Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Talking of Hill Stations…Tanah Rata
Talking of hill stations and resorts in Asia in yesterday’s post reminded me I took some photos of older buildings still in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Hill stations are a very European thing – the British built them everywhere from Simla in India to Maymo in Burma; the French followed too with Sapa and Dalat in Vietnam and even the Americans decided that when the heat got too much a hill station was just what was required and built Baguio in the Philippines. Malaysia of course has its fair share of hill stations and they’re among the best preserved and most popular with visitors in Asia – Penang Hill, the Larut Hills in Perak, Treacher’s Hill near Kuala Kubu, Fraser’s Hill and most famously the Cameron Highlands.
You climb to the Cameron Highlands on a coiled snake of a road and you can’t help wondering what an almost epic journey this must have been for visitors back in the late 1800s when Sir Hugh Low, the British Resident of Perak first suggested opening up the area as a “health and leisure resort”. ‘Gruelling’ was probably the best way to describe it. But the Highlands soon flourished thanks to the BOH tea plantations, Chinese market gardeners and the construction of two schools for European children and some hotels as well as the Convent School (right above) and the Convent Chapel (left above).
Bridle paths and roads were improved and in the twentieth century the row of shophouses, some of which still exist, in Tanah Rata town, the main drag of the Highlands, were open for business. Some officials stayed allyear and some built holiday homes - left is a surviving bungalow for an official in the Cameron Highlands.
Tanah Rata has moved from being a sleepy little street to the major thoroughfare of the Highlands. It’s where the bus from KL arrives, cafes and craft shops cluster and most people stroll around when they first arrive. Further up is the other major settlement of the Highlands, Brinchang, with the weekend night market. But for my money Tanah Rata is the better spot of the two, the cafes and restaurants a little more cosy and friendly and with the Olde Smokehouse (left), a wonderful Mock Tudor hotel and restaurant that could have been airlifted direct from Surrey into the heart of Malaysia, close by. Tanah Rata is overlooked by the old Convent School and its chapel and from here you can launch out on some good hikes.