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#JOM! GO: More than just tea and strawberry : September 15, 2020

CAMERON Highlands has always been Malaysians' favorite family holiday destination, with its farmlands and nurseries, museum and tea centres, golf course, and nature.
And of course, its all-year-round spring-like weather thanks to the elevations (ranging from 800m to 1603m from sea level) it is on. But there are so much more than just these typical attractions The tableland, which is actually one of the country's oldest tourist spots, has more signature attractions than just the straight-forward visits to tea plantations and strawberry farms. With 70% of its total area is still covered with forest, nature-adventure in Cameron is a pretty cool and interesting venture. Even though it's not as popular as Cameron's tea and strawberry, jungle lovers will be pleased to know that there are actually 14 "official" jungle trails in Cameron. These trails are rated from easy to very tough, from easy 1-2 hour loops for the whole family to tough and very tough hikes to Cameron's accessible mountain peaks like Irau, Jasar and Beremban for experienced hikers.
 
But one forest "trail" one should not miss is the mystical Mossy Forest. It makes a beautiful introduction to the forest in the highlands without stepping on the forest floor.
Usually, the visit to Mossy Forest is paired with a stopover at the vast tea plantation that flanked the narrow road that connects the forest's entrance and the main road.
While there is an official entryway to Sungai Palas Boh Tea Estate located on the other side of the plantation, the one along the narrow road gives a hands-on feel to visitors. Albeit, the lack of human-comfort facilities like a viewing spot, benches, toilets, and even parking space.
 
But the opportunity to see the estate workers going about their business is way better than the sight of rolling hills covered with tea trees from a viewing deck.
Being one of the country's oldest tourist destinations, Cameron Highlands is not short of accommodation, from branded hotels and resorts to apartments and bungalows.
The choice is big, from high-rise, purposely built hotel and apartment buildings to charming English-style bungalows that come with landscaped gardens and lawns.
 
Okay, for your next Cameron holiday, why not staying in a colonial-themed lodging instead? If you're not a homestay kind of traveller and prefer staying in a full-service hotel, there's a handful of hotels housed in English-style houses. Try The Lakehouse Cameron Highlands, Planters Country Hotel or famously known as The Bala's Holiday Chalet or The Smokehouse Hotel & Restaurant.
Not many know that there is a third access road to Cameron Highlands besides the two already-popular routes via Perak: the old and winding route from Tapah and the newer and wider highway from Simpang Pulai. The 79km Federal Route 102, a.k.a Pos Betau-Lembah Bertam Road starts from Ringlet and ends at Felda Sungai Koyan in Raub, Pahang. Though a bit longer route especially for those returning to Kuala Lumpur, the road is significantly quieter than the older routes but has better view and driving satisfaction. Look out for the picturesque sight of Ulu Jelai Hydroelectric Dam and Power Station.
 
Like tea, you can't separate strawberries from Cameron Highlands. Like or not, strawberry is part of any Cameron visit, either you purposely include it in your itinerary in the form of farm visit or food tasting or accidentally "bump into" it at the markets or restaurants. If these still can't get you over the dainty fruit, try getting your hands "red" by signing up for a strawberry jam-making class. Hotels like The Lakehouse Cameron Highlands and Avillion Cameron Highlands do offer strawberry jam making classes.

#JOM! STAY: Little house on the hill - August 25, 2020

FROM afar, the steep driveway looks intimidating.  But thankfully, what's sitting at the end of the driveway takes my eyes and attention off the slope. Actually, the gorgeous looking Tudor-style building of The Lakehouse Cameron Highlands can be seen long before I could see how steep the driveway is. I've seen it right after we navigated the last turn of the meandering road from little town Ringlet before turning into the driveway. Coupled with its vantage-point location, the imposing spectacle is enough to tell us that we have almost reached our destination.  Yes, the resort is not that hard to find.

Safe to say that one doesn't really need the help of any navigation apps or signages to locate it. Opposite the driveway is a short stretch of shops selling fresh Cameron Highlands' farm produce.  Beyond the row is the highlands' vast lake which in the past was teased as teh-tarik lake for its murky coloured water. But not now. Today, the lake is healthily covered with duckweeds and water lettuce. What a view!

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

True, The Lakehouse is not the only colonial-themed boutique hotel in Cameron Highlands, Pahang's favourite family-holiday destination.  But, it's not hard for one to agree that the resort is probably the best for having the best location in the entire highlands. Hilltop, lake-front and away from the tourist crowd. I have yet to step into the hotel but I've already fallen in love with it. I actually didn't expect anything less from its services and facilities. Well after all, it is managed by HPL Hotels & Resorts, the same group that manages Hard Rock Hotels and Concorde Hotels, among others.

