Category Archives: Places of Interest

Discovering Cameron Highlands : Ye Olde Smokehouse

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Ye Olde Smokehouse (@ all rights reserved)

Over the years, I came across newspaper articles (before the explosion that is the Age of Digital that is) which tells of places of interest located within the district of Cameron Highlands.

All of them were written by they who have had the good luck to have travelled to Cameron Highlands and enjoyed what Cameron Highlands has to offer.

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View of Ye Olde Smokehouse, as viewed from the car park across the road. (@ all rights reserved)

A few of them articles remained stuck in my mind. One of them, should ever I find myself in Cameron Highlands, or at Tanah Rata to be exact, was to dine at Ye Olde Smokehouse.

The articles that I read described Ye Olde Smokehouse as an old house, built sometime in the colonial era, with a fantastic ambience, a place to sleep and good food to boot.

For me, the good food is of course an attraction. That and the ambience but a stay at an old house built-in the colonial era? Mmmmm.

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A corner of Ye Olde Smokehouse. (@ all rights reserved)

The reviews, over the years since the day I chance upon that article, had been consistently good, and since I am, at present, in Cameron Highlands, so to Ye Olde Smoke House it is then.

We found Ye Olde Smokehouse in good time. This, despite it being off the main road and hidden from view behind some hedges.

I mean, given the proper landmarks and a bit of old school navigation, you‘ll get there. That plus a signboard or two.

And ‘good time’ means just before the drumbeats in the bellies gets any louder, to the point that dining anywhere will do. Just to quieten them drumbeats.

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Garden dining at Ye Olde Smokehouse. (@ all rights reserved)

As we had spent some time visiting the MARDI Agrotechnology Park and Cameron Valley (for the second time) earlier, we had built up quite an appetite, with the thought of having them satisfied at Ye Olde Smokehouse.

Ye Olde Smokehouse has its own car park, separated from the establishment by a small and narrow road. Although the word ‘lane’ would be more apt. But then again, it’s all semantics.

Lane or road, it’s quite convenient that, the car park that is. As we made our way from the car park into Ye Olde Smokehouse, its like being walking into one of those taverns usually found in the countryside of the United Kingdom or even mainland Europe.

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The dining area, adjoining the waiting area cum lounge. (@ all rights reserved)

No prior reservation to dine here is required, as told to us by the member of the staff.

Very convenient that, especially when you are one of them who likes to do things spontaneously.

Like us.

Of course, there is some waiting time but when you are getting comfortable in the lounge and taking in the atmosphere that is the Ye Olde Smokehouse, it does not seem like waiting at all.

Attended to by one of the waiters, we placed our order and waited the lounge, whilst availing ourselves to the comfort that it offered.

There is always the garden, should you feel like stretching them legs. Especially when you have been driving for quite a bit.

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Fish & chips and lamb cutlets – late lunch at Ye Olde Smokehouse. (@ all rights reserved)

As for me, I am always partial to a well laid and well maintained garden and I must admit, the garden at Ye Olde Smokehouse is a garden that I would be partial to.

Nestled in the garden were also few tables to cater to those who would prefer to do their dining there instead of the dining area.

On a sunny day, as today was, that would be very inviting. Especially up here in the highlands, a sunny day does not necessarily mean it’s a hot day.

It was not long before we were led into the dining area and yes, definitely, its like dining in a tavern. Led to our table, our orders were brought over by the waiter who happens to be a matured gentleman.

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Tables nestled in the gardens of Ye Olde Smokehouse. (@ all rights reserved)

It was noticeable that almost all the staff that we met were matured, in their fifties and sixties.

The way they handled the guests, with quiet dignity and polite deference, tells you that these are a cultured lot with loads of experience, wise to the ways of its guests and I’ll bet you, lots of interesting stories to tell.

Dining at Ye Olde Smokehouse is an experience. A delightful experience at that, and one to enjoy and savour.

It has to be said, as it’s not often that we get to travel to Cameron Highlands, what more to dine at Ye Olde Smokehouse.

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Paved walkways in the garden. (@ all rights reserved)

After a delightful Western meal complemented with coffee and desserts, we made our way to the gardens to relax and enjoy what it, in turn, has to offer.

If I were a cigar aficionado, I’ll most probably have a cigar and coffee at one of the tables found in the gardens. It’s that inviting and relaxing.

That I’d imagine would be another delightful experience, one more to add to the growing list of delightful experiences gathered during this trip to Cameron Highlands.

Next trip to Tanah Rata, most likely than not, its Ye Olde Smokehouse again for us. Maybe this time, we’ll have scones, homemade jam and butter with tea in the gardens.

Now that would be another delightful experience, would it not?

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Discovering Cameron Highlands : The Barracks

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The Barracks of Tanah Rata. (@ all rights reserved)

The Barracks is not the name of the local army camp but rather the name of this delightful bistro / café in Tanah Rata, the exact location initially being difficult to locate for this newbie in town.

Being a newbie, getting to The Barracks by a car can be quite trying. But then again, I did say I was a newbie to Tanah Rata and therefore, my inability to get about town does not count.

The Barracks - Garden Dining in Tanah Rata (@ all rights reserved)
The Barracks – Garden Dining in Tanah Rata (@ all rights reserved)

We got to The Barracks by foot instead, many thanks to my better half who had done some study of places to visit and places to dine.

Walking about town that is Tanah Rata, in all its misty glory, many thanks to the rain that fell just prior, we were suddenly caught in the second coming of rain.

And I don’t mean that Korean male singer cum actor, damn fine artiste he might be.

