Bario, deep in Borneo

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Asia » Malaysia » Sarawak » Bario
June 19th 2008
Published: June 19th 2008EDIT THIS ENTRY

From the AirFrom the AirFrom the Air

Bario valley is surrounded by mountains and jungle. It has no roads.
Bario is a valley in interior Sarawak, close to the border with Indonesian Kalimantan and accessible only by plane. The first European to go into the valley arrived by parachute during WWII. Missionaries followed in 1946. Today the population is Christian and well-educated. The community participates in the e-Bario project. This project, run by Bario community leaders and researchers from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (with infrastructure contributions from Telekom Malaysia), has provided computers and telephone lines. The villagers now have access to globally available information and are able to communicate with families and friends outside the Bario valley. One local told me, "when our parents went down to the coast for shopping they went on foot and the journey took two months". I wondered what they would have made of the instant communications provided by this initiative to overcome the digital divide.

The flight from Miri, on the coast, took one hour in an 18-seat twin otter and afforded good views of the meandering Sungai Baram and jungle mountains. The plane went up to cruising height and then held its altitude steady as the ground came closer and closer towards us. Suddenly we were over a ridge and out of the
Inside a Twin OtterInside a Twin OtterInside a Twin Otter

A senior Kelabit couple returning home from Miri. Notice his haircut and long ears, her beaded cap.
cloud. At the head of a cleared valley I spotted school buildings and a football pitch. Then there were roofs of houses and longhouses, tracks that joined them and the glassy surfaces of padifields. We landed 3,280ft above sea level.

I was met at the airport by one of our group, the other two having gone off on a two-day trek. I walked along muddy roads past a mix of secondary jungle and gardens to the simple guesthouse where they’d found us beds. We were made most welcome and fed on a grand collection of fresh local food. There was jungle produce for lunch: bamboo shoots, fried fern shoots, local pineapples. There were fried whole fishes and chicken or eggs for every meal. The condiments used were just local salt and palm oil: no spices at all. The fragrant local rice was well-complemented.

It was the rainy season and walking was the only way to get around; we were ankle deep in clay much of the time. There are no surfaced roads in the valley and the few four-wheel drive vehicles and motor bikes don’t carry registration plates; buffalos are much used. Even moving around the centre of

Bario rice is famous in SE Asia. Many different varieties are grown.
the community took a lot of leg power, longhouses and hamlets being spread out away from each other. It was lovely strolling around and watching the rice grow. The two that trekked overnight stayed with a family in a village which was the last stop before the Indonesian border; their host had carried all his roofing iron and glass louvres from the airport. We calculated this would have taken him over twenty trips: four-hours each way.

Bario is worth a visit. It is a clearing in the jungle where traditional life meets modern life in a variety of interesting intersections but where commercialism has scarcely arrived.

Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17


Buffalo SledBuffalo Sled
Buffalo Sled

No roads means no trucks. Instead there are unsurfaced tracks and buffaloes pulling sleds made of undressed logs.
Bario ValleyBario Valley
Bario Valley

The valley seen through a fence.

Bario is a participant in a UniMas project to bring the electronic age to isolated communities. This is the community computer centre.
Bario ValleyBario Valley
Bario Valley

A banana palm, a paddi field and the mountains beyond.
Bario ValleyBario Valley
Bario Valley

A view across the paddi to the school.
Bario ValleyBario Valley
Bario Valley

The principle thoroughfare. There were a couple of utes and a few motor bikes in use on the few kilometers of unsurfaced road.
Bario ValleyBario Valley
Bario Valley

More buildings.
Bario ValleyBario Valley
Bario Valley

More paddi.
Bario ValleyBario Valley
Bario Valley

More paddifields.

A new longhouse under construction: the roof goes on first.

Another longhouse.

Our guesthouse, De Plateau Lodge, rear view. Simple rooms, cold water washing, comfortable lounging, magnificent jungle food.

Map of the valley and welcome board.
Leaving BarioLeaving Bario
Leaving Bario

A view of the Baram River from the twin otter.

20th June 2008

Neat Photos!
Your photos are great.. I like the one of the Kelabits in a Twin Otter. When was that? Did you fly MASwings
22nd June 2008

Back then it was either just MAS, or FAX. Now it's MASWings. I'm sure they're the same planes - with different coats of paint on them.
22nd June 2008

Hang on, you asked when it was ... it was 2006.
25th September 2008

I was in Bario 2007. It's just beautiful!
19th October 2008

Bario 2008
My self and 2 pals visited Bario in July 2008 a nostalgic trip as we were there in 1964 it had not changed that much ,We walked to a village that I had been in Pa Lungan It had not changed at all the people are lovely and we were made very wellcome ,one difference I noticed was the village hunter had a shotgun instead of a blow pipe which they had in 1964 ah memories
27th October 2008

The elder Kelabit in the Otter is, Ribuh Balang, he is the local parang maker. He had been a border scout during our time there in 1964. His daughter Rose runs the centre cafe, aside the E BARIO office. Regarding the sledges, the locals refer to them as highland lorries. I would have liked to have visited the now uninhabited Pa Main, as that was where I was based. Circumstances prohibited this wee trip, so it will have to be next time. Our Bario stay was in the home of Ngimat Ayu and his wife, Sinah Ngimat Ayu. while in Pa Lungan we stayed overnight in the home stay of Sipang Galih and her husband.
2nd December 2009

Grat Photos
No chance to visit this place but your photos are splendid. Cheers, keep it up
4th December 2009

oh my!
i went to borneo on a month long world challenge expedition. borneo is the most amazing place, and bario really is so beautiful! this makes me so sad, but as for those planes... BEWARE. our engine cut out and we nearly crashed, a man went behind me to start praying. oh borneo 09, we miss you!! xx
15th April 2011

a classy write-up, simple English and well understood.
16th April 2011

Terima kasih banyak.

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