Hey there! It’s been a week since I came back home from my trip abroad. Let me begin chronicling my 17-day ASEAN vacation by sharing to you my experiences in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Visiting Cameron Highlands was a minor excursion that was suggested by my good friend Hance, aka The Restless Pinoy Traveler, en route to our major destination, Myanmar (and Laos for me).
We had no concrete plans of what to do in Cameron Highlands, which is one of Malaysia’s most extensive hill stations. Our planning was just all about agreeing to include Cameron Highlands in our itinerary, booking a cheap room in a lodge, and determining where to buy tickets and board a bus to the destination. Except for the tea plantations, we had no idea which spots to visit right until the very moment we set foot on the place. So, would that qualify as ‘unplanned’? Partially planned, perhaps? Haha. We considered this leg of the trip as unplanned, generally, comparing it to our past trips wherein almost every detail was carefully researched and carried out.
Did the lack of planning ruin the trip? Has it made the experience a little less exciting? We were expecting to answer yes to both questions, but surprisingly, we realized that traveling to Cameron Highlands without a game plan was more than what we could ask for. It sure was one of the best side trips I have had in my entire travel life. I’ll have to give props to the general environment in Cameron Highlands which was a major factor that made traveling to the place without a plan relatively easy.
Boarding a bus in the airport-like TBS (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan) in Kuala Lumpur, we were greeted by a gloomy morning on the way to Cameron Highlands until heavy rains eventually poured incessantly for more than an hour. In the next hour the rainclouds started to disappear and the sky became clear. I knew it would be a good day to explore.
Four hours after we left Kuala Lumpur, we finally arrived in Tanah Rata, one of the most popular and highly-commercialized towns in Cameron Highlands. Finding our accommodation was quite a challenge–we found the building complex yet we couldn’t locate the entrance to the lodge. Apparently, it was a small passage with stairs leading to the reception. After checking in and a quick orientation by the lodge manager, he suggested we head to the Big Red Strawberry Farm which he said would give us a brief introduction of what Cameron Highlands is all about. It was interesting because instead of asking us to avail of the tour packages being offered by the lodge, he recommended a tour that was absolutely free. Yes, entrance to the strawberry farm was free. He pointed out that afternoons in Cameron Highlands are prone to drizzles, so paying for a tour would not be a great idea as it may be interrupted by the weather.
The manager called a taxi that would take us to the strawberry farm. We were charged RM 10 for a 5-kilometer trip to the town of Brinchang, another highly-commercialized town in Cameron Highlands, where the strawberry farm was located. I found the fare a bit steep, but observing that public transportation between towns was almost non-existent, the price was justifiable, not to mention the overwhelming short conversation we had with the Malaysian taxi driver who I thought knew Philippine history and politics more than I do based on his stories on the way to the farm.
We didn’t expect much from the Big Red Strawberry Farm because it was a free tour. But we thought visiting it was definitely a better idea than spending the remaining hours of the day in bed. Just past the main entrance, we were greeted by shops selling potted plants and souvenirs. Touristy, yeah.But there was no entrance fee, so I understand that they have to sell stuff to recover operation and maintenance costs aside from the actual earnings from their fresh produce. I have to admit, though, that the plant shops already offer refreshing views of brightly-colored flowers in full bloom and other plants that I got to see for the first time.
We continued strolling along the paved walkways which made navigating the farm easier. It wasn’t the kind of farm that I imagined in my head. It was more of a garden to me. As we went further inside, the views got more engaging. The plants and the flowers were a visual treat. There were succulents, conifers, various types of lettuce, and the highlight of the farm, strawberries.While most of the plants were potted, the strawberries and lettuce were grown using hydroponics. Later on we realized how huge the farm was. It had a lot of sections and everything was well-organized. There was also a cafeteria which sells strawberry-based products and fresh DIY salads. Beside it was a souvenir shop that sells everything that had strawberry in it–strawberry-flavored candies, wafer sticks, cookie sandwiches, etc. It was a mecca for strawberry fanatics.
I think we spent about two or three hours inside the fully-sheltered farm. After being satisfied with what we saw we decided to call it a day, bought strawberry-flavored ice candy, and started walking back to Tanah Rata. We decided to take a walk to get a better appreciation of the views and to take advantage of the cold weather. While walking, Cameron Highlands reminded me a lot about Baguio with all the botanical gardens, strawberry farms and the wonderful weather, sans the crowd and the pollution.
It took us about an hour to reach Tanah Rata, which included all the stops to take photographs. We got back in time for the night food market. We bought dinner consisting of ayam curry and nasi sampler, all for RM 5. Not the best choice, but not bad at all either. We also bought soya water at RM 2.50 for a glass. It was very delicious.
We settled in our room early in preparation for next day’s tour that we booked with the manager earlier that day. Lying in bed with Freddie Aguilar’s Anak playing in loop at the bistro on the ground floor, I thought about several reasons why unplanned trips like this turn out to be the best ones.
LESS EXPECTATIONS, NO DISAPPOINTMENTS
When you only have slight to no idea about a place, you’re not inclined to building great expectations. And when you avoid building expectations, you are less likely to get disappointed. You see an unadulterated view in front of you, unaffected by your imaginings had you done prior searches of how the place looks like and how it feels to spend a night there. When we build expectations about something, we tend to be disappointed when what we see or experience is a far cry from what we expected.
THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE
Oftentimes, careful planning results to getting so familiarized with the place that you no longer get surprised by anything once you arrive there. Unplanned trips give you the opportunity to discover something in the place that might surprise you–something that might scare you, make you cry, give you goosebumps, or make you feel excited–negative or positive these reactions are priceless and will surely make your trip more memorable.
BETTER APPRECIATION OF THINGS
When we plan, we try our best to execute them as much as possible. When traveling, there is the danger of religiously following the planned itinerary to the point where the only concern is to accomplish the plan by all means, oftentimes sacrificing the quality of the trip. Unplanned trips provide you with more time to appreciate the things around you.
Unplanned trips give you the opportunity to enjoy a place at your own pace. Nothing beats a laid-back trip where you get plenty of hours to enjoy the scenery, ample time to enjoy the local cuisine, enough time for some rest, and still manage to squeeze in stuff that suddenly catch your interest.
LEARN ABOUT SOMETHING FIRSTHAND
There is more thrill in learning something firsthand than just learning about it from the internet. There are some crucial matters that need to be researched online, but some things are better learned in the flesh.
SOME SKILLS ARE DEVELOPED
Oftentimes, lack of proper planning translates to lack of certain skills. On the other hand, unplanned trips give us the opportunity to develop our skills on strategizing and decision making. It is more likely that we get confronted with situations where we are required to devise strategies or make decisions in a snap.
Have you ever tried traveling without any plans? How was it? What were your realizations? I would love to hear from you! Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Here’s a summary of our expenses during our first day in Cameron Highlands (all expenses in Malaysian Ringgit):
Bus (KL to CH) – 35.00
Brunch – 9.00
Taxi to Strawberry Farm – 10.00/2
Ice Candy – 1.50
Dinner – 7.50
Accommodation – 70.00/2
Total – 133.00 ~ PHP 1,150.00 per person
In my next post, I will be sharing about our mossy forest and tea plantation tour in Cameron Highlands. Stay tuned!
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11