Missing a European-style Christmas while you’re in the tropics? Then Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands is a hidden gem. Perched high in the mountainous terrain, this weekend getaway spot is a gorgeous hark back to the colonial hey day of yesteryear and an interesting place to travel with kids. For a different family holiday from your standard Southeast Asian experience and a unique way to see Malaysia with kids, Cameron Highlands with kids is it.
Forget everything you know or imagine about Malaysia with kids. The Cameron Highlands is all about strawberry picking. Long walks in the countryside. European architecture. And cool, fresh air. These are all the attractions that make the Cameron Highlands with kids a welcome respite on a trip to Southeast Asia’s sweltering tropics. If you’re in Singapore or Malaysia and after a peaceful getaway of reading books and afternoon tea, this is well worth the drive.
The Cameron Highlands is not so much about “doing” as “being”. It is an ideal place to soak up the quiet, rural calm. While there are some things to do, it’s best to approach your family holiday with relaxation in mind that might include some day excursions, rather than trying to fill a bucket list of activities.
The area is famed for it’s fresh fruit and vegetables, particularly the strawberries. It’s a fun couple of hours to take the kids to pick their own direct from the patch to be enjoyed afterwards. There are several places you can do this including Raju’s Hill Strawberry Farm (Kea Farm, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, Tel: +60 19 575 3867) and Big Red Strawberry Farm.
An easy excursion is to visit the famous Boh Tea Plantations where you can tour the factory where the tea is processed and amble among the plants before settling back to sample the goods over an impossibly pretty prospect.
Alternatively there are several nurseries along the roadside selling gorgeous flowers to explore. One of the most famous is the Cactus Valley (Pekan lama, 39100 Brinchang, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, Tel: + 60 54 915 64) that has several species of the interesting plants to see.
If you prefer to view nature in the great outdoors there are a few jungle walks you can do particularly to Parit and Robinson Waterfalls. While you can easily do the walks in sneakers and do not need serious hiking boots, you should really only set out with children who are capable of completing the walk themselves.
One of the most glorious places to stay in the Cameron Highlands is the Cameron Highlands Resort. This stunning boutique hotel is famed for it’s traditional English cuisine (especially the not-to-be-missed afternoon tea), open fireplaces and romantic atmosphere, especially at Christmas time. The service is impeccable and everything from the live piano in the lounge in the evenings to the brilliant spa is tasteful and refined.
Relax here with some scones and a book and one can almost imagine Jim Thompson in the corner knocking back a whisky with his expatriate friends circa 1965.
Cameron Highlands Resort is particularly attractive to families in December as this is the one place in the region where you can imagine you are really experiencing a northern hemisphere Christmas. There are several gorgeous (and giant) trees out the front, traditional Christmas fare on the menu, caroling around the piano pre-dinner and roaring fires to gather around in your winter woollies. If you want your kids to experience the nostalgia of an (almost) white Christmas, this is the best place in Malaysia and Singapore to do it.
While the resort has an indoor kids room with computer games, a television and (small) play equipment, the resort premises is compact. There are no grassy areas to kick a ball or run amuck so you should take this into account when deciding to stay here.
Because it is a quiet place without too many built-up, urban attractions, Cameron Highlands works well for babies and older children. If you have very active toddlers that require lots of stimulation and activity, this may not be the destination for you.
In particular, it is a windy, mountainous, 2-hour drive from Ipoh (the nearest international airport) to reach the Highlands so if your kids are prone to car sickness you need to pack the necessary precautions. If you are driving yourself, it’s best to stick to the roads on the daytime. Malaysia does not have a reputation for the safest driving particularly on difficult-to-navigate roads. [For more travel tips on surviving road tips with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
The coolness of the weather is one of the chief attractions of Cameron Highlands for the locals, so come prepared. It can be surprisingly chilly if you have been sweating out the last few days in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, so you will need long pants, sweaters and closed shoes if you want to do any walking.
It is not safe to drink the water from the tap in Malaysia. Only use bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath.
For travel tips on negotiating the Singapore and Malaysian border crossings, see the suitcases&strollers story here.