Cameron Highlands is a compelling escape from Malaysia’s tropical heat.
With day temperatures seldom rising above 25°C (77°F), Cameron Highlands is a compelling escape from Malaysia’s tropical heat. Since the 1930s, heat-addled Brits have made their way up 1,100 metres to 1,600 metres above sea level, to chill out in holiday homes. Now accessible by four main roads, Ipoh and Tapah on the west, Gua Musang and Kuala Lipis on the east, countless locals and tourists follow suit for cooler climes.
Mapped by Sir William Cameron in 1885, Cameron Highlands spans 712km2. Ringlet, Tanah Rata and Ulu Telom are three main townships where over 38,000 reside. Here, a diverse population of Malays, Chinese, Indians and various other ethnicities live and work as entrepreneurs, hospitality providers, farmers, researchers, conservationists and public servants. The local community is multilingual and multi-religious. You’ll encounter a warm people, in the perpetual cool of day.
An estimated 71 percent of the Highlands is still forested. Home to over 700 species of plants, the woodlands also shelter a wide range of animals, birds, reptiles and insects. Among these, the Sumatran serow, mountain peacock-pheasant and Malayan whistling thrush, all threatened species.
Development in Cameron Highlands started during the British colonial period. Beyond the perfect summer sanctuary or retirement bungalow, the Highlands makes for prime cropland. High altitudes, moderate temperatures, ample sun, abundant rain and fertile soil remain ideal for growing vegetables and tea.
In 1929, John Archibald Russell, visionary son of a British administrative officer, saw tea as the new crop for Malaya. Together with A.B. Milne, veteran tea planter from Ceylon, he succeeded in his application for land concessions. Armed with a single steamroller, Russell, his men and his mules transformed steep jungle slopes into a lush tea plantation, a first in the Highlands and the country. Now home to many tea plantations, Cameron Highlands continues to be Malaysia’s largest tea-producing region.
Nicknamed ‘Malaysia’s Green Bowl’, the area is also a major supplier of legumes and vegetables locally and to Singapore. For a fresh sample, find your way to Kea Farm. At 1610 metres, it is literally the Highlands’ top spot for locally grown strawberries, corn, seasonal greens, honey, flowers, and fruits. Over fifty stalls line a single road to form this lively alfresco farmers’ market. Food vendors offer an aromatic mix of endless local delicacies; steamed corn, sweet potatoes, fried noodles with your choice of protein over charcoal grill. Open daily from 8am to 5pm, you’ll have time to try them all.
Cruising along winding roads, you see many modern Highlands resorts adorned with manufactured Tudor-style fittings as a throwback to the region’s colonial past. But not The Lakehouse. At the 30th mile of Ringlet, an authentic English storybook cottage overlooks a lake. Built by retired British Colonel Stanley J. Foster in 1966, the architecture of this charming country house stays true to medieval English tradition.
Steep multi-gabled roofs plunge dramatically, designed to work with the environment of origin, to shed England’s snow. Foster’s use of noble materials, actual timber frames and stucco walls, stand the test of time. Arched entryways, casement windows and a black and white palette are bona fide Tudor.
Inside, dark wood paneling, exposed timbers and custom cabinetry all add to the cosy appeal of this fairytale abode. Wrought iron lighting fixtures glow a soft velvety pink over dinner guests. Roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast leg of lamb with mint jelly, and chicken mushroom pie enhance dinner conversation. Like all good Tudor homes, The Lakehouse boasts two grand stone hearths, around which families can gather and relax over port lightly chilled, board games, or both.
While you are there, indulge in a bit of British tradition yourself. Afternoon tea at The Lakeview Terrace is impossible to refuse: your choice of English tea, freshly made finger sandwiches, pretty cakes and pastries, warm scones with cream. And if you like, your very own strawberry jam made in a short, sweet class with The Lakehouse chef.
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