Luckily for us, we were already nearby The Barracks and fitted with our cheap and easily available but very colourful rain coats (so colourful that you can’t miss us), we found our way to The Barracks in good time.

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An ambience of a summer garden, for diners to enjoy. (@ all rights reserved)

A combination of the rain, the weather and the rhythmic drumbeats of the increasingly empty and gastric-induced tummies, made the first item on the agenda being to get some hot good food in our bellies.

The place looks very nice, with an ambience suggesting a cosy place to have a private meal for two, with the choice of either having your meal in the ‘garden’ or in the ‘barracks’.

Both options looked good, but for us, the ‘garden’ won. Wonder why.

Having seated ourselves and making ourselves comfortable, a look at the menu tells us that we have the option to go east or to go west. Good that.

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Hot meal on a cool day. Good tidings for an empty stomach. (@ all rights reserved)

There are times when I have this craving for fish and chips or sometimes, even a steak or lamb cutlets.

And today was no different.

But having gone through the menu, ever the Asian, I opted for a safe dish of rice and mutton curry, whilst my wife, my better half, went for something hot and something soupy.

Having placed our order, we began to size the place up. The ‘garden’ was never in any doubt and so, we ventured into the ‘barracks’ and see the place which gave the eatery its name.

Framed pictures of Cameron Highlands’ past lined the inside of the barrack. Makes for interesting reading, if you are into history. (@ all rights reserved)

Inside the warm and comfortable barracks, we noticed that the walls of the ‘barracks’ were lined with framed photos of days past.

The framed pictures were showing signs of age, some yellow in colour, whilst some in black and white, but all of which told of Tanah Rata’s history, of days past leading up to the present, before Independence and after Independence.

It was evident, from the framed pictures on show, Tanah Rata has an interesting history. Not surprising that.

The Barracks is not only known for its menu, it seems, but apparently for its ambience and its ‘garden’ as well.

The creative use of lighting combined with nature makes for a comforting ambience. (@ all rights reserved)

Orchids seems to be the main attraction, and I guess, being located up in the highlands, it should not be a surprise.

A visit to The Barracks should be on the itinerary whenever and should ever one visit Tanah Rata.

With an ambience like what The Barracks offer, it makes for a memorable experience, senses-wise and gastronomy-wise, whilst having your steak or a soup-in-a-bun or even your safe dish of rice with mutton curry (tasty that!).

Believe you me, it’s definitely worth the visit.

Discovering Cameron Highlands : Sungei Palas BOH Tea Plantation

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Welcome to the BOH Tea Centre Sg Palas. (@ all rights reserved)

No visit to Cameron Highlands would be complete without a visit to the tea plantations of Cameron Valley and Sungei Palas (or more popularly referred to as Sg Palas).

For the uninitiated, Cameron Valley is the tea plantation belonging to the Bharat Family while the Sg Palas tea plantation is that of the ‘BOH’ brand.

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Making our way from the parking area to the tea centre. A walk past plots of tea shrubs. (@ all rights reserved)

Having visited Cameron Valley, one could not be faulted in thinking that a visit to the Sg Palas ‘BOH’ tea plantation would be no different from that of Cameron Valley.

As I rather enjoyed our visit to Cameron Valley, I must admit, I was pretty excited at the prospect of visiting the Sg Palas BOH tea plantation. Especially when the BOH brand is rather a favourite of mine.

And so we made our way to the Sg Palas tea plantation, and to get to the Sg Palas tea plantation, we had to make our way to Brinchang and from there, make our way to the plantation located not that far away.

The journey to the plantation itself was quite eventful as we had to, first, endure the Brinchang ‘ traffic jam’ and then later, the Sg Palas ‘traffic jam’, as we made our way to the plantation.

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Tea shrubs of BOH’s Sg Palas tea plantation. (@ all rights reserved)

The Brinchang ‘traffic jam’ was due to an ongoing experiment to try out a new traffic plan as the previous traffic arrangements were given a royal thumbs down, with what was described as ‘rather haphazard’.

Understandable that. The ‘traffic jam’, that is.

But the Sg Palas ‘traffic jam’ is something else. A tarred road, two lanes : one going in and one going out. One siding the sides of the hill and the other, with the slopes of the hill covered with dense foliage as a sidedrop. Ok if traffic is just sedans and compacts.

But holiday seekers travel in all shapes and form of vehicles.Some travel in their sedans, some travel in their SUVs, and some make the journey in a travel coach. So the name of the game is patience (lots of it!) and a give-and-take (lots of it too!).

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Visitors to the BOH Sg Palas visitors’ centre can gather knowledge from the many information boards lining the corridors. (@ all rights reserved)

The appearance of the local police directing traffic indicated that we were already nearing the plantation. And before long, having parked our car, we were making our way to the Sg Palas Visitor’s Centre, and passing several plots of tea shrubs along the way to the main station.

From arriving at the Sg Palas Visitor’s Centre, from where we were standing, we noted that the centre is made up of a cafeteria, the BOH tea shop, information centre and a tea factory.

Having noted all that, the first order of business was to get a drink at the cafeteria and maybe, just maybe, some scones with butter and jam (strawberry of course!) and enjoy the view from the viewing deck.

But lo and behold, the sight of the long queue and the cafeteria jam-packed with visitors, laid waste our plans. Must have been due to the long weekend holiday that.

So we opted for a long cool drink of one of those tea concoctions (tea with mango and peach respectively, to be exact) instead. To go, of course and minus the scones and the butter and the jam (strawberry, but of course!).

Since we could not avail ourselves of a table, never you mind a table with a view of the plantation itself, drinks in hand, we made our way to the Tea Shop.

