My first stop in Malaysia was the Cameron Highlands. It’s about 220km to Tanah Rata, the little town where most traveler stay. It’s a good base for exploring all the trails in the area, has cheap accommodation, and anything else your looking for. Strangely enough, a Starbucks sits fancily along the main road. It looks very out of place, and has to be the smallest village with a Starbucks in the world. There’s a couple pretty tea plantations where you can try the teas and get nice views over the fields. I’m not a tea drinker, it just tastes gross to me. I think it’s a big conspiracy, like people pretending to like black olives. Both are gross.
It’s a really nice road up into the highlands. As you twist and turn your way up in elevation the air gets cooler, which feels like heaven after the sweaty mess of KL. Along the way is a waterfall with pool to swim in. Most of the locals looked scared of it and wouldn’t venture too close. A Chinese dude and I had a blast swimming into the current and jumping off the sides. Everyone else missed out on the fun, but it looked like they were quite happy just watching me and giggling.
I stayed at a place called Twin Pines, just off the main street, for about 4 bucks a night. Theres a long attic with tiny little rooms filling each side. The ceiling slopes down so you can’t quite stand up all the way, and has enough room for the small bed plus enough to open your bags. Sounds like a jail cell, but it was actually kind of homey. After staying in a ten bed dorm for seventeen days, the privacy of a jail cell was perfect.
The Cameron Highlands was kind of a disappointment. I had skipped by it my other times in Malaysia and had always heard about it, so felt like I should check it out. Many people go to do jungle treks around the area. I can imagine at one point it being a beautiful natural place, but it’s just destroyed now. Right on the trails theres some nice native vegetation left, but outside of that you will have a tough time finding much. Everything has been cleared to make way for farms, many of them illegal. Everywhere you look are giant plastic greenhouses and landslides of the rich fertile redish-brown soil.
It has gotten really bad and it looks like the government is finally going to step in. The tipping point was a big landslide that killed five people, caused by an illegal farm. It’s unfortunate that the destruction of the land wasn’t enough to get action and it took people dying. For a couple weeks news reporters were at the site doing stories about the area. In Kuala Lumpur I was noticing articles in the newspaper about it. When the crackdown started the government put out an offer to all the illegal workers to turn themselves in and they would be able to go through the proper steps to get work permits. Instead, about two thousand illegals fled to the jungle and were hiding out. While I was there huge police trucks full of officers were going around looking to capture them. They are already in the process of destroying illegal farms and rehabilitating the sites, but it’s a battle that will take a long time. The government let it go on for way too long. Corruption and greed destroyed the Cameron Highlands. The bosses (people funding these farms) could easily go in and bribe whoever they needed to and get access to the land they wanted. There was actually a going rate for how much they had to pay off officials to get different sizes of land. Many of the people bribing their way to land are in the timber business and just looking to cut down all the trees and leave. Also, most of these people aren’t from the area and have no interest in the long term effects. I read in one newspaper that the government was focusing on destroying the illegal farms and replanting native species, but that there really wasn’t any way to go after the top guys who destroyed the land. It said that there were no laws to be able to go after these people, which makes absolutely no sense to me. They are putting in all this effort to find the illegal workers, and just letting the bosses of these farms slither away. The workers were just doing what they were told for measly pay, and the bosses got rich. Many of these workers were brought in from neighbouring countries with big promises, which turn out to be lies. Their passports are taken from them and held, so they are at the mercy of their bosses. One major effect of all the deforestation are the landslides everywhere. There’s no roots to hold the soil in place, and as soon as the rainy season comes, which is now, the hillsides give way. Besides all this, they have built these massive condominium blocks, which look to be deserted or barely used. It can be a bit depressing to see such destruction of nature by humans, but there’s one way to forget about all that, booze. After a long sweaty day hiking treat yourself to some great food and cheap drinks. I went out with three germans for dinner and we polished off some bottles of arak and gin. A couple of the little stores on the strip sell a wide variety for super cheap. Once you got your buzz on head over to the Jungle Bar, which is pretty much the only place to go out late at night. It’s part of Daniels Guesthouse.
They have a big indoor fire pit area and pool table. The place has a nice laid back vibe, and will stay open as long as you are buying stuff. I managed to get into bed just before sunrise and get a couple hours of sleep before heading off to Penang.