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Cameron Highlands – Day 1

Desiring a taste of rural Malaysia, I head for the hills. Cameron Highlands (named after its British ‘founder’ William Cameron) sits at a cosy and cool 2000m elevation, producing tea leaves and strawberries, among other delectables.

An ideal city escape? Yes. Peaceful and authentic? Nowhere near.

This weekend is Deepavali, cause enough for a national holiday and for seemingly the entire Malaysian population to hit the uphill road.

With full roads the journey is slow. Hostels are all booked up on arrival. Cameron Highlands seems to me to have been obliterated by tourism, with hotels obscuring every view and ridiculous strawberry-themed junk on sale.

There is here no escape from tourism. In fact, as it turns out, the town didn’t even exist before tourism. Nowhere of interest is in walking distance when I arrive. Then it rains.

This is the first location which utterly defeats my desire for adventure and exploration. I go to bed grumpy but determined to make the most of tomorrow.

Cameron Highlands – Day 2

With a new resolve I head to the bus station. Busses, however, only run every two hours. (More business for local tour operators!)

My resolve remains in tact as I take a taxi, but begins to strain when my first destination, a butterfly farm, is devoid of interest and packed full of tourists.

But then comes a change. Out of an incessant line of cars driving past as I walk, one offers me a lift. At this point, instead of being the outsider in a maddening crowd, I join the crowd, and join what turns out to be the fun.

In the car are three Chinese Malaysians out for the day. Mr Tap teaches language, while Ivan and Zach are studying business and engineering respectively at university. All live in or around KL. They come for an escape, for the scenery, but most importantly for an elusive breath of cool air.

I spend the day joining them for each of the attractions, and for a stunning dinner selection. Sharing both company and the highland’s attraction completely reverses my opinion on the place.

Cameron Highlands isn’t somewhere to learn about traditional Malaysia, or even really about tea (the exhibits are fairly poor). It is, however, somewhere that Malaysian people love to visit, and therefore speaks for national interest.

Aside from anything else, my thanks to Mr Tap, to Ivan and Zach for one of the most enjoyable days of my trip, for their Chinese tuition, for boosting my chopstick-wielding confidence and for providing the largest spread of food that I’ve encountered in a fair while.

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