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The Tea Shop – especially for tea connoiseurs of the BOH brand. (@ all rights reserved)

The Tea Shop is a tea connoisseur’s heaven of the BOH brand. The varieties of tea to choose from, some of which I did not even know existed.

Whats even more surprising, they have been around more than for a few years. But then again, that’s me.

Going through the process of what tea to buy can be a tedious affair, as I found out to my amazement. My better half however is more of a tea drinker than I am, and so the choices of tea to buy was left to her. Good decision that, I thought.

Having bought and paid for our selection of tea, we then made a beeline for the tea processing factory. The highlight of the visit, for me at least.

The tea processing facility was opened in 1935 and was reopened in 1972. Why and when it was closed, we could not find any answers to that. For now, that is.

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The board says it all. (@ all rights reserved)

Apparently, the whole process of making tea is made up of harvesting (or plucking), withering, rolling, fermentation, drying, sorting, tasting, and packing. Quite simple and logical really, come to think of it.

But to witness the processes being played out is quite a thrill, nerd that I am. It was wondrous to note that some of the machines, like that used in the rolling process, dated back to 1935. And what makes it even more wondrous is that those machines are still in use in 2017. A rarity that.

I also noted that the employees manning the tea processing facility tend to be quite matured. Long term employees, most likely. And with their wealth of experience, it does make sense.

Having been in and out of the processing facility, we wandered around the grounds of the Visitor’s Centre, snapping moments in time, not knowing when we’ll be back this way again.

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The rolling machines from 1935. In good operating condition. (@ all rights reserved)

It was not long after that we took leave of the Sg Palas BOH tea plantation, to make our way back to our accommodation at Tanah Rata.

The journey out was as eventful as the journey in, negotiating bends and incoming traffic at the same time.

But as the journey in, patience (lots of it) and a give-and-take attitude, will soon get you back, all in one piece.

It was as good that, the visit to Sg Palas, as the visit to Cameron Valley was. For different reasons, it must be stressed though.

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Sack loads of shredded tea leaves loaded onto the conveyor for drying. (@ all rights reserved)

However, the sight of vast ranges of tea shrubs, ready for plucking, does bring back reality to mind and that being the shrubs represents one of the biggest money earners for the local and national economy, with its products marketed not only locally but also in international markets.

And for BOH, it’s all down to that one man, J A Russel, who in 1929, established the BOH tea plantations despite the onset of the Great Depression. Fancy that.

But whatever and however one looks at it, one thing is for sure. Drinking tea, for me at least, will be never be the same again.

Discovering Cameron Highlands : Lata Iskandar Revisited

The cascading waterfalls of Lata Iskandar. (@ all rights reserved)

Lata Iskandar is not really a town. To describe it as such would not do justice to the word.

A settlement perhaps? Maybe, if you could call a few shops selling drinks, snacks and souvenirs either side of the narrow road that.

The cool waters of Lata Iskandar. A dip of the toe into the cold rushing water will definitely jolt you back to life. (@ all rights reserved)

But nevertheless, whatever you may call it, from the moment I first laid my eyes on the cascading waterfalls of Lata Iskandar, I was captivated.

Something about the image in front of my eyes, the sight of water cascading down a face of solid rock, tug at the heartstrings, making you slowly melt, just like the cascading waters slowly smoothening the rough edges of the rocks.

The X factor, some might say.

Lata Iskandar – cool and serene. (@ all rights reserved)

The feel of cold water stinging the tip of your toes when you dip your feet in the pool brings you back to reality fast, but not so much as a splash or splashes of cold mountain water to your face. To say its ice-cold would not be far off. Bbbrrrrrrrrr!!!

After a few splashes, you feel the pores of your face closing up and your skin tightens up with the crevices on your face all but disappear, making you feel young and new again.

Make a pit stop and stretch those legs in the cool air of Lata Iskandar. (@ all rights reserved)

The air is fresh and crisp especially when you get closer and closer to the cascading waters of Lata Iskandar. A lungful of clean and fresh air feels odd at first, so long having had not-so-clean air in them lungs.

But after a few deep breaths, it feels good. Really good.

It’s not so often that you come across images that captivates and triggers your imagination, so much so that you just have to reach for either your camera or your mobile phone and snap away.

Shop selling trinkets, souvenirs and products of the forest. (@ all rights reserved)

In the process, you pretend that you are one of them world-famous photographers, in a quest to capture that one moment frozen in time when all that’s in play just happen to be at the right place at the right time. Magic that!

And when faced with that one moment, frozen in time and all laid in front of you, just for you to snap away, you do feel as if you are as good as them professional photographers.

Forest products on sale. These products are normally used for medicinal purposes. (@ all rights reserved)

It warms your heart to see the results of your efforts and though you know deep in your heart that you can never compete with them pros, the images that you captured are good enough. For the moment, that is.

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Lata Iskandar – a pit stop not to be missed. The natural beauty of Lata Iskandar with the sounds of water rushing downhill in the background, amidst the cool air of Lata Iskandar is a sight to take in and enjoyed. (@ all rights reserved)

After all, every picture tells its own story, and YOUR picture tells the world YOUR story.

I do not know when I will pass this way again. Maybe never.

But for one thing for sure, the memories of Lata Iskandar and its cascading waterfalls will always be there.

And fond memories they will be.

Discovering Cameron Highlands : Cameron Valley

Welcome to Cameron Valley. (@ all rights reserved)

No visit to Cameron Highlands would be complete without a visit to the tea plantations of Cameron Valley and of Sg Palas. One belong to the Bharat family while the other is a member of the ‘BOH’ stable.

The tea plantations and the strawberry farms, that is.

