road riding in Penang | Malaysia

Camp Cameron 2002
story by Darren Lee images by Melvin Choo and Andrew "Hats" Lee


We'll be coming 'round the mountain when we come ....

Saturday 30 November 2002: So, I finally did it. I talked about it, I dreamt about, and now I finally did it. In preparation for our Cycas Revoluta training camp up Camerons in March 2003, Andrew, Melvin, and myself decided to do a little "test run". Hey, we can't recommend something without trying it first right? Well, here are the results: It was a pity that we couldn't take any pictures - some of the sights were worth stopping just for a snap (not something we'd like to do actually).

Getting there: It takes about 4 to 4.5 hours by car from Penang, depending on how fast you drive up the hill. Distance is about 300 km from Penang. Here's a tip - fuel up at Tapah or don't bother fuelling up at all (at least until you reach Ringlet, which is about 48km away from Tapah). We were seriously living on the edge - the low fuel warning light came on while I was still in the middle of nowhere. We even switched off the air-conditioning just to save that every drop of petrol and I was ever so gentle on the gas pedal. Tense - and that's before you begin the ride!

The weather: 27 degrees Celcius down there, 20 degrees up at Tanah Rata. It may not sound that cold, but throw in a combination of some evening winds and sweaty Lycra and my teeth was chattering (involuntary) after the ride, on the way back to the hotel.

Traffic: Well, traffic was the big surprise. After hearing all the "you're nuts to ride up Camerons on a Saturday afternoon" statements - traffic seemed rather light. Of course there were the requisite buses, lorries and umm ... Singaporean cars, .... but there wasn't a stampede that I had visualised myself dodging before I started the ride. Certainly a pleasant turn of events.

Road conditions: Good. The 11km stretch from Ringlet up to Tanah Rata could do with some resurfacing, but otherwise the general conditions are good. For those who've ridden in Penang - think the Fruit Farm road - except that it's 50% wider. Nice. Watch out for some of the corners on the left side though (the non-hill side) - some of them have to barriers and it's a long, long way down if you misjudge your cornering.

The hotel: We bunked at the Hotel Heritage. Good location (right after you enter the Tanah Rata town limit). It has some apartments for rent along with the usual hotel rooms. First impressions are good : the place is quiet (which was rather surprising given the fact that we were there on a Saturday during the public holidays). The rooms are spacious and clean. Space - very important for our precious bikes to rest and space for us to clean the bikes as well (which I did of course - how do you think I passed the time?)

There is ample parking space in front of the hotel lobby and down at the basement - and the basement is really convenient for sneaking up bikes without passing through the front office (not that we had to do it - I had already checked with the hotel beforehand). It was most probably due to the cool weather that we didn't realise for a while that the room has no air conditioning! Yup - open window treatment does the job. Hmmm .... later we'd find out the dining rooms and restaurants did not have air conditioning as well.

Speaking of money - we got the "Honeymoon Package" (Andrew was staying somewhere else). All right, you can stop sniggering now .... it appeared to be an okay deal. An edible steamboat dinner was thrown in for the night as was breakfast the following morning. The cost? RM 188 nett. A bit on the high side. The three-bedroom apartments cost RM 350 (weekdays) and RM 450 (weekends). We didn't check them out, though, so we no idea whether they were good deals or not.

The ride: Cameron Highlands has been called the world's longest categorised climb in professional cycling. According to the GPS guy Andrew, the 59 km climb from Tapah to Tanah Rata consists of two Category One climbs, the 48 km stretch from Tapah to Ringlet followed by the final 11km run from Ringlet to Tanah Rata.

"So Melvin, how about we just hang around the hotel and not go down, huh?"

But don't let that scare you. The average gradient worked out to be around 2.5%, and again, for those who've ridden the Fruit Farm which averages about 3.0%, Cameron is long, but it's not too steep. It's a climb which you can do comfortably at your own pace. It helps that there are certain flat / downhill sections along the way where you can recover or relax. And there's a 2km downhill to Ringlet town!

More care is need when descending from Tanah Rata to Ringlet. I nearly crashed because I was dumb enough to attempt a quick drink just before a sharp (and unfamiliar) corner came up. Actually took the corner on the other side of the road! Needless to say, there wasn't a truck / bus / car / motorbike / Land Rover on the other side, or else I wouldn't be here writing this ....

Some other interesting observations:

  • Sunblock explodes when you open the tube up there
  • Water bottles explode when you open the bottles up there
  • Hair gel bottle explodes when you open the bottle up there
  • Face gel bottle explodes when you open the bottle up there
  • Steamboat seems to be the favourite meal in Cameron Highlands (we had it and so did everyone else that night, it seems)
  • Maybe the lower atmospheric pressure did it, but we had to head for the toilet (big one and small one) and awful lot of times
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