Tea in the Mountains (again)

There have been relatively few memorable hotels in my life, but this one definitely makes the list.


We spent last night reading by the fire, which was a huge treat after nearly five months of constant heat and humidity in Singapore (not that the humidity up here is especially low, but it’s lower).  It’s been amazing to feel cool for a few days.  And I’m always so happy in front of a fire.


The hotel also has a “jungle trek” out back, so after a leisurely morning of breakfast and reading, I hit the trail.  It was definitely a trek, steep up and steep down, with enough slippery clay that I had to keep myself from falling more than once.


This was the kind of hike that you take just to enjoy being out in the forest, because there were virtually no scenic overlooks (unless you count the brief glimpse of the machines dredging the overly-silty reservoir, a crazy project that involves taking truck beds filled with watery mud and dumping them up a nearby hillside):


But there were lots of cool plants, including more wild orchids than I could count.  None were in bloom, but that didn’t keep me from searching.  And while I was sorely tempted to take one home with me — I could suddenly see the appeal of being a nineteenth century plant collector — getting in trouble with the Singapore customs people doesn’t strike me as a good idea.  So I’m going home plant-free.  I just spent time admiring.

I also found this incredible comb right in the middle of the trail (my shoes are there for a size comparison).


I like any hotel that has developed a jungle trek — what a great addition to a stay.  Oh, and they also washed our car.  And they have more chairs and couches and nooks and crannies for reading than I have books.  It was hard to leave — Prescott and I waited until noon on the dot to check out.  Goodbye, Lakehouse Hotel!

We drove up to Tanah Rata to have tea and scones in a cafe that looked like it had been founded in the 1970s and hadn’t changed a whit since.  Then we wandered over to a local playground, mostly because I’d never seen anything like this:



Our next journey took us to another BOH tea plantation (this one was well south of the first).  You might ask, “how many tea plantations can one person see?”  The answer is, “a lot.”  They all look different, and they’re all stunning.  I think that what makes them so amazing is that the tea plants take on the contours of the hills and the mountains.




This plantation also allowed visitors to walk up to a view point that gave nearly a 360 view of the mountains — it was spectacular.



I’m also a huge fan of the plantings that this company does.  The climate allows for an unusual (for the States) mishmash of flowers:  hibiscus and day lilies and dahlias, amaryllis and anthurium and calla lilies, agapanthus and cosmos and roses.  They even had irises!


This plantation is the site of the original BOH factory:

IMG_7673.jpgWe took another factory tour (turns out that I’m more interested in tea processing than I might have guessed).  Here’s the enormous drying oven:


Tea factories have a very strong, very distinct odor.  It’s hard to describe, but if you drink a strong black tea, you’ll get some sense of it.

Our tour guide taught us briefly about different kinds of tea.  In the photo below, good black teas are in the top row, while the stuff that goes back into the ground as fertilizer is ranged along the bottom.  The low quality leaves that they use for flavored teas, which are my preference, are on the middle right.


We sampled several different kinds of black tea out on the patio.  The cafe shop was in an old Nissen hut (think Quonset hut, but British and older):



After tea, we took a long drive back down to Ipoh.  Prescott took the curves like a pro (though I still wish they believed in guard rails here) while I watched the forest and occasional homes go by.  I was amazed to see just how many people still live in wood houses on stilts.



The level of poverty in many areas looks to be significant. I suppose I could’ve guessed that about rural Malaysia, but it’s a whole different thing once you see it in person.

The tiny villages started to look better off as we descended.  Eventually, the scenery was dominated oil palm plantations (these are the plants from which palm oil is made; environmentalists are concerned that too much of Malaysia and Indonesia have been deforested to make room for them).  Some of the plantations had these signs nearby, though there were no cows in sight:


We checked into a nondescript but perfectly reasonable hotel in Ipoh and then went to have dinner at the Tandoor Grill, which may be some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had.

To close, I’ll share my favorite marketing of the day: The Hottie & The Boss:




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