Tea plantations: Walking through the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ May 9th, 2011. Updated on October 5th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » Malaysia.
Tea leaf pickers in the Cameron Highlands

Modern day tea leaf picking in the Cameron Highlands

The famous and historic tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands

I can’t say I get over excited about tea. I’m more of a coffee person. But, for views alone the Cameron Highland tea plantations are worth a visit. Moreover, if you have the time, I would recommend at least half a day trekking through them.

My plan was not to sweat here in the mountainous highlands, and it still is. But, with my constant movement over the past few weeks I can’t stay still for long. Even if I am feeling tired.

With a night of rain, the morning mist signaled a chance at a hike through some of the best scenery in Malaysia.

A brief history of the tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands

Rolling waves of green tea plantation hills

Rolling waves of green tea plantation hills

There are several tea plantations located throughout the Cameron Highlands. Bharat and BOH being the most famous. The highly fertile ground about 5,000ft mean several rotations of tea leaves throughout the year.

The BOH plantation was started in 1929 when after several successful colonial businesses, J.A. Russell steamrolled a huge area of land to create a tea legacy. He died a few years later, but the family continued to develop their plantations into one of the largest and best known exports of Malaysia today.

Hitchhiking through the tea plantations

I’d visited the BOH tea plantation on a half day tour previously. And, quite honestly this was the highlight. So much so, I wanted to return without the restrictions of a tour.

While you can drive, or rent a bicycle I choose to hike. The hardest part in all this is getting close to the tea plantations to enjoy their scenic beauty, and to avoid any rain.

A bus does take you close by, but on this day as I set off I tried something I’ve not done in a very long time. I stuck my thumb out. It took 30 minutes, and many tour buses passing by, but soon a silver car pulled over and a Malaysian couple peered hesitantly out of the window.

“You need a lift?”

I did my best at a nice non aggressive smile and nodded.

“Where too?”

Now I was stuck, “A tea plantation?”

“Which one?”

I shrugged. And, within a few minutes was sitting in an air-conditioned car driving up some windy roads.

Pro’s and con’s of hitchhiking when traveling

While many, people would think it’s great to get a free lift. I was soon being barraged with the history of the region for the tenth time, the usual personal questions, and above all else many smart comments as to why I was crazy to walk when I could drive?

Yes, I was being driven by a rich young Malaysian couple who were more interested in telling me about their wealth, car, and great education than anything else.

Walking out into the tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands Malaysia

Hiking through a tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands Malaysia

Still it served a purpose, within thirty minutes we were surrounded by bright green rolling hills of tea plants. I raised my hand up and asked if the couple would leave me out.

Another barrage of questions and much confusion followed. Apparently I was insane for wanting to get out in the middle of nowhere and walk. But, so be it. I thanked them, waved their confused looks goodbye and waited for them to drive away.

Then I had what I wanted; blissful silence surrounded by the visual impact of historic tea plantations and nature

Walking through the tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands

Rather than staying on the road, I couldn’t resist to simply walk out into what looked like rivers of green tea plants that rolled over lush mountains for as far as the eye could see.

The air was cool, but the morning sun was warm making the walk very pleasant. Moreover I really was impressed with the great mix of greens that flowed all around me.

Depending on the tea-plant, the last time the leaves were collected, and the angle of the hill, it all seemed to give the impression one was walking through a surreal green sea.

Modern day tea leaf pickers in Malaysia

A distant drone from an engine reverberated through the air. Too light to be a vehicle, it sounded more like an electric lawnmower. I followed the sound down through the river of tea bushels and soon I found myself staring up at a large wave of darker leaves.

Indonesian tea leaf picker in Malaysia

Wide smile from an Indonesian tea leaf picker in Malaysia

Around another swell of green and the source of the noise revealed itself. Two young men were pulling a strange-looking hedge-cutter like machine with a cloth bag trailing behind over tea plants. These were the modern-day tea leaf pickers.

Today most of the tea leaf workers are not Malaysian. They are immigrants on work visas from Indonesia, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Each one comes for a minimum of 2 years to live on the plantations working 6 days a week.

They are paid by the kilo of tea leaves they collect. One kilo is valued at 20 cents. They average 300 kilos a day by machine. If picking tea leaves by hand, they could only manage 60 kilos a day. Meaning, it’s no longer possible to earn a living by picking tea by hand.

