The rafflesia flower is the biggest type of flower in the world but quite elusive. It blooms in several places in the jungle of Malaysia and Indonesia for a few days every eight to ten months, on an unpredictable schedule. One of the best places to visit the blooming rafflesia, in this writer’s opinion, are the mountains of Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands. This mountain resort town has good food, great hiking, and several worthwhile tours.
Since the rafflesia is so elusive, it is impossible to know when it will bloom next. You can stay in a hostel in another part of Malaysia and call the Cameron Highlands tourism bureau at 05-4911455 / 4912097 to ask about the rafflesia. The Cameron Highlands are a 3.5 hour bus ride from Kuala Lumpur, and is worth a side trip if you are spending some time in peninsular Malaysia. The fertile mountains are not only home to the wondrous rafflesia in the jungle, but also to pungent and picturesque tea and strawberry plantations. The crops make a glorious sight and make the air smell fragrant. Try not to miss a tea time with fresh-baked scones and strawberry jam.
If you get to the Cameron Highlands while the rafflesia is in bloom, 88-100 Malaysian Ringets (about 25-30 US dollars) will get you a full-day ticket to the main attractions: a jungle trek to the rafflesia, an introduction to local aboriginal life, a tour of the tea plantations and processing plant, a trip to the insect farm, where you can have large exotic insects crawl all over you, and to the strawberry shop to buy fresh jams or smoothies. This trip lasts a day and I highly recommend it (again, if the rafflesia is blooming). You can also do other day and half-day tours to get a better feel for the area, its delectable harvests, and local peoples.
If you want to be frugal in the Cameron highlands, there are several hiking trails you can easily access from the main road. You don’t need a guide for these hiking trails, but of course tell someone where you are going. The Cameron Highlands are also a great place to relax and do nothing: since tourism is profitable, but not its only industry, there are many tourist amenities (restaurants with free wi-fi, western food, English speakers), but you can down the street without being hassled to buy things every few meters (a common problem in many Southeast Asian tourist hotspots. The Cameron Highlands also have a relatively pleasant temperature for Malaysia. You can hike all day in jeans and shorts without getting too sweaty, but towards the evening you may want a jacket.
My recommendations for staying at the Cameron Highlands are to make yourself at home at Father’s Guesthouse, which is sociable and has a beautiful view. Eat Indian food on the main road, and try some three-layer tea. Spend a day or two leisurely hiking the trails and just enjoying the mountain air.