I must admit, I was pretty excited at the prospect of visiting Cameron Valley and Sg Palas, and seeing, at close quarters, the very tea plantations that I have read and heard a lot of.

Furthermore, it’s not everyday that you can visit tea plantations especially when these tea plantations are mainly located up in the highlands.

We actually visited the Cameron Valley twice.

Why?

The story of how Cameron Valley came about and the people behind the establishment of Cameron Valley. (@ all rights reserved)

The first visit was when we were making our way to check in our hotel at Tanah Rata and upon noticing that we had more than enough time to make it to Tanah Rata, we stopped by Cameron Valley.

Parking was not that easy as the parking lot by the entrance was quite limited. Well, we thought that entrance was the main entrance, only to learn later that the main entrance was further up the road.

Alighting from the car, the air was cool and there was a very light drizzle.

Up close to the tea shrubs. Tea shrubs all around. (@ all rights reserved)

Walking around past the entrance, amongst the facilities were a cafeteria (with a view of hills of Cameron Valley entirely covered with tea shrubs, and you know what that means!), rest rooms (served with fresh ice-cold water!) and at the ready for visitors were transportation to the very bosom of the plantation.

But we were not that lucky as all available spaces on the remaining available transportation have all been booked up by the earlier visitors. We would have loved to be able to get a ride down to the very bosom of the tea plantation, which from where we were viewing, offers a hint of a small mini waterfall. Or so we thought.

View from the viewing area. Tea shrubs as far as the eye can see. (@ all rights reserved)

Anyway, to drown our sorrow in missing out on the transportation, we made our way to the cafeteria with a viewing area, to take in the scenery, enjoy the cool air (made cooler by the slight drizzle) and comfort ourselves with a pot of hot tea (made from the very tea leaves of Cameron Valley, processed of course) as well as scones with butter and jam. Strawberry that is.

Some comforting that. Cameron’s finest, as they use to say.

Looking up from the bottom of the valley. (@ all rights reserved).

And after all the scones were gone and the tea savoured, we continued with our journey to Tanah Rata to check in the hotel that we have booked for the duration of our little Cameron Highland adventure.

But not before deciding to make a second trip to Cameron Valley the following day, to try to grab a ride down Cameron Valley and get to that little mini ‘waterfall’.

The next day, after our planned excursion to MARDI’s Research Station, we followed up on our planned follow-up trip to Cameron Valley.

As luck would have it, no luck still with the transportation to the bosom of the plantation. On the spur of the moment, we decided to walk down to the very spot that we were fixated on. I mean, we were fit and the air is fresh and a walk in a tea plantation can’t be that bad.

The ‘mini waterfall’ at the bottom of the valley. (@ all rights reserved)

Or so we thought.

The walk down was as what we expected. We also noticed rest stations, made up of stools and round table made of marble or concrete.

The air was fresh, and the bright sunlight made the walk down to the bosom of the plantation pleasant. We went to the object of our trip down and to say it was a mini ‘waterfall’ would not be a correct usage of the word ‘mini’, never mind ‘waterfall’.

But still, we enjoyed the view and before long, made our way back to the viewing area. Remember that we said that the walk down can’t be that bad? Yes, it was not bad at all. Pleasant actually. But the way back was something else entirely.

On the way back up, suddenly the presence of the rest stations made sense. It was an excruciatingly painful experience, walking all the way back up.

These rest stations were not placed there for show but to give us a chance to catch a breather and enjoy the scenery, whilst on the way up from the bottom of the valley. And mighty useful they are too. (@ all rights reserved)

The air may be fresh but since we were up in the highlands, the air was also thinner. And suddenly age was no more a number but a reality and our respect for the tea pickers immediately knew no bounds.

Making our back to the hotel, we reflected on our visits to Cameron Valley. It was a very pleasant and enriching experience, seeing where one of Man’s favourite and popular beverages originated from, the ‘walk’ up back to the viewing area notwithstanding.

Would not mind coming back here, whenever the opportunity presents itself. It’s rather contenting, having hot tea and scones, and at the same time, take in the view that is Cameron Valley.

And content is the word.

Discovering Cameron Highlands : Tanah Rata

Welcome to Cameron Highlands. (@ all rights reserved)

It was raining when we arrived at Tanah Rata. And by the time we had checked in and refreshed ourselves, the rain had thankfully subsided.

Good timing that, for the drumbeaters in our individual and collective stomachs had begun to increase their tempo, every beat louder than the one before.

So, anticipating a very cool weather (due to the rain and it being how-many-thousand-metres (?) above sea level), we proceeded to venture out and explore Tanah Rata whilst searching for suitable places to pacify those drumbeaters.

And as the rain subsides, mist suddenly envelopes Tanah Rata (@ all rights reserved)

Casually but smartly dressed in our best autumn clothing (wink wink nudge nudge!), we walked around Tanah Rata, making a mental note of what’s there and where.

The first thing that we noted was that Tanah Rata may be a very small town, but the drivers and the bikers were all up there on par with their cousins from the big cities, when it comes to speed.

So a word of advice. Do look right and look left and look right again. Or is it the other way around?

And were they really going that fast? I mean, everything is relative, right. According to good ole Einstein, that is.

And if you can start thinking about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in good ole Tanah Rata where the pace of life is slow, I guess your batteries do need re-charging.

Venturing away from Einstein, halfway through our walkabout, the pleasantly cool (and damp) weather took a turn for the worse when the heavens decided that once is not enough.

Raining cats and dogs, this time, we took no chances. Rain coats or the flu, no prizes for guessing which option prevailed.

I guess this kind of abrupt weather changes must be a common thing up here in the highlands for raincoats can be had very cheap. And readily available, I might add.

