By Chris Wotton
MALAYSIA isn’t just about city skyscrapers and glistening white beaches – though it doesn’t sound as though it would be so bad if that were all it had to offer. But the nation’s expanses of luscious green countryside also plays host to plenty of spots to get out and take in some fresh air – from strawberry picking to sipping high tea, the choices are endless.
While strawberries might not normally be associated with southeast Asia’s tropical climate, the Cameron Highlands hill station of Malaysia’s Pahang state enjoys a more temperate climate than elsewhere, with plenty of rainfall and temperatures that rarely rise above 25C during the day but can dip below freezing at night. The highlands, first cultivated by the British during colonial rule, have long been used as a site for the growing of strawberries, and now a whole industry thrives on the production of smaller – due to the lack of long hours of sunshine – but sweeter strawberries than are grown in Europe and elsewhere. The area has also led the way in environmentally friendly ways to grow the crops, with hydroponic growing being promoted as a way of avoiding pesticide use – essentially, the strawberries are grown off of the ground so that bugs cannot get to them.
Those visiting the Cameron Highlands can pay a visit to the strawberry farms and enjoy the lush beauty of the carefully maintained plantations – pick your own strawberries as you wander through the grounds, or purchase freshly picked strawberries to take away with you. Fresh thick cream is also on sale to enjoy alongside your strawberries, along with a range of off shoots like strawberry jam, strawberry milkshakes and strawberry ice cream. It’s essentially a strawberry lover’s heaven. And while the strawberries from the Cameron Highlands can now be bought at supermarkets all over the country – and all year round, thanks to the still tropical climate that does not suffer from a specific cold snap in ‘winter’ in the way that European crops do – still nothing beats either picking or at the very least buying them here, right where they were grown.
Of course, more goes on in the Cameron Highlands than just strawberry farming, and from the administrative capital of Tanah Rata it is possible to arrange tours around the many areas of natural beauty in the area. Tea plantations, flower nurseries, honey bee farms and local markets are all waiting for a visit. There is a long slog to be had in particular as you sweat your way up the many steps to the peak of the Cameron Highlands’ rose gardens, but the summit offers views so stunning and rewarding that it is well worth it – don’t forget your camera! The graded cultivation of the hills in the area makes for a photo in itself. Customs restrictions will likely get in the way of you being able to take flowers back home, but if you can manage it then many are on sale at the rose gardens and elsewhere in the highlands.
Showing more influence from the British colonial era, tea is of equal importance up here in the Cameron Highlands, and the tea plantations are well worth a visit. There are plenty to choose from among the Camerons’ three main townships (Ringlet, Tanah Rata and Brinchang) and, whichever one you choose to take a look at, you can be sure of not only stunning views out over the countryside landscapes, but also a real insight into the local tea growing industry. Learn about the harvesting and production process and then taste the tea – many places will offer a typical cream tea, with scones, local strawberry jam and a freshly brewed pot of local black tea – you could almost be in England! Elsewhere in the Cameron Highlands too, with little having changed in some places in the meantime, you can get a real feel for how this area was during the colonial age, with much of the construction here having been so crafted to put homesick Brits at ease. The British were of course the first to develop the area back in the 1920s and the area was actually named after a British surveyor, William Cameron, who mapped out the area back in 1885 – so British association with the area has been ongoing for some time.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website
About the author…
Chris Wotton (UK)
A twenty-something with a medically incurable addiction to travel and a taste for southeast Asia in particular, Chris is a travel writer who is most at home seeking out lesser known spots and discovering their local culture and food – in Malaysia and beyond. Chris tweets @mountsushi and writes about regional and global destinations at www.theworldandhistuktuk.co.uk.