7 Great Reasons to visit Bario Sarawak

Bario is located in the Kelabit Highlands at the northeastern corner of Sarawak. Because of its average elevation of 1,000m above sea level, the word Bario means “Wind” in the local Kelabit language to represent the cool weather. It is inhabited mainly by the Kelabits, one of the smallest ethnic groups in Sarawak.

This list is drawn up from a recent trip to Bario during the recent 10th Bario Food Festival held from 30July to 1Aug 2015

No 1 – 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 “doray” and local asparagus. Because of its abundance, torch ginger flower and stems are used generously in their cooking.

Asparagus raw

 Local version of asparagus uncooked

Pa Lungan stall

Local fern “midin” stir-fried with torch ginger

No 2 – Culture

The small district of Bario consists of 47 villages with about 7,500 inhabitants. The biggest group of people is the Kelabits, 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”

Kelabit women

 Kelabit women in their traditional costumes. Older folks still maintain their extended ear lobes from wearing heavy ear-rings since young.

Stephen Baya dance

Stephen Baya performing a solo “ngarang” performance during 10th Bario Food Festival

No 3 – Nature

Bario is located in the Kelabit Highlands with average elevation of 1,000m 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 4days hike up Mount Murud, usually starting from Ba Kelalan and finishing in Pa Lungan. Mount Murud at 2,423 m is Sarawak highest mountain.

Hike in

Hiking from Bario town to Pa Lungan, easy 3-4 hours hike

Pa Lungan overview

 View of Pa Lungan village of 100 inhabitants surrounded by Kelabit Highlands

No 4 – Flight

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 19persons. 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.

Marudi PlaneView of MASwings Twin Otter servicing Miri-Bario

PilotsFull view of the pilots from cabin as there is no door separating cockpit

No 5 –  Warm hospitality

Our group stayed at 2 different Kelabit homestays during our holiday in Bario – Batu Ritung at Pa Lungan and Labang Longhouse at Bario main town. Both homestays were managed and operated by retired couples who have returned to Bario after their work in towns/cities.

Despite having basic facilities, what really touched my heart was the warm hospitality extended by both places. The couples took time to talk to us and even shared their life stories and struggles as Kelabits.

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 Malaysians from Peninsular Malaysia. It is customary for people to greet each other by shaking hands, the longer the better.

Dinner dance

Ladies at Pa Lungan finishing the night with the traditional horn bill dance after enjoying their marathon poco-poco (local line dancing)

Hair cut

Steven, local church leader at Pa Lungan having hair cut before big festive dinner to welcome important guests at Pa Lungan

No 6 –  Simple life

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 and have entrusted their well-being to God.

Best bit – Pa Lungan has limited phone coverage. So visitors can sit back and take in the life without the nagging responsibilities of city life calling on them.

Bario rice fields

Rice fields of Bario which is normally done by hand with help of buffaloes

Buffalo man

 Local men leading his buffalo to carry heavy goods

No 7 –  Development is coming

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 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 (either legally or illegally – that is a BIG question).

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

Buffalo sunrise

Sunrise breaking at Pa Lungan – scenes like these may be lost under the sweep of greater development

Tips to visit Bario

  1. Book your flight early from Miri to Bario, especially during the popular travelling periods. Currently Mas Wings still only operates 3 flights a day, with no daily flights unless during peak season.
  2. Go visit during the festivals such as Bario Food Festival and Harvest celebrations coinciding with Christmas. During these periods, visitors can enjoy plenty of local food, local performances and experience how the locals celebrate
  3. There are many locals now who offer homestays for visitors. During our visit, we have been to Batu Ritung and Labang Longhouse. Another recommended place is Bario Asal Longhouse (Jenette Ulun at nlembaa@gmail.com)
  4. Useful map for Bario TownBario town map

Click here for full Bario picture album

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Mah Meri Hari Moyang

Mah Meri is a group of indigenous people or “orang asli” who resides in the Carey Island, which is about 28km south of Klang town. There are 5 Mah Meri villages here on Carey Island with total population about 3,000 persons.

