7 Great Thing Must Do in Bario, Sarawak


Bario is a community of 13 to 16 villages located on the Kelabit Highlands in Miri Division, Sarawak, Malaysia, lying at an altitude of 1000 m (3280 ft) above sea level. It is located close to the Sarawak - Kalimantan Border, 178 km to the east of Miri. It is the main settlement for the indigenous Kelabit tribe. There are regular flights between the Bario, Miri, Marudi and also Ba'kelalan, Sarawak.

History of Bario
According to the oral history of the Kelabit people, all human beings were originated from the mountains. When a big flood cover the earth, some of them built rafts and boats and went to coastal areas. Those stranded on the highlands remain to this today as the Kelabit people.

The kelabit were headhunters prior to early contacts in the 1920s. In 1939, Frank Davidson of Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM) visited the Kelabit people in this area. Since then, the Kelabit changed their belief from animism to Christianity, with the village headman of Pa'Terap settlement, Taman Bulan being one the first to adopt Christianity.

In this closing months of the Pacific War, Bario became a base for Operation Semut, an anti-Japanese military operation, when a small force under Tom Harrisson landed here by parachute in March 1945. The Kelabit people participated in sabotaging Japanese operations in Sarawak.

Bio-conservation & Biodiversity
Bario has Dipterocarpaceae forests and 197 species of flowers identified in 1995.

Bario Community Activity
The Kelabit people practiced irrigated wet rice and also Bario pineapple (most popular) cultivation using the silvopasture system, and harvesting forest resources. About 500 tons of Bario rice is produced every year and a portion of it is sold in Sarawak, Malaysia. Among the forest resourced collected are edible ferns, mushroom shoots, wild flowers, orchids,firewood, timber and rattan. Among the animals hunted here are wild boar,eel, mouse deer, monkeys and tilapia fish.

Cultural tourism, ecotourism, research tourism and adventure tourism. Some like development program here (development conferencing) are the main tourism activities in this area (Bario). Tourism in Bario had an accidental beginning when the first airstrip was constructed near a headman's house. Visitors would use the headman's home as lodging. The headman did not normally charge a fee for the visitor staying at his house until one day he came up with the idea of converting his home into a guesthouse. 

Now, Bario has been a destination in adventure expeditions such as Raid Galuloises in 1994, WOrld Challenge Expedititions in 1995, and Trekforce expeditions in 2001. Climbing expeditions are also organised around Bukit Batu Lawi and Mount Murud. The first successful attempts to climb the female peak and male peak of Batu Lawi were made in 1946 and 1986 respectively.


Thing to do In Bario !
Everybody in Bario would proudly tell every new visitors that come to Bario have to try three things; that is rice, salt and pineapple. Usually, visitors won't come back home without those as souvenirs. Fresh pineapple may not be favourable to bring back home, but there are side products such as dried pineapple and pineapple jam for you to bring back easily.

a). Bario Salt
Bario salt has been one of their popular homegrown productsand a visit to their salt factory is a must-thing-to-do here. The factory is located at Kampung Pa'Umor. Local Kelabit families take turns to produce the well known salt. They spend two weeks each at the salt factory near the natural salt springs. Each families however, have to collect enough fire woods throughout the two weeks period first.

The Bario salt is well known for its natural mineral content of potassium, magnesium, iron and calcium. It has been traditionally used to treat thyroid problems, migrains, high bloods and reduce cholesterol problems.Despite the fact that the salt is natural and healthy, the salt production has slowly contributing to the environment problems. The whole process to produce those salt actually has caused more woods to be logged, more wood burning, more bamboo to be cut off, more llad jungle leaves (the salt wrapping package) and rattan to be used for it. Therefore, a local took action by initiating a more environmental-friendly salt production. 


b). Bario Pineapple
Pineapples in Bario are naturally sweet and very juicy. They are nice to be eaten just like that but the locals find ways to make use of the extra fresh pineapples they had so that it didn't go wasted. Some examples are pineapple jam and dried pineapple. Some even used the pineapple leaves for book covers.


c). Bario Rice
Bario rice is considered a premium staple food. Since it is cultivated in highlands that have temperate weather, fertile soil, rich and ample access to water an irrigation, it is sweeter than normal varieties. Some can even be addictive to eating the rice alone! You will have those rice in almost every meal you have if you are in Bario, so you can enjoy the taste right here at its place of origin.


