I am sitting here looking out of the window; the mountains’ tops are already slightly covered with snow, the air is crisp and you can feel that the first snow is not too far away in Switzerland – I am sipping on a cup of BOH tea, which we picked up earlier this year in the Cameron Highlands and decided I could tell you about our trip to Malaysia. Don’t worry, the previous story about our trip along the Rhine River will continue at a later stage.
Like most international travellers we arrived in Kuala Lumpur where we spent a couple of days sightseeing and visiting friends. We then opted to rent a car – a big one as we were travelling with my parents, my brother and sister plus a ridiculous amount of luggage. Let me tell you the storage of the luggage was a challenge. After we found the perfect strategy for loading all the suitcases into the trunk we even took pictures to ensure we could re-arrange it the same way the next day.
Off we went, the traffic in the city was not even that bad (probably because we have seen Indian traffic) and the highways and its service areas were of really good quality, which made travelling by car easy and swift. The only thing we did not quite get were the toll stations with the different line-ups. They seemed to be different all the time and we sometimes had troubles finding the one where you could pay cash.
The highway does not lead you all the way up to the Highlands; after leaving it the roads got narrower and steep, we felt a bit like passing an Alpine pass if you ignored the surroundings, which definitely suggest you are in the tropics. A few times we had to stop abruptly as fallen bamboo canes were obstructing the way.
After travelling approximately 200 kilometers north from Kuala Lumpur, we reached the Cameron Highlands Resort, a romantic and nostalgic boutique hideaway, which is situated amidst tea plantations and rolling hills 1500 meters above sea level. It was the perfect hotel to explore the different plantations, gardens, jungle treks or – in case you are an avid golfer – the 18-hole golf course just opposite the property.
And so we did: we first visited Raju’s Hill Strawberry Farm (there are many different ones) and learnt that this is the only place in Malaysia where strawberries actually grow due to the cool climate in the highlands. You could see how the strawberries are grown, there was also a small shop where you could purchase products made of the sweet berries. To be honest we were not blown away, but probably because we have huge strawberry fields at home.
Next stop was the BOH Tea Plantation, which was founded in 1929 by a British guy and is Malaysia’s largest producer of premium black tea. Not being a tea drinking family at all, we nevertheless enjoyed the stunning views over the hills with its low tea bushes and the interesting facts about the production process.
The workers harvest, or ‘pluck’, the tea bushes approximately every three weeks when the new shoots grow or ‘flush’. Tea used to be plucked by hand as the workers moved laboriously through the long rows of low tea bushes.
In the highland gardens, the most common plucking method used nowadays is the two-man hand-held machine, which is assisted by winches. These machines can harvest up to 300 kilograms of green leaf per man per day, ten times more than traditional hand plucking.
On the steepest slopes where access is limited, shears are used and can bring in about 120 kilograms per man per day whilst in the lowland garden at Bukit Cheeding where the land is flatter and more accessible, BOH uses specially-designed vehicular harvesters which pluck 9000 kilograms of green leaf a day!
After harvesting, the leaf is first checked for quality before being transported to the factory for processing which includes withering, rolling, fermentation, drying, sorting, tea tasting and in the end packing.
After a tour through the stylish visitor center, part of the factory and the souvenir shop, we sat down for a cup of tea with some pastries on the open-air terrace overlooking the tea plantation. This was utterly beautiful!
We then continued to another farm, which we ended up naming “the most underrated sight in the Cameron Highlands”, but more about that in the next post.