Day 4 – When reading and being in a car on a windy road = Sickness
It’s a somewhat quiet morning, we’re starting on the first major part of our road trip, heading up to Cameron Highlands. Stomachs are obviously still suffering from the abuse the previous day and our breakfast plates are noticeably smaller lol. After a bit of Tetris action with all our luggage in the boot we’re off!
Despite the chaos of driving in the cities, Malaysian highways are amazingly smooth and their Touch and Go system makes paying road tolls a breeze. We’re testing the limits of our van on the highways and have confirmed that any faster than 140km/hr the van threatens to shake itself apart. Billy settles into the steady speed of 130km/hr, drive safe boys and girls!
Things are going fine on the roads until we start to climb the mountains that will lead us up towards the Cameron Highlands. Poor Helen is stuck in the back seat and each swerve of the car threatens to send a stack of suitcases stumbling down onto her, in the end she ends up bracing against them in fear for her life. I’ve been reading books and playing bookworm to pass the time, but each subsequent turn starts curdling my stomach and it’s with a massive sigh of relief that our Hotel suddenly comes into sight on top of the hill.
Of course, only it’s a matter of minutes for us to recover and we’re soon on the search for lunch.
Lunch – Restoran Sri Brinchang
I’m struck by how quiet Cameron Highland seems, we’ve passed hillside after hillside of covered farms and roadside markets on our way into town, so it’s a little bit of a shock to be passing Starbucks and numerous tourist stores. I’ve no shame in admitting that the proximity of Starbucks may have influenced my restaurant choice for lunch (all Starbucks in Malaysia come equipped with free Wi-Fi!), it’s also the first time on the trip we’ve had a chance to eat something other than Chinese Malaysian style food.
The drive has had its effect on my stomach and I’m happy to settle for a plate of Roti Canai, the simple action of bread, dip into sauce, pop into mouth has my stomach settled in no time. Billy’s gone for the Chicken Thali, a brightly coloured spread of chickpeas, pickled vegetables, chicken and rice, it’s without a doubt the most eye-catching all laid out neatly on a banana(?) leaf. Helen and Simon have both gone for Paper Dosai, the paper-thin dough browned lightly before being curved into a giant tube. I don’t really eat Indian food all that often, but every time I do all I can think about is just how pretty and colourful everything is.
Billy’s been ordering Mee Goreng at every supper stop we’ve had lately. There’s more than enough food at the table, but his philosophy seems to be to try it at every meal in the hope of finding THE BEST. This is not the best but it’s not a poor effort either – fat noodles smothered in sauce and doused with a generous squeeze of lime, what’s not to like?
It’s one of the quietest meals we’ve had in days, most of us are Internet deprived and it’s with a sigh of anguish that I look at the number of unread articles piling up in my RSS reader. With the rain starting to fall we take a few moments to catch up on emails and chat to a few people online, I manage to earn Suze‘s hatred by telling her, “I’ve got so much stuff to tell you! Wait gotta go, later!” before promptly signing out.
Pit Stop – Big Red Strawberry Farm
The weather is noticeably cooler in the Highlands, I’m back in jeans for the first time in days and the rain is cool and steady, rather than the furious monsoons we’ve experienced down south. Cameron Highlands is famous for its lush Tea Plantations, strawberries and cactus farms, it’s not really the season for it but we hit a few of the farms nearby to gawk at the Cacti and do a spot of strawberry picking.
The Big Red Strawberry Farm is an obvious tourist spot, there are big buses lined up in the parking lot and the strawberry plants themselves are rather void of the berries we’re in search of, picked cleaned by the dozens of tourists. With the rain pouring down we’re instead amusing ourselves by playing with the mini Cacti (was I was only one who liked to play with the spikes as a kid?), I find myself mesmerised by the rows and rows of baby Lettuce, each seedling barely 5cm high.
Pit Stop – Tea Plantations
Strawberry hopes thwarted we decide to head over to the tea plantations to try some of the infamous scones Billy has been raving about all morning. Rain is now bucketing down and shows no sign of stopping but that’s not going to stop us and our search! There are a few Tea Houses scattered along the main road and we simply stop at the first we see, Bharat Tea Plantation. The tea house has been constructed with an open veranda, taking advantage of the vast view of the plantations.