But I didn't expect such a beautiful setting. Inside, the resort is as beautiful as it's exterior. Add that with the staff's warmth hospitalities, and a real wood fireplace too, the resort makes a perfect home on the cold highlands. What really seal the deals are the little details like the turndown and personalised services. Okay, if these are typical of a high-end resort, how about a cleaned car to start your day with? Every morning throughout your stay. That is something, right?

WAY BACK WHEN

Back in 1966, after Cameron Highlands had since 1930 established as a tourist destination in the country, retired British Colonel Stanley J. Foster started construction on The Lakehouse.  Foster had always dreamt of having his own Bed & Breakfast.  After four years of construction, the "bed & breakfast" started its operations. Colonel Foster resided in the now named Fosters Suite at the Hilltop house which was his private residence overlooking the main building. Today, The Hilltop also houses the resort's in-house spa, Satkara Spa that offers an aromatic oil massage, facial treatment and more. And today, Colonel Foster has made me one happy guest.

FAST FACTS
THE LAKEHOUSE, CAMERON HIGHLANDS
30th Mile Ringlet,
39200 Cameron Highlands,
Pahang
TEL 05-495 6152
FAX 05-495 6213
EMAIL This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
 
STAY An intimate resort that offers only a total of 19 rooms, categorised as deluxe room and suites - junior, family, Cameron and Foster.
EAT For a small boutique hotel, The Lakehouse offers quite an extensive range of options - The Lakehouse Restaurant, Cameron Bar, Lakeview Terrace, Highlander Lounge and Reading Lounge.
DO The best thing to do is to do nothing, just enjoy the weather, the ambience and the view.  But if you want to do something, sign up for a complimentary 2km trekking on a private trail that goes along the state reserve borders.  
GO It's Cameron Highlands!  The choice is big, from farms to markets, and lush jungle.
HIGHS The whole thing!
LOWS The steep driveway is quite nerve-wracking, at least to me.
Source : NST

#JOM! GO: Dreamy trek through Mossy Forest - August 20, 2020

A hike up Cameron Highlands' highest mountain via the Mossy Forest is a trek into a magical wonderland albeit one filled with twists, turns and slippery tracks write Zalina Mohd Som THE morning doesn't go as planned. We are to meet Haziq from the Cameron Highlands District Forestry Office around 8.30 am at the junction of the road that leads up to Mossy Forest. However, just minutes before the appointment, my hiking buddies excuse themselves to answer nature's call. Perhaps they are nervous. Actually, I am too but I have to wait for Haziq. Going in and out of a building during the Recovery Movement Control Order is not as simple as ABC. The supposedly simple trip to the loo takes the girls almost an hour.  Haziq can't wait as he and his team have to be at the small office of the Mossy Forest entrance at 9am sharp. He leaves first, but not before giving me instructions on getting there. "But I thought you would be driving us to the entrance," I cry out. I'm not comfortable driving someone else's car, let alone navigating a steep, narrow, and rough road that requires the agility and toughness of a four-wheel drive. "Ah, don't worry. You're driving a Proton X70. You'll be up there in no time," Haziq replies and quickly excuses himself.

A BUMPY START

Well, it takes us almost 40 minutes to reach the entrance of Mossy Forest. At one hole-laden stretch, I have to get the driver of an oncoming car to help me maneuver my vehicle. The sound of screeching tires on loose gravel has somehow got the best of me. "It's a smooth drive from here onwards. Just switch off the air-conditioning, wind down the windows, enjoy the cool air and you'll be all right," advises the helpful chap. On arrival, still with butterflies in my stomach, I get down from the SUV to join Haziq, worried that we have kept him waiting for too long. Next to him is another hiker. My two comrades tag along, each with their own hiking stick. Haziq turns to the other guy and says, "Don't think we need hiking sticks, right?" The guy nods in agreement. Ah, cocky!, I mutter to myself. Before I could defend my mates, Haziq explains: "With the condition of the track, they won't be of any use. Your hands need to be free." Haziq then introduces his friend. Ja is a certified nature guide who will be leading our group. Haziq, meanwhile, will take on the duty of a sweeper. Ja, in his no-nonsense tone of voice, briefs us on the trail as well as the do's and don'ts.

What catches my attention is when he mentions the cut-off time for our expedition. "Regardless of whether or not we reach the peak of Gunung Mini Irau, we have to turn back at 1 pm. This means you have three hours to ascend," he says. Alamak, how- lah? Can we reach a peak in three hours? I'm told that some groups have turned back just halfway up the peak. Can we, who are slow hikers, do it within the allotted time? "If you want to complete it, walk faster but be careful. And take fewer breaks," Haziq interrupts.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

And so the adventure begins. The short walk on the boardwalk, built over the original mossy forest trail to help protect the forest, fails to ease our anxiety. When our feet finally hit the forest floor, we say a silent prayer and follow Ja's footsteps. Though we are anxious, we keep our usual pace. We do not rush or race along the path. Walking at our individual pace, we will wait for each other if we find that someone is falling behind. Due to the condition of the trail, we actually cannot hike fast even if we want to. We have to take a long pause before a step is made as the track is practically covered by a massive network of twisting, and slippery, roots of the hard montane forest trees. 

