Staying in Ipoh a few days before our month in Penang gave us the opportunity to check out two noted attractions in the area, The Lost World of Tambun Adventure Park and the Cameron Highlands. I have mixed feelings about our experiences there, as well as our current time in Penang. Though the kids find these places enjoyable, we cannot help but cringe at the pervasive disregard for the environment. Bottom line: are these places fun for kids? Yes. Are they rational, fair developments with the environment in mind? Not really.
We stayed at The Lost World of Tambun Hotel when we first came to Ipoh, which made it very convenient to take full advantage of the park just across the street. The setting is truly unbelievable. Seemingly teeming with life, towering lush and verdant limestone hills sharply rise above Lost World’s property. It is frightening how easy it is to bulldoze the landscape here to make a cheesy amusement park, unsightly hotel, and vast parking lots.
The Lost World of Tambun will remain as one of Merle’s favorite places of the entire trip, mostly because he finally was able to ride a “real” roller coaster. Though perfectly tailored for kids his and Mathilda’s age, a spin on this thing made me realize I have no need to ride any more roller coasters in my life.
The pond in the middle of Lost World was pretty, and especially great that we had it all to ourselves.
The kids had a great time on the carousel, meandering through the petting zoo and cooling off in the water park. However, the lazy river should be called the “stall river,” and wave pool the “speed bump pool.” The inescapable blare of techno was an unfortunate soundtrack at the foot of such beautiful mountains, but Mathilda felt inspired, nonetheless, to bust a few moves in the pool.
Lost World has two gorgeous tigers, once again fun for the kids to see, but also little sad. The pair definitely perked up when it was time for their show since it involved raw chicken being dangled by a zip line above their heads. We can always depend on Merle to volunteer when a request is made at these things. Sure enough, there was Merle, trying to get a ball inside a hoop before the tigers and an international audience. His reward: a disposable rain poncho. He said to me later, “I can’t believe they just gave me a plastic bag.”
We also did a day trip up to the Cameron Highlands, a mountainous region just a couple hours away. Malaysia’s highest mountain is here as well as a bit of virgin forest. Overall, the drive up was spectacular, reminding me of the forested regions we drove through in Thailand. Developed by the British in the 1930’s as a retreat from the lowland’s oppressive heat, the area is known for its tea, strawberries, flowers, and honey farms. Unfortunately, the Cameron Highlands now seems overrun with these kitschy “farm” operations, which mostly cater to Asian tourists. They seem to be big supporters of this type of mass, cheapened agri-tourism. Though we only saw part of what is known as the Cameron Highlands, developers have gone absolutely gung-ho with these tourist traps, and the area is just over-saturated at this point. I expected aesthetically pleasing farmland not vast swaths of the otherwise picturesque hillsides completely obscured by unattractive hydroponic plastic sheeting. The unsightly housing and resort high rises seem flat out criminal with such a historically beautiful backdrop. Lately, travesties such as this are not new to us, but shocking all the same.
The one type of crop that seems to uphold some sense of natural beauty in the Cameron Highlands is tea. We visited the huge English-owned Boh plantation. I must say, the tea was good and so was the scenery.
We tried one of the many pick-your-own strawberry farms, which of course was a highlight for the kids. The flowers at the honey farm were actually more alluring than the bees in boxes. These are good activities of kids, but at the end of the day, we were glad to be done with it.
Malaysia’s tourist infrastructure is a well-oiled machine, especially as it is currently jazzed up for its official Visit Malaysia 2014 campaign. The irony of being a tourist anywhere is that there is a hope to see the best a place has to offer, but “best” of course is subjective. Furthermore, often the development and crowds that inundate a well-known tourist spot only contribute to its eventual ruination. Tourism spells money, and money and the environment do not go together. Even within one generation, I can see how culture, cities, people, and landscapes have irreversibly changed in Southeast Asia. From this perspective, one can gain a keen sense of where the world is headed as a whole, and it is not good. It is one thing to be home, in our sheltered world to hear or read this. It is another to actually see, smell, and taste it. Tropical climates and oceans feature the world’s treasure trove of animal, reptile, bird and plant diversity. If these places go, like we have seen here, I am afraid to say there is little hope.