The island of Langkawi is like southern Thailand, but without the insane crowds or insanely busy resorts. 2.5 hours north of Penang by ferry, Langkawi is just about as far north as you can go in Malaysia. You can actually see Thailand from Langkawi’s north shore.
Thought it might sound strange at first, Langkawi has a surprising number of similarities to Niagara Falls, Ontario. Of course, that is if Niagara Falls had beaches. Langkawi seems to be some sort of honeymoon capital for the Islamic world. We met honeymooning couples from all over – Oman, Egypt, and even Sudan. And much like Niagara Falls, despite its amazing natural features, Langkawi relies heavily on “manufactured entertainment”. There is an aquarium, a 4-D ride, a 3-D museum (more on that to come), a 360 degree “dome” theater, and a 6-D museum (whatever that is). There is even a cable car, though it is Austrian rather than Spanish, for those of you familiar with with the oddities of Niagara Falls.
At $17 CAD per person, the cable car ride was more money then we would typically spend on a daily activity. When we got down to the bottom again, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that our tickets also included several of the “manufactured” attractions mentioned earlier. First up was the dome theater, which like one of those planetariums where the screen is above and around you. It showed a short video showing Russian cosmonauts landing on Mars. Unsurprisingly, the credits confirmed it was a Russian-produced film. Next up was the “bunny zone” .
After feeding many carrots to many bunnies, we headed to the 4-D dinosaur themed ride. Now by “dinosaur themed”, we mean total rip off of Jurassic World. You take a sort of monorail ride through a dinosaur park that looks remarkably like the recent film, and of course mayhem ensues. Man writes book. Hollywood makes movie. Movie makes money. Malaysians…steal movie idea. Malaysians make money. And in the end, the dinosaurs still eat man.
The final item on our ticket was entrance to Malaysia’s largest 3-D museum. Yes, there are apparently enough 3-D museums in Malaysia that its worthwhile advertising this one as the largest.
The theme-park atmosphere in and around these attractions was an unexpected, but great, change of pace from our normal travel routine.
And last but not least, those beaches we mentioned. Langkawi has some some pretty incredible beaches. And unlike nearby Thailand, we went in low season so the beaches were pretty much deserted.
From Niagara Falls we headed to Banff, or at least to the Malaysian version of Banff. The Cameron Highlands is a hill station in the centre of the Malay Peninsula, with elevations ranging from 1500m to over 2000m. We stayed in small town of Tanah Rata, which feels a lot like a tiny Banff, complete with a Starbucks.
The main attractions of the Cameron Highlands are the numerous hiking routes and the cool temperatures. The average daily high is around 23C, which was a welcome break from the heat of Penang and Langkawi. The cool temperatures make the area ideal for growing vegetables and strawberries. Unfortunately this has lead to mass deforestation, as jungle is cleared to make way for greenhouse operations. Malaysia is one of the worst countries in the world for uncontrolled deforestation.
The jungle area about 1 hour drive north of Tanah Rata is one of the few places in Malaysia where you can find the Rafflesia flower. This flower is the largest species of flower in the world, though the ones in this area don’t get as large as in Sumatra. To find the flower, a guide led us a little over an hour’s hike into the jungle. This was at a slightly lower elevation than Tanah Rata, so it was hot and humid. But it was very worth it.
The high elevation and cool weather in the Cameron Highlands is perfect for growing tea. In the 1920’s, the British set up several tea plantations which are still in operation today.
The BOH tea plantation we visited is on the slopes of Gunung Brinchang (Mount Brinchang), which at 2032m above sea level is the highest peak in the Cameron Highlands. The top of the mountain is a cloud forest, where there is so much rain and moisture that the trees are covered in moss. This area is known as the Mossy Forest.
After finishing with the Mossy Forest and BOH Tea Plantation, our guide took us to a butterfly and insect “farm”. In this case “farm” means a zoo of sorts. Normally we aren’t keen to go into any sort of zoos, but this one only cost a few dollars so we decided to give it a try. It was a bizarre collection of butterflies, other insects (spiders, scorpions), frogs and lizards, and even some mammals such as raccoons and chipmunks.
Most people we met were only spending a night or 2 in the Cameron Highlands. Its certainly possible to hit most of the sights in a short time, but it wouldn’t do the area justice. We spent 4 nights here, and the constant cool weather and fresh air was a welcome break from the tropical heat elsewhere in Malaysia.
Now we are heading back into the heat, this time in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.
- Doug and Emily / May 16, 2017 / Tanah Rata at BB Inn @ 10:35pm