One of the quirkiest, and to my mind charming, legacies of the British Empire are the hill stations dotted round South and Southeast Asia. Chosen for their cool climates, and endowed with an architecture redolent of “home”, they provided a welcome respite from the realities of living in the tropics.
Once independence came to the former colonies, the hill stations might well have been expected to fall into disuse. After all, their main clientele, homesick Brits, were no longer around. But, somewhat surprisingly, the hill stations have proved an enduring hit with domestic tourists.
Cameron Highlands is a hugely popular destination for both Malaysians and visiting tourists, while Penang Hill, now once again served by funicular railway, is also a must for many visitors to Georgetown. Bukit Fraser (Fraser’s Hill), however, has had rather more difficulty establishing its place in post-independence Malaysia.
The spot was named after a somewhat shady fortune hunter, Louis James Fraser, who played a big part in opening up the area to tin mining in the late 19th and early 20th century. He disappeared without a trace in 1916, six years before Fraser’s Hill was officially opened to visitors. It was never meant to be a huge attraction, and despite the best efforts of the Fraser’s Hill Development Corporation to ruin the place with oversized hotels, the tourists still come in trickles, not hordes.
Given that Fraser made much of his money from gambling and opium, he would no doubt find the hill station that bears his name rather tame. Visitors hoping for thrills and spills are bound to be disappointed. But if you want to get away from the heat and hassle of urban Malaysia, Fraser’s has a lot to recommend it.
Its principal attraction is the cool, albeit rainy, climate which comes from having an elevation of about 1,500 metres. Fraser’s can also boast several well-marked walking trails, abundant bird-life, beautiful views, quaint places to eat and sleep, and a range of affordable leisure activities, such as golf, horse-riding and archery. The visitor centre in the ground floor of the Puncak Inn is a good first stop for any trip to Fraser’s.
Whatever you may have read (even in Tourism Pahang leaflets), Fraser’s Hill no longer has a bus service. The closest you can get now by public transport is Kuala Kubu Baru (KKB), from where a taxi ride costs approximately 80 ringgit. From Kuala Lumpur, the best way to reach KKB is by KTM Komuter train, changing at Rawang.
A far cheaper, and more convenient alternative, is to hire a car for the two-three hour journey to Fraser’s. You need to head north out of KL, towards Ipoh, taking the exit for Rawang, from where you follow directions for KKB, and then Bukit Fraser. Take a left turn at The Gap for the last 8km of the journey. This is now only open to traffic going up, with a new road out of Fraser’s for the return trip.
By Pat Fama
Last updated on 25th February, 2015.