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days 36 to 40 – ipoh / cameron highlands – high tea and scones

There is not a great deal to say about Ipoh, especially as I arrived there quite late. I was last there 19 years ago and I don’t really have much of an impression of the town itself. I can now tell you that it’s got a pretty good bus station where they sell some very enjoyable sweetcorn in a polystyrene cup that’s absolutely dripping in butter and salt. It was nice to have a room to myself for one night though and in the morning, I sat and read in the Bougainvillea Park, which was pretty. I saw some caves on the bus journey in and if I hadn’t arrived so late, I could have gone out to see them – maybe they would have been less commercial than the Batu Caves.

I was meant to meet Helen outside the HSBC, which according to Lonely Planet is on Jalen Dato Maharajah Lela, near the clock tower. It isn’t. There is an OCBC on that road and HSBC is one over. Our secondary plan had been to have lunch at the recommended FMS Bar and Restaurant a couple of streets from our proposed meeting point. It had closed down. I then spent two hours roaming a four street block looking for Helen, who it turned out was doing the same. How we kept missing each other I have no idea. Every 15 minutes, I would hear the clock chime but not be able to locate it, until eventually I tracked it down to the top of a small hill. There was Helen, who had a terrible hangover and was about to give up and return to the bus station.

Our bus to Tanah Rata in the Cameron Highlands left on time and was very comfy with wide, reclining seats. As you get closer to the Highlands though, the road gets more and more twisty and our bags shot back and forth across the floor at each corner. When we arrived, it had long got dark and I’m glad we’d arranged a pick up with Father’s Guesthouse because we’d have had trouble finding it otherwise. I’m also glad we made reservations. With Chinese New Year fast approaching, a lot of places were getting booked up and three guys who had also come in on our bus were told there was no room at Father’s, which is run by a large family, all of whom seem to be smiling all the time.

Our dorm was of eight beds (not bunks, happily) in old converted Nissen huts and cost us 10 ringgit (approximately £2) a night. It’s a lot cooler than the rest of Malaysia and while in the day it’s sunny and pleasant, on my first night there I was cold in my pyjamas and with two blankets as well as being kept awake half the night by the German guy opposite’s snoring. The next morning we got up early to take a tour of the area and while in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, the same German guy from my dorm caught me yawning widely. “Still tired?” he asked, cheerfully.

“Yes. Because of you,” I didn’t say and very soon got over my morning grouchiness when faced with the beautiful view across the Highlands. The atmosphere of the area is relaxed and the design very colonial. Almost everywhere they serve cream teas with scones and locally produced strawberry jam. There’s even one hotel built in Tudor-style.

Father’s itself is on a rise on the edge of Tanah Rata with its own grounds, restaurant (which serves mostly western food) and bar. They do an incredibly good banana lassi (yoghurt shake) and have a lounge area where you can request films from their (pirated) DVD collection at the cost of 5 ringgit. The one drawback to this system when in a hostel is that Quantum of Solace was on three nights in a row. I’m still fuzzy on the plot though. The best thing about this particular DVD is that despite the film being in English, it also had English subtitles, evidently made by someone who didn’t speak English as their first language and was transcribing by the closest phonetic sound they knew, without any regard for meaning. This meant that a sentence like, “You only get one shot” was subtitled with “You only watch up” and everyone’s favourite was while James is in the obligatory bed scene with the Bond Girl: “You must be furious” was subtitled as “You must be feeling my ass”.

On our first day, Helen and I took a tour of the highlands. We started off at the rose garden, which wasn’t so much filled with roses as it was a lot of different flowers and mostly resembled a very peaceful garden nursery with extremely random stone figurines all over the place, as well as a large boot a la The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. We then headed to the strawberry farm, mostly notable for its vast array of tacky strawberry themed souvenirs, including some very orange-looking Strawberry Shortcake dolls. They did do some amazing jam and strawberry milkshakes.

Our third stop was the butterfly farm, which wasn’t all that big and didn’t have a very wide range of butterflies but did have some impressive insects and reptiles. Amongst others, I got to hold a rhino beetle, a gecko, a tortoise and a scorpion, which caused me a bit of a fright when Helen bumped against the hand I was holding it on and it raised its tail menacingly. We also saw two very large rats put into a snake enclosure. The snakes didn’t seem very interested though as the rats ran back and forth in a panic.

Fourth on the tour was the main reason I’d gone out there, which was to see the Boh tea plantation. It is so beautiful up amongst the tea fields. It’s so green and quiet. Each plantation has its own little town for the workers living there with a small shop, Hindu temple, mosque and church next door to each other. I had a whole lot of facts and figures about tea production but have managed to misplace them all now. I did buy a whole lot of tea though and we sat at their tearoom, looking out over the plantations before heading to a honey farm, which was basically a lot of beehives. Again, an enjoyably peaceful walk. Finally, we stopped at the gaudy Chinese Sam Poh Temple before returning to the guesthouse and so ending the only real activity we did during our whole stay there.

After that first day, our time in the Cameron Highlands was mostly characterised by intending to go on a hike but finding other things to do instead (i.e. laze around), reading, eating, playing a lot of Scrabble (which I was unbeaten at for our whole stay), teaching and playing a lot of Chinese Poker and drinking a great deal of tea. Amongst the many people we got to know was a group of three graduates who had just completed their degrees in Architecture, which was pretty unlucky timing given the non-existent need for architects right now. They had been travelling entirely by land (or water) from the UK, taking the trans-Siberian railway and heading down Asia. From picking their brains about where they had gone so far, they managed to worry me as they described their crossing to the Thai island of Koh Tao, where I was intending to go to dive. The water was so rough, they told me, that about a third of the people on the boat were throwing up. This did not sound good.

We also spent about two days agonising over whether we could make it to the Perhentian Islands, struggling with length of journeys and our respective calendars before eventually giving in and deciding to just head to Penang in time for Chinese New Year.

2 meows »

  1. TeeKay said,

    March 7, 2009 @ 15:01

    Doesn’t the wandering around looking for Helen count as lost (once). At least with all the walking looking for each other you got some of that much needed exercise in that you mentioned last time.
    I didn’t think it was possible to ever be cold in Malaysia.
    By now, I’d have thought you would have bought some ear plugs considering the number of snorers you’ve come across.
    I suppose the up-chucking would have brought back memories of the trip to Green Island. Not good.

  2. TeeKay said,

    March 7, 2009 @ 15:03

    Forgot to mention, with your penchant for courting disaster, what possessed you to hold a scorpion?

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