Cameron Highlands is a popular destination in Malaysia, attracting throngs of local and international tourists every year. Its cooler climate makes it the perfect spot for holidaymakers wishing to escape from the tropical heat of the Malaysian lowlands.
While most people visit Cameron Highlands for its tea plantations and strawberry farms, there are some who prefer something a bit more challenging — climbing Mount Irau.
Standing at 2,110 metres above sea-level, Mount Irau is the highest mountain in Cameron Highlands and the 15th highest in Malaysia. But what makes it truly exciting is the unique flora and fauna you will see during the hike.
The trail will take you through a Mossy Forest, which — as the name suggests — is covered by layers of moss. Hiking the Mossy Forest will make you feel as though you just stepped into the set of the Lord of the Rings. It’s no surprise that it was ranked fifth place on Lonely Planet’s list of Most Instagrammable Forests in the World.
The Mossy Forest is closed to visitors in the monsoon season (November to January). Try not to go to Cameron Highlands at all around this time as the roads are prone to landslides during heavy rain.
For the rest of the year, Cameron Highlands enjoys pleasant weather, with the driest months being February, June, and July.
If you wish to stay away from big crowds, avoid weekends and public holidays, such as the Chinese New Year and mid-year school holidays.
The best time of the day to hike Mount Irau is in the morning, as that is when the Mossy Forest is cloaked in mist, which adds a dose of gloominess and mystery that is perfect for photos! Just remember to pack a sweater, as it gets a little chilly in the morning.
How to Get to Mount Irau
Cameron Highlands has no airport or train stations. The only way to get there is via the highland passes.
From Kuala Lumpur, it would take around 4 hours through long winding roads (prepare some medication if you’re prone to motion sickness). Avoid driving in the dark or when it’s raining as the roads can be treacherous.
If you don’t have your own car, there are frequent buses from major cities like Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, and Penang. However, to get from the town center to the start of the trail is quite complicated without your own transport.
You could try to arrange with a taxi to send and pick you up at an agreed time. Grab Car has recently started its operation in Cameron Highlands, so you could try your luck with that as well.
If you’re self-driving, Google “Mossy Forest (Entrance Point)“. A word of caution though: the road is very narrow, with many sharp turns and potholes. A 4WD would be better suited for this journey. And only consider this option if you’re a highly competent driver.
I joined a tour group, so all I had to do was turn up at the meeting point and wait for the transport to come pick me up.
How to Book a Tour to Mount Irau
If you’re staying in any of the hotel/hostel in Cameron Highlands, chances are they do organize private or group tours to Mount Irau. Otherwise, they should still be able to help you get in touch with a travel agent.
I wanted to have a confirmed reservation before I went to Cameron Highlands, so I booked in advance with Thrill Adventures. You could try searching online for other adventure companies to compare the prices.
Alternatively, you can book through online travel apps such as Klook. Some of these tours also include other stops, such as BOH Tea Center, the Butterfly Farm, and the Strawberry Farm.
If you’re not sure what Klook is, click here to read my honest review. The great thing about booking through this app is that you get to read what other travelers have had to say about the tours.
How Much Does It Cost to Hike Mount Irau?
In recent years, the Mossy Forest had been gaining popularity, and the uncontrolled flow of hikers had caused extensive damage to the delicate ecosystem.
Following this, the local authorities decided to regulate the number of visitors to the Mossy Forest. Since 1st March 2019, visitors are required to get a trekking permit from Pahang State Forestry Department. Only 100 permits are issued daily.
The fees are as follows:
- Adult: RM 10
- Child (6 – 12 y.o.): RM 5
- Senior (60+ y.o.): RM 5
- Adult: RM 30
- Child: RM 15
- Senior: RM 30
Unfortunately, the permit application process is quite tedious, not to mention confusing. Firstly, the website is all in Malay, making it impossible for foreign visitors or non-Malay speakers to understand.
Secondly, it has to be done at least 2 weeks in advance. Once your application is approved, you will need to make the payment via money order. Like, who in this day and age still uses this archaic payment method?
