Day 188: Taking the high road to the Cameron Highlands

I was all set to find a taxi cab this morning.

Why not Grab? For the same reasons I have concerns about Uber and unprotected gig-economy workers. Yes, it would have been an lot cheaper and there are arguments that Grab prevents you from being ripped off or scammed by taxi drivers.

Basically, I prefer to catch the bus where I can and when I stepped outside I was surprised by how cool it was.

The torrential downpour on the previous day had continued into the night and temperatures were considerably lower.

A 30 minute walk with my rucksack no longer seemed like a hardship and I’d be early enough, on arriving at the Medan Kidd bus station that I’d still be able to catch a taxi if I had problems.

I wandered into the bus station and there was the T310B just about to head to Amanjaya Bus Terminal. Result.

Amanjaya looks more like a shopping centre than a bus station – as with Melaka’s bus station. With shops and stalls everywhere I almost didn’t spot the ticket counter.

After a cup of coffee and a curried doughnut… how had I not heard of these sooner? The batter is spiced with coriander, chilli and there was a definite hint of cardamom. Extremely tasty… I went to wait for the bus.

This was a low-tech station – no scanners for the tickets, just a nod from the young man who barely glanced at the paper ticket in my hand.

Announcements were not automated. There was a man sitting at a desk with a microphone making the announcements of the bus departures in, I think, three languages.

There were no coronavirus warnings but there were two men wearing masks – one of whom had to remove his so that he could be understood while he spoke into his phone.

A young man cleared the seats in the two rows around him as he had something of a coughing fit.

The girl sitting behind him tried to cough discreetly and I saw her glancing around, perhaps wondering if anyone had noticed.

Coronavirus has certainly heightened anxiety but it also seems to have improved people’s willingness to cover their faces when they cough.

My bus was slightly delayed, along with several others. I hadn’t so far, whenever a bus has been delayed heard any announcement to explain why.

It arrived ten minutes later though not run by the company listed on my ticket.

I was reassured that I was getting on the right is when my ticket was scanned and the driver told me that this was the bus I needed to be on.

The person returning to their seat on front of me was going to be in for a surprise when they found I had raised it to the upright position. Etiquette could be argued but I preferred for my knees to remain intact.

The journey was scheduled to take two and a half hours.

It took a lot longer.

After almost an hour, the bus was on a narrow, winding road climbing up through the forest into the Cameron Highlands. I was heading here for the promise of some cooler temperatures and the tea.

The slopes rose up alongside the road and the trees towered above us. We passed small waterfalls cascading down the hillside.

The bus was full and there were far more Europeans than I had seen or heard on the other buses. The Highlands are a popular destination for hiking.

Tanah Rata, the main and prettiest (reportedly) though not the largest town in the Cameron Highlands is a very popular destination.

The ‘highway’ to reach it twists and snakes along the edge of the mountains. On the map it looked almost like a frilly pattern.

Climbing higher, the hillsides were lined with tiered fields – like the rice fields in Guilin(Southern China) but here possibly tea.

The best views of the mountains across the valley were on the opposite side of the bus. The grass may not be greener but where I was looking at the side of the cliff, the windows across the aisle looked out at some spectacular cloud wreathed scenery.

Shortly before joining the road that led to Tanah Rata, the fact that this area is used heavily for agriculture became very clear. The Highlands produce fruit, especially strawberries and flowers – most of them grown in poly tunnels. It was very much like looking at Dalat in Vietnam.

As the road wound through a built up area – shops, businesses houses, the bus practically ground to a halt.

The settlements are long and sprawling, often single rows of buildings lining the road. Stalls selling fruit and vegetable were busy.

The poly tunnels and tea plantations stretch alongside.

As the bus rounded another corner there was a car in a ditch. This apparently explained the slowing of the journey: rubberneckers. As soon as we passed the scene of the accident the bus notably picked up speed, until we notably slowed to yet another crawl.

The Cameron Highlands are no longer as rural as they once were. Huge apartment developments are being built near Brinchang. Whether the Highlands transport infrastructure can cope with this is debatable… based on today’s journey.

The large Friday market was doing a roaring trade, though the market stalls at a more temporary looking structure further along the road looked far more inviting: fruit, vegetables, nuts all beautifully presented.

It was making me hungry, which rather decided the plan of action for the afternoon. If the bus ever arrived.

The girl next to me was repeatedly calling someone who was picking her up and showing the caller the view from the window on her phone.

She wasn’t speaking English but I’m pretty confident she was saying: “This is where we are.”

Brinchang itself is quite a large town, the main road lined with five or six storeys painted hotels.

Quite a lot of people were getting off here, including the girl sitting next to me.

We were already over thirty minutes late for our scheduled arrival at Tanah Rata and the bus driver announced a ten minute stop.

Our final destination was only another three miles along the road but that was no indication of how long the journey was likely to take.

Finally heading for Tanah Rata and about a mile outside we skirted a valley of apartment buildings, all mock tudor in appearance – red or blue woodwork rather than black.

Tanah Rata itself follows the road and the bus station at one end while my hostel was a ten minute walk further on – allowing me plenty of opportunity to peruse the lunch options.

After checking in, I went for curry at a small restaurant where a large ginger cat was having a serious temper tantrum. I took this to be a demand for and an indicator of the quality of the food.

Categories: Malaysia, Public Transport, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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