Ba'kelalan is a group of nine villages at Maligan Highlands of Limbang Division, Sarawak, Malaysia about 3,000 feet (910m) above sea level and 4 km from the border with Indonesian Kalimantan and 150 km from the nearest town of Lawas, Sarawak. There are nine villages in Ba'kelalan. The villagers here belong to the Lun Bawang tribe.
The name of Ba'kelalan is derived from the Kelalan River and Ba' which means wet lands in the Lun Bawang language. Its population was about 1030 in 2003. In the cool mountain climate, temperate fruits such as apples (famous and only local apples in Sarawak), mandarin oranges, strawberry and vanilla are grown. The area also produces rice, and mountain salt is obtained from the nearby hills. The people in Ba'kelalan are Christian, members of the Sidang Injil Borneo.
Tourism has increased in recent years: Ba'kelalan now has a 9-hole natural golf course, and the settlement is also the easiest point of access for visits to Kayan Mentarang National Park in Krayan, Kalimantan.
Ba'kelalan also serves as a transit point to the nearby Pulong Tau National Park where Mount Murut and Bukit Batu Lawi are located. Kayan Mentarang National Park located in Indonesia is also at the vicinity.
Ba'kelalan Airport has flights to Bario and to Lawas using 19-seater DHT aircraft (Twin-otter). Road access is possible via a 125 km former logging trail from Lawas using four-wheel-drive vehicles, but the road conditions can be particularly bad in the rainy season and the journey takes at least six to eigh hours. However, in September 2009 the federal government of Malaysia approved Rm 50 million for the first construction phase of a road from Lawas to Ba'kelalan to facilitate access. The upgraded road has cut the travel time by half. A 34 km road connecting Ba'kelalan to Bario is being built and is expected to complete in 2018. The villages are powered by solar panels and diesel generators.
There are six government agencies in Ba'kelalan. The upriver Agency, a primary school, a health sub-center, an agriculture sub-office, a civil aviation office, and an auxiliary police station.
Cross-Border Relation With Long Bawan, Indonesia
The Lun Bawang people in Ba'kelalan are considered ethnically the same as Krayan people in Long Bawan, Indonesia, as they share similar language, culture and religion. The cross-border relationship has been comfortable although villagers from both sides need an official pass from either Indonesian or Malaysian authorities to cross the border. Cross-border disputes are rare and are mostly settled at the village level. Cross-border marriages are also common.
Thing To Do In Ba'Kelalan Sarawak, Malaysia
1# - THE LUN BAWANG FOOD
This is something that you will be guaranteed to experience, which is a bonus if you are a food lover. The Lun Bawang food is one of a kind and very different from the general Sarawakian food that you can find in Kuching, Sibu or Miri.
When you are staying at any of the local homestays here, you will be introduced to traditional Lun Bawang cuisine, and it is considered a very traditional ethnic food. Most of the food is organic, which is grown, farmed and harvested in Ba'kelalan areas.
One of the signature dishes to try is the Nubalaya, which is pounded rice wrapped in banana leaves. If you are lucky, you can try the pickled fish or game meat called Telu.
For Muslim Travelers, there is no Halal Food, though maybe one or two families may have converted to Muslims, and you could probably get it there. Or, just bring your own rations for this trip.
2# - EXPERIENCE A TRADITIONAL LUN BAWANG CULTURAL SHOW
This can be arranged by your homestay or tour operator, where the locals will have a special performance for you or your group. The Lun Bawang cultural show can be done in the day or during dinner.
At this performance, you will be introduced to the traditional song and dance of the Lun Bawang people here.
The Lun Bawang traditional dances include the popular Hornbill dance, long dances and also single dances, which are accompanied by a Sape instrument being played.
The Lun Bawang people were once known as fierce warriors and also head hunters, but no longer are since the turn of the century.
A traditional Lun Bawang dinner is also part of this experience, and for any first timer to Ba'kelalan, this is not to be missed.
3# - BIRD WATCHING IN BA'KELALAN
This hobby and activity has been around for about a decade, with only specialist bird watchers coming here to complete their checklist of Borneo Birds.
To do this, you need to engage a specialized company that does bird tours to Ba'kelalan, and there are not many around.
On my last trip here, my itinerary was so filled up, I did not manage to do this activitiy. If you a lucky you can see Sarawak Big Bird (Hornbills) in top of Ba'kelalan Mountain.
It is said that you can find two endemic birds in Borneo in Ba'kelalan, and they are the Dulit Frogmouth and The Black Oriole. Nowhere else on the island of Borneo can you spot them too.
4# - VISIT THE BA'KELALAN SALT FACTORY
This is hands down a must for anyone who visits Ba'kelalan, the Buduk Bui salt factory is a homegrown community business that makes traditional Ba'kelalan salt. This village is the furthest from the main village called Buduk Nur.
Trips here are usually arranged by your homestay or tour operator where you will take a 60 minutes ride via 4WD. Once at the salt factory, you will be introduced to the traditional process of salt making which dates baack hundreds of years ago.
The unique part of the Ba'kelalan salt is that it is processed from natural salt springs that have been in the village centuries.
There are actually three salt springs found in Ba'kelalan at Buduk Bui, Punang Kelalan and Pa Komap, where Buduk Bui is the most popular Ba'kelalan salt factory to visit.
5# - GO TREKKING OR HIKING IN BA'KELALAN
When you are here, this is probably the main activity that you wile experience. Ba'kelalan has many trails that are very interesting and most importantly, raw.
These trekking trails are used mainly by the local for hunting or even for traveling to other parts of the highlands.
