Forget off the beaten track, there is no track to the hidden village of Bario! Nestled in the Kelabit highlands in central Borneo, Bario is the jumping off point to some intense trekking options and not to forget the shared border with Kalimantan. So when I found myself surrounded by a couple of chooks and twelve other people on a very small twin prop plane hoping my way into the highlands, I couldn’t help but be giddy with excitement. My journey started from the city of Miri located just south of Brunei in Sarawak. Now before you say, ‘I’m not getting on that contraption’ – just note that there is no other choice of transport except by plane to a place as remote as this! The old logging roads that go this deep are rough and impassable in the wet. River trips are just too difficult and extremely expensive as well. The few cars that the locals have in the village are flown in part by part and rebuilt. This is truly an experience that you won’t share with the masses.
Your flight in and out will be subject to weight loads and weather conditions, with the potential for delays highly likely. In fact, you might arrive a day before your backpacks do, but it’s all part of the adventure. If arriving to Borneo wasn’t enough to put your thirst for adventure at bay, Bario will appease. Bario is the central village in the Kelabit highlands for trekking and remote village exploration. A traveller I bumped into did this insane trek that ran a certain length of the highlands with no clear path and that only one guide knew the the way in and out. His photos were something out of National Geographic, not to mention the locals roasting monkeys over a fire.
Bario isn’t for the faint hearted or for the lover of creature comforts. With basic but clean facilities, Bario isn’t the same as Sapa in Vietnam or Chang Mai in Thailand. If you’re in Bario it’s for one thing and one thing only, hiking! Accommodation is thin however all are clean and secure. I stayed at a place called Nancy’s Homestead. Nancy, whom the hostel is named after, will meet you at the airstrip and keep you well fed and informed on all the trekking options. If you’re leaving from Miri and you’re staying at Highlands Hostel, Joanne (I think that was her name) can get you in contact with Nancy and give you all the advice you need. Nancy’s offers a comfortable but basic place to stay and her families knowledge of the highlands is invaluable – not to mention the most delicious pineapples that they grow.
I spent my time here preparing for my Mt Kinabalu ascent, trekking to the roof of small mountains and visiting local villages.
Just a few points.
- Technology is a bit of a rare thing out here. Internet is available but is slow and unpredictable so just be prepared for that.
- Bario is a conservative place and the community will step in if they think something your doing is inappropriate – like a couple who decide that were going to sit in the middle of the village and do a major tongue hockey session. They were asked to leave the next day.
- Be flexible, flights can be cancelled at any moment.
- Weather can turn nasty quickly, so just be prepared. Also the rivers swell fast, be aware some crossings are impassable when this happens.
- You’ll need to bring your own gear; this is especially the case for longer treks.
- Overnight village stays are basic and you will be assigned a piece of floor in the corner of a local villager’s house but you’ll be gifted with some of the best food and experiences of your life!
- Guides are recommended on longer treks, however you may have to wait for them to come into town depending on the route you want to do.
Bario is a place like no other and captures the hearts and minds of many adventurers. Don’t let the small plane put you off, it’s well worth it for the adventure you’ll have!
Update Note 14/10: Ive been advised that AirAsia X routes have been taken over by MASwings in this part of Borneo. So please check this airline out for transport options.