My date with a rhinoceros beetle

Day 59
Tanah Rata, Malaysia

We were up just before 7 a.m. for our day of travel to this small town in the Cameron Highlands. After a short transfer to the terminal, we boarded a real beater of a public bus run by Kurnik Bistari Sdn. Bhd. If you ever happen to find yourself in Malaysia, traveling between Georgetown and Tanah Rata, don’t believe the pictures of the vehicles shown on the ticket kiosk window — they’re clearly for promotion purposes only.

There were times that our coach bus (circa 1970) had us covering less ground than yesterday’s funicular. An oversold bus meant sharing seats. Our driver also had a tendency to smoke, but only while filling us up with diesel. Guess this is what 23 ringgit, or $8USD, buys you for a 7-hour journey.

A pit stop at Ipoh was our halfway point. If the bus station there is any indication of what the rest of that city is like, I’ll never return. We did eventually make it onto the super-windy roads that lead to the Highlands and arrived in Tanah Rata at around 2:30 p.m. It is a whole different world at 1,500 meters above sea level; the air is cooler, the soil fertile and the vegetation lush. And our accommodation for the next two nights, the Hillview Inn, doesn’t get much better.

Having spent most of the day on a bus and with only limited time here, we hopped on a minivan to visit BOH Tea, which founded in 1929, is the country’s oldest. After a factory tour, we learned that all tea comes from the same plant; variety (like green or black) is based on the fermentation and drying process. Only freshly picked leaves have flavor so they must be harvested every 3 weeks. After a cup of Earl Grey with Tangerine and a slice of apple pie, we drove through the 600-acre plantation.

This area is also well known for its strawberries, so visiting a farm was our next stop. At Raaju Strawberry Farm in the nearby town of Salamat Datang, they served up some fresh and delicious fruit with a little honey and cream.

Down the road is a butterfly farm that also houses a variety of exotic insects, reptiles and birds from around the area. I’m told that this Three Horn Rhinoceros Beetle was not poisonous. Hopefully.

We got back to the inn for showers (even the bathrooms have scenic views) and walked into town as crickets and cicadas came to life. It all reminded me a bit of camp — until the mosque began its call to prayer. Dinner was at a Chinese restaurant that served up a mean plate of ginger beef. We had a couple of drinks at the bar of a nearby hostel and headed home.

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