Plaque to commemorate the local post office. Officiated in 1956, the post office is one of the few remaining that were opened prior to Independence in 1957. (@ all rights reserved)

Umbrellas too. Though that was not our choice of protection from the weather.

The far side of town, from where we were putting up for the duration of our stay in Tanah Rata, is mainly taken up by budget hotels and with it, a serious need for more parking space that side of town.

Especially for travel coaches, who do tend to hog most of the available spaces.

As it began to get dark, Tanah Rata began to take on this mysteriously eerie look about it, what with the mist coming in and all, enveloping the whole of Tanah Rata.

Walking about town, you don’t really actually realise it. But being first timers in Tanah Rata, cameras were always on the ready, even though it’s just a camera attached to a mobile phone.

And as you snapped away, the backdrop of mist slowly enveloping Tanah Rata does play a bit on an imaginative mind.

Ye Olde Smokehouse – a landmark of Tanah Rata, where many would make a beeline for. Even if just to have evening tea. (@ all rights reserved)

Strolling around, we came across a post office (the only one by the looks of it) with a very memorable piece of history of its own, and with a plaque to back it up.

The little unassuming post office was officiated on the 25th of June, 1956 by the then Chief Minister of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman.

The Tunku (as he was affectionately known) later became the first Prime Minister of the Federated States of Malaya upon Independence on 31st August 1957 and later, of Malaysia as well, upon its formation together with Sabah and Sarawak.

The Barracks – dining in a garden. (@ all rights reserved)

A little piece of history that, for a small town the likes of Tanah Rata.

Throughout our stay at Tanah Rata, the little town does grow on you as each day passed by, and in saying that, we began to notice new things that had escaped our attention the first time round.

Far from the hustle and bustle of the city life, it has its little attractions (or should I say, distractions) to make a short-term stay for city folks like us, a welcomed break and an opportunity to recharge our batteries. Cool air and all that.

Streets of Tanah Rata (@ all rights reserved)

Longer stay? Short term, yes. Definitely.

Long term? Well, being used to a fast paced life in the city and despite what we say and despite the whining about the fumes and the traffic and the people losing their empathy for their fellow man, we think we like being city folks a little bit more.

That said, I guess Tanah Rata will be seeing us again in the future.

Even if it’s just for a short break and to recharge them batteries.

 

Discovering Cameron Highlands

 

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Welcome to Cameron Highlands. (@ all rights reserved)

Cameron Highlands, consisting of the small towns of Ringlet, Tanah Rata and Brinchang, is a popular holiday destination for Malaysians.

Located up in the highlands that is part of the Banjaran Titiwangsa (or loosely translated as the Titiwangsa Range), it offers cool weather (still!), fresh air (still!) and a chance to try out your collection of ‘autumn clothing’ again. If it still fits, that is.

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The streets of Cameron Highlands. (@ all rights reserved)

All this despite the rapid development taking place, each at different stages of development, with a number of new hotels expected to open their doors to eager patrons later this year or early next year.

Having wanting to spend some quality time there, a look at the calendar tells us that the Labour Day weekend offered a great opportunity to finally make that long-awaited trip to Cameron Highlands, and discover what Cameron Highlands has to offer, most if not all.

Not wanting to be complacent about the whole thing and thus ending up disappointed, we made our hotel reservation three months in advance (ample time that, I should think), with special thanks to one of those hotel apps, we finally, and excitedly I should add, began our adventure trip to Cameron Highlands early morn of Friday, the 28th of April 2017.

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Entrance to Cameron Valley tea plantation. A must for connoisseurs of tea. (@ all rights reserved)

And we shall not be seeing the inside of our apartment in Cyberjaya til late in the night of the 2nd of May.

I did say it was an adventure trip and the last time we were on a trip this long, domestically, was back in 1997. And that was with three kids in tow.

This time round, it’s just the two of us. Finally, and with the blessings of our five sons, I might add.

A day or two prior, ever the prepared one, my better half informed me (she loves doing the planning, she does) that there are two ways of getting to our destination.

Option 1 would require us drive up the North South Expressway (NSE), exiting at Tapah and from thereon, take the trunk roads onwards to Cameron Highlands.

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The cascading waters of Lata Iskandar (@ all rights reserved)

Taking this option would see us coming across the cascading waterfalls of Lata Iskandar (again!), the small but busy town of Ringlet, as well as the famous Cameron Valley tea plantation of the Bharats, before finally checking into our reserved accommodations at Tanah Rata.

Option 2, on the other hand, would require us to exit the NSE via Simpang Pulai and from there on, drive up towards Brinchang and our hotel at Tanah Rata.

From all accounts, Option 1 was the better bet and so it was.

The planned itinerary for the 5-day 4-night adventure trip cum holiday was :-

Day 1 : Cyberjaya – Tapah – Ringlet – Tanah Rata

  • Re-visit the cascading waterfalls of Lata Iskandar, and
  • Visit the Bharat Family tea plantation at Cameron Valley,

before checking into the hotel.

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The Barracks (@ all rights reserved)

Day 2 : Tanah Rata

  • Visit the Mardi Agro Research Station, and
  • Lunch at the must-go Ye Olde Smokehouse.

Day 3 : Brinchang

  • Visit to the Sg Palas ‘BOH’ Tea Plantation.

Day 4 : Tanah Rata – Brinchang – Tringkap – Sg Terla – Simpang Pulai – Kuala Kangsar – Ipoh.

  • The banks of the Perak River at the Kuala Kangsar riverfront,
  • The famous pottery of Sayong, the Labu Sayong,
  • Bukit Chandan, and
  • The grounds of The Malay College Kuala Kangsar.

