The highs and lows of the Highlands

Last night (and the night previous) we stayed at a small guesthouse in the tiny town of Tanah Ratah, in the Cameron Highlands. Our room was bare-bones basic (i.e. beds and not much more than a couple feet of walking space). The bathroom was shared, without toilet paper, soap or a towel (BYOTP, S&T??), and the floor was covered in water most of the time (thank you, shower-loving neighbors).

You can read more about my new-found disdain for shared bathrooms further below.

Tonight we are in the (relative) lap of luxury just outside Ipoh, at the Lost World of Tambun hotel resort.

Our suite has two rooms and two bathrooms… with an actual barrier between toilet and shower! To go to the loo and not emerge with sopping wet feet? Fabulous. And to have soap and a towel right there? Luxury, I tell you!

I never thought I would be this ecstatic over a bathroom. What’s even crazier? The cost differential between the two places was about $40 (which actually is a big deal for our limited budget, but still!) Such are the contrasts of traveling in Malaysia.

Unfortunately during our time in the highlands, Karl was down and out with a stomach bug (challenging at the best of times; doubly so when you have to trek to a shared bathroom and you’re sharing a tiny room with 4 family members). We had one of those, “What the hell are we doing?” nights (or maybe it was just me, scouring my backpack in the dark for anti-diarrheal meds and extra garbage bags). But then we got up the next day and carried on with our adventure.

Well, poor Karl stayed in bed for the day to recover. But the kids and I decided we would go it alone in our rented car (first time I’ve driven on the left side of the road in over 20 years). Sandra: I was reminiscing about our driving escapades in Sydney back in 1995!

Our initial plan was to visit a strawberry farm. The Cameron Highlands is very strawberry-centric  (whereas they’re pretty much impossible to find elsewhere in Malaysia). You can also buy all manner of strawberry-themed paraphernalia there, including ear muffs (‘cause you really need fluffy red sponges on your ears in sweltering SE Asia).

The kids and I agreed the strawberries were the best we’d ever tasted, though a lady at the market later advised us that Korean strawberries are truly the best. Then she added, “If you don’t mind a little genetic modification” (or words to that effect).

Big Red Strawberry Farm

Big Red Strawberry Farm

Emboldened by our success in finding the strawberry farm (Malaysian road design is, shall we say, eccentric), we continued on to a butterfly farm. The kids were in heaven, taking pictures of not only the biggest butterflies we’ve ever seen, but also the multiple other critters at this place (everything from leaf frogs and scorpions to snakes and bunnies… bunnies?)

Part way through, Cen announced, “I’m taking lots of pictures so daddy will feel like he came with us.” Yes, looking at pic after pic of reptiles and creepy crawly insects is very soothing on the stomach…



But we weren’t done yet. With the assistance of our GPS friend (who we’ve nicknamed Malaya), we decided to travel further afield to a tea plantation. Definitely the highlight of the day for me – though the drive there was c.r.a.z.y. – as in a tiny mountain road meant for a small car, but actually used as two-way thoroughfare for all manner of vehicles (including huge tourist buses, tractors, dump trucks etc). Did I mention the blind, hair pin turns and the cliff-like drop offs (‘cause who needs a barrier between your car and a sheer rock face?) Adrenalin-raising stuff. Again, kids in heaven.

Our reward, besides having blood return to my white knuckles, was a spectacular, up close view of the tea plantation, as well as a tour of the inner workings of tea production (not to mention an unintentionally hilarious corporate video that has inspired many-a-parody from the four of us since).

Sungei Palas Tea Plantation (Boh Tea)

Sungei Palas Tea Plantation (Boh Tea)

Roaming in the Tea

Roaming in the Tea

All in all, a great day, though we really missed having Karl along with us. (He’s doing much better now.)

But before I sign off, a word about Malaysian toilets:

No, I am not going to post about squat toilets – though if I were 20 years younger and/or had quads of steel, I could certainly appreciate the simplicity of their design and their eco-friendliness. Instead, this is a brief word about shared toilets.

Don’t like ’em.

I’m (generally) happy to share a bathroom with my four besties (otherwise known as my husband and kids), but that nice German fellow furiously brushing his teeth in the hallway as I stepped out of the bathroom in my PJs the other night? Not so much. (No offence to kind German men  everywhere – Hi Ralf and Lukas if you are reading this!)

The other issue with the sharing scenario is the physical reality of bathroom design here. They are typically tiny, all-in-one propositions. As in no barrier between shower and toilet. As in water everywhere – floor, toilet seat etc.

Now if that water has been carelessly carefully splashed about by someone I love, I can deal (sort of). But kind German man or his Rastafarian friends? Again, not so much. It just casts that shred of doubt about the properties of said fluid on the ground. And I won’t get into the hair… or the fact (which Cate read somewhere; I swear, you can’t make this stuff up) that the ubiquitous spray hoses installed next to all toilets here are apparently referred to as “b*m guns”…  (asterix used to avoid being a result on certain google searches; apologize for the inevitable images conjured.)

So now I know the magic words to look for when perusing the Lonely Planet guide or online accommodations info: private bathrooms. ‘Nuff said

In front of our Guesthouse at Tanah Rata

In front of our Guesthouse at Tanah Rata

Categories: Malaysia | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “The highs and lows of the Highlands

  1. creightneys

    Wow! You are brave to manage the driving and navigating on your own! I’m with you about the bathroom thing…I’m just grossed out by it ( It’s making me uncomfortable just reading about it! ). I have a friend leaving for Uganda today to set up literacy centers and we were just talking about how i would have concerns about the bathroom situation. lol . Glad Karl is feeling better. Have you managed to stay well so far? Where’s the next stop?

    • Hi, Sandra!! Yup, Karl is a lot better. I have (touch wood) managed to avoid any significant bugs so far. We’re heading to Penang next. Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s so nice to hear from friends! Cheers, G

  2. KJ

    Cate’s right – “bum guns” are everywhere in Bahrian and Saudi. No TP, lots of questionable water on floors. Except in the Ritz Carelton in Manama Bahrain, where a dial on the wall of the Ladies stalls gave users a choice of temperature and direction of said “gun.” Darned civilized!

    • Hi, Karen. The Ritz Carlton is definitely not in our budget! It is amazing to see the major difference between low budget and mid-range budget options, though. Hope all is well. Are you missing France?

  3. Angela K.

    Those are some darn cute strawberries you’ve got there. Miss you all. Kevin and kids are at the splash park near your place this afternoon. Sounds like you had your share of splashes at your last guesthouse!

  4. Ester

    I just spent an hour reading your blog so now I have caught up on your adventure. It’s only been a month you have experienced so much. Wow…you guys are very adventurous!!!! Gloria, you are a great writer and Karl,I love the photos. What a wonderful gift you are giving to your kids, life time memories. Miss you and looking forward to reading more.

  5. Warren

    I really like the pictures especially the one with the monkey in the hammock


    • Thanks for following along Warren. Glad you are enjoying the photos. Hope you are doing well.

  6. grandmaandgrandpa

    Hi everyone- we are loving all the photos and the writings of all your adventures. Glad you are now having some “down” time in Penang. Look forward to seeing and reading more Grandma

  7. CMS

    That is a colourful butterfly and I am loving the pictures.

  8. Pingback: There is a gecko in my toilet (and other tales from Penang) | The Fab 5 on the Road

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