Tea Plantation in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

How I Spent $170 for a 5-Day Outdoor Adventure in Malaysia

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View of Kuala Lumpur from Titiwangsa Park
View of Kuala Lumpur from Titiwangsa Park

Kuala Lumpur is just another big Asian city along with Bangkok, Hong Kong, Macau, Manila, and the like. That’s how I thought of it until my feet stepped into its nature-surrounded federal territory. I started to fantasize of exploring Kuala Lumpur attractions when I met Hanna, a Malaysian local whom I became friends with after sharing the trail to the crater lake of Taal Volcano in  the Philipines with 13 other strangers. Our adventurous group eventually named ourselves The WanderWalkers after building great friendships. When Hanna invited me to attend her wedding in KL, I thought that “I now have the perfect excuse to add another stamp on my passport.” Besides, how many chances would I get as a Christian to witness a traditional Malaysian Muslim wedding? I believe that it’s an opportunity no to be missed! Besides, she promised to host me in her house so I won’t have to spend for accommodations.

The Poor WanderWalker

However, having recently left my job in the Philippines to  move to Vietnam, I didn’t have enough funds. I was in the midst of finding a full time job in Saigon when I booked a 2-way AirAsia flight worth $70 from Ho Chi Minh to Kuala Lumpur. I had a part-time job teaching for a Summer School at that time and I intended to use some of its pay to explore Malaysia… And by some, I meant $100. I had an extra $100 as emergency fund just in case something unfortunate happens but spending this extra meant probably not eating decently after getting back to Vietnam. But since I did everything by crazy faith, I somehow knew God will make a way for me to make the best out of this trip. 🙂

The Search for a Travel Companion

Being a mountain-lover, I wanted  to make sure that I would reach a peak near Kuala Lumpur. I had a total of 5 days to spend in Malaysia, the last of it being Hanna’s wedding day. Only one thing was sure in my itinerary for the other 4 days which was to hike Bukit Tabur. You can read about my extraordinary experience hiking it with my co-WanderWalker Rik and 11 other foreign adventurers here.  Longing to be accompanied by a local to trek this mountain on August 12, I posted my Bukit Tabur hike in Couchsurfing and Facebook Group Hiking and Camping around Malaysia.  Little did I know that one of the locals who replied would be my ticket to having the best Malaysia trip possible.

I feel so blessed to know a young man I’ll hide in the name of Stickman prior to flying to KL. He helped me plan for the entire trip and most unbelievable of all, he was willing to accompany me all throughout the week… in other words, he was willing to be my local guide without charging me any guide fees. I was fortunate that he was free for the whole month of August since he just finished his work contract. He also offered to drive me around on his motorbike. Knowing him made me see more clearly what my trip would be like. I was more excited. 🙂

Second-Hand Dope Smoker

When I and Stickman met in KL for the first time, I felt like I didn’t have to put my guards up, even though he was a stranger I just met online. We are both crazy adventurers, lovers of nature and spontaneous travelers. Our level of craziness matched. It was also my first time to be around someone who is passionate about weed. He was concerned to tell me about it at during day 1 since I would be with him for a week. I appreciated that he told me. And although I’ve always abode my conviction against smoke simply because it’s not the healthiest way to treat my God-given human body, I remained non-chalant when he smoked weed around me because I wanted to show respect. But I was probably doped as well being around him, lol.

No Fear Of Speed

One of the most memorable thing about exploring Malaysia with Stickman is the experience of being taken away by his motorbike at a freaking speed of 100-120kph without a windshield. Note that in Saigon, where I came from the max speed for motorbikes is only 60kph. No wonder he had to buy a new helmet for me to use.  I remember how he assured me, “We will drive the fastest but safest way.” Whether at the highway with other cars and big trucks, or in the zig zag mountain roads,  he managed to get me to where I wanted to go without a single accident. Such a skilled rider!

A full-blown helmet is required lah!
A full-blown helmet is required lah!
Driving the fastest and safest way :) #Rider
Driving the fastest and safest way 🙂 #Rider

Planning my itinerary was just to have an idea how my trip could happen but it’s not a straight rule. Some of the places I considered visiting are Bukit Kutu, Broga Hill, Berkelah falls and Chiling falls but I and Stickman played it by ear. Here’s how it actually happened.

