The Cameron Highlands is an incredibly photogenic area about 200 kilometers North of Kuala Lumpur. Because of the high altitude cooler temperatures are guaranteed (14-23C). Besides making it a favorite destination for the former British colonists, the pleasant climate also proved to be perfect for the cultivation of tea. Nowadays, the Cameron Highlands are popular amongst domestic tourists wanting to escape the heat, as well as foreign tourists that are attracted by the beauty of the rolling green hills.
Best time to visit
Temperatures are pretty stable throughout the year with average lows of 14-16C and average highs of 21-23C. The best period for a visit is January and February which months see the least rainfall. June and July are also good to visit, although rainfall is slightly higher than in January and February.
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How to get to the Cameron Highlands
The Cameron Highlands are situated on Peninsular Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is the nearest airport for intercontinental flights, with Penang, Langkawi and Malakka mainly receiving international flights from within the Asian region. I recommend using the Skyscanner website to find the full schedule and prices of incoming and outgoing flights.
Within the Cameron Highlands you’ll want to go to the small town Tanah Rata, which is the tourist center of the area. Regular buses to Tanah Rata take 4h50m from Kuala Lumpur and 5h from Georgetown. There’s also a bus from Kuala Terengganu in the East, but the trip will will take you at least 12hr. If you don’t mind spending a little extra you can opt for the Express Kesatuan bus to Gopeng (7h30m) and continu the last 100km to Tanah Rata by taxi (1h20m).
There are no regular buses from and to Kota Bharu in the North East. Instead, travel by train to Merapoh and from there it’s another 150km by taxi.
A more comfortable and faster way of transport is to travel by minivan transfer (expensive) or taxi (very expensive). Just check the local travel agencies or your hotel.
For bus/ferry/train schedules and tickets for most routes within Malaysia I always use the transport planning tool below from 12Go.com to book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). The tool is incredibly easy to use, just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.
Regular public buses leave and arrive at the bus station in Tanah Rata center. Tickets are cheap, from RM1.50 to RM5 for any destination in the Cameron Highlands. Right next to the bus station is also a taxi stand. Trips from Tanah Rata to the Mossy Forest or Boh tea estate are approximately RM7. Another option is to negotiate with the taxi drivers to hire them for a half day or a day. Expect approximately RM25 for an hour.
Many guesthouses rent out bicycles for a few RM, but remember that you are in the mountains so it’s not for everyone. There are a few motor bike rental places around so that’s also an option for RM25 half day and RM35 full day. They will require an international drivers license.
Things to see/do in the Cameron Highlands
Take at least two days to explore the Cameron Highlands.
Wake up early for those magical sunrise photographs of the Malaysian green carpet, then make your way over to the Mossy Forest at Mount Brinchang. Because of the cool temperatures, the high elevation and humidity the moss really thrives here. Not only the ground, but also the trees and branches are covered in moss. You can literally bounce your way through as the moss on the forest floor is over a meter thick in certain parts.
It’s possible to wander into the forest on your own, but then you will have to stay on the wooden walkways. Bringing a guide will allow you to wander off the walkway as well. Your guide will also provide some more context to this 200,000 year old and unique eco-system. He/she can point out the carnivorous pitcher plants, rare orchids and exotic wildlife. Before you leave don’t forget to make a stop at the Mount Brinchang lookout tower at 2000m height for some more spectacular mountain views.
From the Mossy Forest head to the Sungai Palas Boh tea estate. They offer a free guided factory tour showing how the tea leaf is processed. Have some tea and scones at the Boh tea shop on the estate and bring your camera as some great shots of the tea fields can be made from the restaurant platform.
Don’t call it a day just yet. The Cameron Highlands are dotted with vegetable and fruit farms that grow fresh produce special to the cooler climate. The strawberry, apple, lemon, tomato, watercress and lettuce farms are certainly worth a quick visit. You will also find flower nurseries, a honey bee and a butterfly farm.
There are tours on offer with the all of the above activities in a half day itinerary for only RM50. I do feel that half a day is kind of rushing it, but well RM50 is not bad at all.
