Posted by: facetothewind | July 28, 2015

Paved Paradise: a Visit to Cameron Highlands

Cameron Highlands destruction

Since clear cutting its forests, Cameron Highlands has become known for its mudslides as much as for its cool climate. See article. 

Joni Mitchell nailed it in her song Big Yellow Taxi:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum 
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em

You see, in Asia, cutting down the trees and catching all the butterflies and putting them in a money-making museum or making them into decorative coasters would be considered good use for nature. Peace and quiet be damned — that’s not going to make you a dime and therefore it’s not a priority.

Cameron Highlands morning market

Such is the case with Cameron Highlands, a once beautiful mountain top retreat 3 hours from Kuala Lumpur and a mile high in the sky. But what was once a chill place to enjoy the cool weather, the birds, butterflies, and flowers now is a place full of traffic jams, overburdened parking lots, and bustling markets selling junky tourist crap. The only tranquility we found in Cameron was in the tea plantations (which are clear cut tropical rain forests now teeming with tea) and the Butterfly Farm where they charged us, yes, a dollar and half to see ’em (well, $1.31 to be exact).

Cameron Highlands traffic jam

The tea plantations really are beautiful and worth visiting. Did you know tea is the most widely consumed beverage (and has been for centuries) on the planet? And that it is actually a camellia plant?

Cameron Highlands Boh Plantation

We visited and toured two of the Boh Tea plantations. The tour wasn’t really much as the process of harvesting and making tea is literally cut and dried. They have beautiful cantilevered cafeteria featuring rude service and less-than-fabulous baked goods and their own freshly brewed teas…most of which were oddly out of stock “FINISHED” and yet sold down the hall in the gift shop. Hmm. Couldn’t quite figure out that one.

Cameron Highlands Boh Tea Plantation

This trip to Cameron was a chance to get away from KL with Chuan and his mother and his Australian Aunt (his mother’s sister in law). Silly me, I imagined sitting in flowering gardens listening to birds and reading. In fact we spent most of the weekend in the car stuck in traffic or avoiding head-on collisions with moronic drivers. Chuan’s mother appears to be expressing something in this photo…


And the hotel was a favorite for Saudi tourists, no doubt the women in burkas seeking refuge from the Malaysian heat. But an Arab hot spot means lots of unruly children and men shouting and smoking in non-smoking rooms while the silent women waddle about draped like ghosts in black sheets, only their eyes exposed. I personally find it creepy to be in a restaurant watching someone shoveling food under a black cape.

Anyway, it wasn’t a complete failure of a weekend. I did actually enjoy getting to know Chuan’s mother and Aunt a bit better. They’ve held me with tacit acceptance so perhaps the time away was helpful for us as there’s nothing like spending 3 days cooped up in a car on winding roads to bring out the real you. We mostly got along and were gracious and flexible. But for me it was a stressful trip witnessing the environmental degradation and failing to contain my disappointment. Frankly, Malaysia is undeniably overcrowded with over 30 million citizens + millions of foreigners in a country that is only slightly larger than New Mexico. The flowers in the little gardens at the hotel were sweet, the tea plentiful and the cool weather a delightful change. It was fun seeing that the plant palette in Cameron was similar to that of San Francisco because of the 5,000 foot elevation. The magical and mystical (and poisonous) brugmansia were everywhere, as well as dahlias, princess flowers, and strawberries. We did find an organic veggies stand and practically cleaned them out!

It’s remarkable how Malaysians have turned this once little country village into a miniature Kuala Lumpur complete with jackhammers, pushy crowds, reckless drivers, bumper to bumper traffic and about 30% fewer parking spaces than cars. Oh here, just watch the video which starts out with a few miscellaneous clips from KL…

And here’s a photo mosaic gallery of some shots of the trip and some photographic miscellany. Click on one and use the arrow to advance…

A little follow up on Taysif…Seems he also had typhoid fever and started on a course of Ciprofloxacyn. And now that Ramadan is finished and he is able to eat and drink again, he’s looking good! His mood is back up and though he’s still considerably thinner than when I first met him, his lights have come back on. Heartwarming. Thanks to those of you who offered to help him, but he was able to afford the antibiotics on his own. I told him about you and he was very touched and asked if any of you want to marry him.


So it’s back to life in KL as usual in mid summer—the dry season. I’m still teaching the refugee kids and spending late afternoons at the pool guessing where the various ill-behaved people are from. It’s my poolside pastime.


Click to enlarge panorama.

And one final and ironic photo. I noticed an iPhone panoramic billboard right near my apartment building that has a picture of the Tucson desert…


What is this trying to tell me? Of all the places in the world that they could have chosen for that particular billboard, they chose Tucson.



  1. Don’t know what that billboard is trying to tell you, but I enjoyed the photographs! Sad to see the destruction of so much beautiful land. Glad to hear that Taysif is on the mend.

  2. Thanks for tea-plantation tales, the update on Taysif (I’ve considered, and no, I don’t want to marry him, but I hope someone will soon), and the photos, which made me want to ask two questions. First, why does Chuan’s aunt look so blond and Western? Is she a Westerner married to Chuan’s Malaysian uncle, or what? Secondly, and very important, tell us about those turtles! Where’d you get them, and how did they respond to their liberation? As far as I’m concerned you get all the karmic points available for freeing them. Onya!

  3. Ah, the turtles. Not as altruistic as you think. It’s a bit of circular reasoning. People (not me) buy turtles and fish at the pet store to release them for good karmic effect. But then they capture them and eat them or take them to the pet store to be bought and released. Silliness in my eyes. Why not just leave them there, become a vegetarian and maybe go work at a soup kitchen for good karma? Common sense has never been really that popular when it comes to religion and people’s hopes for salvation.

    And Chuan’s Aussie Aunt married Chuan’s uncle who is indeed Malaysian.

  4. HI David,
    Even though your video ended on a “shitty” note, I appreciated all your beautiful pictures, and share the sadness over the land being “raped.” Also glad to hear about Taysif, and your report as to how the gendered responses fell out around his situation. Tuscon? The states are beginning to call your name! Sending love.

  5. Too bad that Cameron Highlands, like a lot of Asia, is overrun with tourists and money-making shops. I agree, Joni Mitchell had it right all those many years ago. Good thing resulted, though, that you and Chuan’s mother seemed to increase your comfort level with each other. Beautiful photos of tea plantations.

    Thailand continues on its downhill course, making more repressive laws so they can throw more people in prison and exact more bribes. Now election postponed until 2017. What a joke. They have courted the Chinese market, expecting hoards of Chinese, while neglecting the American and European markets. Now the Chinese economy is turning around, they may regret their choices. They’ve been chastised by the US for lack of human trafficking action, fishing violations, etc.

    The Malay PM is a joke, too. Fires the official who was investigating him! I had to laugh at that one. It’s so Thai!

    Wonderful news that Taysif is better. I would take him up on his offer if I were a lot younger or he were a bit older…

    I hope you and Chuan follow through and go to U.S.

    Best wishes to both of you! Dianna

  6. Yeah, Thailand seems to be more advanced in its devolution toward being a “banana republic” than Malaysia, but we’re catching up fast! Taysif has gotten lots of marriage proposals but so far only from men…and he’s not willing to cross THAT line. Yet. I passed your good wishes on to Chuan. 🙂

  7. “Hang on to your love”

    “True love is hard to find”

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