Amongst all the indigenous people around Peninsular Malaysia, this tribe has become famous because of their creativity in terms of weaving and wood carvings. Their fame has attracted international attention when UNESCO’s Asean Handicraft Promotion & Development Assocation awarded the Seal of Excellence for at least 20 wood carving pieces.

Having learnt that Mah Meri will be celebrating their annual “Hari Moyang” or Spirits’ Day on 20th April, I jumped at the chance to visit their village. Spirits’ Day is celebrated anytime within 1 month after the Chinese Lunar New Year, and the exact day is determined by signs or visions received in their dreams during that period.

Mah Meri practices animism, and believes that spirits have an influence over the living. During Hari Moyang, the spirits of their deceased relatives and protecting spirits will return to the world and visit the living.

During this special day, Mah Meri will prepare a special altar called “Sanggar” for the spirits of their relatives. On this altar, favourite food and drinks of the deceased will be placed.

As for the protecting spirit, it will be received and housed in a special House of Spirits or “Rumah Moyang”. The altar is prepared inside this house, complete with food and drink, and surrounded with lit candles and incense.

The House of Spirits will be also decorated with all sorts of origami made from “nipah”, a type of palm fronds found easily around Carey Island. Ladies of the village spent the last 2 to 3 days to complete all the origami. Many shapes and designs will adorn the gathering place, each with its own meaning.

Ancestor house House of Spirits at Kg Sg Bumbun (First stop)


 Second stop at another House of Spirits which is much older

In the morning, villagers arrive at the House of Spirits for blessings. Individually they approach the shaman to ask for blessing from the protecting spirit. Then villager will bless the shaman by applying rice flour paste on his forehead and hands, and this will be reciprocated by the shaman to complete the ritual. Villagers will also come with food prepared to be shared amongst them.



Blessings ritual

Group of musicians plays traditional rhythmic music in the background using the viola, gong, drum and 2 sets of bamboo stampers.

For the benefit of outsiders who have come to witness Hari Moyang, Mah Meri Cultural Village has also organized a group of dancers to perform the traditional Joh-Oh dances around a central “busut” or weaved cone-shaped ant house. The dances are performed to invite the spirits to join in the celebrations. The public is also invited to join in the dancing, which is quite easy to follow.


Group of musicians


Female dancers with their traditional costumes


Masked male dancers accompanying the female dancers

The dancers were dressed in the traditional Mah Meri clothing – beaten tree bark from “Terap” tree and weaved “nipah” fronds. The men usually dance outside the circle of women with their special wooden masks. These masks are believed to represent their ancestors’ spirits, and can only be passed down from fathers to sons.

Personally felt privileged to have witness this symbolic day with the Mah Meri people. Seeing how modernisation is creeping up on their community, I personally hope that the people will survive and pass down their cultural heritage. It is a shame that big corporations are slowly taking away their ancestral land and livelihood.


 Female dancers proudly showing off their traditional costumes


Masked male dancer named Diaman, with his ancestral mask called “Manjus”

Click here for complete picture album

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Fitzroy Trek #3 – Campamento D’Agostini to Exit

(3.5 hours)

Woke up early again for another sunrise experience at Laguna Torre. This time it was not too cold because the elevation was much lower compared to the viewpoint yesterday. It was another breathtaking sunrise, which was perfectly reflected on the wide glaciar lake waters. We spent more time enjoying the vista since it was our final day of hiking.

Chalten Cerro Fitz Roy sunrise2

Sunrise at Cerro Torre

Chalten Cerro Torre reflection

Reflection of Cerro Torre in the morning hours

We retraced our steps again to the junction from Laguna Hija. The next section of walking was through flat open grounds. With the late morning sun shining down on us, it was a relief to get some tree cover when we neared Mirador del Torre. Definitely bring enough water, as there were no rehydration points available during this section.

Chalten 2 walk trees

Open valley filled with barren trees between Campamento D’Agostini & junction to Laguna Hija

With one final look at Cerro Torre, we turned and headed downhill all the way into El Chalten. By the time we stumbled out to the village edge, it was close to 1:30pm. Exhausted more from the heat than walking, we had to walk nearly back to the bus station to find an open store selling cold drinks. Yes, folks here do take their after siesta time seriously!

