Time for Tea: Tea Plantations, Cameron Highlands
Our First Impressions of the Tea Plantations, Cameron Highlands
We headed to the tea plantations, Cameron Highlands from Kuala Lumpur aboard a lovely pink bus! It wasn’t that lovely but it was good enough and cost less than a tenner, so we were happy.
We could walk from the bus station in Tanah Rata to our hostel, Hill View Inn.
First impressions are:
- this town is small;
- it is heavily influenced by India;
- the temperature is much cooler than KL or Melaka.
Cameron Highlands’ Accommodation
Hill View Inn is your average guest house / hostel. The family that owned the hotel were lovely, friendly and helpful. The food was ok and cheap.
We entered our room and of course Greg spotted a spider! He looked less than thrilled. Greg that is, I’m not sure the spider gave a toss!
We then took off to explore the town and get some dinner. My usual bus journey prep is to dehydrate myself and not eat so that I don’t need to go to a horrific toilet on the way. This means that I also arrive hungry and thirsty, but less traumatised than might otherwise be the case.
Tea Plantations, Cameron Highlands
There are several tours that you can do in the Highlands. My priority was a tea plantation. Next to wine, tea is my favourite beverage. Although I do drink tea every day and try not to drink wine every day. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t! I have remembered my own Yorkshire Tea Bags this time having failed in South America and needed Charley to bring me some out when she joined us on the Inca Trail. Surprisingly though so far, I haven’t needed them. Malaysia is a good tea drinking country!
So, we chose to do the Mossy Forest Discovery tour for R50. We discovered that everyone charged R50 so we just picked an agency, CS Travel.
In the evening, we went to TripAdvisor’s number 1 restaurant (not in my book, but more on that later), which happily for me is a Punjabi restaurant. Singh Chapatti, great name! Greg had a chicken biryani and I had a paneer & cashew nut curry. We did sell our British taste buds a little short and went for the “normal” spice level. This wasn’t enough for us and we both wished that we’d gone for at least medium. The food was lovely though and we trotted back to Hill View satisfied.
On arrival back in the room, we found a massive grasshopper that I had to remove because Greg was freaking out. Bless, he’s a sensitive soul.
Tea Plantations, Cameron Highlands Tour
The next day, we were collected at 9am along with a Dutch couple, a French lady and a Malay / Italian couple. Our tour had begun! First up we stopped in the tea plantations of BOH (Best Of the Highlands) Tea Company.
So, a little bit of information about the tea growing process. For those of you who read our European vineyard blogs, firstly well done for sticking with us – you are true friends, and secondly, I will try to give the same amount of tea info as wine (especially for my lovely friend Naj).
BOH Tea Plantations, Cameron Highlands
BOH tea is the most popular tea in Malaysia. The BOH tea company was began by a British man, JA Russell. It is still run by a member of the family, Caroline Russell. JA Russell located this piece of land, which was covered in forest. He then paid the indigenous people to clear the forest and plant the tea trees.
The tea trees were planted in 1929. BOH company now owns 1,200 hectares in Malaysia, with this plantation being the smallest at 240 hectares.
Tea trees take 5 years to grow. Initially it grows like a tree then the workers prune it back into a bush.
A Working Experience in the Tea Plantations, Cameron Highlands
In the late 1920s people from the South of India came to work the plantation by hand. There were 145 workers who picked 2,000 kilos per day. In 1934, the workers asked for higher wages, and so were fired! Nice!!
The Russell family, replaced these workers with ones from Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nepal. But after only 1 year these workers too became disillusioned with the work versus rewards. It took too long to pick a kilo by hand and so their wages were capped. The Company then started using tea shears to increase productivity, which was subsequently replaced by a tea machine. This uses a petrol engine and is steered by two people. The workers could now earn more money.
Tea picking is still performed by immigrants into Malaysia. They are given a temporary contract of around 4 years. They earn 25 cents (Malaysian) per kilo picked, so for obvious reasons they prefer to work in rainy season (heavier leaves). In 1 month, they earn on average R1,000 but they also have their house, electricity, water and health care provided for.
The quality of the leaves being picked dropped with the introduction of machinery. This was balanced by the introduction of quality control once the harvesting has completed. Here the leaves are checked though and the old, dark leaves are thrown away. I think that they actually go into Lipton’s tea, but no one was admitting this!
Quality may have fell but production grew. Now 25 workers can pick 6,000 kilos a day. The plants are picked every 3 weeks and every 3 years the bushes are pruned to ensure that they do not grow into trees.
Malaysian Tea Plantations
In Malaysian tea plantations, the only tea produced is black tea. This is for two reasons. Firstly, they cannot get the work force needed to pick green tea leaves by hand. Secondly, the tea trees are too young at 88 years old. A tea plant lasts around 200 years but after 90 years black tea cannot be produced. These older plants are used for Chinese, green or oolong tea.
The Mossy Forest
We left the tea plantations and moved onto the Mossy Forest. This forest is over 1 million years old, with trails opening 40 years ago. Unfortunately, there is a lot of rubbish left here. Our guide believed that local tourists were destroying the forest as they wouldn’t take care not to step on the moss or take litter away with them.
The government has tried to counteract this by opening a platform trail. This means that you can walk above the forest and therefore not damage it.
After our walk, we went to see a large pitcher flower and a wild ginger plant.
Mount Gunung Brinchang
Unfortunately for us Gunung Bringchang, the highest point in the Highlands, has been purchased by the military who stopped people going to the highest point last week. Typical! It could be worse I guess the tea plantations, Cameron Highlands or Indian restaurants could have been closed.
We’ve seen the BOH tea plantations, Cameron Highlands and now we move onto the BOH tea factory. I must confess, I was a little disappointed. I thought that we’d have a guided tour and a tea tasting. Like the winery tours that we’ve been on. Instead you walk staring in through windows to the factory, then through a museum into a canteen. Here you can purchase tea and cake. Expensive for Malaysia too. Not what I imagined.
The tea plantations were beautiful though.
Butterfly and Strawberry Farms
Our final stop was the Butterfly Farm / Strawberry Farm, which are next door to each other. We opted for the Strawberry Farm. It really was nothing to visit. I guess being British we have so many strawberry farms, and I grow them so it wasn’t anything special. The strawberries are all behind wire so it is a bit like a strawberry gaol.
Half of our group went to the Butterfly Farm and weren’t impressed. They said that there were animals like raccoons in very small cages and it was quite sad.
That night we decided to try the local speciality of Steamboat, heading to the Mayflower restaurant. The food was nice enough, but as Greg commented it was possibly the messiest way to eat ever! I did have a stomach gurgling experience as the owner’s wife (I think) sat down on our table put her feet up and picked her nose! Nice! Gag reflex working nicely.
The next day we wondered around town, feeling cold and wet as it kept raining. In the evening, we went to my number 1 restaurant in Tanah Rata, The Barracks Café. This is a new restaurant situated in a nissan hut restored from its use in the second world war.
A little bit of history……..The Japanese attacked Malaysia from the North, which had not been expected by the Allied forces, who were prepared for a Southerly attack via Singapore. These nissan huts had been used by Allied forces. The inside is decorated with many photographs and maps of that time. The owner treated me to a bit of “shared” history. The outside is a beautiful garden. The food was great, I had a chickpea curry in a bread bowl, Greg had lamb cutlets with mint sauce. I really liked this place. The owner clearly has a passion for the place and it is a cut above the plastic chair restaurants that surround the rest of the town.
We learnt too late that every day you can visit the convent after 2pm, which used to be the army medical centre. A pity that we didn’t know that yesterday.
The next day we left and headed for our diving in the Perhentian Islands adventure.