A hint of Scotland and pine trees is in many ways the last thing that you would think of in the Malaysia of today.
More likely it would be jungles or their exotic animals like Tigers and Elephants or the Far East equivalent of the US twin towers the Petronas building in Kuala Lumpur.
But settling down to eat strawberries and cream on a dining terrace overlooking pine lined manicured greens and fairways of a golf club was not what I would have expected!
In the cooler hills of the Cameron Highlands you could easily be near to bonny banks or greens of St Andrews.
Although the British colonial period of Malaysia now looking back was not the happiest for many of its people the legacy from that time, like it or not is still very present today.
The current membership of the golf club is no longer just British Army officers and ruling officials, it is much more democratic and encompassing.
That legacy of strawberries is now such a phenomenon that the whole area is dedicated to producing the fruits all year round! The climate of the Highlands brings every cultivatable piece of land into use in order to grow vegetables, flowers and other cash crops that thrive in this milder temperature region of the country.
MALAYSIAN COLONIAL STYLE STILL TO BE SEEN
These once called colonial hill stations are as popular now as they were in those days over a century ago with numerous hotels still popular as get-a-ways for both residents and tourists.
Hotels like the Strawberry Park Resort not as old as others in the area but the style and architecture of those colonial times is reproduced almost faithfully along with the service of that bygone era.
Famed for tea, this is another area where the British brew was grown exported back to the UK from likes of India and Ceylon too. Tea production is still very much big business in the Cameron Highlands.
The company BOH has a plantation of many, many acres with the neatly trimmed bushes rolling over the gentle sloping hillsides. Using hired in workers the camellia plants, as they are a type of that genus are constantly cut by hand in order just to harvest the top few fresh light green shoots. Hand clippers with a mounted plastic buckets catch the leaves and workers bag them up as they trim.
Tiny dots of groups of workers move around the swathes of bushes on the hillsides as they gather in the crop, hopefully dodging as they work the poisonous arboreal snakes that sometimes are known to share the habitat.
We arrived at Cameron Hills after first visiting what is regarded as very much a positive legacy of the period of British rule, that of Taman Negara.
This National Park area was established by the British way back in the 1930’s and still today it’s a haven for the county’s flora and fauna. The jungle area has a delightful hotel lodge right in the park offering a great chance to try to understand the life that inhabits it’s jungle, from termites to tigers!
Offering many different guided excursions and walks in and around the complex even an aerial walkway high in the canopy to get a monkeys eye view of the jungle.
Transiting between one colonial area and another I found myself heading to Penang Island and probably the oldest of the hill stations, Penang Hills.
However on the way calling into see an Orang-utan sanctuary was a must at Orang-utan Island sanctuary in Bukit Merah. Here the primates live freely on a 35acre island in the middle of a 7,000 acre lake. Its only the humans that visit are in cages as a covered tunnel gives access to view and experience them and at times fairly close face to face interaction is possible but strictly only on their terms!
The island of Penang is now linked by two long bridges and is a busy high-rise and highly populated area. However areas of George Town the island capital have been set aside for conservation and the UNESCO have recognised this too.
Part of the old town area where for instance one hotel the Areca Hotel was built within the façade of a long row of two storey empty shops completed just a year ago. The charming colonial character of the area were retained and expanded on internally reflecting its heritage location within the town.
No trip to Penang is thought to be complete without a short journey to Penang Hill. Certainly it’s a great marketing ploy for the Penang Hill Railway!
Getting to the top takes a few minutes on their modern funicular which uses the steep gradient to get the descending car to help pull the ascending car to the top.
Once high up over the George Town at the former Penang Hill Station views over the town are extensive and back to the mainland. It is possible to get even higher, where you can take a tree top walk on the Habitat walk and a visit to their nature trail, which also has a jungle canopy high ribbon walkway.
The hill still has a number of buildings at the summit where in colonial times the senior officials would have lived. Today there is also a small theme park and entertainment complex should the nature not be enough.
Although British colonial rule was never perfect or even fair for its Malay people it is interesting to see that it’s buildings have not been razed to the ground as one could quite easily see and understand if they had, but in fact preserved and excellently too!
Their national park a legacy of British rule and it is a real credit to Malaysia as this is a gem of a place that has gone from strength to strength under their continued stewardship.
I have to say I do like the colonial look and feel that can be found around much of Malaysia today. They have embraced its charm, its elegance to good effect as well as the glass and metal sky-rises of today.
Old and young living side by side perhaps a metaphor for life as it should be and is in multi-faith Malaysia.
My tour of Malaysia was supported by Tourism Malaysia and I was sponsored by the following:
Hotel Istana in Kuala Lumpur: https://www.hotelistana.com.my/
Sama Sama Hotel at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. www.samasamahotels.com
Penang Global Tourism Penang: www.mypenang.gov.my
Asian Overland Services: www.asianoverland.com