We have to plan our steps and consider which branches, rocks or even roots to hold on to for balance and to prevent us from slipping and stepping on the soft, squishy ground. The situation gets so intense that we practically ignore our thirst as well as our sore and tired muscles as we make our way up. But thanks to the pauses we make, we get to enjoy and fully take in the magical feeling the Mossy Forest has generously showered us with. The forest looks like those in fairy-tale movies, only better because it's real and we're in it. The trees that grow majestically from the black wet ground have crooked branches either covered with thick moss or lush air plants. All around, there are sprinkles of color from wild blooms that thrive in rotting roots, tree trunks, and branches. Filling the air between the trees are low-level clouds that at times move as the wind blows. It's just surreal.

Whether it's the magical power lent by the mystical forest or our sheer determination, we reach the peak of Gunung Mini Irau (2,008 meters) in two hours and 45 minutes. The peak, according to Ja, is actually a false peak. The actual Gunung Irau peak is at 2,090 meters but it is now inaccessible due to a landslide that occurred two years ago. The difference in altitude aside, the higher Irau which is the third highest mountain in Pahang, is another 45 minutes' hike from Mini Irau.

A HAPPY ENDING

Happy with our time, Ja lets us enjoy the peak for almost 40 minutes before calling us to descend. He is by now friendlier — perhaps he is like Cameron Highlands, cold in the morning and warming up as the day progresses! "We go slow and steady. Let's hope that it won't rain and we're able to come out by 4.30 pm," he says. Alas, just 20 minutes into the return leg, it starts to rain.  "Ah, there we go. And it's heavy," Ja laments. Heavy? To me, it's more like a spray of thick mist. Only occasionally do I feel raindrops on my head. "This is heavy. We cannot feel the raindrops because of the thick forest canopy which has broken the drops down into spray," he explains. Thanks to the canopy too, we don't get drenched immediately. Walking in the rain for the two and a half hours in the fantasy-like Mossy Forest is another (cool) story altogether.  Wet and cold but happy and contented, we make our way down to Ringlet where The Lakehouse Cameron Highlands, our warm and charming home for the night, awaits. "Let's celebrate the day with a big dine-in dinner tonight," I suggest. Our celebratory dinner is a sumptuous piping-hot meal of white rice with home-style dishes at The Lakehouse Restaurant. We end the night with our bodies getting the much-needed horizontal treatment on the soft beds in our deluxe room.

TRAVEL FACTS

GUNUNG Irau is the highest mountain in Cameron Highlands and the 15th highest in Malaysia. Until the 45-minute trail to the "real" peak is open, hikers will have to settle for the peak of Mini Irau — erstwhile known as the false peak — which is 82m shorter than its higher sister, Irau (2090m). Irau is inaccessible due to a landslide two years ago. For the Mini Irau climbing expedition, my tracking device recorded a total distance of 10.30km, done in six and a half hours (with an almost 45-minute break at the peak) and with only 200m elevation difference. Besides a sound level of fitness, enough rations and appropriate hiking gear, one also needs a permit from the Cameron Highlands District Forestry Office and a certified guide to attempt this hike. 

UP TO EXPECTATIONS

IT'S hard not to compare the 2020 Proton X70 CKD, which is locally assembled at Proton's Tanjung Malim plant, with its older sister, the CBU version. While they don't look much different from each other, car enthusiasts say each variant has their own highlights. Well, I'm not a car person — a car is a car, no matter what — but I like this SUV. The drive is smooth and sturdy. Sitting behind the wheel with its luxurious furnishing and accessories certainly makes me feel pampered.

Engine 1.8L TGDI (petrol)

Maximum output 135kW/5,500rpm

Maximum torque 300Nm/1,750rpm

Drive Mode Eco/Normal/Sport

Safety Six SRS airbags, anti-lock braking system (ABS), electronic brake distribution (EBD), brake assist (BA), auto brake hold, electronic stability control (ESC), traction control system (TCS), hill hold assist (HHA) and hill descent control (HDC).

