Islands and Highlands – Langkawi and the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

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.

Heading up the Langkawi “Sky Cab” cable car, which is apparently the steepest cable car in the world.  We can confirm that it is really, really steep.  It takes you up 708m to the top of the second highest mountain on the island.
View heading up the cable car.  The east side of Langkawi is largely mountainous and heavily forested.  We actually hiked to the waterfall in this picture.  You can swim in the pools of water at the top.  There were lots of monkeys.
At the top of the cable car ride is the Sky Bridge, a 125m long curved walking bridge.  The deck is 605m above sea level.
For those engineering nerds out there, the bridge is supported by cables from a single steel truss pylon angled at 78 degrees in one direction and, and 2 degrees in the other.  This photo was taken from the actual top of the mountain, about 100m above the Sky Bridge.

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” .

A petting zoo entirely made up of bunnies? Emily liked 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.

The 7 Wells waterfall, that you could see in the previous photo from the cable car (second photo in this post).  You can swim in pools of water at the top and the bottom.

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.

The rather ominously named “Beach of Skulls”.  We didn’t see any skulls, but we did watch a group of monkeys try to make off with someone’s beach gear while they were in the water swimming.

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.

There are only a few streets in Tanah Rata, though development of vacation apartments is booming.  Like seemingly everywhere in Asia, the development is really going to change this area in the coming years.  Most of the tourists here are Malaysians from Kuala Lumpur, rather than Westerners or Chinese.

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 weather changes fast in the Highlands, and there was frequent rain.  We managed to get a clear morning and hiked to the top of a peak near to Tanah Rata.  

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.

This Rafflesia is only a few days old, and still has most of its bright red colour.  This is a small one.  To get to it we had to scramble down an extremely wet and muddy slope, though the vegetation.  After the hike Emily found 3 leeches on her feet and ankles.
A hand for scale.  You could easily put a fist inside the flower.
The Rafflesia takes a year to grow, and only blooms for 3-5 days before dying.  They are very rare, and one of our guides spends his time combing the jungle looking for flowers in bloom.  Its not an easy task in the dense jungle.
We were extremely lucky and saw 2 flowers in bloom.  This one was larger than the first, but had been in bloom for days and was nearly dead.
Our 4×4 for the day, an old Land Rover Defender.  Though it was a Land Rover in name only, as it now has a Toyota engine and much of the body has been replaced.
After hiking the flowers, we stopped at a tribal village to try out a blow gun.  The Malaysian government is moving the villagers out of their traditional huts and into newly constructed homes, provided of course the villagers are willing to convert to Islam.  The Malay government strongly favors citizens who are Muslims. There is pressure on the Hindu, Buddhists, and various tribes to convert to Islam in order to get better job opportunities.  For example, we were told that 90% of government jobs are for Muslims only.

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, the largest black tea plantation in Malaysia. It stands for ‘Best of Highlands’.
Started in 1929, it has been owned by the same English family for 3 generations.
1200 hectares of tea!
Fresh tea leaves (in the white bags) being transferred into the factory. This factory still uses much of the original equipment from when it opened in 1929.
The rather modern looking tea room / cafe, overlooking the plantation.


We had the same guide for both the Rafflesia flower and the tea plantation.  He is a 3rd generation Malaysian, but of South Indian (Tamil) decent.  His family was brought by the British from Tamil Nadu (a state in Southern India) to work in the tea plantations.  Most of his family still lives in the Cameron Highlands, though some are starting to move to large cities in search of better paying jobs.

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.

The boardwalk through the mossy forest.  The boardwalk was built to stop people from trampling on the delicate vegetation.  Several nearby paths have recently been closed to protect them from future damage.  Local forestry staff will fine anyone found on a closed path.
Its a very surreal environment.  Strangely quiet.
The stairs are really slippery from all the moisture.
These red/purple pods are a type of carnivorous flower called a monkey cup or pitcher plant.  The pod has an opening at the top, and inside is a fluid that attracts insects and then drowns them.  The plant then absorbs nutrients from the dead insect.
There were lots of spider webs in the Mossy Forest, though we didn’t actually see any spiders.

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.


Our guide said that raccoons are native to Malaysia, but we aren’t convinced.  No matter where these ones were from, they liked to rock.

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



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