Day 5 : Ipoh – Batu Gajah – Cyberjaya

  • The famous (or is it infamous?) Kellie’s Castle at Batu Gajah.
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The gardens of Ye Olde Smokehouse. (@ all rights reserved)

This trip to discover Cameron Highlands not only provided us the opportunity to discover and explore the joys of Cameron Highlands, which thus far we have only seen in travel shows and magazines, but it also gave the both of us the opportunity to visit places that we have long wanted to visit or re-visit, for one reason or another.

When we finally made it home sweet home, we were not only happy but mightily relieved as well. This trip was more than what we bargained for, in more ways than one.

It also reaffirmed that our personal and collective ‘antennae’ is still as strong as before, and when something that does not sit right with you, the ‘antennae’ goes all twitchy and such.

But more of that later.

For the moment, the memories of our time in the highlands of Cameron still lingers : getting stuffed on scones and butter and punched drunk on tea at both Cameron Valley and the Sg Palas tea plantations (you wish!), having steak and lamb cutlets for lunch at Ye Olde Smokehouse, having tea at The Barracks at Tanah Rata, strolling around the small but misty town of Tanah Rata after heavy rain (reminds you of Ole Blighty in late autumn or early winter), navigating narrow and winding roads uphill (just to see tea shrubs as far as the eye can see, imagine that!) and re-discover the joys of designer coffee (after all that tea, it is a joy!) at the only designer coffee outlet in Tanah Rata.

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Dining at the Ye Olde Smokehouse. (@ all rights reserved)

Memorable, and at this age, it’s a blessing.

Going back any time soon? Most probably yes, and now that we know which block of rooms to avoid, much the wiser.

But then again, it’s still a lottery. After all, ‘they’ are known to wander.

Lunch by the Paddy Fields of Kedah

Gateway to Restoran Selera Kampung Pisang
The entrance to Restoran Selera Pokok Pisang, written in Jawi (using Arabic script). (@ all rights reserved)

A friend of mine once remarked,’You will never have a better lunch than one in the middle of paddy fields. Hot steaming rice, freshly cooked dishes, nothing too fancy. Then after all that, top it up with a glass of good ole local black coffee.’

I always thought that was an exaggeration, my friend being from Kedah and all.

After all, with all due respect, they can either be the kings of understatement or the best of salesmen, making the most simplest and mundane of things the next best thing to sliced bread or the ‘so what’s new?’ of all inventions.

As for me, its only lunch. Or so I thought. Fast forward a decade or two and I may have to eat my words after all.

Signboard Selera Kg Pisang
Welcoming signboard, this time in Malay. (@ all rights reserved)

As luck would have it, I was in Alor Star recently, on company business.

For the uninitiated, Alor Star or more popularly pronounced as Aloq Staq, is the capital of the northern state of Kedah, a state also popularly known as the Rice Bowl of Malaysia.

Since I had finished my official business earlier than I had anticipated, my wife, who sometimes accompanies me on my business trips, suggested that we try out this place she read somewhere on social media, for lunch.

For someone who has always kept to a very tight schedule on his business trips, the fact that I had finished my business rather earlier than expected, gave me the time and hence, the opportunity to take the idea up.

Lunch
Entering the eatery before the lunch crowd comes in. (@ all rights reserved)

That and the fact that it was nearing lunch time and that I did not have breakfast.

After all, I did say that I was on a rather tight schedule.

Or thought I was.

Guided by Google Maps, we got to the place in good time. After rather a short drive, we arrived at what we assumed was the place.

After all, it is the only eatery on that stretch of the road and should there be any lingering doubts, the many cars parked by the roadside either side of the place would dispel them away.

Typically Malaysian that.

Set in a typical rustic environment, the place is called ‘Restoran Selera Pokok Pisang’ and is located adjacent to a few plots of paddy fields, as far as you can see.

Restoran Selera Kampung Pisang
The comforting and rustic ambience of Restoran Selera Pokok Pisang. (@ all rights reserved)

Upon entering the eatery, it may have been a hot and sunny day outside but it was surprisingly cool inside, with enough ventilation to make lunch look like its going to be an appetizing and pleasant experience.

Lunch was typically a plate of hot steaming rice (we are in the Rice Bowl of Malaysia, after all), complemented with portions from a generous selection of main dishes and side dishes to choose from.

Of chicken, fish, mutton and beef, all freshly prepared and cooked for the day with some, like the fried ‘Ikan Bawal’ served straight from the hot steaming frying wok to our table.

We all know how tasty and fresh that can be.

But as this is a typical village eatery, the main attraction had to be the different choices of spicy chilli-based ‘sambal’ (pastes) and dips, all made using fresh red chillies together with other ingredients readily available from the local village, be they lime or durian or even tomatoes, as well as the many types of ‘ulam’ available.

Now, what is ‘ulam’, you may ask.

‘Ulam’ is the word used to describe the many types of greens available, including slices of tomatoes, cucumbers, shoots and sprouts, seared lady fingers, just to name but a few, and eaten as it is served, which is most often than not, eaten raw.

Paddy Fields - Harvested
The plots of paddy fields with the paddy already harvested, adjacent to the eatery. (@ all rights reserved)

That’s what most people would refer to typical ‘kampung’ or village fare.

Apparently, this eatery is quite well-known, for more and more people were dropping in as it gets well into the lunch hour.

From the nonchalant demeanour of the clientele, it safe to presume that many of them were regulars, most likely from the nearby neighbourhoods of Aloq Staq. They who are from afar tend to be newbies like us, slightly more excited, not knowing which dish to savour but wanting them all.

