Malaysia's Cameron Highlands are famous for many reasons: Beautiful tea plantations, a significantly cooler climate, and lush scenery lure hordes of tourists to wind higher into Malaysia's mountains.
Backpackers and adventurous outdoor lovers are drawn to the jungle trekking in the Cameron Highlands. Numbered jungle trails spider through the hills and tea plantations in a confusing matrix of summits, brick paths, and barely-noticeable dirt tracks.
Trekking in the Cameron Highlands isn't for everyone; many of the trails are steep, poorly maintained, and hard to follow. Even still, the beauty of the area and the pleasant temperatures for trekking are just too tempting to resist!
Trekking in the Cameron Highlands
With the once-helpful Tourist Information Office closed, your first priority for trekking in the Cameron Highlands should be to purchase one of the trail maps sold around Tanah Rata for $1. Many of the trailheads begin behind buildings, residential areas, and private houses -- even experienced hikers will have trouble locating some of the trails.
Speculation exists that some of the unscrupulous local guides who scour for business around Tanah Rata have been removing trail signs. If you decide to hire a guide -- which is a good idea for some of the remote trails -- do so through your accommodation.
Trekking to Gunung Brinchang
Mount Brinchang, at an elevation of 6,666 feet, is the tallest summit in the Cameron Highlands. An observation tower at the top provides panoramic views of the Titiwangsa Mountains. The summit of Gunung Brinchang is accessible by road and is very popular with tour groups; don't expect solitude as a reward for the strenuous hike up the mountain!
Guides for Gunung Brinchang can be hired for around $30. If you wish to make the tough walk yourself, find the start of trail #1 on the left of the main road north of Brinchang before the Multicrops Central Market; look for a white stone labeled with 1/48. The steep hike takes just under four hours for a fit hiker -- start early before the afternoon mist obscures views from the summit.
For an easy, family-friendly hike, start on trail #4 just north of Century Pines Resort in Tanah Rata for a short walk to the Parit Falls. The park near the falls has seen better days, but it is possible to cross the parking lot and continue walking north. The trail eventually passes through a small community and ends at the only golf course in the Cameron Highlands.
Sam Poh Temple
The Sam Poh Temple just south of Brinchang deserves a visit even if you don't plan to do any trekking in the Cameron Highlands. You can make a challenging walk to the Sam Poh Temple by starting with trail #4 past Parit Falls, then continue on the road north (turn right) on the golf course to trail #3.
The start of trail #3 is difficult to find. Look for a private drive on the right side of the road, proceed up the hill, and search for the trailhead behind Arcadia Bungalows. Walk trail #3 then take a left onto trail #2; the junction is signed. Trail #2 is poorly-maintained and requires some bushwhacking, but ends directly behind Sam Poh Temple.
Don't get too excited when you see the yellow signs along trail #2 indicating "pitcher plants" -- they are long gone!
More attractive of the two waterfalls near Tanah Rata, Robinson Falls is easily reached along a downhill trail. Trail #9 to the falls starts around one mile southeast of Tanah Rata from the road to Mardi -- look for a footbridge over the water and yellow sign marking the trailhead. Trail #9 turns into a service road for the power station. For a nicer hike, take trail #9A to the left which continues on to the main road and eventually the Boh Tea Estate.
Boh Tea Estate
The Boh Tea Estate just southeast of Tanah Rata can be reached by walking trail #9A past Robinson Falls to the Habu Village main road. Turn left and continue for around two miles to reach the tea estate. Alternatively, turn right on the main road to see the Ringlet Lake, a dam, and Habu village. Hail one of the northbound buses to get home instead of hiking up the steep road.
Note: The Boh Tea Estate is closed on Mondays.
Trails #3, #7, and #8 all converge at the leg-burning summit of Gunung Beremban. All three trails require at least a three-hour hike for fit hikers to reach the mountain; trail #8 from Robinson Falls is perhaps the least punishing way to Gunung Beremban. A steep scramble waits at the finish.
Cameron Bharat Tea Estate
Trail #10 starts in Tanah Rata behind the Oly Apartments, passes the summit of Gunung Jasar and finishes via trail #6 through the Cameron Bharat Tea Estate. What appears to be the perfect loop on the map is actually a risky adventure; trail #6 is stubbornly difficult to follow and is often closed. If you insist on doing the trek yourself, start in Tanah Rata and finish at Cameron Bharat a few miles south of town.
Multiple service roads and trails used by the plantation workers make getting started on trail #6 a frustrating experience. Inquiring within the tea shop will confirm: The staff highly recommends that you hire a guide to reach Gunung Jasar.
Getting to the Cameron Highlands
The Cameron Highlands is located roughly halfway between Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Peninsular Malaysia. The bus is pretty much the only transportation option for reaching the Cameron Highlands; the winding road is sometimes too much for passengers' stomachs to handle!
The small town of Tanah Rata is the usual base for trekking in the Cameron Highlands. Buses make the run to Tanah Rata from as far away as Singapore.
Accommodations in the Cameron Highlands
Trekkers in the Cameron Highlands can choose to stay at Tanah Rata (more popular with budget travelers and foreign visitors) or Brinchang (higher elevation; Chinatown-like feel that attracts more locals and Singaporeans).
The Legend of Jim Thompson
No visit to the Cameron Highlands is complete without researching the mysterious disappearance of millionaire Jim Thompson.