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Cameron Highlands: Jungle Journey to the Best Cup of Tea in Malaysia

In many ways, the Cameron Highlands wears the costume of a small English village. But, there is a jungle here, and a cup of tea worth the journey.

The Cameron Highlands can be a strange place to visit. Far in the cool highlands of peninsular Malaysia, one sips hot, milky tea while waiting for a scone complete with clotted cream and jam to arrive at the table. It’s not exactly adventuring.

For an Englishman, this scene was almost disturbingly familiar to me. Visiting Malaysia in search of the unfamiliar, I enjoyed high tea in a quaint, English style pub, and it just all seemed so out of place. Outside, there was a red phone box that would be more at home on the streets of London, a golf course that had been carved from the jungle lay on the other side of the road while Land Rover Defenders drove past. And then, it even began to rain.

The Cameron Highlands

ABOVE: Colonial pub in the Cameron Highlands.

Despite these peculiarities – or perhaps because of them – I was beginning to enjoy the Cameron Highlands. The cool air and open landscapes were a welcome relief from the stuffy, confines of Kuala Lumpur while surrounding the town of Tanah Rata, the main hub in the highlands, were strawberry farms, pleasant strolls through mossy forests, and night markets awash with local dishes.

The tea, though, is the real source of enjoyment. Malaysians know how to enjoy a great cup of tea, but up here in the highlands, the tea is exceptional. The Cameron Highlands, it transpired, are in fact home to the largest tea producer in Malaysia, and this plantation, like many of the oddities of the region, was the product of years of British colonial rule.

ABOVE: Fields of tea over the horizon in the Cameron Highlands.

The tea in the Cameron Highlands though is so exceptional perhaps because this was the source of the tea that gave such comfort at home. Here in the highlands, despite the many thousands of cups of tea I’d enjoyed through my life, I had never seen tea in its rawest form. So I set out to find the source at the plantation itself. I set out to hike along the many jungle trails that criss-cross their way through the mountains and across the fields in the Cameron Highlands for the 10 kilometers or so to the Boh Tea Plantation.

Jungle Hikes in the Cameron Highlands

ABOVE: Stream through the jungle of the Cameron Highlands.

The few jungle trails that I’d already walked around the town had been easy jaunts along concrete paths, not too dissimilar to a stroll through an English forest, especially when it inevitably began raining. I soon found that a real jungle hike in the Cameron Highlands is nothing at all like a walk through an English forest. This cup of tea would need to be earned.

On the map, it looked simple enough, and it started simply enough, with the jungle trail leading to the popular Robinson Falls just a few kilometers outside of Tanah Rata. Then, the concrete path became overgrown, and I became the solitary hiker venturing past the waterfall. It was intensely humid in what had quickly become a claustrophobic and suffocating jungle. This was not the Cameron Highlands I’d been experiencing. This was dense, thick jungle, and as I pushed my way through the vines and climbed over fallen logs, I wondered if I was even still on the trail.

ABOVE: Green mossy forest in the Cameron Highlands.

Covered in sweat, mud, and insects and despairing at the seemingly impenetrable jungle around me, out of nowhere the canopy on the edge of a hill overlooking a wide valley. The scenery changes abruptly in the Cameron Highlands. At the top of the hill, all I could see across the next valley were neatly aligned rows of tea. I had found the Boh Tea Estate.

The Boh Tea Plantation

I hiked the final few kilometers along the road, which wound its way through the fields of tea that towered above. The Boh Tea Plantation began life in 1929, at the height of British colonial rule in Malaysia. The jungle cleared, the cool climate produced the ideal conditions for growing tea, and a British businessman began a company that is now the largest tea producer in Southeast Asia.

At the end of the road are the packaging rooms and tea house, and from a vantage point are organized rows of tea plants stretching along the rolling, green hills. This then, was where those exceptional cups of tea originated.

I sat down in the tea house overlooking the extensive tea fields and enjoyed a simple cup of tea, produced right here, at the plantation. Then, a bus arrived, spilling out tourists. Everyone else in the Cameron Highlands it seemed, decided to take the easy route to the Boh Tea Plantation. I was content to be the only one there that had really earned a cup of hot tea.