The food was sumptuous, the ambience comfortingly homely, and the sight of paddy fields freshly harvested as far as the eye can see, quite settling. Not a bad outing for lunch, I must say.

And well worth the dinero.

To cap our lunch, we just had to ask for coffee, prepared using local coffee, brewed and served strong and black. As I took my first sip of the strong local coffee, I must admit, I suddenly felt that my lunch was complete.

I dare say, my friend was right. Having lunch by the paddy fields, with a glass of the local brew of strong black coffee thereafter, is definitely a memorable and impressionable experience.

An experience which a repeat would be a most welcome treat and hopefully, in the very very near future.

Taman Eko-Rimba Lata Kinjang

Welcome to Lata Kinjang
Welcome to Taman Eko Rimba Lata Kinjang, a small but quaint eco park, not far from the town of Tapah. (@ all rights reserved)

Welcome to Taman Eko-Rimba Lata Kinjang (Lata Kinjang Eco Park), a small and quaint little park with a cascading waterfall to complete the ambience, located within the vicinity of the small and quiet town of Tapah.

Origin of The Name
The signboard in Bahasa Malaysia, narrating the origin of the name Lata Kinjang. As suspected, it all came from the British who mispronounced ‘Kijang’, a member of the deer family, as ‘Kinjang’. (@ all rights reserved)

Yes, the very same town of Tapah that my wife and I were heading to when we decided to traversed the Banjaran Titiwangsa (Titiwangsa Range) and along the way, came across the beautiful and cool cascading waterfalls of Lata Iskandar.

Taman Eko Rimba Lata Kinjang
The sight that greets you when you make your way towards the sound of water cascading down together, intersparse with the sound of visitors frolicking in the cold water. (@ all rights reserved)
Squeals and Laughter
Squeals and laughter amidst the sound of cascading water makes for an infectious and joyous scene. (@ all rights reserved)
Cascading Waters
Nothing beats the feel of cold water beating down your backs on a hot and sticky afternoon. (@ all rights reserved)

As at Lata Iskandar, the water is cold, the view captivating, the air is fresh, the rush of water mesmerizing and the sounds of people enjoying themselves whilst shrivelling in the cold waters of Lata Kinjang, infectious.

The Waterfall of Lata Iskandar
Cascading waters of the waterfall at Lata Iskandar. (@ all rights reserved)
Mesmerizing Water
The mesmerizing rush of water, smoothing all that stands in its way. (@ all rights reserved)
Mesmerizing Water (2)
Mesmerizing! (@ all rights reserved)
Rush of Water (2)
The rush of water making its way downstream. (@ all rights reserved)
Waters of Lata Kinjang (3)
The cascading waters of Lata Kinjang. (@ all rights reserved)
View of Lata Kinjang (2)
The impressionable view of Lata Kinjang, as you make your departure. (@ all rights reserved)

We admitted that we took a gamble when we decided to make the visit to Lata Kinjang, not knowing what to expect when we finally get there.

But it was worth the visit, as the sight of water cascading down the hills and rushing downstream is by itself, mesmerizing and beautiful to behold, prompting even the most amateur of photographers to take snapshots of the scenery at site.

Even if it was with the use of a camera phone.

Word from my Perak friends, there are more of the same in the neighbourhood. If only they could give me the list of places to visit, as they promised.

 

The Mah Meri Of Carey Island

This way to the Mah Meri Cultural Village. The Mah Meri welcome board has the Mah Meri saying which roughly means 'If People Are Willing to Come, then we are willing to be good hosts'.
This way to the Mah Meri Cultural Village. The Mah Meri welcome board has the Mah Meri saying ‘Hak Lebak Jug Rumput, Hemak Tibak He Sambut’, which is roughly translated as ‘If People Are Willing to Come, then we are willing to be good hosts’. (@ all rights reserved)

I have heard of the Mah Meri tribe of indigenous people ever since I started work in Shah Alam back in the 1980s.

Back then, at almost every cultural function, be it at state-level or federal-level, the Mah Meri of Carey Island were always present to grace the event with their cultural dances.

Welcome to the Mah Meri Cultural Village. It was officially opened in (@ all rights reserved)
Welcome to the Mah Meri Cultural Village. It was officially opened in 2011 and is still open for business today. However, the Village needs sprucing up, increased publicity and professional management. (@ all rights reserved)

I have never set foot on Carey Island. Looking back, a combination of ‘poor’ excuses was the main reason why I never made it to Carey Island til date.

But the time has come for me to rectify that sorry state of affairs.

The grounds of the Mah Meri Cultural Village. The Village is well looked after. (@ all rights reserved)

The grounds of the Mah Meri Cultural Village. (@ all rights reserved)Despite it being a long Christmas weekend, I had decided not to travel back to my home town of Johor Bahru, as I would have normally done otherwise.

The Panga is made from wood and long leaves and is used as an altar. It is used by members of the Mah Meri to place offerings for the departed. (@ all rights reserved)
The Panga is made from wood and long leaves and is used as an altar. It is used by members of the Mah Meri to place offerings for the departed. (@ all rights reserved)

The thought of all that traffic, with its more than its fair share of F1 wannabees, Malaysians or otherwise, weaving in and out of traffic, just did not appeal to me.

So instead, my wife and son number 2 made the journey up north, to keep me company for the duration of the holiday break.

As for me, I was determined to make that long-awaited trip to Carey Island and try to get to know the Mah Meri tribe etc etc, as if I can do just that with one visit.

It was a journey into the unknown really. At least for me that is.

