Cameron Highlands is a place that sparks a creative force in many people. Nature affects everyone differently, and that is something worth celebrating. Waking up with a sight of a lush forest topped with the morning mist instantly makes me take a deep breath of fresh air. Mornings in Cameron Highlands are unique for two reasons. First is the bird’s singing which helps me jump out of bed. Secondly, mornings get the most sun. With or without the sun the high altitude is accountable for the eternal spring.
In the past, these hills become a second home for British colonialists, whose spirit is still present. Maybe at first, the weather eased the longing for home, but later I’m sure it was the generous nature that people didn’t want to leave behind. No wonder Jim Thompson (Thai silk mogul born in America) kept returning to this magical place, full of freshwater streams and a unique ecosystem. When we went on a hike with Mr. Madi, he took us close to the last known Jim Thompson’s holiday guesthouse.
Demolition of Cameron Highlands
Sadly even this historical site is destroyed by human hand, just like everything else in Cameron Highlands! Plastic greenhouses are replacing once majestic rain forests and animals living once there. I am not kidding! Seeing a bigger animal than a squirrel in this area is a rarity. You can visit a bee farm or butterfly farm instead. Probably the last examples here around.
Ok, there is still the Mossy Forest with a decent canopy view and a few jungle trails that we hiked. A must-see in Cameron Highlands for me is beyond doubt the Mossy Forest, which is just that – mossy. Moss on the bark reaches up to the canopy and the tree’s roots are spectacular. Given the humidity, it is only fair to expect mud, loads of it to be precise.
For that reason, there are a few water barrels in the forest so hikers can clean their feet before reaching the car. I totally embraced the idea and went barefoot. Maybe you are thinking: “What?! That’s just stupid! And with so many poisonous animals.” Well, in my defense the forest path is well visible, and stepping on the roots is fun.
If that doesn’t ease your concern, I can calm you down that abundant wildlife is long gone. Consider yourself lucky if you see a mosquito. No is not that bad; people say that there are big leeches as well. I’ve seen three small needle-like leeches when we went to see a Rafflesia flower.
That was the worst day ever! Not because of the leeches, they are still hungry, but because of our tour guide. It started when we were driving on a straight two-lane road with a handful of cars. I guess the road was boring and he didn’t notice a dog laying on the road’s edge. Did I mention it was a straight, empty, one-way “highway”?
Poor dog was screaming in pain and then our guide fixed the situation. Under the watchful tourist’s eyes, he couldn’t drive on as if nothing has happened. So he talked to guys and came back to calm us down. What he said was perfect for westerns: “I gave the native people some money and they will take the dog to the vet.”
The native people are Orang Asli and children that were present can’t drive. After that, he killed a few small animals in the forest without even noticing it. What kind of a person he is, also explains the rapid aging of Rafflesia flower. When we made a reservation the Rafflesia was two days old, when he picked us up the following day it was already four days old.
When we reached the end of the road it was a day older and just before we saw the flower it magically become seven days old. That is an important fact for a flower that lasts only ten days, and which color and condition are more fragile than Christiano Ronaldo’s feelings.
When we were staying in Cameron Highlands Resort we have joined their jungle expedition with Mr. Madi. He is a passionate nature lover and he took us to the short jungle trail that he made all by himself. No pipeline for the path this time! Along the way, he explained to us about plants that we saw and about sweet water crabs.
Actually, the jungle here is not researched at all! Many unique species are indigenous to this place and are disappearing rapidly. Especially the freshwater animals, because no one thinks about them when dumping all kinds of trash all around the Cameron Highlands. Water and land pollution are terrifying because farmers care only about one thing – today’s profit.
Can’t Fight Against Corruption
Mr. Madi is aware of a problem but tired of his lifelong fight for a better, more sustainable future. It is the same as everywhere – people have zero respect for nature. The jungle path we were walking on is Madi’s third jungle path. The last ones are now roads, farms or god knows what. Soon also the actual one will be replaced by the hotel.
He said that when this happens he will retire, he can’t fight the system alone. It was difficult to see the markings in the middle of a jungle that showed where the bulldozer will rage in the following weeks.
Hotels for Who?
It amazes me that people here still keep building new hotels, even when existing ones are empty. My logic is different, and for me, this place is just sad. All around Cameron Highlands it is possible to grow such diverse plants like are rosemary, strawberries, aloe vera, and eucalyptus at the same time. That is a blessing and a curse at the same time if no respect is present.
Cameron Highlands is the biggest producer of vegetables for the Malaysian and Singaporean markets. It is an area that feeds the crowds and brings flowers to the table. If only it would be done with some gratitude and style. The massive plastic greenhouses everywhere surely aren’t the prettiest thing in the world. Especially not when they’re on such a mass scale and possibly illegal. No one cares, as long as it brings money, right? If you have the money you can bring down the hill and forget about the landslides, it is that easy.
Tourism 0: Agriculture 1
Anyway, here in Cameron Highlands people are doing two things – tourism and agriculture. It looks like they have focused more on agriculture and tourism is going down. Hotels are empty and most of the visitors are locals, who are happy to see bee farm or lavender farm without lavenders. This year was the worse year for tourism here in Cameron Highlands.
To be honest it’s not surprising. Nature is the only tourist attraction in Cameron Highlands and it is disappearing rapidly. My diary has nice photography. However, Ian on the other side is more realistic, so for a real picture of this place, check his diary. Spoiler: it might break your heart if you are a normal human being.