Young Thais are drawn by the big city lifestyle
In tropical Malaysia, the Cameron Highlands are synonymous with three things: cooler temperatures, pastoral beauty and tea. Spread out over 1,200 acres of gently rolling hills filled with waist-high tea plants, the Boh plantation is Malaysia's most prolific producer of black tea. It's said that the plantation produces enough leaves to brew five and a half million cups daily.
With a tool that's a hybrid garden shear/ shovel, 30-year-old Saredin snips the leaves from the branches of the tea bushes, scooping them into a basket on his back.
'Do I wonder if people think of me when drinking their tea? he asks, laughing. 'I doubt it. But I think of them enjoying the tea, which gives me pleasure.'
The work is hard, but the workplace idyllic. The plantation's hills stretch as far as the eye can see, punctuated only by gentle streams, water-wheels and the occasional building. One, a mock Tudorstyle mansion, was built by a former plantation manager, a Scotsman pining perhaps for the architecture of home. That the plantation should have a British feel is hardly an accident - Boh was started by Englishman JA Russell during the waning days of Britain's colonial dominance.
Another building seems to belong to a different continent entirely: the glass and steel rectangle in the plantation's centre would be more at home in Malibu. Here, visitors come to enjoy high tea with a view over the hills, and to watch the tea-pickers whose labour makes it all possible.
Saredin takes a break to have a cup of tea himself. So how does he like to take it? 'Strong,' he says. 'And with plenty of milk and sugar. Boh tea, naturally.'
Cameron Secrets Travel and Tours runs trips to the Boh plantation and smaller tea farms throughout the region (from £11; cameronsecrets.com).
Where to eat
Many restaurants specialise in steamboat (assorted vegetables, meats and seafood cooked in a communal pot), but Highlands Restaurant is the locals' favourite (from around £4; 36 Bandar Baru Brinchang, Brinchang).
Where to stay
Cameron Highlands Resort, a colonial-style hotel, is tops in every way, with its rooms decked in mahogany and teak and its elegant English tea room. The attached Spa Village Cameron Highlands offers the ultimate in tea-related luxury - a full-course spa treatment beginning with a medicinal soak in a bathtub filled with warm tea and flowers, and ending, of course, with a cup of chamomile tea (from £150; cameronhighlandsresort.com).
Taman Negara: Best for jungle
Past a sign reading 'Canopy walkway: 1km', the trail changes abruptly from manicured to wild, and all evidence of human habitation disappears. Tall trees and hanging vines close in, creating a primordial feel that's slightly unnerving.
Even though the canopy walk is barely on the outer edge of the Taman Negara National Park, a protected reserve roughly six times the size of Singapore, the feeling one may run into serious wildlife is hard to shake - even if the tigers and rhinos that live in the park stick to the interior.
The canopy walk itself is a long series of elevated walkways made of wood, cable and rope. It sways up to 40 metres above the ground, offering vertiginous views of the jungle floor below. The newest section of walkway stretches 70 metres between platforms, testing the courage of anyone with even a passing fear of heights.
If the canopy walk feels a bit contained, the riverboat trip up the Tahan River is decidedly less so. For 45 minutes, the long, nearly flat-bottomed boat, with its twoman crew of guide and driver, speeds against the current, dodging boulders. Lizards basking on rocks view the passing boats with unblinking eyes as tropical birds call from tree tops. The boat reaches a small rocky beach, surrounded by trees, through which a rough trail is cut.
A short walk leads to a small waterfall, and at the bottom of it is a pool offering a tantalising opportunity for a dip. Along the way, our guide, Mohd Ros Mani, who was born and bred in the park, points out which trees provide edible fruits and those that should be avoided.