“The Shangri-La of Borneo”
Those were the words coming from former boss, mentor and good old friend, Dato’ Rashid Khan when he described the ambiance Bario a some five years ago.
Having first visited Bario in 2000, I understood when Rashid described it as the Shangri-la of Borneo.
Paddy fields, green hills hugged by clouds, lovely friendly smiling people are what makes Bario an unforgettably lovely getaway in Sarawak.
About Bario and its first impression
Bario is a community of about 13 to 16 villages located Bario Highlands, some 3,500 feet above Sea Level.
It is just a mere thirty minute flight onboard the MASwings 16 seater twin otter from Miri.
If you plan to go to Bario, best you take the earliest flight possible from Miri. The earlier you arrive the more time you get to enjoy the place.
Having been to Bario three times, taking the first flight in gives me more time to do some walkabout around the village or just to chill with a cup of coffee and enjoy the view of paddy fields, hills and buffaloes from my homestay.
Eagles eye view of Bario taken from a twin otter plane.
The first thing you will notice once you disembark is that Bario is definitely cooler than Miri. At 3,500 feet above sea level, the temperature is about 26 degrees celsius and in the evenings it can go as low as 10 degrees celcius.
Arriving at this small airport you will find it amusingly calm and relax. You are quickly picked out as a visitor. No doubt about that.
Be ready for plenty of handshakes as the people here are very friendly and the handshakes are usually accompanied with warm smiles followed by questions of where you come from.
4×4 wheel-drive vehicles are the main taxis around Bario
Touring around Bario
Here in Bario you may opt for an active holiday or just to relax and soak in the peaceful ambiance of this lovely place.
Normal morning view in the Highlands. Cool and misty.
This you may do on your own but it is always recommended to take a guided tour. A guided tour gives you more information about the history and the culture of the Kelabit community
Late afternoon tour around Bario passing by numerous paddy fields and village houses.
If you are up to it, recommend you go and take a walk to the small Penan settlement just on the outskirts of Bario. The Penans are semi nomadic hunter-gatherers and live small huts or selap as they call it. Most of the time they are out in the forest hunting and gathering food.
Penan huts are small in nature but can accommodate up to five family members.
Hiking and Trekking
One of the main reasons people come to Bario are for the many interesting hiking trails ranging from easy trails to overnight trails. The popular day trails include treks from Bario to Pa’lungan which takes up a full day, a four-hour trek one way.
The highlands of Bario are famous its monoliths and going on the Bario – Pa’lungan trek gives you a chance to come up close to Batu Ritung, a monolith erected in memory of a great Kelabit leader.
Famous Batu Ritung monolith. One can only wonder how the folks managed to do this feat many centuries back with the absent of technology. Photo courtesy from @amee_rose_gostine
There is a World War Two Heroes grave in Bario. It was in 1943, as the Pacific war campaign led by the Americans advanced against the Japanese, the Allied forces planned a counter-insurgency to establish a Borneo Interior Force in Sarawak, Brunei, North Borneo (Sabah) and the Northern Dutch Borneo (Kalimantan) to support the advances of the Australian 9 Division.
Bario was the main strategic launching site of Operation Semut during World War Two. The Borneo operation, spearheaded by Australian Forces, took the surrender of the Japanese across Borneo with Labuan on Sept 10, 1945, followed by Sarawak (Sept 11) and Sandakan (Sept 13).
Lest we forget. WW2 Heroes grave memorial in Bario.
The war memorial is about 5 minutes walk from the town centre. It is fenced up but the gates are usually left unlocked.
Not far from Nancy and Harriss Homestay you can also see an airplane wreck.
This RAF plane crashed here in 1964 during the confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia
The Kelabit Highlands is famous for their salt. It is less salty than the commercial slat that you get from your grocery store and it contains more natural minerals.
You can go and see how they make it by trekking to Pa’ Umor. This is about two hours trek from Bario. Watch how the locals collect the salty water from the spring and how they boil is slowly till the salt crystallizes, right till they wrap them in leaves ready to be sold.
Organic and homemade Bario Salt
With culture comes its unique food. There is plenty to try. If you are Malaysian and familiar with instant noodles, the maggie curry noodles and the Mee Sedap is a must try.
I have had many during my college days but non can beat the ones in Bario. Not so sure why they taste better here in Bario but the locals say it is the climate and the water.
Mee Sedap can be tried at the Town Centre
Maggie Curry at the airport and town centre are must try.
On a serious note, the proper Kelabit food is fantastic and delicious too.
Places to stay in Bario
There are plenty of homestays around Bario such stays in longhouses or individual houses that offer rooms or lodges that offer bed and breakfast.
Ngimat Ayu Homestay
If you are into bird watching it would be best to stay at Ngimat Ayu Homestay. Scot Apoi who runs the place is an experience bird guide and would be able to show you some birding spots.
The lodge also has a nice balcony with a fantastic view of the villages’ paddy fields and serene surrounding hills.
Misty mornings are common in the highlands. Such a pleasant view while enjoying your morning coffee. View from Ngimat Ayu.
Nancy and Harriss Homestay Bario
This is about 20 minutes walk from Bario Airport and like the rest also has a lovely view of the paddy fields and the surrounding hills.
Individual chalets available at Nancy Homestay.
Jungle Blues Dream Art Gallery and Homestay
For those who love art, I would recommend staying here. The owner Stephen Baya is an artist and his art works are one of my favorites so far.
Highlands inspired art by Stephen Baya. Acrylic on canvas
For bookings, here are their website .
Best time to travel
Best time to travel would be from March till about early November. Monsoon season or the rainy season is from mid November till late February.
Thank you for reading and if you want extra details, drop me a line and I’ll get back to you soon as possible.
Till my next Bejalai, take care.