Some of the trails are relatively easy, while others may be little hard. One of the trails I hiked was actually to a hill behind the village called Pa Sarui.
The trails was easy at the start but got a little hard halfway up with a total time of about 90 to 110 minutes depend on your are. The reward was amazingly, as you could see the entire village from the top of Pa Sarui Hill.
These trails must be accompanied by a local guide, as you do not want to get lost here. On a side note, the border to Kalimantan, Indonesia is just kilometres away from Ba'kelalan, making this place one of the closest villages to Indonesia.
6# - VISIT THE BA'KELALAN WATERFALLS
According to Kevin from Mr. Dison from Lawas, there are two main waterfalls in Ba'kelalan worth exploring. They are the Ritan Waterfall and The Pa Kumap Waterfalls. Both which require trekking and is generally a half to full day trip. Honestly, it worth for me.
Pa Kumap Waterfalls in Ba'kelalan is the nearer one, which is only a two trek from the village, and can be done in half a day.
The Ritan Waterfalls is the harder one, which is about six to eight hours of my trekking activity. Generally, people would take a 4X4 to get here, as it saves a lot of time.
I also found out that there are in fact a few other smaller waterfalls located near to Ba'kelalan area, but to the hydro electric dam project, most of these waterfalls have shrunk in size, with very little water.
7# - THE BA'KELALAN MEGALITH STONES
As any old culture has their own myths, the Ba'kelalan megaliths are one of them, and the best part is that you can actually see them. This is provided you have a good guide that can explain the stories about behind these strange stones found in Ba'kelalan.
The Ba'kelalan ancienct stone monuments are seen at Long Lemutut village, and there are a few of them which carries their own stories.
One of the more popular and easier to get to megaliths is the Upai Semaring Stove at Pa Tawing. Here, four to five massive boulders make up a cooking stove areas, as the legend Upai Semaring was known to be a giant.
If you have seen the Bario Megalith stones, the ones here in Ba'kelalan are totally different, minus the carvings and purely myth or legend driven. However, a good guide will share a very interesting story on them.
Yes, they have pineapples growing, but not on a commercial scale. You need to ask the locals when is the season the fruits are available, and I am always lucky enough to try one of them when I am in Ba'kelalan. Which was on par with the ones I tried at the Sister village called Bario.
One of the places where you can see the Ba'kelalan pineapples growing is on the trek up to Pa Sarui Hill, the part when it starts to ascend, there are pineapples grown in the wild.
So if you are lucky as me, you can find a ripe pineapple and eat it on your way up or down the hill. Not to worry as these pineapples are free for all, because no one wants to look after them.
The much attention on Ba'kelalan Pineapples taste is, this pineapples are sweet compared to pineapples you found in other location/destination.
9# - THE BA'KELALAN RICE COFFEE
This is one of the most intriguing things I did when I visited Ba'kelalan, trying the local rice coffee. I have to admit, in my lifetime, I have never heard or rice being made into coffee until I visited Ba'kelalan, Sarawak.
They call this Bera Kopi or literally rice coffee made from the Adan rice, which is one of the highest grades of highland rice. The rice is fried in a pan over firewood, and sugar is added while constantly stirring the rice to caramelize it a little.
After the rice turns to a dark reddish brown, it is ready to be made into your regular black coffee. The method is so straight forward, put the rice in a cup, just add hot water and stir. Sift it and your Ba'kelalan coffee is ready.
10# - ATTEND THE IRAU ACO LUN BAWANG FESTIVAL (SPECIAL DAY IN BA'KELALAN)
This is only for those who are seriously into the whole ethnic culture. The most popular local festival is called Irau Aco Lun Bawang which is held on from the 31st May to 1st of June every year.
Known as a rice harvest festival for the Lun Bawang people, this is also in conjunction with the Gawai Festival that is celebrated all over Sarawak, Malaysia.
The Lun Bawang people celebrate this all over Ba'kelalan on a local scale, but if you want to fully experience this on a large scale, the main event will take place in the town of Lawas, Limbang which hosts the Irau Aco Lun Bawang Festival.
At Lawa, you will see a Lun Bawang beauty pageant contest called Rurun Ulung and also the male warrior contest.
Visitors can also find the Ngiup Suling, which is a local traditional bamboo flute band, accompanied by an Angklung performance, which is a traditional bamboo instrument being performed here.
Many other activities take place in the day and night time, hence this is one of the Lun Bawang festivals not to be missed if you love all things ethnic.
11# - VISIT THE BA'KELALAN STRAWBERRY FARM
Since Ba'kelalan stopped growing apples, some local farmers have resorted to growing strawberries as the climate is much more suitable here. The Ba'kelalan strawberries project was initiated in 2015 and the farm is located in Buduk Nur.
This private farm is owned by local Purait Gatum or Tagal Paran (Pak Tagal) and they open their houses and farms for visitors who want to come and see his Ba'kelalan strawberries. You can even buy them fresh from his farm.
12# - TRY THE BA'KELALAN APPLES
Alright, this one is a little vague but you should know that Ba'kelalan was once the apple capital of Malaysia. Yes, they grew apples in Ba'kelalan, which was an amazing feat, considering that Malaysia is a tropical country.
I was told by a local that they stopped the apple farming many years ago due to manpower shortage and weather changes in Ba'kelalan.
However, the good news is that some of the locals recently started to plane apples in early 2018, hence it takes a three to four years before we can see fruits.
But there are a few apple trees that are still being grown in Ba'kelalan, but unfortunately, they are not well taken care of, and if you are lucky, they may be fruiting. Or else, do ask about the other unique fruits (Vanilla, Oranges, Grapes and Persimmons) that they grow here.
Borneo Island with cool destination.