The area of Cameron Highlands were named after William Cameron, A British Government surveyor who discovered the area in 1885 on a mapping expedition. He failed to mark down his discovery, and the area continued to lay natural until 1925 when Sir George Maxwell recorded Cameron’s original discovery and developed it as a British Hill Station attracting British colonels. Word of the area spread to British expatriate tea planters who realized the potential for growing tea in the fertile mountain slopes. They began to refer to the area as “A Little Piece of Britain in Asia.” A golf course was built, and in 1930, work began to extend an existing cottage into the larger and more opulent Cameron Highlands Resort.
We know we’ve arrived when we turn a corner and drive upon a golf course stretching into the jungle with perfect manicured greens and across the street, a brick laid driveway into The Historic Cameron Highlands Resort. We step out of the car and a pleasant chill nips the tips of my ears and my cheeks.
Walkways lined with topiary bushes and curving rows of cultivated flowers lead us to a steep staircase down which I can imagine a gentlewomen tumbling without the guiding hand of the doormen still keeping a careful watch today. They take our bags and we scale the stairs into the lobby.
We are ushered to hand carved Malaysian teak chairs and offered a chilled cloth smelling of lavender oil and a lightly sweetened chamomile tea in an etched crystal cup to sip while we wait to be checked in and our complimentary spa appointments scheduled.
When we indicate we are feeling peckish, we are invited into the adjoining tea room with a lovely view of flowers out the window, balconies adjoining hotel rooms, and delicate tea service lining the shelves. I can’t say I’ve been to a proper British tea room, but this tea room seems as proper as any I could imagine.
“Do you think our room will have a balcony?” Andrew says, I shrug. If it does, I’m not doing anything all night but sitting outside…you know, to experience what it is like to be “cold”.
We are served a pot of black tea with tea sandwiches: cucumber and cream cheese, tuna and mayonnaise, and smoked salmon and cream cheese. Andrew enjoys a French Onion Soup, tomato for me. Our server is unduly concerned that our tea pot may run dry, so despite our protestation that only one pot will suffice, he returns with a fresh pot of tea two times over. Andrew and I both admit, the tea is unusually delicious.
We explore the library with it’s old collections of encyclopedias, current smattering of newspapers and photographs of historic Highlands days of old.
Soon, it is time for our spa appointments. We are shown down the open air hallway, along which we are chased by a school of koi. First right at the pots of freshly arranged flower petals, and we’ve arrived. We are greeted by a gentle Malay woman who takes our shoes away and replaces them with spa slippers. We fill out the guest questionnaire, choose our essential oils, and wait for instruction. Instead of moving to our massage area, we are served a pot of black jasmine tea on a little table with a pretty peach colored rose blooming as we relax. Once we have enjoyed our tea, only then are we gathered up by two Balinese massage therapists.
After our massage, we are shuttled back to the spa tea room for, yes, more tea and scone crisps with freshly made strawberry jam. It’s every bit as delicious as you might hope, but at this point, I’m starting to wonder if this abundance of tea is karmic blessing to make up for my difficulty finding my sweetener in Sonrisa’s cubby.
Once our room is ready, we are ushered up the grand staircase with a beautiful bronze wall from floor to ceiling depicting a jungle scene. It’s beautiful in the warm lantern light, glowing against the dark hardwood floor.
Our room is down another long, open air corridor facing against a steep mountain side jungle. We open the door and to our joy — a balcony! We immediately swing the double doors wide open and peek outside. There is just enough of an overhang for us to sit outside and stay dry, even with the cloud mist falling in sheets. I pull up a chair and a book, ready to read, when Andrew comes out toting two steaming mugs of tea.
“Look! They have complimentary packs of the black tea we love!”
“You have to be kidding me.” I say, but I take my mug and sip on it as the weather just calls for a nice cup of tea to accompany my book I think. We watch mist roll in and clear, then roll in again.
That night we get gussied up and head to the dining room for our complimentary “Steamboat” dinner for two. All the rage here, two boiling pots of different flavored broth are brought to your table with a plate of raw meat. You can go to the buffet line and pick up all the vegetables, noodles, herbs, peppers, garlic, or sauces you might want to add to your soup. Dump various ingredients in, boil it up and scoop it out. The soup gets more and more delicious as the night goes on.
“Would you like a pot of tea?” Our server asks.
No, maybe it’s karmic revenge for my “Stuffed Cubby” Tirade?
We opt for the wine list instead and order a bottle of dry rose wine. They bring it to our table with an ice bucket along side to keep it chill. Then, they begin setting our glass ware on the table. Two wine glasses, a cup, and a saucer. Out comes another pot of tea.
That night, we sleep with the door to our balcony thrown wide open, both of us wearing socks.
The next morning, we enjoy fresh strawberry jam over a still warm slice of cinnamon raisin bread with a crisp crust, and chewy fluffy bread inside. “Coffee or tea?” Our waiter inquires: “COFFEE!” Andrew and I both respond in unison, with a bit more fervor than strictly required. Soon, a course of perfectly poached eggs Benedict joins our coffee, bread, jam and fresh squeezed orange juice. First class, for sure.
Today, we finish the loop through tea plantations and back to Sonrisa. We wave goodbye to our warm hostess and hop back into our little car. We weave our way up a single lane of the “Unnamed Road,” beeping our horn around blind curves as the locals do, to let anyone coming down the way we are taking up space. Soon, we arrive at the Boh Tea Plantation.
We hike among tea bushes to the peak of this particular plantation to take in the views. We can see the housing for tea pickers below us, men carrying large sacks of tea on their backs. We can look down and see the factory, smell tea leaves being shredded then dried in their processing facility. It has the familiar scent of fresh cut grass warmed in the summer sun. We take the five minute tour and watch the leaves proceed through a conveyor process from raw plant leaf to dried, cut or powdered tea to be put into tea bags or sold as fresh leaf high quality tea.
“We should buy some.” Andrew says.
I might be ready to float away on the river of tea we drank in the last 24 hours, but I wouldn’t think of touring a tea factory without buying a box or two to add to our collection. Next thing I turn around, Andrew is filling his sack his shopping sack full.
“…and I need this kind to make kombucha….”
Sure, I’ll find a place for all this somewhere.