I’ve hiked plenty of mountains. I’ve traversed through the docile yet alluring Canadian Shield in Northern Ontario. I’ve climbed the rugged mountain ranges of British Columbia, and I’ve scaled South African’s notoriously unforgiving Table Mountain. I’ve been places, I’ve seen things, and without a doubt, I’ve worked hard to take in breath-taking views that are simply not accessible via car. And yet, with all of the hiking I have done, I have never experienced anything quite like the mountain ranges of the Cameron Highlands.
The Cameron Highlands are a popular retreat for Malaysians and tourists alike. Offering cool climates, the small towns nestled far in the hillsides of Malaysia come as a much needed break from the smothering heat. Perhaps locals are more accustomed to the style of hiking offered in the Highlands, but for me, it was a unique and exhilarating experiencing.
Ranging in length and difficulty level, there are several different hikes available for the taking in Cameron—from Tanah Rata to Brinchang. One of the more challenging hikes, Number 14, will bring you from the base of Brinchang up to the BOH Tea Plantation. A demanding trek by all means, but the view is certainly worth any momentary pain. Considering I am new to Malaysia and to jungle trekking, I decided to start my adventure with Trail Number Seven: a rather strenuous journey, but manageable if you’re in decent shape.
Beginning from my hostel in Tanah Rata, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of the Highlands, but I was bouncing with optimism and ready to work up a sweat. With only a few hiccups along the way, I slowly but surely made my way to the starting point of Trail Number Seven. Climbing through the first few hundred metres was a bit overwhelming. The jungle has started to reclaim the trail, leaving you stranded to either turn back or push through the overgrowth as if you’re in some sort of Rambo-esque movie. Not going to lie, I unapologetically practised my Sylvester Stallone impersonation, slashing through thick, tall plant-life as if I had a machete. I. Am. Rambo?
If you can make it through the first 500 metres, then you’re in the clear. The trail opens up and it’s smooth sailing all the way up. Or so I thought.
A trek through the jungle is exactly what you would expect it to be: wet, damp, and sticky. For Canadians climatized to a cool and dry environment, the intense muggy air surrounds you like a thick, slightly suffocating blanket. When it rains, which it most certainly will, the cool droplets are a welcomed relief to the dense air. However, don’t be fooled. That rain may wash away your blood, sweat, and tears, but it will relentlessly soak you through and leave you somehow praying for the thick tropical air to coddle you once again. It’s a difficult, slippery hike, but the Cameron Highlands will surely reward all of your hard work with spectacular vegetation and an array of sights, smells, and sounds that can only be found in Malaysia’s boisterous jungles.
Lush and prodigious, the thick vegetation looms overhead, both enclosing you and yet directing you through the dense jungle. Vibrant green moss hangs from every tree branch and massive roots protruding from the damp jungle floor crisscross in every direction. If you’re not careful, or perhaps just clumsy like myself, you’ll easily find yourself tripping or sliding your way through the Highlands.
I was somewhat sad yet incredibly relieved that I didn’t come across any wildlife. I was terrified to take the trek by myself because what if I saw a snake? Maybe I was lucky, but I didn’t come across anything too intimidating. It was just me and a bunch of bugs. How many times can one walk through a spider’s web before it becomes common place?
Other than the bugs, I was thrilled to experience the sounds of the jungle. The distant call of birds chirping and the faint sound of water cascading from the treetops was more than serene, it was hypnotizing. Combined with the fresh and invigorating scent a much needed rainfall leaves behind, the Cameron Highlands, albeit challenging, proved to be tranquil in every respect. Although surrounded by the unfamiliar, I have never felt more at home than in the Cameron Highlands.
If you’re planning a trek through one of Cameron Highlands’ fascinating trails, here’s what I would recommend:
- Start early. I underestimated how long it would take to get to the trailhead and wasted valuable time asking for directions. If I had left earlier, I probably would not have been caught in the heavy afternoon downpours of Cameron Highlands.
- Be prepared. Knowing that I would probably get lost, I brought along rain gear and it definitely helped. I also brought bug repellent, which probably saved my sanity more than my skin.
- Bring a buddy. I was advised by several people to bring a companion while hiking. The trails are entirely manageable on your own, but be sure to notify your hostel on where you’re going and how long you’re expecting to be.
- Pay close attention. There were a couple of times that I got turned around because I didn’t realize the trail forked. Also, snakes and wildlife are quite common along the trails, so keep an eye out.
- Don’t underestimate the Highlands. If you’re an experienced hiker, these trails may seem easy, but they’re more difficult than they seem, so be careful and bring lots of water and some snacks.
- Respect the nature you’re surrounded in and take in every little, breath-taking moment, because sadly Malaysia’s jungles are rapidly disappearing.