NEW FEATURES ONLY IN THE CKD VARIANT Ventilated seats, a power tailgate with a foot sensor, rear reclining seats, an upgrade to the existing engine and a seven-speed wet dual-clutch transmission. Source - NST

Tasik Biru makes splash as Rompin's newest tourist attraction - August 22, 2020

ROMPIN: A lake located in Bukit Ibam, near here, is fast becoming a popular tourist attraction due to its clear blue waters, green surroundings and an old quarry as a backdrop. Popularly known as Tasik Biru or Blue Lake, the body of water was once the site of Malaysia's largest quarry, which was among many large holes formed by iron ore mining activities in the surrounding hilly area. State Tourism and Culture Committee chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Sharkar Shamsudin said the lake, nestled among old mining sites, is becoming the talk of tourists due to its picturesque views. "The lake offers a breathtaking view and scenic backdrop for photography. Tourism Pahang is in the midst of planning some minor developments at the site to bring convenience to visitors. "We will build a viewing deck or a platform so visitors can move closer to capture pictures. The platform can be built near the lake, but we have to consult the relevant authorities to ensure the move will not pose any threat to visitors," he said when contacted by the New Straits Times.

Sharkar said picnic spots, tables and huts for the public to shelter in will be built so that visitors can spend more time at the lake, rather than just visiting to take pictures. "There are no activities at the lake area, so maybe we can provide some basic infrastructures and an information board on the history of the lake. However, no water activities will be allowed here," he said. Sharkar said the lake will be included in tour packages for those planning to visit Rompin, which is already popular for billfish fishing activities and the Endau-Rompin National Park. "We have several attractions in Rompin, including padi farming activities, popular freshwater prawns and the sailfish challenge for fishing enthusiasts. Now we have the blue lake as the newest attraction in Rompin.... we will continuously promote the lake," he said. It is believed that iron ore mining activities increased the amount of heavy metals in the water, resulting in chemical reactions between the rocks and the soil, which gave rise to the lake's vivid colour.

Fraser's Hill bungalows' days may be numbered - August 16, 2020

RAUB: The demolition of the colonial-style Maybank Lodge in Fraser's Hill here last month has raised questions if other bungalows on the hill station will suffer the same fate. The four-bedroom Tudor-style bungalow, located in a secluded corner at the end of the main road from Allan's Water, has been reduced to a pile of rubble to make way for the construction of the 15-storey Fraser's Hill Resort and Spa. There are concerns that the incident will set a precedent for other building owners to sell their bungalows. Compounding the worry is the thought that the mansions will go the way of the Maybank Lodge as some buildings there have been long abandoned and are in a dilapidated state.

A former bungalow caretaker, who declined to be named, said "English homes", which were once landmarks of the hill station, seemed to have lost their charm and had been left unattended for years. "Bungalows here have timber structures, concrete walls and limestone. Each has a Tudor-style look, a fireplace, a chimney and vernacular architecture. They have distinctive designs with their own names, mostly named after districts in Pahang. "Everything was calm until the Maybank bungalow was demolished recently to make way for the resort. So there is no guarantee about the fate of other bungalows here. "Even some privately-owned premises have been left unattended." He said there were four or five bungalows that had been abandoned.

"The bungalows have breathtaking views. They used to be highly-sought after during the holidays, but they are no longer maintained. "I am sure if the owners receive good offers, they might consider selling them. "In the past, most of the bungalow caretakers were Hainanese, but they left after deaths of family members. Some were too old and they moved to stay at their children's homes and elsewhere. "People used to live here when they had jobs, and once they retired, most of them would move elsewhere and buy houses in nearby towns." He said the era of bungalow caretakers was coming to an end in the Little England of Malaysia, as the bungalows' days were numbered. "When Maybank Lodge was demolished, people asked why none of the buildings here was gazetted as a heritage site. Gazetting them could have saved them. "Only now are people beginning to make noise. So let's not lose more colonial buildings."

Checks by the New Sunday Times showed that Puncak Inn Fraser's Hill owned five bungalows: The Cicely (Kuantan), Hollebeke (Cini), Cottage (Bentong), Abu Suradi and Puncak Lodge. The state government had leased five other bungalows in Pekan, Raub, Jelai, Brinchang and Jerantut to a private company, while the Temerloh bungalow will soon be turned into a hospital. A source from the Raub District Office said records showed no building in Fraser's Hill was gazetted as a heritage site. "Only the old police station in Raub town has been included in the national heritage list and there are no buildings in Fraser's Hill in the list. "Three buildings in Fraser's Hill — the post office, police station and district council building near the clock tower — have had their names submitted to the National Heritage Department to get them gazetted."

Persatuan Alam dan Warisan Bukit Fraser (PAWBF) chairman Nik Jassmin Hew said abandoned bungalows made the hill station looked like a ghost town. "The buildings are starting to turn into an eyesore. Empty bungalows deprive people of jobs and people cannot experience what it is like to stay in colonial bungalows. "Even the historical Gap rest house at the foothill has been left abandoned. Fraser's Hill has the right tourism products, but more needs to be done to maintain them." PAWBF raised the alarm last week after Maybank Lodge and an abandoned Jelai Resort were demolished to make way for the resort and spa by a private developer. It is learnt that the developer acquired another bungalow belonging to an oil and gas company. Source : NST

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