Tea time in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

IMG_7247

Upon arriving in Malaysia, we realized we really had no idea where to head off to next. We had arrived here on a fairly spur-of-the-moment decision, so we hadn’t planned our next stops. After browsing a few tourist agencies, we noticed several posters for Cameron Highlands, and decided to buy a $5 bus ticket.

No one had warned us about the twists and turns on the last hour of the drive. We also didn’t know it would be up the side of a mountain. The massive bus was careening around corners back and forth, and both of us quickly popped a Gravol to settle our stomachs. The views were nice, but I’m surprised we made it in one piece.

We had scored a quaint guesthouse for $10 a night. It was basic, but we had a private room and they served cheap (and good) food, so we were happy.

Cameron Highlands is a really small town nestled in the mountains and surrounded by the biggest tea plantations in Malaysia. The plantations in this region actually produce enough tea to supply all of Malaysia, although they do export much of it.
On our first day, we walked to the Cameron Valley Tea plantation. Taking about an hour, it was surreal to finally get to the top of the plantation and look down at all of the tea leaves. They explained to us that tea trees can grow endlessly, and we saw some of the massive trees that had never been pruned. The fields were filled with tea trees that were just as old, except they were constantly cut back to a size and shape that is easy to work with. We got to try some of their delicious tea and explore the plantation on our own after.

PANO_20150302_132423

On our way back, we decided to try and skip the hour-long walk (uphill this time) and stuck out our thumbs. Cameron Highlands is such a small town and the people of Malaysia are so incredibly kind, our guesthouse had actually recommended hitch hiking here. A guy and a girl our age pulled over in their work van and talked our ears off on the ride back. They were grinning ear-to-ear after having met us and we were so thankful to have a break for our feet, so the feeling was mutual.

The next day, we bought a packaged tour that would drive us to the top of Gunung Brinchang Mountain, followed by the Boh Tea plantation, and finish with a tour through the Mossy Forest. It was $15 for the whole excursion and it lasted all day.

The view from Gunung Brinchang was beautiful, although a bit crowded. We had to battle our way up an old iron lookout post to get a picture, but it was nice to see the entire view of Cameron Highlands.

After snapping a few pictures atop the mountain, we took our jeep to the Boh Tea plantation where we saw where Southeast Asia’s largest tea company. They took us on a tour of their tea fields, and we got to see them harvesting the leaves. We also went through their factory and were shown the process by which tea leaves are sorted, withered, rolled, aged and then dried. It was interesting to learn, and really made us appreciate the tea we got to try at the end!

IMG_7449_2

Last in the tour, we got to see the Mossy Forest, which looked like a scene from Avatar. The overgrown jungle was full covered in moss, hence the name. As this jungle was perched on the side of the mountain, the views were incredible. Our guide showed us massive pitcher plants and told us all kinds of cool facts about the forest. It was really interesting, as well as pretty.

In the evenings, we spent our time relaxing. We enjoyed some incredible and authentic Indian food, met some other travellers, and went to bed early to the sounds of crickets and frogs chirping.

Cameron Highlands may not have a ton to do, but if you want peace, quiet, and beautiful nature then it’s not to be missed.

IMG_7431_2

Motorbiking to Halong Bay in the winter

IMG_0975

Even though it was wintertime in Northern Vietnam, we didn’t want to leave the country without visiting Halong Bay. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a destination so popular, travellers flock there by the busload.

You can get a cheap trip there from any travel agent ranging from $40 for a day trip or $110 for a three day, two night boat and hotel trip. Luke loves motorbiking, however, so we decided to go out with a bang and enjoy the countryside by bike.

We swapped our Yamaha for a Honda Win from our trusty mechanic, Phung. We strapped our day pack on, put on our face masks, and filled up a water bottle of gas for the journey in classic Asia driving style.

Many people classified the drive as dangerous, but we didn’t find it dangerous at all. For about 12 km, you have to drive on the shoulder of the highway (as many other bikes also do) and it can be a bit daunting with trucks speeding past but in Vietnam, everyone tends to respect the space on the road.

After that, it’s perfect countryside to take in the sites and smells of Vietnam. It made us appreciate the country so much more than being in the city. We stopped for coffee in a small town and our bike wouldn’t start. A man happily came over and with some charades, fixed the starter and waved us on our way free of charge.

Honestly, the one thing I loved most about Vietnam is everyone’s willingness to help each other out. No one will leave you hanging and I love that about the culture.

It took us about four hours to reach Halong Bay. Since it was winter, it was cold and foggy but we were dressed properly and ready to see what all the fuss was about. We met another couple who helped us barter a cheap price for a four hour tour of the bay via boat for about $25, including a stop at the Sung Sot Cave.

Halong Bay is breathtaking, even amidst all the fog. The boats, the islands, and the calm water create such a picturesque backdrop. Being in the middle of all of it was impressive – everyone was silent while taking it all in. We made a quick stop at the Sung Sot Cave, which was also really cool. We didn’t even plan on seeing the cave, so for us it was a pleasant surprise.

Later on we headed out to get food and find a place to stay. Some bargain hunting off the main drag led us to $10 a night guesthouses and when one showed us a soft mattress, we were sold (they’re rare over here).

All in all, Halong Bay is not to be missed. Preferably, head there in the summer and book a tour through the sweetest travel agent, Lily. But, if you’re caught in Vietnam in the winter just get out your sweater and take it all in with a cup hot of coffee.

IMG_20150104_123309