arcadia Bungalows). When you reach the marker, take Trail 2 to the temple.
Possibly the most attractive of the two waterfalls near Tanah Rata is Robinson Falls. This little oasis can be easily found at the bottom of a hill. Take Trail 9, which starts about a mile southeast of Tanah Rata. The trailhead starts at a footbridge and is marked by a yellow sign. This trail turns into a service road for the power station. You can also access the Boh Tea Estate by veering to the left onto Trail 9A.
Boh Tea Estate
The Boh Tea Estate is a major tourist attraction in Malaysia, both because of its expansive green tea fields and the fact that it's the largest manufacturer of black tea in the entire country. It can be reached on foot easily via Trail 9A, which can be combined with a walk to Robinson Falls. You'll take the trail to the main road of Habu Village, then turn left and continue for a couple of miles to the scenic estate. Be sure to check the opening hours before you go. If you're wiped after the hike, you may hail one of the northbound buses rather than walk back up the steep road.
Trails 3, 7, and 8 come to a head at the leg-burning summit of Gunung Beremban. All three trails require at least a three-hour hike for the fit, but Trail 8 from Robinson Falls is perhaps the least punishing. A steep scramble awaits at the finish.
Cameron Bharat Tea Estate
This lush, green plantation is a less-touristy alternative to visiting the colossal Boh Tea Estate, but requires a bit more perseverance when venturing on foot. The route from Trail 10 passes the summit of Gunung Jasar—which is recommended to hike only with a guide—and ends on Trail 6, which is notoriously difficult to follow and sometimes closed. Hikers who go it alone might rather start in Tanah Rata and follow main roads south to the oasis that is Cameron Bharat.
Getting to the Cameron Highlands
The small town of Tanah Rata is a perfect base for trekking in the Cameron Highlands. Buses travel to Tanah Rata from as far away as Singapore and Penang, both a five-hour drive. Tanah Rata has a number of lodging options for budget travelers and foreign visitors, whereas Brinchang—higher elevation with a Chinatown-like feel—tends to attract more locals.