Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bario - Malaysia’s old Borneo


Although in the past 50 years Malaysian Borneo has undergone dramatic development, there are still pockets where you can experience “old Borneo” — that is, places where people still live in longhouses and go out into the forest to gather food. Here are a few suggestions on finding them.

One such place is Bario, home to the Kelabit people and an hour’s plane journey from Miri (as with all rural flights, MasWings is the only operator). It’s also possible to get here by 4×4, although it will take you 12 hours, mostly on unpaved logging roads. Be nice to yourself, and go in a plane.

In Bario, old cultural traditions of hunting and foraging sit side by side with modern amenities such as the internet and mobile phone reception. This may not quite be the “old Borneo” that you are thinking of, but it’s an example of an increasingly modernised indigenous community who have taken modernity and molded it to their own cultural needs.

It’s a good place to go if you want to have an “authentic” Borneo experience but don’t want to be cut off from the world completely.

A good time to go is in mid-July for the Bario Food Festival, where you can sample indigenous foods from around the Bario region. Even if you visit outside of this time, be sure to eat some pineapple or rice, both of which Bario is famous for. Accommodation is easily found here, with a plethora of homestays, lodges and guesthouses to choose from.

And while some lovely forest surrounds Bario, don’t be tempted to wander around on your own; always hire a guide.

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