Day 4. We are heading up to the Highlands.
After spending two days in Kuala Lumpur and a short day trip to Melaka, we finally packed up our bags and check out the hotel, it is time for our "real" road trip and heading north to the Cameron Highlands.
It's been a while since I drive in Malaysia and being the chauffeur of this trip, I do have to take extra caution but in the mean time, trying my best to blend in with the Malaysian drivers. Let's just say Malaysian drivers are one of the most notorious I've come across and they have their own 'rules' on the road. You just have to be vigilant and obey the rules or else expecting the worse having your car smashed with a metal pipe hidden under the driver seat.
Cameron Highlands is the highest area in West Malaysia at 1500m (5,000ft) above sea level with a cooler climate, it is perfect tourist destination to escape from the scorching tropical heat. I remember we used to have Brass Band camping trips in Cameron Highlands where we had to sleep in the classrooms which were eerily spooky when the temperature dropped down to 10C and the owls hooting now and again in the nearby forest.
There are two routes to get to the highlands, Tapah exit which is the old, windy and extremely dangerous narrow road that always have accidents due to landslides, or do what we did - head further north to Ipoh and take the Simpang Pulai exit which takes you on a newly built highway which is a lot wider and safer and will only take 40 minutes to get to the top. Surprisingly how things have changed 15 years later and the global warming plays a big part of it, Cameron Highland has lost its 'cooling' charm and we find ourselves in a pleasantly warm temperature of 27C in Brinchang town centre.
Restoran Sri Brinchang
Much needed replenishing lunch at Restoran Sri Brinchang is possibly the easiest decision we've made during our trip, simply because of the accessibility to Free Wifi! from the Starbucks next door. I am sure the waiter is bemused by us having 5 mobile phones whipped out from the pocket simultaneously busy checking twitter and emails instead of perusing the menu handed out.
We are happy settling in for some Indian food at Restoran Sri Brinchang which is a nice change from Chinese food we've had the last few days. The hungry me go for the big gun and order the Chicken Thali, which comes with an impressive spread of accompaniments such as chickpeas, water spinach, eggplant, cabbage, crackers and steamed rice are served on banana leaf placed onto the table as a plate. Traditionally the meal is eaten with fingers but the incompetent me will probably just make a mess, so best to stick with spoon and fork.
Simon and Helen have both gone for dosai, the flat-packed rectangle ghee dosai is lightly browned to a paper-thin crispness, whereas the paper dosai is a crunchy tunnel of lentil crepe that simply crumbles away when snapped apart with fingers. Both are served with three different sauces of curry, dhal, and mint yoghurt.
Brian's mutton tikka looks fiery hot with a deep red curry sauce but is surprisingly mild and tender. Minh is craving for buttery goodness, the roti canai is a square of stretchy pastry with crispy edges, fluffy enough to soak up the accompanied lentil curry sauce. We also share a plate of chicken tikka, freshly grilled in a open tandoor outside the restaurant, the tender thigh fillet is smoky and heavily spiced with big flavours of yoghurt, turmeric and paprika.
I simply can't go past another plate of Mee Goreng, simply for research purposes. The yellow egg noodle is firm and not too stodgy, quick stir fried with chicken pieces and scrambled eggs in soy sauce and chilli which gives the noodle a subtle heat kick. Unfortuately the dish does missing a few components that I am craving for, prawn fritters and fried puffy tofu are no where to be found.
Big Red Strawberry Farm
Strawberry picking has always been one of the highlights while visiting Cameron Highlands. We are very lucky to have strawberries all year round in Australia, but for a hot tropical country like Malaysia, strawberries are usually imported in from other countries and come with a big price tag. Cameron Highlands is one of the only places in Malaysia that is able to grow strawberries in the cool climate. So the locals usually go crazy over the strawberries whenever they come to visit and buy them in punnets or even better, pick them yourselves!
Big Red Strawberry Farm is the more popular pit stop for tourists arriving in holiday coaches. The nursery at the front housed an impressive range of cacti and succulents while at the back, there are rows upon rows of hydroponic young vegetables sprouting out from little pods. It seems like either we arrived at the farm too late or the fruit is not in season, the strawberries are scarce and also far too small to be picked. We decided to look for strawberries elsewhere and hop back into our car as the sky just decided to split with a heavy downpour.
Cameron Valley Tea House (Bharat Tea Plantation)
It's tea time already! There isn't much we can do in the rain except looking for shelter and enjoy a cup of tea at the Cameron Valley Tea House. There are two tea houses built right by the roadside on top of the slopes, offering an extensive panoramic view of the Bharat Tea Plantation below.
There are a variety of flavoured tea to choose from at the tea house including Chai, Cardamom and Orange. We stick to the original and order a teapot of classic Bharat Tea to share. The classic Bharat is milder than English Breakfast, a very easy drinking tea for any time of the day. I've had some beautiful scones freshly baked from the oven with The Pom and Big D here two years ago, and really looking forward to share them with my travel companions this time round. Sadly the pre-cooked scones we ordered nuked in the microwave to reheat. Nevertheless, the warmed scone with a dollop of whipped cream and strawberry jam is rather satisfying, sit back while admiring the lushest green plantation as the mist rolling over the hill
As the rain has ceased, we grab the opportunity and roll down the hill to have a quick stroll around the tea plantation, have a poke on a milipede and perhaps a few jumping photos. Yep, that's where it all started with the jumping shots and never look back.
Kok Lim Strawberry Farm
We still have few hours to spare before dinner, so we decide to hunt for another strawberry farm in the area for some self-plucking action. Third time lucky, we end up at Kok Lim Strawberry Farm, a smaller operation inside a glasshouse built on the steep hill.
