What's not to love about Cameron Highlands? The cool and crisp fresh air that chases the weariness of city living away. The verdant mountain slopes filled with impossibly green tea plants. The abundance of succulent strawberries ripe for the picking. And the lovely, lovely English afternoon tea with warm buttery scones and sinful clotted cream.
And so, when I found myself in Cameron Highlands recently, my soul was instantly rejuvenated. A sense of homecoming and relaxation infused my body that was weary from the 4-hour long bus ride from Kuala Lumpur.
Still, it is pretty hard to believe that nearly a decade has passed since I was last there. On the surface, nothing seems to have changed much. The air was still cool and fresh. The road leading up to the highlands was still long and windy. The tea plantations and vegetable farms are still thriving.
But there were notable differences – namely, a swanky new 4-star boutique hotel, a local museum and the refurbishment of a prominent tea centre that enhance the appeal of Cameron Highlands.
New Boutique Hotel in Town - Hotel De La Ferns
Firstly, let me introduce the enchanting new boutique hotel in town. Opened on 29 April 2009, the English Tudor-styled Hotel De La Ferns beckons holiday makers into its 75 comforting well-designed rooms. It is the fourth in the chain of hotels operated by Mr. Bala Krisnen and Datuk Yee Shan Kon. The classic fern leaf inspired the underlying theme for the hotel – right from its name to the layout of the guest rooms and hotel.
The owner, Bala personally oversaw the design and layout of the hotel. No expenses were spared in obtaining the best materials to furnish his beloved hotel. Indeed, this unique boutique hotel was lovingly designed to suit every need. Those who prefer non-carpeted floors can have the option of booking rooms with parquet flooring.
Each room also boasts of a different design, and the first to fourth floors have their own seasonal themes from summer to winter - which adds to the overall charm. A mere tap of my room access card on the door knob allowed me entrance into my Junior Suite (RM680 per night). I was immediately bowled over by the airy spaciousness and warm earthy tones of the place.
The suite includes a comfortable living room, a large bathroom with a full bath and a balcony complete with a breathtaking view of the lush green country side and distant blue-tinged hills. A comfortable king-sized bed takes residence in the bedroom space. If you have an extra guest, the sofa-bed in the living room also doubles up as an extra bed – a much-appreciated touch of thoughtfulness. If that does not take your breath away, the two HD LCD TVs in both the living room and bedroom will definitely knock the socks off your feet. Every room comes with Wi-Fi broadband access at the rate of RM5 per hour or RM15 for half a day.
A tour about the hotel revealed two stunning duplex-styled penthouse suites (RM1,800 per night) namely ‘Cameron Ferns’ and ‘Highland Ferns’. Known as the best rooms in Camerons, they are bedecked with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and full walk-in closets to accommodate every gowns or dresses imaginable - indeed worthy for a king. In fact, the Tengku Mahkota of Pahang has been a guest in one of the suites in a recent event.
The breakfast and lunch buffet spread offers a delightful and tasty assortment of both Western and Asian cuisine. You also cannot miss out on the popular English Tea that comes with scones, butter and clotted cream. For dinner, the piping hot and tasty Steamboat is the perfect choice for Cameron Highlands’ cool nights. The best place to enjoy your meals at the hotel would be out there on the Patio where you will be surrounded by the highland’s fresh cool invigorating air while you eat.
The Time Tunnel – The Local Museum
If you are driving along the main road to and fro Brinchang, you cannot miss the huge signboard proclaiming “Time Tunnel”. Established in January 2007, this cosy local museum is the labour of love of Mr. See Kok Shan. With the tagline ‘The first memorabilia museum in Malaysia!’, it is indeed a storehouse of over 1,000 collectible items.
Over the years, See personally sourced these items from all over Malaysia and Singapore. Most of the laminated info boards were sent to Ipoh for printing. He bounced the idea of setting up a museum to his friend Kok Lim who happens to run a pick-your-own strawberry farm. Kok Lim offered to house these memorabilia at the vacant spot directly next to his shop/farm and the Time Tunnel – The Local Museum was birthed.
For a fee of RM5 (adult) / RM3 (child), visitors will walk through a dimly lit tunnel (like the namesake!) with walls decorated by framed photos, paintings and knick knacks of Cameron Highlands in the yesteryears. The tunnel will lead you to a bigger room where even more knick knacks are in store. There is a corner dedicated to the mysterious disappearance of Jim Thompson, the Legendary Thai Silk King at Mossy Forest. Being a P. Ramlee fan, I was riveted by an old Utusan Malaysia newspaper cutting that contains a feature article on his last song. The newspaper cutting, yellowed with age was carefully encased in a see through glass display box.
Most of the other paraphernalia however were left open for the public to view and touch – probably the first museum in the country that allows visitors to do so.
“Feel free to take photos, videos and even touch these items,” said See with a friendly smile.
We wasted no time in posing for photos by crouching by the tiny green Vespa motorcycle, the spicy red Austin Junior Pedal car and pretending to cook by the ancient cooking stove in one of the display sections. We smiled over the exhibits of old pencil boxes, erasers, sharpeners and pencils that remind us of our school days. Elderly visitors would appreciate of the reenaction of an old kopitiam (coffeeshop) that comes with a marble topped table, wooden chairs, antique porcelain coffee cups and saucers, and cashier’s counter complete with an abacus, ancient cash registers, as well as original and unopened bottles of carbonated drinks and posters for F&N Orange Crush, Fanta, Horlicks and Sinalco.
If a trip back to the past is what you are looking for and you have an hour or two to spare, Time Tunnel is the place to go to.
The Incomparable Sungei Palas BOH Tea Centre
Renovated in 2007, the Sungei Palas BOH Tea Centre has evolved from a rustic wooden tea house to a chic and modern tea cafe that pulls no punches in rewarding diners with a splendid view of their extensive plantation.
As I feasted upon the warm buttery scones accompanied by a soothing cup of hot BOH tea, my eyes and my soul ravished the sight of endless rolling green hills filled with miles and miles of tea plants.
The shop has also been expanded to give visitors ample room for browsing the numerous tea selections. Free tours of the tea factory are also available and for about half an hour, an informative guide will bring you around the factory and tell you all you’ll ever want to know about the history and background of tea, the BOH factory, the founders and of course, the tea processing steps. Unfortunately, due to the tea production being moved elsewhere, the factory has been downsized but is still worth visiting.
I truly enjoyed visiting these establishments - both new or refurbished. Indeed they enhanced the memories of the highlands I fell in love with. One thing’s for sure. I would not allow a decade to pass before I grace Cameron Highlands again.