Mount Fitzroy trail was definitely unforgettable because of the spectacular vista of mountains, glaciers and lakes. Camping facilities were clean and impeccable. Enjoying all these was FREE, which was an added bonus after the experience at W Trek.

Those with less time and hate camping can complete the entire loop walk within a day. However, that meant sacrificing the sunrise experiences and joys of just chilling out at nice scenic spots.

Chalten 3 final sign1

National Park signboard at our trail end

Full picture album for Patagonia hikes – W Trek & Mount Fitzroy

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Fitzroy Trek Day #2 – Campamento Poincenot to D’Agostini

(Easy 4 hours)

Seeing how beautiful it had been at Laguna de los Tres, I decided to return very early in the morning to catch the sunrise. Hiking in the darkness was not too difficult, since there was some moonlight. And noticed couple of headlights shining ahead on the climb up, so knew I was not the only crazy person that morning.

Climbing up does really warm the body up, but best to be prepared with a thick fleece or down jacket while waiting for the sun to rise at the top. It does get very cold with the morning breeze and not much wind shelter can be found at the viewing points.

Waiting patiently in the cold was greatly rewarded when the sun broke through the horizon and started illuminating the tips of Mount Fitz Roy. Pretty soon, the mountains were dressed in yellow and orange hues as the sunshine grew more intense.

Chalten Cerro Fitz Roy sunrise1

Mount Fitzroy glowing in the sunrise colors

After breakfast and packing up, it was time to leave for our next destination at Campamento D’Agostini. Trail was flat and undulating again, but more open so that magnificent views of Mount Fitz Roy can be clearly seen as we hiked southbound.

Chalten 2 walk signs

Signages inside national park

Chalten 2 group

Just the two of us completing the Fitzroy trek

More open grounds with low shrubs, we passed by Laguna Madre before walking alongside Laguna Hija. Enjoyed a pleasant rest at the stony shores of Laguna Hija before pushing forward.

Chalten 2 lago reflection

Serene reflection at Laguna Hija

Found a nice spot for lunch break when we caught sight of Cerro Torre. After that, it was an easy 1hour hike to camp, passing by a wide valley filled with dried up trees on our left and forested terrain on the hilly slopes on our right.

Campamento D’Agostini was another wonderful campsite, dotted with trees and the raging Rio Fitz Roy running besides it. After pitching up camp, we headed off on the ridge walk towards Mirador Maestri.

Walking along the rocky path, one gets the grand view of the peaks of Cerro Torre (3,102m) and Glaciar Grande flowing into Laguna Torre on our left. After walking for about 1 hour, the trail peters out. Exhausted from walking the pebbly trail and heat of the afternoon sun, we decided to turn back and stop at the shores of Laguna Torre to relax.

Chalten Glacier Torre

Glaciar Grande with Cerro Torre towards the far right

Chalten Glacier Torre walk

Ridge walk heading towards Mirador Maestri

Chalten Cerro Torre Lago

Enjoying the late afternoon at Laguna Torre, with Cerro Torre in the background

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Fitzroy Trek Day #1 – Hosteria El Pilar to Campamento Poincenot

(2.5 hr to campsite)

Trail head begins next to Hosteria El Pilar. There is no proper signage to mark the park entrance until much further in amongst the forested area. If in doubt, just follow the trail besides the river (Rio Blanco).

It was heavenly walking amongst the trees, as the weather is turning out to be wonderfully clear and hot again. Plus it was mostly flat and undulating terrain – a great change from the tougher W Trek few days back.

Chalten 1 walk

Shady trail between Hosteria El Pilar & Mirador de Piedras Blancas

Short break came when we arrive at Mirador Glaciar Piedras Blancas. It was pure joy as we savored the beautiful scenery of snow-capped mountains & glaciar framed against the clear blue skies. More so when we had a wet & cloudy ending to our W Trek.

Chalten Mirador Piedras Blancas

Mirador de Piedras Blancas

We arrived at Campamento Poincenot by 1pm. Pretty campsite with plenty of tree covers, small stream minutes away and huge area at back for the natural toilet. There was a single portaloo made available, plus a shovel on hand for those who prefer their own space!