Spend this day on one or more of the many trails in the highlands. Book a guide through your hotel or pick up one of the trail maps that are sold for US$1 around Tanah Rata. I do recommend to bring a guide though. Just ask at one of the small tour agencies in town or your guesthouse. The trails might be numbered, but not all of them are well maintained. They criss-cross through jungle, hills and tea plantations and even experienced hikers may have problems locating some of the trails. If you do decide to go on your own make sure your hotel knows that you are out there.
It’s absolutely possible to add a few extra days without getting bored here. You can explore some more of the trails, visit an Orang Asli village, see the Sam Poh Buddhist temple or just disconnect for a while to unwind and relax in the coolness of this magical place.
Daytrip from Kuala Lumpur
You can also visit the Cameron Highlands on a daytrip from Kuala Lumpur, either with a private tour or in a shared group. It’s a long drive going there and back in one day, but the scenery on the way is wonderful. Plenty of time remains to visit the highlights and lunch is usually included. Several tour agents offer this daytrip. Make your choice below.
If you like to indulge in adventurous activities, then always make sure to travel with the right travel insurance. One that also covers your medical care abroad and includes evacuations and repatriation. I use World Nomads, because they are the true specialist in travel insurance and their price for the service is unbeatable. They cover a range of adventure sports and activities like scuba diving and even your motor bike rental adventures (if you follow the rules). You can buy cover online, even if you’re already in the middle of traveling.
Knowing they had my back has always given me great piece of mind. Fortunately I never had to claim anything, but fellow travelers I met on the road told me that the online claims process went very smooth.
Where to stay in the Cameron Highlands
Like I mentioned, Tanah Rata is the main tourist center in the Cameron Highlands and serves as a perfect base for your explorations in the area. It’s a small town that has one main street where most of the shops and restaurants are. Most small accommodations are situated in the outskirts of town within fair walking distance from the main street. The larger and more luxurious resorts tend to be further away from town and consequently require a shuttle or taxi to visit the town.
My recommended hostels and guesthouses are all in Tanah Rata center, close to banks and restaurants. For some reason hostels and guesthouses serve either no or a very mediocre breakfast. Therefore, you’ll be happy to know there are a few good bakeries around the main street.
Bed Station Guest House
Dirt Cheap = up to RM50
Budget = from RM50 to RM125
Dorm beds and private rooms with shared bathroom. The place is new and everything works. Breakfast is included and there’s a small kitchen on every floor. Close to town.
Budget = from RM50 to RM125
About 5min walk from the main road in a quiet area with some real nice views. They have family rooms as well so you can get a great deal. Only thing is the thin walls. My neighbor snoring kept me up all night.
Avillion Cameron Highland
Mid Range = RM125 to RM300
This new hotel is off to a good start. Rooms are spacious with nice design. Staff is ok, with a few exceptions. The included breakfast could use a few more choice options. Note!: I did not spend a night here, but received a tour and had breakfast.
To compare prices and read reviews check out Agoda.com. The best prices, regular discounts and off season deals.
Where to eat in the Cameron Highlands
Food in the Cameron Highlands is kind of a let down after Penang and Kuala Lumpur. There are many small Indian restaurants, but not all of them are up to par. Chinese steamboat (hot pot) is a big thing in the Highlands, but only a few offer consistent quality. Don’t worry, you can still eat well here if you follow my restaurant recommendations for Tanah Rata below.
Singh Chapati restaurant, #1 Brij Court, Tanah Rata. $. Tasty and fresh made to order Indian food with ample vegetarian options. In the town center.
Ferm Nyonya, #78A, Jalan Persiaran Camellia 4, Tanah Ratah. $$. Not quite the authentic nonya cuisine, but nevertheless good. Extensive menu, good steamboat.
Restoran Taman Apple Cameron, #891A Persiaran Dayang Indah, Tanah Ratah. $$. Who said that you cannot eat well in a buffet restaurant? All you can eat steamboat and grill for RM40. Not all items from the buffet are worth it, but there are plenty that are.
Pasar Malam (night market), Jalan Sungai Ruil, Tanah Rata. $. Actually the night market is situated between Tanah Rata and Brinchang next to the Golden Hills resort. Every Friday and Saturday from early evening till late. Fresh produce from the farms, souvenirs and delicious hawker food.