The plantations are in a word, gorgeous. The rain has done nothing to diffuse the amazing green of the plantations, even through the mist and rain it’s a view that’ll have you dumbstruck. I would have been happy to sit at that view for hours, but we settle for a quick stop, complete with a few cups of tea to warm up our cold bones. I’m tempted by the scones in the window but Billy tells us that the scones at the next Tea House are amazing, and soon we’re back on the roads to the Tea House of Billy’s memory, Cameron Valley Tea House.
Have you ever eaten something that was so fantastic that you can’t wait to try it again, only to find that the next time around… well not so great? Um, this was one of those time, sorry Billy! There’s a visible look of disappointment on his face when he realises rather than being freshly baked, the scones are simply being reheated in a microwave, we’re not sure if it’s the time of day or a change in policy but it is a little disappointing. Regardless, sitting in the cool air with a warm scone is a great way to pass the time.
The rain finally stops falling and we decide to take a quick run down to the plantation to get an up close and personal view, the whole day’s been gloomy but we decide to have a bit of fun with the tea leaves.
What that photo doesn’t show is the fact that the ground was delightfully muddy, resulting in a nice squish when I landed that jump… Walking back up to the car I nearly stumbled onto a giant centipede which may or may not have prompted a very girly scream (seriously guys, >15cm HUGE), Billy proceeded to gross out everyone by prodding, poking and yes, mock eating the poor centipede.
Pit Stop – Kok Lim Self Plucking Strawberry Farm
Undeterred by our earlier failure we decide to make one last strawberry stop to try our luck at picking our own, the only thing that makes this Strawberry Farm stand out is the amazing usage of grammar and the chance for us to indulge in some self plucking. The farm itself is a little ways outside of the main towns, meaning the vines are still hiding plenty of fruit.
What we don’t realise walking into the greenhouses is that the farm is actually situated on a hill, what seems like small farm from the outside becomes a huge 40m long greenhouse spanning halfway down the hill. It’s probably one our most indulgent spends in Malaysia, each 500gm punnet costing us 20MYR (7.40AU) and we pick each berry carefully – all under the eagle eye of one of the staff members, come to watch over us and ensure that we aren’t secretly smuggling some away in our stomachs. I still manage to sneak a few in, they’re tartly sweet with the perfect firmness. We end up leaving with 1kg of strawberries, just enough for dessert!
Dinner – Restoran Highlands
Ever since going to Hakka in Kuala Lumpur and seeing the steamboat trolleys rolling around, I’ve been obsessed with the thought of Steamboat, however when the weather is over 30ºc and you’re sweating into your sweat this isn’t the most logical choices for dinner. The chilly nights in the Cameron Highlands means that a stop at one of the many (many!) steamboat places is in order for dinner, we’re a little stumped by the choices but Simon has managed to find a reference to one restaurant who serve their steamboat charcoal style.
There’s only 1 item on the menu, standard steamboat – as soon as we’re and have ordered the platters start coming out. Pork, Chicken, Fish, Prawns, Jellyfish, bamboo shoots, mixed vegetables all start arriving on the table and it’s a quick scramble to get them all sorted out on the table before the arrival of the largest steamboat pot I’ve ever seen in my life.
The pot is a little bit amazing and made up of two parts – the base is large enough to support itself and contains the charcoal used to heat the entire contraption, the charcoal smoke is then led up the primary tube running through the main section effectively heating the stock in no time. The pot is so hot that any strands of noodles fool enough to touch the sides are burnt to a crisp in moments.
The pot is so large by the end of the meal I’m standing up just to be able to see the bottom of the pot! It’s exactly what we need on a chilly night, even though we’re seated outside on the veranda the soup is enough to keep us warm. It’s the most unexpected thing that gets us arguing in the end, it’s the eggs. Turns out we all have different philosophies about the best time to dunk in the egg.
- Billy: The egg should be saved for the end and dunked in whole to be soft-boiled and eaten separately.
- Helen: Crack that egg into the soup and let it cook in the stock and mix with all the ingredients.
- Minh: Same philosophy as Helen!
However in the end I went with Billy’s method, simply because we’d saved the eggs so long that by the time the first was cracked into the stock, there was no veg and the egg disappeared into the depths of the soup! It’s only one of many disagreements we have about food, but it’s one of the things I love most about eating with people passionate about food – they’re not afraid to argue for the tastiest solution!
