Despite its modernity, Malaysia's tourism is nowhere near as developed as Thailand, directly to the North. With its oils and rubber industry, it doesn't really depend upon it. Plus, it lacks the bang and wealth of the jaw-dropping attractions of its neighbors. That said, there are certain places that pack the tourists in; the most popular is the Cameron Highlands, a few hours North of Kuala Lumpur.
The area was stolen from the natives and set up as a hill station during the British occupation of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. It is basically a series of hills and tiny mountains, with a stable temperature of about 20-25C. Nearby is forest and jungle, with many hiking opportunities and waterfalls. It is also a center for agriculture, producing most of the country's tea, fruits and vegetables.
I'd met enough people who felt apathetic about Malaysia, but loved their visit to the Highlands, so I booked a two day trip. Kuala Lumpur is nice, but hardly exciting enough to hold my attention for the whole week I was spending in the country.
I didn't have a Lonely Planet for Malaysia, so I went in blind, merely buying a bus ticket and booking a room. When I arrived, it was raining, so I didn't do much exploring of the area. I'm not a big fan of package tours, but with no map, no information, all the brochure shops closed, I just booked a full day tour for the next morning.
My day started with a visit to an "authentic" aboriginal village, which it truly was. Much like the
Indian reservations of the USA, they all lived in simple government houses, leaving a few bamboo huts for the sake of the tourists and a few residents. The village was mostly empty. "If you want to see some real aboriginal life," said our witty guide, "Just go the KFC in town. They are wearing their now traditional dress and they dye their hair light. They look just like you now!" I'm so glad the world is becoming one big America. It's charming. We were all given the opportunity to shoot a real bamboo glow gun. Watch out, apparently I'm a natural at shooting poison darts (and yes, they were unnecessarily dipped in poison); I hit the target at dead center. Though I found the whole village
tour interesting, there was something unsettling about being herded through some people's homes like it was a zoo.
Next, we headed to the jungle for a hike to see the world's largest species of flower, the rafflesia. It's about as big as a truck tire and smells like rotten meat. It's not particularly pretty, but it was incredible to see such a large red flower. This was the main reason I booked the tour.
Our next stop was the Boe Tea Plantation and factory. I visited a factory in Darjeeling and took a tour (though I suspect it was run by an enterprising Indian hanging out at the door), but nothing was running and it was much more interesting to learn the tea production process while actually watching it in operation. Like all tea plantations, it was gorgeous. Tea farms are probably the prettiest in the world.
The tour stopped at an insect zoo and a strawberry farm as well, the but only thing I gained from these were as stupid puppet I won with a claw machine. I boycotted the insect zoo because the woman who sold me the tour promised that it included all admission fees. She lied. I'm sorry the zoo had to pay for my strange sense of principals, but hey, I hate lying.
Overall, the Cameron Highlands were a pleasant place that seems to draw some cool travelers. The hill station lacked the bang of other British heat-retreats, but if you are on Pennisular Malaysia, a stop to this lovely area is well worth it.