And then you’ll have to print two copies of the approval letter to be shown at the entrance. If the idea is to deter people from visiting, I guess it’s working.
I’m still a bit unclear if this is really how things are done or if there is an easier way. So, if you have recently applied for a permit as an independent hiker, please share your experience in the comments below.
Can you go without a permit?
I’ve heard of some tourists who have found ways to dodge the fee and shared their tips online. Although I’m not a big fan of red tapes myself, I would advise against that.
Not only will you face strict action if caught, it’s also not cool to visit a place and break the local law.
Please don’t be that kind of tourist.
My tour package with Thrill Advenures cost me RM 80.
That was inclusive of:
- Mountain guide
- Trekking permit
- 4WD pickup (Brinchang – starting point – Brinchang)
- Packed lunch
- Basic first aid
- Two-way radio communication set
Can You Climb Mount Irau Without A Guide/Tour?
Yes, hiking Mount Irau and the Mossy Forest without a guide is allowed, as long as you have the necessary permit (see above). The other purpose of this permit is to keep track of the number of visitors to ensure that everybody comes out safely.
Due to the nature of the Mossy Forest that is often gloomy and foggy, people do get lost. The tangled tree roots and branches may also cause injuries if one is not careful.
So, if you plan to hike alone or in a small group, make sure that at least one of you is an experienced hiker with good navigational skills and first-aid knowledge. Bring enough food and water (at least 2 litres per person), as well as other emergency equipment to prepare for any untoward circumstances.
On top of that, make sure you’re a confident driver before attempting to self-drive to the location. Always do proper research and check on the weather before you go.
What to Expect on Mount Irau Hike
I arrived in Cameron Highlands a day before the hike and stayed at a budget hotel in Tanah Rata. The meeting point was at Cameron Square, not too far away from where I was staying.
We gathered at 7 a.m. As usual, I was the only one who had come alone; the others were in twos and threes. But at least I was not crashing any big group’s party this time, like I did at Slim River, when I had to join some random office team-building program because I had no partner.
Once everybody was there at the square, we were handed our packed lunch and drinking water. Then, we squeezed in together at the back of the truck as it made its way past the green rolling hills and vast tea plantations.
By 8 a.m., we had arrived at the starting point, where we did some warming up before the hike.
There are three peaks along the trek: Mount Brinchang, Mini Irau, and Mount Irau. We were to start our hike from the peak of Mount Brinchang, heading toward Mini Irau.
As we stepped into the Mossy Forest, I instantly noticed how mystifying the terrain was — it was nothing like I had ever experienced before. For one thing, the ground that we stepped on wasn’t solid. It felt hollow and rather spongy, thanks to all the moss, mud, fungi, and layers of dead leaves that hadn’t had time to decompose.
The epiphytic moss did not only cover the ground, it also coated the trees — from their roots all the way to their branches. This, coupled with the ever-present fog, made the forest look like something out of a fairy tale — the spooky kind. It was also eerily quiet.
The trail continued to alternate from soft moss to large muddy puddles that would swallow your feet whole. Intertwined tree roots crisscrossed all over our path. We had learned quite early on to watch where we were stepping. Twice, I had had to fish out my shoes from the mud.
Along the way, you’ll get to feast your eyes on a vast array of flora and fauna, including ferns, orchids, pitcher plants, and — if you’re lucky — the rare Rafflesia. But I, for the most part, was too busy watching my step to look around much.
As we progressed through the forest, the trail gradually became more challenging with more vertical climbs, more mud, and bigger tree roots. At some of the steep inclines, someone had helpfully affixed ropes and ladders.
While in the beginning, we had dismissed the tree roots as mere obstacles, soon we began to realize that they could come in handy. To get us through the muddy spots, the tree roots had acted as strong footholds and handholds that we could step on and hang on to.
I was glad that the other group members weren’t the kind of super-athletes who like to treat everything as a race. We hiked at a reasonable pace and waited on each other if any one of us needed a break.
