WHY CAMERON HIGHLANDS?
Cameron Highlands is a popular hill station in Malaysia located at least 1,100 metres above sea level. People go there to spend time with nature, hike some mystical mountains, enjoy the scenic views at Malaysia’s iconic tea plantation, and of course, enjoy the cool climate, strawberries and other fresh produce. It offers so much more, but you get the idea.
For me, it’s pretty obvious that the idea of seeing some mountain landscapes was the main reason why I decided to go there. To anyone coming from Singapore, one can have an enjoyable and relaxing stay at Cameron Highlands by spending at least 2 days and a night, excluding the travel times. If you can extend one more night, just do it.
Here are some pictures from Cameron Highlands for your inspiration:
Just a week after I returned from my short weekend holiday in the Philippines, I realised that I have applied for another two-day leave after Singapore’s 52nd National Day, which occurred on a Wednesday. This effectively gave me a glorious, 5-day long weekend.
As what a bored expat does in Singapore over a long weekend, I wanted to spend it out of the country. Laos and Vietnam were the top places on my mind, but having not much dough left in the coffers, I knew it had to be somewhere near and cheap. It had to be in Malaysia. But where?
As I’ve been thinking a lot about landscapes and mountains in these past few weeks, I narrowed down my choices and ultimately chose to go to Cameron Highlands. I’ve been there before, but I was in a group and we had a fixed itinerary. So I fancied going back there again, this time solo and in full control of my time and what I want to do.
CHEAP TRAVEL FROM SINGAPORE TO CAMERON HIGHLANDS BY BUS
As I was travelling with the budget in mind, my option was to take the bus route from Johor Bahru, which cuts the travel costs almost by half. You can also travel directly by bus from Singapore which costs around 178,41 MYR / 56.50 SGD / 35.11 EUR, or by car, train, or even fly to the nearby town of Ipoh to save time but at greater costs. Fortunately for me, Malaysian cities and towns are well-connected by extensive bus routes and the fares are reasonably cheap.
Here’s the summary of how I navigated myself from Singapore to Cameron Highlands – my style, adventure and comfort level. I will write separate blog posts on these to offer tips if you want to do this yourself:
- From the Singapore CBD, I took a train to Kranji MRT station on the North-South line. Travel time was around 45 minutes.
- From Kranji MRT station, I walked over the overhead pedestrian bridge and took the #170 bus to Larkin Bus Terminal in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. The border crossing between Singapore and Malaysia can be (very) stressful during peak times, but since I left on a weekday, it was fabulously quick and comfortable. Travel time for me to reach Larkin Bus Terminal was 30 minutes. At worst times, this could take 4 hours.
- From Larkin Bus Terminal, I took a bus to Kuala Lumpur. This costs about 30 MYR / 9.50 SGD / 5.90 EUR. The bus was scheduled to leave at 5:30 PM but it left around 6:15 PM, which is not surprising. The bus timings in Malaysia and many Asian countries are often unreliable. After taking a quick toilet stop at a town called Yong Peng, we proceeded to Kuala Lumpur and reached its central bus terminal, the Terminal Bersapadu Selatan (TBS), after about 4 hours of journey. It was my first time there and I was pretty impressed with how developed this bus terminal is. You have 50+ ticket counters to choose from, and shops are available throughout the day. You won’t starve.
- From Kuala Lumpur’s TBS, I decided to take a bus to Ipoh, the closest city from Cameron Highlands. There are direct buses to Cameron Highlands from TBS, but I arrived late so I had to go this way. Ipoh was an excellent choice in this situation as it is a capital city (of the state of Perak). This meant I would end up in a decent bus terminal with shops and plenty of accommodation options around. My bus was scheduled to leave at 11:00 PM, but it was fashionably delayed for 45 minutes. At around 3:00 AM, I arrived at Amanjaya Bus Terminal in Ipoh. When I learned that the first bus to Cameron Highlands would leave at 8:00 AM, I thought that searching for accommodation at this crazy time of the night is futile, so I decided to spend at the terminal. There were plenty of empty seats at the boarding area of this well-lit terminal, there are toilets, 24/7 shops and eateries available, and it felt pretty safe, so I decided to spend the night there. I understand that this is not for everyone, but I’m fucking hardcore. Surprisingly, I woke up pretty well rested.
