The Cameron Highlands is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Malaysia. Because it sits at a higher elevation, between 1,100 to 1,600 masl, it’s great for escaping the heat of Kuala Lumpur and taking in some amazing mountain views.
Tea plantations, ancient rain forests and strawberry fields, Cameron Highlands has got it all. And if you’re traveling on a budget, don’t worry. The Cameron Highlands will not break your bank if you travel wisely. Below you’ll find some of the cheapest options on where to stay, what to eat, and what to do when traveling in the Cameron Highlands.
Bus is probably both the cheapest and easiest way to get to the Cameron Highlands (unless you have a friend that owns a car, that is). Here are some tips to make sure your bus ride goes as smoothly as possible.
- First off, DO NOT go to Pudu Sentral! Everywhere we looked online told us to start at this bus station, but when we got there it was empty, and we were informed by some helpful locals that we needed to go to Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS) instead as Pudu Sentral is now CLOSED.
- Once we arrived at TBS it was easy enough to buy a ticket for 35 ringgit (about $12 CAD) to Tanah Rata, which is the main city in the Cameron Highlands.
- The bus ride took us just under five hours, mainly due to the windy roads as you get closer to the Highlands.
Where to Stay
Tanah Rata has a large option of guest houses and/or hostels for the budget-conscious traveler. Most rooms are priced at around 35 ringgit for a single bed in a dorm room and 50 to 60 ringgit for a private room that can sleep two people, with a shared bathroom. Keep in mind that prices may go up during holidays and weekends, so make sure to check ahead.
Here are my top picks for the budget conscious traveler.
- Twin Pines Lodge offers a simple mattress on the floor for only 15 ringgits a night. If comfort is not an issue and you need to save your cash, this deal is for you. Wifi not included.
- Kang Traveller’s Lodge offers a slightly better deal as Wifi is included, but cleanliness is not one of their strong points. Also, they don’t have chargers in the rooms, so you need to go down to the first floor to charge your electronics. May be a bit of an inconvenience if your cell phone is your best friend. If you are traveling solo and are looking to meet other travelers, this may be one of the better options. They have a Jungle Bar where you can get cheap drinks at night and socialize with the other backpackers.
- We stayed at the TJ Lodge and paid between 50 to 60 ringgit (we booked it on Booking.com but later found out it is cheaper to book directly at the front desk) for a private room with two single beds and a shared bathroom. If we would have stayed over the weekend our room would have cost us 68 ringgit, so price can vary widely depending on day and time of year. It’s a nice guest house, fairly quiet, well kept, clean and has a lovely book exchange and common area. Wifi is so-so. Only issue is that if you are on the first floor (as we were), the owner smokes inside, so this smell can permeate throughout the floor. This wouldn’t be an issue if you are on the second floor, but then expect the rooms to be a bit pricier.
To Tour or not to Tour?
One of the easiest and convenient ways to see the highlights of Cameron Highland is by taking a guided tour. There are about 12 tour companies in the highlands, and they each offer similar full day and half day itineraries. That said, the tour guide is what makes the difference. You want a guide that can speak English, and has been living in the Cameron Highlands long enough to know about the history of the region.
Tour costs vary, but expect to pay between 40 and 50 ringgits for a half day tour, and 80 to 100 ringgit for a full day tour, depending on what’s included and the tour operator.
We ended up doing a half day tour for 50 ringgit with TJ tours and really enjoyed it. Our tour guide’s name was Mike, and I think the tour was worth the cost setback. We learned a lot about the history of the tea plantation and mossy forest that we wouldn’t have known if we had simply gone there on our own. We also got to ride on top of a Jeep 4×4 through the tea plantation for some amazing views!
With a bit of research and planning, you can easily do and see everything included on the tour for a fraction of the price. Here’s how.
Use your own two feet or cycle.
Tanah Rata can be a great place for walkers. Most tea plantations (Cameron Valley and Bharat) are located just 5 km outside of the city, and with temperatures averaging around 18 degrees Celsius, you won’t be dripping in sweat when you arrive at the tea house, ready for tea time.
The Cameron Highlands is also home to an extensive network of trails surrounding the city (more on this in a future post), making it perfect for hikers.
Many of the hotels rent out bicycles for only a few ringgits, allowing you to see many more things in a day that you’d be able to by walking. The Bho tea plantation has a free tour of the tea factory, and a beautiful café with glass walls to allow you to look out into the fields below. It’s located just 12 km outside of Tanah Rata, a perfect distance for a nice bike ride.
What to Eat
My go-to dish is Teh Tarik with Roti Canai. I eat it every morning for breakfast and whenever I need a snack. I kid you not. When I’m not eating my Roti Canai, I love a good dish of Nasi Goreng (fried rice) or Mie Goreng (fried noodle). There are plenty of variations with these two dishes (different spices, chicken, vegetarian, beef, etc.) that will keep you from ever getting bored, and they are both (most of the time) the cheapest meal on the menu.
You can buy Nasi Goreng or Mie Goreng for as low as 4.5 ringgit in the Cameron Highlands. To find prices such as these, just keeping walking past the places with only Caucasians, or cross the street (opposite the Starbucks) and I guarantee you that you’ll find some delicious food at a cheaper price. Trust me 😉
How Long Should you Stay?
It all depends on what you want. If you’re there mainly to snap a few pictures of yourself with a gorgeous tea plantation backdrop, one to two days should be enough. If you’re a hiking aficionado, do yourself a favour and stay a few extra days to give yourself time to explore the lesser known trail system around Tanah Rata.
So there you have it. How to stay at one of the most beautiful places in Malaysia without breaking your budget.
Have you been to the Cameron Highlands or are planning to go? How long did you stay and what did you think of it?