The night before I headed to the Cameron Highlands (after booking my bus) I, well my mum, decided it would be a good idea to find somewhere to stay on the internet on my shiny new yellow netbook. It didn’t fill me with much joy. There was one result, over at least 5 different hostel booking sites, for one night out of the three I had planned. And it wasn’t the first night I would be there that they had available. Brilliant. I had a bus to nowhere.
On arriving in Tanah Rata, the main town in the Cameron Highlands, I was greeted with at least 2 leaflets and offers of minibuses to take me to their bright and lovely accommodation as illustrated on said leaflets. Normally, I hate this kind of thing. I’ve done it once, there was a mouse in my bathroom, I rest my case. However, knowing the pick of accommodation was going to be slim, I opted for the leaflet that offered the dorm. The woman was useless when I arrived!
“The dormitory is full. No dorm,” she snapped before returning to talking to her other clients, the ones that meant she’d ignored me for the past 10 minutes. Needless to say I left. After about 4 hotels and plenty of “No sorry”, or “Only for one night”, or “Tonight 35 Ringgit but tomorrow 125” I was pretty pooped. And starving. And desperate for a wee. So I had a speedy refreshment break (a decent sized vegetarian Indian meal for just over a quid!) and continued the hunt.
The first place I came to beckoned me from the road. TWIN PINES in big red letters sat on the roof with a forest of green in the background. I thought I’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in Canada. In I trotted, knowing what the response would be and that I’d walk away and they’d sit and tut and think “Silly girl, doesn’t she know it’s the end of Ramadan and nearly a National Holiday?”. But I was wrong!
“Do you have room? One person. Three night.” I hate the way I talk to people when I don’t know if they can speak English.
“Yeah. You want…bathroom? Single? Doub-”
“Ok,” she took a key from the wall and summoned me upstairs. To the attic rooms.
“And how much for one night?”
“Fifteen?” the emphasis on the een.
Must be a mistake, I thought, must be 50. The cheapest place I’d found elsewhere was 35 per night. I knew you could get beds for 10 Ringgit if you weren’t fussy but I didn’t think I would get on for 15 on the spot! My luck had changed.
We reached the top and she unlocked the door. This is what I saw.
Minus my bags obviously. They were on me, surprisingly.
“I’ll take it!” I said. And I’ve been blissfully happy ever since. All I really want is a bed, well in this case a mattress, and a little room for my stuff. Happy as Larry! If I could get a place like this for 3GBP a night everywhere I’ll be set.
So once I had a room, I could focus on the important stuff. Getting some more food. A quick tootle around the town proved that a tour would appear to be the way to go in order to make my trip here worth while.
“Hello, can I help?” said an English voice across the pavement from where I was checking a tour board.
I opted for the Rainforest Adventure 2, which was first on the leaflet, so I don’t know what happened to Rainforest Adventure 1.
“You’ll need to take lots of snacks, some peanuts or something, some water and some insect repellent,” she told me whilst filling out my receipt, “Do you have a good pair of shoes?”
“I have these?” I said hopefully, modelling the tatty Birkenstock on my left foot.
“Hmm..” The face said it all, “You might want to get some closed toe shoes. People have done it in flip-flops, a nine year old did last week! Ha! But it could be muddy and a bit tough in places so it might be best…”
My new shoes are brilliant! They cost less than 2 quid and are springy and slip on and rubbery! And now very muddy.
The tour was well worth the money. Although it took a while to realise this.
I got picked up by a guy who was smoking a suspicious smelling cigarette and had a poem on his passenger sun visor that began;
Fuck the world,
Let’s get high…
And on we went. As we picked up more people, it felt a little safer. Then came Michael. Michael Jackson. Very loud through the speakers of the old Land Rover. Then came Boney M, Bob Marley (that one made sense) and a whole melange of retro disco funk reggae hits. If that’s even a genre.
Our first stop was the jungle trek, where we were adorned with dashing fern hats before working our way through the forest to a Rafflesia! Now I’m not a big flower person, but I feel quite lucky to have seen one – they spend up to 2 years growing to bloom for less than a week! What are the odds! After that, we made our way across many a bamboo bridge to a waterfall, where we could swim. Although the water was rather murky and the thought of having to take off my new shoes, and socks, and roll up my trousers just for a paddle was just too much effort. But it was nice to look at.
We then made our way back down the “road” which was an adventure in itself to an aboriginal village, complete with satellite dishes. We watched a blow pipe demonstration and got to have a go and were then allowed to wander the village, which felt quite odd, photographing and looking at people’s homes as if they were in a zoo. The children were willing to talk though and seemed to find it hilarious when I asked them “nama anda?”.
By now, it was lunch time and a quick stop at a restaurant with more flies than people was followed by the tea plantation. But not before a long journey on the roof through a traffic jam.
“It’s not far from here. You want to sit on the roof?” our guide said, jokingly.
“Really? Can we? Slow road yeah? Ok.” I said, hoisting myself up. My three new crazy, incredibly young-looking Malaysian friends joined me. Then we got stuck in traffic.
The tea plantation isn’t really very exciting but it makes for a nice stop if you’re on a tour. Unfortunately with the end of Ramadan ‘n’ all, the free factory tour was off, maybe it’s a more exciting visit if you can see the tour. But I did get to walk around the empty factory, and from that I conclude, maybe not.
The next stop was a butterfly and insect farm, which was brilliant because our guide was opening all the tanks and letting us pose with big scary critters!
Last but not least on the tour was a strawberry farm, which really wasn’t exciting at all. I’ve seen strawberries before, I know how they grow, and the strawberry ice cream was the price of a meal so I survived on the spoonful I’d been offered by a Slovenian couple on the tour.
All in all, a really great day, and it wasn’t over yet. Within minutes of being in the Land Rover, the three awesome Malaysian ladies asked me to join them for dinner that evening. So at 9, after a long rest and a hot shower, I headed across to Starbucks. (Yeah, in the mountains! I was shocked too!!)
They took me to an amazing Steamboat restaurant which basically involves a camping stove and a huge pan full of spiced boiling water and plates of raw vegetables, meat, noodles and egg, all of which you dunk into the pan as you wish. Why it doesn’t exist in the UK yet I don’t know. Think I may have found a hole in the market, Lord Sugar. I’d be very interested in doing business with you…or is it normally him that has to say that bit?