Cable Car. Flying above the trees
Cable Car. Flying above the trees

Day 1: Genting Highlands and Bukit Tinggi

Genting Highlands actually seemed so boring for me to see in the pictures. It’s basically a little city built on top of a mountain, with hotels and a (closed) theme park. However, I’ve read about the new Awana cable car with a glass floor enabling you to see below while you swing above the trees going to the top, which sounded so much fun so we went. We drove (Stickman on the throttle and I at the back seat) from KL to Genting for around 1.5 hours, grabbing lunch along the way. KL is a hot city and driving the highway going to the highlands was a really cool experience. However, we found  out that the new cable car system is still under testing and we only had the old cable car (non-transparent floor) as an option to go up. 2-way fee is RM 13. Upon getting there, we walked some distance and rested in a park. Nothing much to do though so we headed to Bukit Tinggi, 36 km from Genting, which we reached after around 30 mins.

 

 

Roads to Genting Highlands
Roads to Genting Highlands

Berjaya Hill in Bukit Tinggi is one magical place where I felt I was in Europe. It’s a small villa with impressive architectural structures simiar to those you see in Europe. Although there’s nothing much to do other than sightseeing, taking pictures and eating from western-inspired restaurants, I had the feeling that I’ve been taken to another time and dimension. 🙂 Sweet!

Berjaya Hills in Bukit Tinggi
Berjaya Hills in Bukit Tinggi
Little Europe in Malaysia
Little Europe in Malaysia

While the sun was setting, we started to drive back to KL. Stickman sent me to Petaling Jaya where I would crash to Hanna’s place, only for him to go back there early the next day to pick me up to go to Cameron Highlands.

Suggested Itinerary for Genting Highlands and Bukit Tinggi:

11:00 ETA KL
12:00 ETD Genting Highlands by Motorbike, lunch somewhere
13:00 Ride the Genting Sky Cable (RM 13)
13:20 Walk around and sightsee in Genting
14:00 Ride back to parking via Sky Cable
14:20 ETD from Genting to Bukit Tinggi
15:00 ETA Bukit Tinggi / Berjaya Hill, walk around, sightseeing, eat
17:00 ETD from Bukit Tinggi back to KL
18:30 ETA back to KL

Western architectures in Berjaya hill Bukit Tinggi
Western architectures in Berjaya hill Bukit Tinggi

Day 2: Cameron Highlands and Mossy Forest

Despite the 200km distance of Cameron Highlands from Kuala Lumpur, Stickman and I dared to drive to this amazing mountain. It was supposed to be just a 3-hour drive but we ended up going there for 5 hours, taking the wrong way at the beginning. We even almost ran out of gas and had to find a store that sells bottled gas since we were in the midst of the mountain road without any hope for a gas station. Although it was a grueling ride, I did enjoy the view and the speed. As I write this, I could just close my eyes and relive and reminisce the cool fresh air slapping my skin as I watch the view of the mountains and trees to my left and right.

Lake-like body of water on the way to Cameron Highlands
Lake-like body of water on the way to Cameron Highlands

Along the way, we passed by this little body of water which looked so amazing. It seemed to be a natural lake with a blue-green water. It was impossible though to get close to it. We took pictures and went on ahead.

Tea Plantation in Cameron Highlands
Tea Plantation in Cameron Highlands

Cameron Highlands is like a commercialized city in a mountain with a lot of hotels, restaurants and commercial structures catering to the tourists. Still, the nature that surrounds it dominates the experience. I have seen a lot of mountains before but this is the only place where I see a beautiful tea plantation  laid along the slopes of the hills.

Entrance to Mossy Forest.
Entrance to Mossy Forest.

I was also hoping to try one of the trails of Gunung Brinchang (still in Cameron Highlands). However, since we arrived late, it was impossible to finish the trail and get back before sundown. We just ventured around the Mossy Forest which I think is an equally amazing place to be. I would like to call it Foggy Mossy Forest since there was no clearing due to fog. The start of the trail is guided by wooden steps which ends at the start of the 3-hour hike up to the peak. We decided to head back to KL and started driving at 7pm. It was even more grueling with no windshield to protect us from the rain and freezing wind. Zig-zag road was not lit and fog covered what’s in front of us. Exhausted, we arrived in the middle of the night in Kuala Lumpur and crashed to Stickman’s friend’s house. This experience though tiring is a really remarkable one for me since Cameron Highlands was worth the effort!

Inside the Mossy Forest
Inside the Mossy Forest

Suggested Itinerary for Cameron Highlands

07:00 ETD from KL to Cameron either by Motorbike or Bus. Be sure to check the updated schedule. Tips from Tripadvisor here.
1
1:00 ETA Cameron Highlands, lunch
12:00 Navigate your way to Brinchang’s Mossy Forest
12:30 ETA Mossy Forest (you can either complete the 4-5hour trail or just chill and sit in the benches inside the mossy forest.
18:00 Dinner
19:00 Start driving back to KL if by motorbike. You also have the option to stay overnight in one of the hostels here if you came by bus since departure from Cameron to KL is early afternoon around 1pm if I remember correctly.
23:00 ETA KL

Foggy Mossy Forest
Foggy Mossy Forest

First Time to CouchSurf

I have been using Couchsurfing to do hiking events but never to find a place to sleep. But this time, I experienced literally sleeping at the couch of some strangers. Since the couple were Stickman’s friends, I didn’t feel much threatened. Their parents would also pass by the living room in the wee hours to go to the toilet. Despite the dead-tiring day which was supposed to lead to a deep snored sleep, I honestly didnt have enoughrest as I would wake up from time to time.

