Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Cameron Highlands

About two months ago Aya and I went to Cameron Highlands as part of our "lets see Malaysia before we leave Malaysia" campaign (trademark pending). The Cameron Highlands got its name from Sir William Cameron, a British surveyor who was commissioned by the then colonial government to map out the Pahang-Perak border area in the 1885. He noted that in the mountains there was wide space of gently rolling hills and flatland. Throughout the 20th century it was developed into a resort/retreat and eventually took on an agricultural role as well.
We drove from Penang and it took us about 4 hours. Traffic wasn't so bad initially, but we did find that once we had left the interstate at Ipoh and started traveling east the road was a lot more dangerous. Most of that danger came from other drivers as they passed us on blind single lane corners winding up the mountain side with 100s of feet drop off on the other side. Though normally this would seem to be shockingly bad driving to us, but we have been living in Malaysia long enough to know that this disregard for safety is normal.

We had heard from a number of people that Cameron Highlands was a nice place because of the cool weather and this was certainly true. Most of the night and day was cool enough to need a long sleeve shirt and perhaps a light jacket. At around noon temperatures were warm enough to wear short sleeves, but not brutally hot like the rest of Malaysia. Each morning I took a short run through a valley and barely broke a sweat. Not like the dripping work outs I've become used to in Malaysia.

As for the activities we partook in, there isn't a whole lot to do which I suppose is the point. There are many strawberry fields and honey "farms" as well as roadside produce. There are also a lot of golf courses in the area and a good number of hiking trails. Unfortunately I had a sore knee and so didn't get to do any hiking. We did manage three things while we were there; visiting the Jim Thompson Tea Room, going to a strawberry farm, and visiting the Time Tunnel museum. We should have gone to the BOH tea plantations as well, but we didn't.
The Jim Thompson Tea Room is located at the Cameron Highlands Resort and we had a nice tea and cakes set one afternoon. Mr. Thompson is most well known for his involvment in the silk trade and being a CIA agent who just disappeared one day in the Cameron Highlands. The story still commands a lot of speculation even 50 years later. My guess is that he was taking a walk on a jungle path when another hiker tried to pass him on a single land blind corner and forced him into a ravine. Just a guess.

The strawberry farm was a bit lackluster as there were so many other tourists and traffic. We basically bolted in, bought some strawberries and bolted out. There is something you lose when you are elbow to elbow with other tourists and the roar of diesel trucks is breaking the mid morning calm.
The Time Tunnel we went to on the way out of town and it was a neat little museum. Most of the material you need to be Malaysian to truly appreciate, but there were some interesting bits none-the-less. If someone reads this in the future with the intent of going I would say do it, its fairly cheap and gives a nice view into some of the more recent historical events in Malaysia. Lots of knick knacks and pictures were there along with some other random things that made no sense what-so-ever.
Overall we enjoyed our time in the Highlands, but think that the drive to get there more than cancelled out the nice weather and beyond about a day and a half of activities there isn't much to do especially if you bring kids with. I have no idea what parents would do with them. As a relaxing weekend it was just fine.

Friday, May 02, 2014

SamPoh Temple

SamPoh temple, located on the south western shore of Penang, has been a target visit for me since I moved to Penang. A few years ago I worked in a humanities department whose head was rather knowledgeable about a man called Zheng He (Cheng Ho). In the early 15th century he is known to have made many very long voyages from China to explore the world. It is confirmed that he sailed as far as east Africa on ships that were many times the size of European explorers of a similar age. Zheng He's first voyage departed 11 July 1405, from Suzhou and consisted of a fleet of 317 ships holding almost 28,000 crewmen. He would make 7 more vogayes before dying sometime in the mid 1400’s. There are a few temples attributed to him in Malaysia, but this one was a bit unique since there is a footprint in the rock there which is supposed to be where he landed. The footprint is rather large and seems like it is carved into the stone.
While being a neat little visit in Penang, this temple is now flanked by a construction site for a new residential/shopping plaza. The rate at which construction is happening in Malaysia is mad and even more so for the disregard for the heritage for the area. Who knows how long this temple will stand there.