Our next stop in Malaysia was the Cameron Highlands, tea plantation country in the mountains 3 hours north of KL, the journey was slow due to the traffic, we were traveling on Friday and Saturday was the Chinese New Year which is a big deal in Malaysia. Everybody was either on the road going to visit family, or heading for the countryside. No matter, we eventually arrived in Tanah Rata and checked into the Cameron Highlands Resort Hotel which quickly became one of our favourite hotels of the whole trip. It was a heritage hotel having been built during the height of the English colonial period to serve the tea planters and their families. It was beautifully decorated in tea planter chic and was terrible elegant – just our sort of place!? Our room, one of just 56 was lovely, and looked out over the Cameron Highlands Golf Course.
We had a choice of restaurants at the hotel and on the first night we decided to try Gonbei, the Chinese restaurant which specialised in Steamboat, a style of eating where food is cooked at the table in hot broth. We were shown to our table by a delightful and very professional Maître ‘D called Gerard, he quickly established that we were new to Steamboat and made sure we had all the information we needed to enjoy our meal. There was a small gas ring in the centre of our table, we had to choose two different types of broth, we chose a Thai style hot and sour chicken broth, and a Japanese style fish broth, these were brought to the table in a huge pan divided in to two halves and set on the gas ring. Next, we made our first (of several) trips to a buffet table to choose from a range of raw vegetables, herbs, noodles and condiments; when we sat down again Gerard brought us a platter of thinly sliced raw beef, chicken and fish, and prawns. First we added some ‘hard’ vegetables to the broth, carrots, radish etc., these needed a few minutes to cook, then we added the meat or fish which only needed to cook quickly and finally we added the noodles. Instant, delicious noodle soup. The condiments, soya sauce, chili relish, grated garlic, coriander, peanut sauce, could be added to the bowl or stirred into the broth. It was a lovely leisurely way to eat and as the evening went on the broth took on a richer flavour from the ingredients we added to it.
Next day we planned a trip to visit a local tea plantation and factory further up the mountain, the hotel advised us that there were no guided tours that day because it was a public holiday but the plantation would be open and they booked a taxi to take us there. We were due to leave at 10.00 but just at that moment a Chinese troupe took over the drive and front steps of the hotel to perform a lion dance to celebrate the new year, year of the rooster; cue lots of drums, acrobatics and fire crackers – very exciting. The traffic was horrendous, it took us an hour to get to the BOH (Best of Highlands) plantation which was about 7km away, it was a good job the taxi was only charging £10 an hour (minimum thee hours). Once we got to the plantation there was grid lock on the road in, our driver suggested we get out and walk along the drive to enjoy the view and he would pick us up along the way when the traffic moved, we followed his advice and were rewarded with wonderful views of the tea plantation covering the valley. Like the rice fields we had seen in Bali it is a heavily cultivated, industrial landscape but none the less it was beautiful. Once the traffic eased we re-joined our taxi and headed to the factory and visitor centre. We spent a few minutes in the factory (it is a simple process, dry, crush, flash roast, grade, pack) then headed to the café. BOH had built a new visitors centre a few years ago, with a cantilevered terrace overlooking the plantation, it was very busy and a bit chaotic but we did find a seat on the terrace and I enjoyed every moment of drinking a mug of tea overlooking the fields where it Had been picked. Mark had a mineral water! We have been told that the tea country in Sri Lanka is even more beautiful, I look forward to the chance to compare and contrast.
We got back to the hotel in time for a proper afternoon tea in the lounge, had dinner in the western restaurant that night and prepared for our trip to Penang in the morning.
Quick aside re the Year of the Rooster. Chinese astrology offers horoscopes by reading the character of the year of your birth against the character of the new year, when we were in Singapore we saw a series of displays offering predictions for the year of the rooster. Mine was ok, good prospects at work, I would get the promotion I missed out on last year(?), I will attract attention from the opposite sex and should avoid creating jealousy or misunderstanding from my partner. All good. Marks was a little bit different, he needs to take care of his bones and muscles because he may become unsteady and fall over, he also has to avoid sharp objects. Read in to that what you will.