Chalten Camp Poincenot

Tent at Campamento Poincenot

Chalten Camp Poincenot toilet

Toilet area at back

After lunch, we headed up to Laguna de Los Tres for the viewpoint of Mount Fitz Roy (3,405m). Short 3km hike, but the final 1 hour hike up was hardwork because of the steep incline over rocks and finally pebbles at the top. Definitely worth every ounce of energy burnt off, the views were simply spectacular.

Chalten Cerro Fitz Roy walk up

Rocky trail up to Laguna de los Tres

Chalten Cerro Fitz Roy walk up1

Final ascent to the glacier lake

Once at the top, we took our time to soak up the breathtaking views from every angle possible. Even went down to the lakeshores to test out the icy waters.

Chalten cerro Fitz Roy Wy

Laguna de los Tres with iconic Mount Fitzroy at the back

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Mount Fitzroy Trek at El Chalten

El Chalten welcome

Mount Fitzroy Trek (12-14 Feb 2014)

El Chalten has been declared Argentine’s trekking capital, and there’s no doubt it deserves the title. With the mountain village as the base, hikers have plenty of routes to choose from. Since we have all the gear from our W Trek, we then opted to spend 3 days inside with a loop beginning from Hosteria El Pilar on the nortern end and coming out following Rio Fitz Roy.

Getting to El Chalten

Regular buses departed from Puerto Natales towards El Calafate about 5 hours for 280km. Much of the time was spent at the immigration border. Do be careful with fresh food coming back into Chile, as the guards are quite vigilant in confiscating these items.

Upon reaching El Calafate, there is some time to kill before connecting to El Chalten with the late afternoon 3 hours bus ride. Good idea to exchange some monies, stock up on food rations and get any camping gear sorted as El Calafate is a much bigger town compared to the small mountain village of El Chalten.

Best to buy the bus ticket to El Chalten from El Calafate bus terminal as several bus companies offer the services.

After going through all the park formalities at Torres del Paine National Park, trekking around Mount Fitz Roy is a breeze. There is absolutely no need to register with the park office as it is FREE entry for hikers & campers, and you can get a decent trail map from the main bus station or chosen guesthouse.

One can arrange for the 30min 9:30am shuttle bus to Hosteria El Pilar at Hosteria Senderos, directly opposite of the main bus station for ARG70/pax. Do check in advance on the pick-up times and places offered.

Mount Fitzroy Map

Mount Fitzroy Trail Map (Source : El Chalten Information Centre)

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W Trek #5 – Campamento Chileno to Exit

(5km 2hr)

Paine Camping Chileno morning

Morning view at Campamento Chileno, with the towers in the background

I decided to sleep in, as a reward for surviving the past 4 days of hiking. Could have attempted a quick hike up to catch the clear views of the towers in the morning, but somehow I was content with being lazy and enjoying a slow breakfast with the team. Besides that, we have to watch our timings to catch our 2:30pm bus ride back to Puerto Natales.

Paine 5 walk out

Begining the walk out from Campamento Chileno along Valle Ascencio

We retraced our steps along Valle Ascencio, which felt less threatening because of the calm weather and much lighter pack. The scree returned to hard ground when we met up with our short cut yesterday.

It was steep downhill thereafter, with the trail widening to a highway well trodden by many day hikers and even horses for those who don’t want to hike up. Going through this route, I was definitely thankful we didn’t start the W Trek from the eastern side. Despite it being popular season for trekking, was pleasantly surprised that the trails were not overcrowded until our final downhill stretch.

Paine 5 walk highway

Trail widens to a highway downhill towards Hotel Las Torres

Spirits were high as we knew the end was near. Saw some fresh hikers along the way down, and silently bade them well for their journey ahead.

Hotel Las Torres marked the end of our 5 days W Trek, and what a journey it had been. Despite all the pains of hiking with a full load, the rewards far surpassed it – amazing scenery experienced with great company.

Paine 5 finish1

Managing a happy leap at the trail end

Paine 5 finish group

Team members with rest of hikers who have been at the same pace with our group

Full picture album for Patagonia hikes – W Trek and Mount Fitzroy

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