Dinner is over but the night is young! There’s not much to do in the Highlands at night so we end up binging on strawberries while belting out 80’s and 90’s classics in a Karaoke room until the early hours. Some photos really aren’t meant to be shared with the world…
Breakfast – Uncle Chow Kopitiam
It’s strange to realise, but this is actually the first time we’ve needed to fend for ourselves for breakfast. All of the hotels we’ve been staying in so far have all provided buffet style breakfasts leaving us carefree until lunch. There’s only one way out of the Highlands and so we’re headed back into town, the thought of eating breakfast at Starbucks doesn’t really appeal to us and it’s not until we spot a random sign, ‘Uncle Chow Kopitiam‘ that we know we have a winner.
The signs take us in circles away from the main town street, it must be at least 2-3 times that we’re about to turn around and give up before spotting another ‘Uncle Chow’ in the far distance. We finally find ‘Uncle Chow’ tucked away in the middle of semi-residential block and settle down for what is probably the best breakfast we’ll eat the entire holiday.
It’s too early in the morning for me to even contemplate eating noodles, but that isn’t about to stop Helen! I’ve heard all the rumblings back in Sydney about how hard it is to find a decent Assam Laksa and truth be told, this is actually the first that I’ll ever try.
I’m in love. The soup is gloriously thick, each spoonful generously clogged with shredded fish all tinted with the sharp tang of tamarind. It’s a perfect mix between sour and savory and I have to resist the urge to order a bowl for myself! The laksa also comes with a serving of hε-ko, a sweet prawn sauce which tastes remarkably similar to Hoisin Sauce, I try a spoonful of the mixture together but find I prefer it without.
Like Helen, the boys are after a much heartier breakfast and also go for noodle options. I find it a little surprising, but after tasting the Har Mee and Curry Laksa, that despite their bright orange colours they’re not nearly as spicy as I’d imagined. I’ve always been partial to the sour end of the spectrum, so I’m not really surprised when the Assam still rates as my favourite.
Has it really been 4 days since my last coffee? The hotel breakfast buffets have all had instant coffee available on the tables of course, but they simply pale in comparison to the real thing and I’ve resisted the urge to settle for something less. Kopi-O is made strong, black and sweet with condensed milk – just what the doctor ordered. It’s very similar to the Vietnamese Black coffees which I’m addicted to at home, if a little less sweet (yes, Vietnamese style has even more condensed milk in it).
The only thing which would have prevented me from ordering the Assam Laksa was Kaya. Despite being in the homeland of Kaya it’s only 4 days into our trip that we have our first taste of it. As someone unused to eating a heavy meal in the morning Set A is exactly what I’m craving, sweetened pieces of toast dunked into runny eggs followed by a sweetly bitter sip of coffee… It’s not perfect of course, – the toast is a little too large and fluffy and there just isn’t enough kaya, but they’re minor inconveniences when you’re in a caffeine haze.
It’s rather relaxing being at Uncle Chow, it’s far enough from the main strip that the tourists (with the obvious exception) have yet to invade, and the atmosphere is utterly calm as a result. It’s really the only way to start off a day, and my only regret is the fact that we hadn’t found this restaurant earlier. The day is young and we’ve got a lot ahead of us, next stop – Ipoh, Billy’s hometown!
Check out the rest of the Malaysia Mondays series here!
Restoran Sri Brinchang
25, Main Road, Tanah Rata,
39000 Cameron Highlands
Big Red Strawberry Farm
Behind Cactus Valley, Brinchang,
39000 Cameron Highland
Cameron Valley Tea House
Along the main road between Ringlet and Tanah Rata
39000 Cameron Highland
Kok Lim Self Plucking Strawberry Farm
Brinchang, Cameron Highlands
29, Jalan Besar, Brinchang
39100 Tanah Rata Pahang
Uncle Chow Kopitiam
Unit C2-G-01, Block C2,
Taman Royal Lily,
39000 Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands
Ph: +6012 205 2778
(Apologies for some of these addresses, the majority of Cameron Highlands is one long road connecting a number of small towns, the Strawberry Farms or Tea Houses will be right along the main road just outside of or near the town listed)