Bario: Beauty and serenity in the Malaysian Borneo Highlands

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View from The Ngimat Ayu House, Bario (Sarawak, Malaysia)
View from The Ngimat Ayu House, Bario (Sarawak, Malaysia)

Bario is a beautiful and serene town located in a plateau (1000m above sea level) in the Malaysian Borneo highlands close to the Indonesian border. Picturesque mountains covered with jungles surround the town, while daily fogs drift amidst them; setting the lovely town against an eternally magical backdrop.

The town is home to the indigenous Kelabit tribe, whom were once headhunters. Nowadays, the Kelabit people are better known for their friendliness and extreme hospitality. Being bright and high achievers, many Kelabits speak excellent English and are highly educated. A large number of them move on to become top professionals in their field.

We embarked on a 2-days trip to Bario in Mar-2016 to experience the beauty and serenity for ourselves. On hindsight, we strongly recommend any future visitors to spend at least 3-4 days in Bario to truly appreciate and experience its wonders.

 

 

Mode of transport

Flight to Bario on 19-seater turboprop Twin Otter planes.
Flight to Bario on 19-seater turboprop Twin Otter planes.

Bario is one of the most isolated areas in Borneo. The only land access from Miri is via an off-road logging track and the journey takes 8-12hours. Click here to read our other blog on Miri

The easiest way to Bario is via flight; all flights to Bario originate from Miri. These twice-daily flights are operated by MasWing (subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines) and fulfilled via 19-seater turboprop Twin Otter planes. Most visitors will agree that the 45minutes flight to/from Bario on these tiny planes are quite an adventure in itself!

Flight to Bario: Passengers need to individually step on a large weighing machine (with their hand-carry luggage) while checking-in. This is apparently done to get the takeoff weight of the tiny aircraft correct.
Flight to Bario: Passengers need to individually step on a large weighing machine (with their hand-carry luggage) while checking-in. This is apparently done to get the takeoff weight of the tiny aircraft correct.

The first hint of an impending adventure is when the airline staff request passengers to individually take their weight (with their hand-carry luggage) via a large weighing machine while checking-in. This is apparently done to get the takeoff weight of the tiny aircraft correct.

There was no flight steward/stewardess on board; there was no need for it. The short 45minutes flight does not provide any services. In case you’re wondering about the lavatory, there’s none on a plane this small; take this as a warning to get your business done before boarding. The only crews are the two pilots sitting in the cockpit, which is in full view of the entire cabin. There’s essentially no one to check on you the moment you’ve boarded the plane; precisely what we wanted.

Flight to Bario on 19-seater turboprop Twin Otter planes. Passengers have unobstructed view of cockpit.
Flight to Bario on 19-seater turboprop Twin Otter planes. Passengers have unobstructed view of cockpit.

The flights are done at relatively low altitude. Depending on weather, the flight can be “bumpy” at times. It is possible to have a great view of the highlands on a clear day. We’ve even managed to catch sight of Mulu’s airport and national park HQ.

Hint: If flying to Bario, Mulu airport will be visible on the left side of the plane.


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Agriculture

The local community depends mainly on agriculture. Specifically, Bario is most famous for its rice. Other renowned local produces include salt and pineapple. Be sure to get your hands on each of these produces.

 

Architecture and Town layout

Some of the locals still stay in their traditional longhouses and visitors to Bario are highly recommended to visit these to learn more about the locals and their traditions.

The only commercial accommodation available in Bario appears to be the handful of homestays, which typically are full board (all meals provided).

There is a tiny town centre, which is nothing more than a row of shop-houses. Below is the map of the town.

Map of Bario (Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo)
Map of Bario (Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo)

 

 

Electricity and mobile/internet access

As of end 2015, Bario has 24-hours access to electricity from newly installed solar panels. For mobile network, only “Celcom” is available and data access is patchy at best. Incidentally, this “offline” lifestyle is exactly why many city dwellers like to chill out at Bario; who wouldn’t love the thought being un-contactable while on holiday?

 

 

Things to see and do

View from The Ngimat Ayu House, Bario (Sarawak, Malaysia)
View from The Ngimat Ayu House, Bario (Sarawak, Malaysia)

Many visitors come to Bario for its slow pace, serenity and scenery. For those whom love outdoors, there are plenty of hikes/walks available, from simple around-town exploration, to trekking that last few days. One recommended trail is the 2-hours return hike to the top of Prayer Mountain, where there is full view of the entire town. It is a pity that we couldn’t get to do this hike due to the weather.

Cross on Prayer Mountain seen in background. Bario (Sarawak, Malaysia)
Cross on Prayer Mountain seen in background. Bario (Sarawak, Malaysia)

Other interesting activities include kayaking (prior booking required), and visit to salt factory, pineapple farm, sheep farm and the site of an airplane wreck. Do liaise with your homestay operators (prior to your trip) on the activities that you’ll be planning to do.

Tip: Anyone visiting Bario should bring along a pair of good hiking shoes. There are few paved roads around town, so even a lazy evening stroll could do with a pair of hiking shoes. Sneakers just don’t make the cut here. A waterproof hat/jacket and torchlight will also come in handy.

 

 

The Ngimat Ayu House

The Ngimat Ayu House, Bario (Sarawak, Malaysia)
The Ngimat Ayu House, Bario (Sarawak, Malaysia)

During our visit we stayed at The Ngimat Ayu House, which is hosted by Scott, Nigel and family. It is a longhouse styled homestay and has the reputation of being one of the most popular in Bario. Scott’s family is held in high regards in the town, and the dozens of pictures and write-ups posted in the longhouse are a testament to that.

The hosts at Ngimat Ayu House. From right: Scott, Nigel and family. Excellent hospitality! (Bario, Sarawak, Malaysia)
The hosts at Ngimat Ayu House. From right: Scott, Nigel and family. Excellent hospitality! (Bario, Sarawak, Malaysia)

Scott/Nigel typically picks up arriving guests from Bario airport and discuss with them on the possible activities to be done during the stay based on the guests’ preferences.

For our trip, due to the inclement weather and short stay, Nigel recommended us to visit the nearby pineapple and sheep farm. Both of which turned out to be very interesting. Nigel even managed to find a pair of pineapples from the farm for us to bring home. While at the sheep farm, Nigel showed us how to feed the sheep with salt (apparently, salt helps in their digestion). It was a great time running after the sheep trying to feed them.

Nigel also managed to bring us on an impromptu visit to view the remains of a plane wreck at the old Bario airport. The plane was a catered flight with civilians and it crashed into the nearby mountain with fatalities. The wreck was later recovered and brought to the old Bario airport, where it rest till date. A memorial to remember those whom lost their lives was erected near to this site.

Being full board, all meals are provided at the homestay. Mealtime involves joining the other guests at the dinning table and enjoying the delicious local cuisines cooked up by Scott’s family.

Overall, it was a wonderful stay at The Ngimat Ayu House. We particularly enjoyed the fantastic view of the scenery from the verandah. The hospitality was excellent and food delightful. Most importantly, Scott, Nigel and family certainly made the stay so enjoyable. We truly hope to be back for more!

View from The Ngimat Ayu House, Bario (Sarawak, Malaysia)
View from The Ngimat Ayu House, Bario (Sarawak, Malaysia)

Click here for more high-resolution photos

 

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