Not Much To Say But You Need To Explore The Adventure of Bario !

a). Development is coming for Bario
With the recent announcement of Bario as a Sub-district in Sarawak, it will herald in more developments in the near future. Community here is requesting for more connectivity in terms of proper roads and longer runway for bigger airplanes to drop by. It is understandable for them, as these would increase the economic levels for the community.

Nevertheless from the view point of tourists, Bario may be losing out its "remote" charms once these developments creeps in. We have experienced some of the effects during our hike in from Bario to Pa Lungan. Portions of the hike follow the new logging road road carved out to connect Pa Lungan, and we can immediately feel the difference in temperature when we emerge from the covered forest hike to open logging roads. The logging road has also opened up avenue for trees to be cut and transported out as timber.

As such, Bario is wonderful place to explore NOW before modern development threatens the local environment and community.


b). Flight (Twin-otter)
Because of its remote location, the easiest way to reach Bario is via flight from Miri which takes about 1 hour. Currently the flight is serviced by small Twin Otter with capacity of 19 persons. When I flew into Bario, the small flight even took less passengers (max 13pax) because the rest of the space is used to transport goods into Bario.

Being a small plane, there was no door to the cockpit. Hence we could see what the pilots were doing at front. Nevertheless, the flight is less than enjoyable when one encounters bad weather which happened for my flight from Bario back to Miri. With heavy rains outside, it is amazing how cool the pilots were as they manoeuvre the plane across the bumpy clouds and rain pounding on the windscreen.


c). Simple Life in Bario
People in Bario are blessed with the simple life-surroundings here provide enough for them to survive. The jungles provide them with food and items for shelter and daily use. River supply water and the seasonal rain and dry weather provide the ideal weather for rice growing. Buffaloes are reared to help till the land and carry heavy goods.

The people here are generally happy and contented. Most of them have also embraced Christianity but One Muslim Family (Pak Haji Mustapha).


d). Warm Hospitality
Mostly I've travel to Bario, our group stayed at 'Pak Mos homestays' (The Only Family Muslim in Bario. This homestays at Bario main town. 

Despite having basic facilities, what really touched my heart was the warm hospitality extended by this homestay. 

People we met at the villages were easy to approach and very happy to share their knowledge, particularly because many of the local food, customs and other things were quite foreign to even us Sarawakian. It is customary for people to greet each other by shaking hands, the longer the better.


e). Nature in Bario
Bario is located in the Kelabit Highlands with average elevation of 1,000 m above sea level. Because of its height, the weather here is pleasant and can get much colder during the rainy seasons.

Visitors can enjoy the nature during hikes to the villages around Bario. We did an easy 3-4 hours trek from Bario main town to Pa Lungan along the route used by the villagers, which is one of the last village to be connected by road for vehicles. Those who crave for more adventure can attempt the 4 days hike up Mount Murud, usually starting from Ba'kelalan, Sarawak and finishing in Pa Lungan. Mount Murud at 2,423 m is Sarawak Highest Mountain.


f). Bario Culture
The small district of Bario consists of 47 villages with about 7,500 inhabitants. The biggest group of people in the Kelabit's followed by Penan. They are classified under "Orang Ulu" or Upriver People which also includes the tribes of Kayan, Kenyah and others.

"Orang Ulu" is famous for being one of Sarawak's most artistic people. This can be seen in the handiwork done by the ladies, particularly the detailed beadwork, and also decorations around their longhouses. "Sape" or local mandolin is a common musical instrument used to accompany the local traditional dances such as hornbill dance and "ngarang".


g). Bario Amazing Food
Because of the remoteness, people here have adapted to their natural surroundings for food source. Till today, they forage the jungles for their greens and hunt animals, mainly wild boars. Bario is famous for its highland rice and sweet pineapples grown by the locals. The Bario Rice particularly has been included as one of the "Ark Of Taste" products under Slow Food Foundation.

Visitors here will also enjoy the local fern called "Midin", wild spinach known locally as "Daray" and local Asparagus. Because of its abundance, torch ginger flower and stems are used generously in their cooking.


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@ Jackie San

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