- From Ipoh, I took the first bus bound for Tanah Rata’s Freesia Bus Terminal in Cameron Highlands. This costs 20 MYR / 6.33 SGD / 3.94 EUR, and the route was very scenic. As the bus drove up to the highlands, I saw scenic limestone hills and fascinating landscapes, resembling those you would see in Krabi, Thailand. The journey took about 2 hours and I was welcomed with an amazing 17C temperature upon reaching Tanah Rata. I decided to stay here instead of the town of Brinchang, as it offers more accommodation options – from hostels, to inns, and hotels – a boon for budget travellers like myself. Brinchang, another major town in Cameron Highlands, offers more upscale accommodations and it is located closer to Cameron’s most popular sights.
WHAT TO DO IN CAMERON HIGHLANDS
I stayed for a night at Tanah Rata’s Hillview Inn. They were on a special so the rates were pretty affordable. I had an excellent experience staying here before I decided to switch over to a hostel at CH Traveller’s Inn for my second night.
On my first day, I was sold on the idea of walking to the Boh tea plantations, as I’ve been there before. After checking in, I started trekking the highway from Tanah Rata to Brinchang on a cloudy afternoon until it started raining. There were plenty of interesting things to see along the way.
However, beyond Brinchang, there were no sidewalks, so it started to feel stupid walking by the narrow, winding roads with speeding vehicles driving from both directions. After realising that the tea plantations is still way further up, I decided to make a turn back to Tanah Rata on foot and ended up walking 17 kilometres in total.
On my second day, I signed up for a full-day adventure, guided tour around Cameron which cost 98 MYR / 31 SGD / 19 EUR. Here I met a few new German friends and other people from Europe. The guided tour is a quick fix to those who have little time to explore Cameron Highlands. It offered a lot of photo opportunities.
We were joined with travellers from other hostels, and altogether took 4-wheel vehicles up on rough mountainous terrains. With confident local drivers crazily speeding on the winding roads, the adventure level escalated to 10/10. Better advise your driver to slow down if you are scared of this.
Here are things I have done:
- Hiking up a muddy mountain in search of Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower. Such a random thing to see in the middle of a tropical jungle.
- Drinking water from a bamboo. Something I’ve never thought and done before.
- Visiting the Orang Asli aborigine village, which gives you insights of their life and culture.
- Visiting the Boh tea plantation – scenic and beautiful. We rewarded ourselves with some hot tea and cake at their café after a strenuous hike early in the day.
- Driving up to the Mossy Forest, as what its name implies, is centuries-old forest covered with moss. The drive up this mountain is breathtaking. Being in this forest is enchanting. If you have more time, I recommend you hike further to Mount Irau and visit the neighbouring Mount Brinchang.
- Visiting the cactus and strawberry farms (of course)
- Trying the local delicacies.
TRAVEL CHEAP FROM CAMERON HIGHLANDS TO SINGAPORE BY BUS
Here’s the summary of how I returned from Cameron Highlands to Singapore, after spending 2 nights and a day there.
- From the Tanah Rata’s Freesia Terminal, I took a mini-coach to Kuala Lumpur. Travel time was around 4 hours down the nauseating, winding road which lasted for 2 hours. If you go this way, better take those anti-motion sickness pills! There’s a direct bus available from Tanah Rata to Johor Bahru’s Larkin Bus Terminal, but it was full when I was there. The mini-coach took me to Kuala Lumpur’s KL Sentral, city’s main train station. I took a short coffee break at a Swiss café here before I took a short train ride to TBS for my bus to Johor Bahru.
- From Kuala Lumpur’s TBS, I took a bus to Johor Bahru. I left Kuala Lumpur at 6:00 PM. After about 4 hours of journey, I came back to Johor Bahru’s Larkin Terminal. As I didn’t want to stress my way crossing the border by midnight and pay the hefty taxi fare from the border to my apartment in Singapore, I decided to crash in a hostel called Double K, located just 10 minutes away from Larkin terminal. It costs only 35 MYR / 11 SGD / 6.89 EUR for a night stay, including a simple breakfast. Simple and convenient.
- Took the #170 bus to the Singapore CBD.
Hope this post helps other bored expats and keen travellers. If you have any questions relating to this, feel free to drop your comment below. Happy to help wherever I can!