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The Cameron Highlands

England has forever left its mark on this ex-colonial bolt-hole four winding hours’ drive from Kuala Lumpur, and the tradition of afternoon tea and scones is as well-entrenched as is that of eating hearty roast dinners.

Whilst the trekking trails to the surrounding area’s peaks and waterfalls are scenic and well-maintained, they are badly signposted, so it’s best to hire a guide in order not to get lost, as did a team of local policemen on a training exercise recently. Most visitors, however, adopt a more passive mode in this little English enclave, watching the wooly clouds drift by and recharging their batteries in the cool air and floral-sheeted beds of the mock-Tudor country inns.

An unenergetically enjoyable day out is a combined trip to the Sungai Palas Tea Estate and to the Butterfly Park.  Whilst the clanking machinery of the factory’s internal workings are noisy and missable, sampling the king of beverages on a plantation tea terrace, while overlooking the crew-cut rolling hills, is a must-do. Maybe bring along a book, a backgammon set or some cards to prolong the moment, and go independently, rather than on a tour, so that you can set your own agenda and not have to rush off to other less interesting places such as the cactus nursery or vegetable farms. Unless you find vegetable cultivation particularly interesting, that is.

Most people will find a walk through the glades and flowers of The Butterfly Park more worthwhile, as the insects are plentiful and seem unafraid of humans, and so willing to stay still for their photos to be taken. The bright green patches on the enormous Raja Brooks butterfly, contrasting sharply with their black backgrounds and beautifully complemented by the park’s vividly-hued orchids, are particularly striking.

The Cameron Highlands are Malaysia’s largest hill resort and a perennial favourite amongst overseas visitors, who are drawn by the cool climate, the golf and the incongruity of the area, which is like Malaysia’s very own ‘little England’, complete with tea shops and rustic inns. Whilst many English people will view the often cloudy skies and cool weather as exactly what they came to Malaysia to escape from, longer-stay Brits will enjoy the English food goodies and calm atmosphere.

Tourists of other nationalities who have never visited England often find this quintessentially English corner of Malaysia intriguing and amusingly quaint. The quaintest of the inns is the Old Smokehouse, which offers the ultimate in unhurried colonial ambience and show-pieces everything English, from ivy-covered stone walls and stuffed chintz settees to one of the solid-as-a-brick red pay-phone boxes which were all scrapped in England decades ago.

Start the day with a full English breakfast eaten while sitting on ramrod-straight chairs upholstered in slightly faded floral patterns and then, after an excursion or a round of golf on the venerable course next door, continue the day with lunch and then maybe a nap. In order to fully wake up afterwards, order afternoon tea and scones - savour your scones, served with cream and strawberry jam, in the well-kept garden. Hanging baskets dripping with geraniums and fuscias add colour to the placid scene, and overheard snippets of softly-spoken conversation intrigue rather than intrude.

Whilst a novice will take many months to learn the intricacies of Japanese tea etiquette, the English rules can be mastered in a few minutes. The golden rules are to add the milk last and, for women but not men, to extend the little finger of the hand holding the teacup. If you think this last rule is a bit silly, then you’re not alone, as so does virtually everybody in England.

After a dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, a dessert of strawberries and cream and a night-cap in front of the fire, sleep like a baby in the cool air and in the Old Smokehouse’s comfortable, if quaintly squeaky, beds.
Simon, 48, from Oxford, writes:

“I couldn’t make up my mind what to order for lunch, as the tea and scones looked delicious, but so did the bangers (English sausages) and mash with onion gravy and Colman’s mustard. Scones aren’t supposed to be eaten as part of a meal, it’s just not done, they are supposed to be ordered mid-afternoon with a cup of tea. In the end I decided to commit the ultimate English culinary crime and order scones, followed by bangers and mash. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and nobody called the police, so I suppose that the combination must be legal over here.”

Potential visitors who are prone to car-sickness, and those with young children, are warned that the old road from Tapah up to the Highlands consists of several hours of non-stop hair-pin bends - a challenge to even the most solid of stomachs. The recently-opened highway from Brinchang is a more comfortable ride, but doesn’t offer the chance to see aboriginal tribesmen carrying blow pipes and sporting penis gourds. If disconcerted by the angle of the gourds, be aware that no, they’re not particularly pleased to see you, the gourds just always point in that direction


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