The novelty of self plucking strawberries comes with a hefty price at RM20 (AU$7.15) per 500gram punnet for two persons entering the farm. After much contemplation and hesitation, all four of us (except Brian) pays RM40 in exchange for 2 empty punnet cases. "No eating! Okay?" that's the shopkeeper's last words as we head down to the strawberry farm.
The harvest here is much more appealing, little red gems are hidden behind the leaves, hanging low from each pot, rows after rows along the steep hill. In theory, the smaller strawberries tend to be juicer, (Trust me, we tried it right there and then even though we are not supposed to! :D ) but it is difficult to ignore the bigger ones that are just so damn attractive!
Restoran Highlands (海仑酒家火炭生窝)
The temperature has definitely turned down a few notches during night time in Cameron Highlands. Chilly nights are perfect for some hot hearty meals, which also explains why steamboats are exceptionally popular here. The choices of steamboat restaurants here are mind blogging, but we are determined to try the old school style which uses charcoal instead of gas and end up at Restoran Highlands.
Steamboat is always a fun meal with friends which involves a lot of communal interaction. Most steamboat restaurants will offer a choice of half and half soup stock of chicken broth and curry soup, but a standard chicken stock is all they offer here. I haven't seen such an old school steamboat since I was a kid! The chicken broth inside the pot is slowly heated up by the charcoals inside the long cylinder vessel in the middle.
For RM80 (AUD30), our table is pretty much covered with platters of fish balls, meat balls, seafood, meat, vegetables and noodles. I just love when everyone is so excited, chucking everything inside the stock and then wait patiently for a mere few minutes before start fishing them out with glee. Fish balls are always my favourite, along with the squid. Prawns are usually being neglected and overcooked as most just couldn't be fussed to peel them. Noodles and eggs always go in last to conclude a very satisfying meal.
Despite it's been a long day and we've fit so much activities in one day (including eating and jumping), the night is still young and a few of us are definitely keen for some Karaoke fun back at our hotel. Even the not-so-keen Karaoke goers are easily convinced and converted. And who'd have thought that the kilo of strawberries we plucked earlier have become the healthiest snack during our Karaoke session that night? A much needed vitamins for the throat to hit those high notes! Much fun!
Breakfast – Uncle Chow Kopitiam
Cameron Highlands is small and we have more ground to cover in our road trip, so we are only here for an overnight stay and decide to have our last breakfast here in Cameron Highlands at Uncle Chow Kopitiam. It is like on Amazing Race, we follow the breadcrumbs, a trail of arrow signs that pointing at all directions and eventually lead us to the restaurant in a shop complex within the residential area.
There aren't many customers at the kopitiam, Uncle Chow is "beating jaws" (slang for 'chit chat') with the neighbour, while Aunty Chow is surfing internet on the laptop inside. But once they see our arrival, the friendliness is overflowing to the doorstep and welcoming us with widest smiles on their faces.
Helen has her eyes set on the Assam Laksa, a specialty from Penang but Uncle Chow's version is surprisingly good! The sour and sweet tamarind soup stock is thick with flakes of mackerel chunks hidden inside. Helen swears by it that it is the best assam laksa she has had during our holiday in Malaysia.
Another Penang's specialty on the menu, I settle with Har Mee, a spicy prawn noodle soup which is rich in flavour from hours of boiling using prawn heads. The mix of bee hoon with yellow egg noodle is my all time favourite combination for Har Mee, along with shreds of chicken breast, prawns, tofu and crunchy water spinach, all swimming in a muddle of intense prawn stock.
Simon's curry laksa is invitingly vivid, the curry soup tinged in bright orange colour with a layer of chili oil on the surface. The rice noodles is generously topped with a mount of chicken pieces, fish balls and tofu puffs and a few sprigs of fresh mint for colour and much needed relief from the spicy heat.
Some of us determined to have as much Kaya Toast as we can find in Malaysia. Uncle Chow's version comes with a D-I-Y combo of two thick toast and a very small tub of butter and kaya which obviously just enough to spread on one toast. The accompaniment of soft boiled egg on another hand is never fail to please, swallow it whole with a dash of soy sauce and smidgen of white pepper or enjoy it slowly by dipping a small baton of toast in the york and swirl around is simply the breakfast for champion.
We didn't loiter for long after breakfast as we still have much more places to see, much more food to eat. Uncle Chow bids us farewell as we climbing back into our MPV, it is time for us to hit the road once more and head further north to my hometown - Ipoh.
Restoran Sri Brinchang 25, Main Road, Tanah Rata,
39000 Cameron Highlands
Big Red Strawberry Farm
Behind Cactus Valley, Brinchang,
39000 Cameron Highland
Cameron Valley Tea House
Along the main road between Ringlet and Tanah Rata
39000 Cameron Highland
Kok Lim Self Plucking Strawberry Farm Brinchang, Cameron Highlands
Restoran Highlands Steamboat Restaurant
29, Jalan Besar, Brinchang
39100 Tanah Rata Pahang
Uncle Chow Kopitiam
Unit C2-G-01, Block C2,
Taman Royal Lily,
39000 Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands
Ph: +6012 205 2778
Competitions' winners announced
Winners announced - Dinner for Two at WLG pop-up restaurant in Sydney
Congratulations to Rose Patter!
Winners announced - 'Over the Moon' mooncakes deluxe box
Congratulations to Jennifer Teo, Bettina Cutler and Ginny!
( I demand pictures sent to me how you celebrate your mooncake festival!)
Congratulations to all winners, you will be notified via email soon and please provide your mailing address so we can send out the prizes to you as soon as possible!
Thank you for being good sport! More ATFT competitions to come!