How to pick tea leaves in Malaysia

Two men run a modified hedge-cutter over the tea plants. It’s been modified with a large metal plate to prevent leaves from escaping and to funnel the cargo into a large sack. Interestingly this device can only harvest leaves from the top of plants, and not from the sides.

To pick leaves from the side of the tea plants they use a manual shears with a metal tray that funnels the leaves into another sack.

Meeting the tea leaf pickers

The men collecting tea leaves pause every ten minutes or so as they make their way downhill. I waved once, and got several huge arm length waves back, along with big smiles.

They were from Indonesia, somewhere in the south. Communication was at a minimum here. But friendliness was at a maximum. There were no calls for money when I asked if I could take their photos, just big smiles.

To me this was worth the four-hour hike back to town. In actual fact, is was worth the whole trip to the Cameron Highlands.

Real people, in a new country; working a simple life just to get by.

Keep your giant tour buses. Stain your old town houses with tourist agency signs. Just give me a field of tea and some immigrant tea workers and I’m leaving the Cameron Highlands with a memory of smiles I won’t forget in a lifetime.

Hotel search at the Longest Way Home

Planning on booking a hotel room in the Cameron Highlands?

Looking for the best online rates?

I recommend you try my own hotel search for Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. The best online rates guaranteed!


Coming Soon:

Heading due north to a new world of old colonial rights

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25 Great responses to Tea plantations: Walking through the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

  1. Laura says:

    I also visited the Cameron Highlands and it was so beautiful. I think I went to the BOH plantation. We wanted to walk but took a taxi due to a leg infection I was battling. It was a good thing because it started pouring as soon as we finished the tour and walking around :) Definitely a highlight on a visit to Malaysia I think!

  2. Nicole says:

    I SO want to do this!

  3. I made the big walk back as well after climbing the high ‘peak’ in the area. Also got soaked, probably got my share of rain plus the rain that Laura managed to avoid. Fortunately got some great photos of the lush tea fields so it was all worth it in the end :)

  4. Travis says:

    not really a tea person either, but this sounds like such a great thing to do

  5. Palawan Martin says:

    Moving article ! Did you try any of the tea ?

    • Yes I did. Not really a tea person but I tried two blends. One was infused with lemon, not really me thing. And one was their own blend of tea. I will say it had strong flavor to it.

  6. Anna's World says:

    This sounds so nice. I never really heard about this place since reading so much about it here. Looking forward to more!

    • I’ve seen it advertised when in other parts of Malaysia. But yes, internationally I haven’t seen much about it. Certainly a refreshing change from the heat and beaches etc.

  7. ciki says:

    fabulous post.. fancy a cuppa tea?!! :P

  8. iamthewitch says:

    Such a lovely story! What with hitchhiking and tea leaf pickets. You’ve really got a way with the locals ;)

  9. Once again, you go off the beaten path and have an amazing adventure! Sounds like a very cool hike. I’m amazed people pick up lone male hitchhikers. Haven’t they seen horror movies? You must look very friendly :)

  10. Leigh says:

    I love the shot of the tea leave picker – and the story. If I ever make it to Malaysia then this sounds like a fabulous side-trip to experience.

  11. Great blog, but more I love the pictures, I am quite into my photography and was looking at great pics on google and actually landed up here…nice

  12. Lois says:

    Can’t wait to see this for myself Dave. We’re sure to visit the Cameron highlands when we travel to Malaysia next month. Awesome photos as always!

  13. Juno says:

    I love, love, love Malaysian tea. I just love their afternoon tea culture. I’m having Cameron tea as we speak, BOH tea, one of the finest tea I’ve ever tasted.
    I’m both tea and coffee mania but I’m tilting toward to tea more and more. Bravo! I would love to visit here…

    • It’s great to read you are drinking tea from the Highlands and reading this at the same time! Am sure you will get there one day, and the you’ll be drinking Highland tea right in the middle of the highlands!! :)

  14. Ivy says:

    Wonderful post! Magnificent green landscapes and smiles, what else do we need …really? ;)

  15. Jamie says:

    Want to get down to the Cameron Highlands sometime. We live in Phuket, so not too far away.