The Malaysia trip, part 3

Tea, tea, tea -- as far as the eye can see

Tea, tea, tea — as far as the eye can see

KOTA KINABALU, SABAH, MALAYSIA — The rough itinerary I worked out before coming to Malaysia was (1) Kuala Lumpur (2) Cameron Highlands (3) Penang (4) Singapore (5) ???? (6) Kuala Lumpur. Right now, I’m in segment (5), so there’s some time delay at work here.

I ended up staying six days in the Cameron Highlands, specifically in a small town called Brinchang (or Berincang, which is the Malay name/spelling). Two of those were basically downtime, partly because of rain and partly because I needed to give my feet a rest. All that walking in Kuala Lumpur had raised blisters on my left foot.

[Note to self: Next time, bring the shoes you know are comfortable and don’t chafe anywhere. And wear two pairs of socks. OK?]

The Cameron Highlands are, well, higher in altitude than the coastal regions of Malaysia, and naturally cooler. Temperatures in KL were in the 90s (°F) while I was there, but Brinchang temperatures were 20 degrees cooler, even during the day. Great weather for walking or hiking, and the area around Brinchang and Tanah Rata offers plenty of hiking trails.

For reasons of space and weight, I did not bring my hiking boots, which in retrospect was a poor choice. If I had them, I could have hiked in the hills without worrying too much about slippery trails from the rains. The shoes I did have with me are pretty worn on the bottoms, and I didn’t want to use them on wet trails. My bad.

But when the weather cleared up, and my feet felt better, I walked to the BOH Tea plantation (the Sungai Palas Tea Garden) north of town. BOH is the largest Malaysian tea producer, founded in 1929 by a British businessman who realized the climate of the Cameron Highlands was ideal for growing tea. BOH is one of the few tea producers in the world that handles all aspects of tea production from tea plant to supermarket shelf.

From Brinchang, the Sungai Palas plantation is about a 90-minute walk if you follow the roads. Most of that is uphill. I could have hired a taxi, but I wanted the exercise and walking offers a better choice of photo opportunities than riding in a car. Besides, I had time to kill.

[A young couple offered me a ride back to town, I should add. They were also on holiday, and staying in Tanah Rata on the other side of Brinchang.]

The best part of this excursion was seeing rolling hills covered in tea plants as far as the eye can see. Of course, I’ve visited tea plantations in China, but the topology is different. At the BOH plantation, you can imagine endless, undulating hills of tea plants. In Hunan, where I live, the mountains are too tall, so you might only see a valley of tea plants before stone takes over the landscape.

I missed the tour of the tea processing facility, but the displays outside give a pretty good outline of the process. There’s more to tea production than you might expect. Also, the lowest quality tea leaves and stems usually end up in tea bags. Just so you know. Loose tea is way better than tea bags, just as freshly ground coffee is way better than instant.

While I was blissfully admiring all the lovely terrain on my hike, I was also blissfully unaware that my camera was still in manual exposure mode from the last time I used. So, dear readers, my best photo (see above) of the undulating hills of tea comes from my cellphone. All the ones I took with my fancy shmancy Nikon D3300 were all hopelessly overexposed.

C’est la vie.

As for my other activities, I avoided the tourist trap attractions, of which there are many in the area, and just walked around town (easy to do, as it’s really small) and sampled the local food.

Brinchang's main road, during afternoon prayer time. The town's principal mosque is on the right side, not visible in this shot.

Brinchang’s main road, during afternoon prayer time. The firehouse is on the left. The town’s principal mosque is on the right side, not visible in this shot.

Brinchang's mosque, after midday prayers. Zakat in the poster refers to tithing, one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

Brinchang’s mosque, after midday prayers. Zakat in the poster refers to tithing and charitable giving, one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

Brinchang is a nice little town, but frankly there’s not much there to do, other than hike around. It’s one of those tiny towns that subsists on the tourist trade. It’s wall to wall with hotels, hostels and restaurants, and not much else. Six days was too long, and in hindsight I should have just spent four days in the Highlands, and allocated that time to Penang or Singapore.

I also should have followed my first impulse and brought my hiking boots.

Next up: George Town, Penang, a place that has lots of things to do.

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