Day 3: The City and Titiwangsa Park

Despite the lack of sleep, we left a little after the sun was up. No itinerary for the day really except to try to get permits for the Bukit Tabur hike happening the next day. After the unsuccessful attempt, we decided to visit the central market. I don’t anything striking about it though. It’s just like any other souvenir shop in asia where you would find local crafts and collectibles. After having lunch there, we surrendered into just watching the city and the time pass by in Titiwangsa Park. We laid and napped by the grass under a tree with the view of the man-made lake and the city, including the Petronas Towers. That time when the outdoors was our home.

Nomad in Kuala umpur. Sleeping in Titiwangsa Park
Nomad in Kuala Lumpur. Resting under the big trees in Titiwangsa Park.
Freely roaming Monitor Lizard in Titiwangsa Park
Freely roaming Monitor Lizard in Titiwangsa Park

Suggested Sites to Visit inside the City

  • KLCC Part(Petronas Towers, a lot of people here. Be warned.)
  • Skybar at Trader’s Hotel accross Petronas during sunset is awesome
  • Titiwangsa Park (Further view of the city with much less crowd.)
  • Central Market
  • Batu Caves (I chose to skip it since it was just a staircase going to a big buddha statue)
  • KL Tower
Sunset view while at Skybar, Traders Hotel
Sunset view while at Skybar, Traders Hotel
KL Tower, phoro by Danny
KL Tower, phoro by Danny

Day 4: Bukit Tabur

The big day came and we had to wake up early to hiking Bukit Tabur with a group 12 other people from different countries. This is probably the highlight of my Malaysia trip and I highy recommend it to all adventurers visiting the country. Be warned though that it’s newbies require extra care when doing this activity.  It was so memorable that it deserved an entirely separate article with details, tips and itineraries which you can find here: Bukit Tabur, Malaysia: 7 Secrets of The Dragonback Trek while the hike video summary  can be found here.

Bukit Tabur Couchsurfing Trekkers
Bukit Tabur Couchsurfing Trekkers

Day 5: The Wedding Day and The Farewell Night

Finally, Hanna’s wedding day came. Being a traditional Muslim wedding, it was entirely different from all the weddings I experienced before. I and my co-Wanderwalker Rik from the Philippines (who came late by the way so Ihad to sit for a long time alone) were probably the only non-Muslim in the hall. But witnessing the entire event amused me. It was such a lovely experience to see our hiking buddy not in trekking clothes, but rather in a wedding dress.

Hanna and Arifin's Tradidtional Malaysian Muslim Wedding
Hanna and Arifin’s Tradidtional Malaysian Muslim Wedding

Buses and Trains

The wedding ended early so Rik and I had more time to explore the city before saying goodbye the following day. Since this time I have no Stickman with me, I had no choice but to experience commuting in Kuala Lumpur. From Uber, connecting train rides from Putrajaya where the wedding was held, back to Kuala Lumpur, to walking the paved streets of the central district. My plane was leaving 7am the next day already so I had plan on sleeping during my last night. I caught up with my new found travel buddies to discuss random topics, from travel experiences, future plans to Jewish-Islam issue in the middle east. 😛

Farewell meetup with my newfound friends
Farewell meetup with my newfound friends

Expenses

My thin wallet endured my action-packed Malaysia trip because I have Hanna to host me in her house, and Stickman to drive me around. My $100 endured until my last day, accommodating some good meals, personal souvenirs, wedding gift, and Uber rides.  It is a very tricky part though because you can only achieve it if you are under the same circumstances as I had. But still, I’m sharing it to inspire you, maybe as you travel other parts of the world. Cheers to meeting new friends when traveling alone!

Recommendation

Malaysia is definitely a go-to in Southeast Asia. Although it’s not popular for great beaches, it’s mountains and curves are definitely something to look forward to especially for adventurers who are not very keen to stay in the city. Diversity is a key characteristic of the country, from locals to expats from different nations. Try to meet up some locals to soak deeper into their culture. Couchsurfing is always a great avenue to do it. 🙂 Click here to see the recap video of my 5-day Malaysia adventure.

Sunrise at Bukit Tabur West
Sunrise at Bukit Tabur West

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