Jun 24, 2011

Lying Low in the Cameron Highlands

As if our travels this past 5 months haven’t been exciting enough—exploring ancient ruins, riding ostriches,sledding down sand dunes, alpine coasting, hiking into caves, interacting with elephants and leopards—we took things in a bit of a different direction.  Our latest escapade saw Jim try life as a single parent of our 2 pre-schoolers for a week while I got a first-hand look at the Malaysian public hospital system.  Definitely not your typical adventure.

After leaving the Philippines, we had nearly 3 weeks ‘to kill’ in Malaysia before our flight to Sri Lanka.  There wasn’t anything in particular we wanted to see but in any case, we made a vague plan:  a couple of days in KL, then north to Ipoh, the Cameron Highlands, over to Penang to see some friends, then back to KL to meet some friends from Melbourne.  It seemed pretty straight forward and fairly unchallenging.

Shortly after arriving in Tanah Rata, which is the main tourist destination in the Cameron Highlands, we were ready to move on.  It just wasn’t what we had expected.  The town seemed to lack any character or charm, instead it seemed to exist solely to meet the needs of the Malaysian, Singaporian, and foreign backpacker tourists who flock here for the cooler climate and the mountain scenery.  For us though, the tea plantations/strawberry farm/butterfly farm tours were not only a bit overpriced, but they were also much the same of what we’ve already experienced elsewhere in our travels.  Additionally, Malaysian laws prohibit more than 2 people on a motorcycle, and renting a car was exorbitant, so getting around independently was a problem.  On the positive side though, Tanah Rata has an abundant amount of good and inexpensive Indian and Chinese eateries as well as a large and well-equipped children’s playground.

Playground in Tanah Rata

We scratched our heads as to where else to go to fill the remainder of our time.  But on our third day here, I felt terrible and ended up staying in bed all day.  I had a cold since leaving Manila and it seemed to be worsening into bronchitis.  Jim took the girls to the park and out for their meals.  The following day I still wasn’t feeling any better so we contacted our travel insurance company and headed to the fairly new Hospital Sultanah Hajjah Kalsom, which was the local district public hospital ‘for the poor’ I was later told.

Some of my nurses (blue stripe = RN)
So that’s what led to our latest adventure.  I was diagnosed with a severe case of pneumonia and was admitted then and there.  I was taken up to the open women’s ward, which looked and felt like any other hospital that I’d ever been in Canada and Australia, except that all the nurses were Muslim and wore white headscarves as part of their uniform.  Most of the staff spoke very good English and they were exceptionally thorough and professional.  The place was very clean and yet strangely quiet.  In our section of 6 beds, only 4 were ever occupied at one time during my stay, and at one point, there were only 2 of us.  I did get a chance to meet some really lovely open and thoughtful people, who were mostly relatives of the other patients, during my time there and to practice my Cantonese as they didn’t speak any English.  The locals here though certainly aren’t afraid to pry and to openly ask why you are in the hospital and to listen in during all other patients’ consultations with doctors and nurses!

I ended up being in the hospital for 7 days.  Prior to this, I had never spent a single night away from Jim and both girls and Jim too had never been solely responsible for both children for longer than a few hours.  Yet having to go through this while we were on holiday was probably easier in many ways than if you were at home, where you have responsibilities of work, cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry and ‘activities’ to work around.  Here in the Cameron Highlands, the daytime temperatures were usually around 20 degrees and very comfortable for the girls to go out and play all day.  The girls actually loved the unstructured time that they now had, playing for hours either in the park and or back at their very large hotel room.  When it came time to eat, it was just a matter of deciding ‘where’.  Laundry was washed, dried and folded for you for Rm2/0.75 cents a kilo.  Tanah Rata is quite small, so Jim and the girls could easily walk everywhere, except that the hospital was about 1.3km from the town centre so they usually spent the RM5/$1.75 US for a taxi to come visit mom a couple times a day.  The merchants and business people all got to know Jim and the girls and of our ‘situation’ as the sight of a single guy with 2 preschoolers and no mom usually got the better of their curiosity.  They were all lovely and always said ‘hello’ to the girls when they would walk past.  The girls adored all the undivided attention that they got from their dad this past week and didn’t seem at all traumatised by the separation from mom.  Jim did a wonderful job caring for the girls.

Their 'huge' hotel room at Jurina Hill Lodge

Watching Banana Roti Being Made

So despite our first impressions, we’ve had quite the time here in the Cameron Highlands.  While we couldn’t wait to leave when we first got here, it turned out to be the best place that such a ‘misfortune’ could have happened in SEA, with a good climate coupled with an excellent hospital in a ‘cozy’ setting.  We’ve decided to stay until it’s time for us to return to KL for our flight to Sri Lanka so that I can regain some energy.  Luckily, the next 7 months of our travels has fewer countries and much slower travel planned anyway, so hopefully we can continue on without any issues.


  1. Wow, I am glad if it had to happen in happened in a place that had good health care and lots of stuff for the kids to do. Sending you get well wishes!

  2. Jessica, I'm sad to hear you had to be in the hospital for a whole week! I'm glad you're feeling better now. You guys should try Father's Guesthouse restaurant for breakfast in the morning - you don't need to be a guest to eat there. Good eggs and yogurt, and it's cheap too. Hugs.

  3. Do take time to rest and wish you fully recover soon. Take care!


  4. At least you were not in Cambodia when all of this happened. Good to have you back, now relax and get back to normal for the next leg of the journey.