After about two and a half hours of trekking plus plenty of breaks and photo stops, we reached our destination: a large clearing called Mini Irau (also known as Irau False Peak), which stands at 2,030 metres above sea level.
To the left was a path that led onward to the real peak of Mount Irau, which would take another 1 hour or so. Unfortunately, the trail to Irau Peak was closed during our visit due to a landslide. The Pahang Forestry Department had declared it safe to climb only up to Mini Irau.
We stopped at the clearing to have our lunch and take more pictures.
At 1.30 p.m., we began our descent, which was not that much easier than the climb. But the weather had been kind to us throughout the day. Although not sunny, it didn’t rain, and the temperatures had been pleasantly cooling.
Before leaving, don’t forget to climb up the 50-metre-tall observation tower at the end of the trail.
Apparently on a clear day, you’d be able to enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding valleys and tea plantations, but it was all fog for me.
At 3.30 p.m., we arrived at the starting point, where our transport was waiting for us. On the way back to Cameron Square, we stopped for some photos at the edge of the tea plantation.
How Difficult is Climbing Mount Irau?
Mount Irau is considered a moderately difficult mountain to climb, with rough, uneven, muddy, and damp trails. Some parts will require you to climb steep rocks and ladders.
On top of that, the tangled webs of tree roots are often wet and slippery, which can easily cause unwary trekkers to slip and fall. A few cases had been nastier than the others and required the aid of rescue teams.
However, there is nothing too technical, and this hike is completely doable even for beginners with no hiking experience, as long as you’re a fairly fit and healthy person. The mild temperatures also made it less taxing.
From the beginning of the trail, it should take you around 2 hours to get to Mini Irau, plus another hour if you continue to Mount Irau Peak. In total, the entire hike would take approximately 7 hours including breaks and photo stops. It’s important to start early to avoid being caught in the dark.
What to Wear on Mount Irau
The temperatures on Mount Irau range between 10 and 25 degrees Celsius, depending on the weather and the time of the day. It may occasionally drop below 10.
Wear comfortable workout clothes and bring along a sweater, especially if you’re not used to cooler climates. Being a true Southeast Asian who can’t stand the cold, I wore two layers a long-sleeved T-shirts, including a Uniqlo HeatTech thermal wear and a pair of Uniqlo HeatTech leggings.
The most important thing to wear on Mount Irau is proper hiking shoes/boots. Due to the moss and mud, it can get pretty slippery in the forest. But be forewarned — your shoes will be unrecognizable by the end of the hike, so you may want to wear something you don’t mind getting dirty.
To be safe, especially if you’re hiking in the rainy season, bring a raincoat or waterproof jacket as well.
Other Things to Bring to Mount Irau
- If you book a tour package, it usually includes meals and drinking water (please check before booking). But it’s wise to pack extra water and some high-energy snacks with you, like chocolate or cereal bars to refuel yourself before, during, or after the hike.
- A hiking stick would be extremely helpful on this hike.
- A phone or camera.
- If you’re hiking independently, bring your own first-aid kit.
- An emergency blanket. Although it doesn’t happen often, people do get lost, either because of hiking without a guide or being separated from the group. You need to be able to keep yourself warm while waiting for help.
- A whistle and headlamp, in case of emergencies.
- Sunscreen – very important in Southeast Asia, and even more so at high altitudes, as you will be more exposed to the sun.
- A small daypack to carry all of the above and a waterproof bag for your electronics in case it rains.
Final Thoughts on Climbing Mount Irau
Is Mount Irau worth visiting?
Yes, I think Mount Irau is worth visiting. But personally, I would recommend joining a group tour rather than going it alone. Everything would be taken care of for you, including the trekking permit (which is the most troublesome of all), food, and transportation to and from the starting point.
Plus, the guide would show you all the interesting things to see in the forest that you might miss if you were on your own. And most importantly, going on a tour ensures that you will come out safely from the enchanted forest. Who knows what the evil tree roots and mud puddles might do to you otherwise?
Have you ever been to a mossy forest before? Share your experience in the comment section below.