A crackling fire, the scent of pine trees, Christmas carols and a visit from Santa –a ‘wintry’ Christmas is just a couple hours away in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
As images of the season’s first snowfalls began to flood social media last week, I started to feel longings for crisp winter days and cups of hot cocoa by the fireplace. While we are happy to skip out on the shovelling and messy foyers filled with muddy boots, there is something compelling about the cosiness of winter that is hard to replicate in steamy Singapore.
Well mamas, here is the perfect solution to quell that longing: you actually can give your family a taste of winter wonderland in the style that much of the Northern Hemisphere intended! Cameron Highlands Resort in Malaysia, part of the luxurious YTL Hotel Group, hosts a Christmas Tree Lighting Weekend each year to kick off the holiday season with a bang. A one-hour flight from Changi to Ipoh, followed by a two-hour scenic drive up to the highlands, leads to cool mountain air (average annual temps are 15-24 degrees Celcius) and a festive setting that would make St. Nick proud.
From the moment you leave Azlan Shah Airport in Ipoh you are in for an interesting drive with settings that contrast quite drastically from Singapore. Dramatic cliffs with temples afoot give way to big granite quarries as you begin to wind up the lush mountain roads. The low lying clouds rolling over the hills are stunning, and once you reach the strawberry and flower farms, the kids will be glued to their windows. Arriving at the hotel you are welcomed by giant nutcrackers, pine garlands, wreaths and rows of poinsettias that set the tone for a very festive weekend..
Christmas trees, twinkling lights, crackling fireplaces and gingerbread houses decorate every corner of the resort’s stunning lobby, tea room and study, and the mandatory Christmas tunes are piped throughout. Seasonal decorations aside, the hotel has pulled off a unique setting with a combination of traditional Tudor style and colonial charm mixed with Asian accents including koi ponds and bamboo.
The welcome dinner was a buffet-style hot pot with a huge variety of veggies, noodles, fish cakes and tofu, along with a large seafood platter with fish, squid, scallops and shrimp. You can also add a plate of beef and chicken to throw into the steaming pot. Plenty of options for kids to pick what they like and a perfect meal to enjoy in the cooler weather.
The resort is also home to the award-winning Spa Village, so while one parent tries out a signature treatment, the other can take the kids to visit a butterfly garden, tea plantation or to pick strawberries. There is also the Cameron Highlands Golf Club across the street.
The spa’s fountains and sounds of nature are the perfect setting to enjoy a tea bath. These can be catered to your liking, so soak amidst flower blossoms and use coarse sugar to scrub on your arms and legs, lime slices to rub on your elbows, tea leaves to massage into your face and chilled tea sachets to lay over your eyes. The hot bath and warm towels soaked in essential oils felt amazing with the cool breeze blowing in through the open windows. The avocado oil massage will leave your scalp and skin feeling soft and fresh.
The kids were just as content, as they returned with their bounty of freshly picked local strawberries to share while excitedly sharing tales of their animal encounters with geese, turkeys, giant butterflies and even hedgehogs.
The afternoon in the hotel is filled with activities including Christmas cookie decorating, snooker, board games, and high tea. A calligrapher was personalising tree ornaments and Santa even made an appearance handing out chocolates.
The evening starts with a cocktail at the bar leading into the dinner banquet in the large ballroom. Sit with other guests and have fun taking turns with conversation-starter cards placed on the table and enjoy the youngest of guests dressed up in their formal Christmas attire.
Each year the resort has a different Christmas theme; this year’s is “Santa’s workshop” with classic toys like wooden blocks and tin cars and beautifully wrapped gift boxes (make sure your kids know that they’re decorations!). The fireplace lighting ceremony will happen every evening through the end of the year and Santa will make an appearance on Christmas Day. Guests can also look forward to special festive menus on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
After dinner everyone proceeded to the hotel entrance for the tree lighting ceremony, carolling and to enjoy the Christmas market, filled with mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and desserts. Do a little Christmas shopping from the various vendors set up under tents, or spend some more time at the fireplace with a nightcap if the kids are still burning off their sweets. It’s a beautifully executed festive evening with a friendly atmosphere reminiscent of the traditional cosy ski lodges in North America and Europe.
Our Deluxe Room was gorgeous and very spacious with a 4-poster bed, wood floors and colonial furniture pieces. The bathroom had a standing shower and was stylish with black and white checkered marble. Each room has a balcony overlooking the golf course across the street. The small sofa converted to a kid’s bed, but they didn’t have an additional cot for our second, which was a surprise since there was plenty of floor space. We took the pillows from the arm chair and created a bed with extra linens they provided – so we made it work.
So as not to forget where you actually are, be sure to take the Jim Thompson Mystery Tour which includes jungle trekking through muddy paths and spotting millipedes, wood owl droppings and actual panther tracks while getting the inside scoop into the mysterious disappearance of the elusive Jim Thompson. Even if you don’t know much (or anything) about the Thai silk king who went missing – allegedly in these highlands – in the late ’60s, to really appreciate the layers of controversy, the resort guide, Maddi, is a great storyteller and nature guide and both you and your kids will learn a lot from him. He shares important conservation messages and will offer jungle survival tips, too. Major takeaway: while many plants and vegetation will cure all kinds of ailments, most others will straight up kill you, so try not to get lost in the jungle!
Although we flew, this is a popular weekend destination for families from Singapore who own cars and are looking for a fun road trip. It’s about a 7-hour drive, but scenic if you’re into long drives and mountain roads. So mamas, if you are looking for a fun way to kick off the Christmas season and create some really imprinting memories for your kids, the tree lighting ceremony weekend in Cameron Highlands Resort is the perfect mini-holiday getaway, and it’s a great spot all year-round to escape the Singapore heat for some crisp, cool mountain air.
Rates at Cameron Highlands Resort start from S$213