The 'Balai' or the spirit house, is used by the 'Bomoh' whenever a spirit healing ritual is done. (@ all rights reserved)
The ‘Balai’ or the spirit house, is used by the ‘Bomoh’ whenever a spirit healing ritual is done. (@ all rights reserved)

And with my wife as navigator and Son No.2 as 3rd Officer, we got into the car and before we know it, we were already on the South Klang Valley Expressway (or SKVE) heading towards Carey Island.

The use of the Balai in the healing of the 'sick' is described in this narrative. (@ all rights reserved)
The use of the Balai in the healing of the ‘sick’ is described in this narrative. (@ all rights reserved)

The first reality check for me was that it did not take long to get to Carey Island.

Second, Carey Island is no more an island. I was half expecting to get on a ferry to cross over from the mainland to Carey Island.

But that was not the case.

An sample of the Mah Meri's well known prowess in wood carvings. The Mah Meri's wood carvings tend to be of spirits from the spirit world. (@ all rights reserved)
A sample of the Mah Meri’s well-known prowess in wood carvings. The Mah Meri’s wood carvings tend to be of spirits from the spirit world. (@ all rights reserved)

I did mention that Carey Island is now no more an island, didn’t I?

Well, apparently, Carey Island was an island in the old days and yes, you have to cross a body of water (not that large apparently) to get from the mainland to Carey Island.

A visit to the Mah Meri Cultural Village is an education in itself. The narrative here narrates the origins of the Orang Asli (or the indigenous people) and the different groups. (@ all rights reserved)
A visit to the Mah Meri Cultural Village is an education in itself. The narrative here, in Bahasa Malaysia,  narrates the origins of the Orang Asli (or the indigenous people) and the different groups. (@ all rights reserved)
In English (@ all rights reserved)
In English (@ all rights reserved)

But with progress came a bridge.

That as well as the presence of several large oil palm plantations., making the transportation of either oil palm fruits or processed palm oil, so much the easier.

The bridge must have been so nondescript that I barely noticed it, and assumed that it was just another bridge.

Silly me.

Maybe the authorities should put up a signboard to say ‘You are now entering Carey Island’ or something like that, to tell us Carey Island first-timers that we have finally reached Carey Island.

Admittedly, I have not done any research before making the trip to Carey Island and therefore, I would not know what to expect nor where to go on Carey Island or what is there of interest at Carey Island EXCEPT for the existence of a Mah Meri Cultural Village.

We found the Mah Meri Cultural Village with no problems at all, without the aid of Waze or Google Maps. Ample signboards will direct you there, safe and sound.

A visit to the cultural village, as I found out to my delight, is that they do not only display cultural artifacts but also describe the origins and beliefs of the Mah Meri.

The story on the origins of the Mah Meri. (@ all rights reserved)
The story on the origins of the Mah Meri. (@ all rights reserved)

Historically, it is said that the Mah Meri were originally from Kota Linggi in Johor Lama.

When the then Sultan Mahmud or better known as Sultan Mahmud Mangkat di Julang, was assassinated whilst being palanquined to the local mosque for Friday prayers, the exodus of the Mah Meri from Johor Lama began, to avoid getting dragged into the ensuing power struggles following the Sultan’s assassination.

Exhibits on display at the Mah Meri Cultural Village's gallery. (@ all rights reserved)
Exhibits on display at the Mah Meri Cultural Village’s gallery. (@ all rights reserved)

Their journey ended when the Mah Meri finally settled in the Klang / Carey Island area, where they can be found til today.

Reading through the materials on show, the Mah Meri happens to be a sub tribe of the Senoi indigenous people.

The Senoi happens to be just one of the three main tribes with the other two being the Negrito and the Melayu Proto.

All in all, there are in total three (3) main tribes, made up of eighteen (18) sub tribes.

A wood carving of a spirit from the Mah Maeri's realm of spirits. (@ all rights reserved)
A wood carving of a spirit from the Mah Meri’s realm of spirits. (@ all rights reserved)

Mah Meri literally means ‘people of the jungle’ : Mah meaning ‘people’ and Meri meaning ‘jungle’.

However, Mah Meri can also be said to be ‘people of the sea’ as they mainly tend to reside near the shores of the sea or by the edges of the rivers.

It may be a bit confusing but there it is.

The Mah Meri are said to be mainly animists. Living in the jungle or by the riverbanks or by the waterfronts, it is not a surprise that they have strong belief and links to the spirit world.

Some of the wood carvings of the Mah Meri, which is evidence of the Mah Meri's woodcraftmanship.
Some of the wood carvings of the Mah Meri, which is evidence of the Mah Meri’s woodcraftmanship.

For any community that lay claims to strong links with the spirit world, the shaman or ‘bomoh’ is a key member of that local community.

Especially whenever there are illnesses, unexplained or otherwise. And the Mah Meri is just that.

The Mah Meri are also very good wood carvers and many of their wood carvings have found a place in display cabinets around the world, never mind the country.

However, it is to be noted that, as with any communities who professes strong linkages to the spirit world, many of these wood carvings tend to portray different members of the spirit world, with some of these carvings can be found to be on display on the grounds of the cultural village.

More samples of the different wood carvings of the Mah Meri. These wood carvings are, most often than not, of spirits of the jungle and of the spirit world, according to the Mah Mari. (@ all rights reserved)
More samples of the different wood carvings of the Mah Meri. These wood carvings are, most often than not, of spirits of the jungle and of the spirit world, according to the Mah Meri. (@ all rights reserved)

A word of warning though. For those who are easily impressionable, beware, for these carvings can be quite descriptive.

Apparently, there is a lot more to discover at Carey Island. But we leave that for our next trip to the island, which is no more an island but is still named as an island.

Go figure.