Friday, July 29, 2005

Backpackers drawn to former barracks

The weekend is here. Thinking of getting away from the bustling KL city for some peace and quiet or thinking about roughing it out in some nature spot? Why not at Cameron Highlands?

The Star

Nestled on a hill just a stone’s throw away from Tanah Rata on Cameron Highlands is a guesthouse that brings fond memories to many British veterans.

Popularly named the Father’s Guest House, it is one of the few places in the country where guests get to sleep in dormitories once used by British soldiers after World War II.

Richard … ‘the name ‘Father’s Guest House’ was chosen by the backpackers.

Rest house manager Gerard Richard, 36, said backpackers liked to stay in the curiously shaped dormitories that were formerly barracks housed in buildings known as Nissen huts.

He said the place started out as a mission house for the French Catholic Mission in 1929.

“After the war, the British used the place to put up their army barracks as it was located just across the military hospital at SK Convent. They were there until Malaysia's Independence Day,” he said in an interview.

Richard said the British built 42 Nissen huts of which 36 were torn down after the soldiers left while the remaining six were bought over by the mission.

He said over the past 15 years, about 30 British veterans had returned to visit the barracks which still sport the same zinc roofing that was five times thicker than the zinc sheets used now.

Tourists enjoying a view of the highlands from the Father’s Guest House.

“Many of them were happy to find that the barracks looked the same as it had before. They took pictures and some even brought photographs of the huts that were taken in the 1950s.

“A few veterans were, however, disappointed with the surroundings as they felt there was too much development (in Tanah Rata),” Richard said.

Besides the huts, Father’s Guest House also has a cafĂ© and a recreational lounge.

The place became a guesthouse purely by accident, said Richard, who has been helping his parents to run the place since the 1980s.

In the 1960s, the mission turned the barracks into a youth training centre for university students, church groups and school students on field trips.

“About 20 years ago, a group of students who were supposed to stay in one of the dormitories didn’t make it at the last minute.

Backpackers at the Father’s Guest House in Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands, like to stay in the Nissen huts.

“One night then, a backpacker couple from Sweden asked us for a place to stay and the next day, they brought in more of their backpacker friends from other countries,” he said.

The place soon became an “unofficial” guesthouse with its reputation spreading by word of mouth.

Even the name “Father’s Guest House'' was chosen by the backpackers, he said.

It costs RM9 a night for a bed in the dormitory and RM20 to RM30 for a dormitory family room.

Certain rooms in the mission house building, which is now a retreat home for visiting priests and its current resident Father Jean Tavennec, are also rented out at RM60 each per night.

Although the hours are long, Richard said he enjoyed helping to run the guesthouse as he loved travelling and meeting people.

The diving and jungle-trekking enthusiast also takes guests on day and overnight tours to Taman Negara, Pulau Perhentian, the mossy forest of Brinchang and other parts of Cameron Highlands.

To contact the guesthouse, call 05-4912 484 or email

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