The Kelabit Highlands. Ever heard of it? Not many people have. It’s one of those places where you go to escape the world. Situated in the highland mountains far into the interior of Borneo, this is as far away from the fast pace of the modern world as you could get.
It is a place where time slows down.
Getting To The Kelabit Highlands
The only real way to get to the Kelabit Highlands is to fly in on a small propellor plane to the regional town of Bario, the main gateway to the region. Only a few flights a day leave from the coastal town of Miri in Malaysia, and carry around 15 people at a time.
Bario has a population of 800 and is the main town in the whole region. That gives you an idea how remote it is. The first thing you will notice, apart from the surrounding mountains, is the peacefulness of where you are. Then you will start to meet the locals and find out how friendly the place is.
The Kelabit are the main tribe of the region, and are very friendly.
Smiles are everywhere.
There really is something about reaching remote places, you will almost always find some of the nicest people you could meet anywhere.
Staying in a traditional longhouse, where many families live in one long building, is a great way to get a local experience. After settling in you can go for a short walk to get to the base of Prayer Mountain, where you can climb up in about 1.5 hours to get a view across Bario and the mountains surrounding it.
I was pretty sure they called it prayer mountain not for the cross on top but to pray you don’t slide all the way down on your ass on the muddy, slippery slopes!
Around Bario there are some treks into the jungle along mountain trails to reach remote villages. The modern world is slowly encroaching there however, with some trails now cut off by logging roads, but some routes are still undisturbed, and this is where you would want to head.
Hiking Into The Jungle
Moving out to the village of Pa-Lungan, deep in the mountains, takes about 4-5 hours trekking along a jungle trail. In parts muddy, with broken bridges to navigate, and some treacherous blood sucking leeches to keep an eye out for, it is an interesting walk to take to put it mildly.
The reward is worth it as high up in the misty mountains lies one of the most tranquil places you could ever be. With only around 100 people in Pa-Lungan village and the only way out a 4-5 hour hike on a jungle trail.
It is remote.
The whole area of the Kelabit Highlands is surrounded with ancient stone megaliths, mostly used in ancient times as burial sites. Staying at a local lodge run by a very friendly older couple, the husband can take you out to take a look at one of these megaliths.
They will feed you some of the most delicious meat you would ever have. Wild boar caught by local hunters smoked over a fire is one of the best things you could ever do for your taste buds.
The rest of the home cooked food is equally outstanding, and was for all the nights spent in Pa-Lungan. The region is famous for their rice and mouth watering sweet pineapples. The pineapple will blow you away, the best ever. You could go there just for the food.
There is only electricity for a few hours at night provided by a generator. So when the lights go out and you want to read, it’s time to get the flashlight out.
However you are up in the jungle area surrounded by numerous insects, many of which are attracted to light. Your flashlight being the only source of light around, you will soon be getting bombarded by huge insects to the face, as you try to read!
Then there are the rats and spiders running along the roof beams and floors. Not for the faint hearted. The next day you can go out for a walk with the owner again. This time it is the “jungle supermarket” walk. Here he will take you along a trail surrounding the village, pointing out the local flora, and what uses they have.
The trail is full of mud and bamboo bridges, making it difficult to walk in parts.
Hopefully not to many leeches will be found crawling across your shoe!
The owner of the lodge is very knowledgeable about the flora, and the uses of it. It’s very interesting listening to what he has to say, but the only main points you will most likely remember are how to get fresh water in the jungle, in case you ever got lost.
You will get the chance to taste some plants and fruit from the jungle.
Heading back to the village you will have to navigate rivers and walk through jungle on no trail.
Arriving back at the lodge you can take a cold bucket shower to wash away the dirt and sweat of the jungle, before again having a great home cooked meal, and then trying to sleep through the various insects, you prepare for the next day.
For the next day will bring a pure jungle experience, trekking deep into the middle of nowhere to sleep rough in the jungle with no trail to be found, and endless blood sucking leeches.
You can read about some good advice on costs in the region etc at the end of the next article from the Kelabit Highlands – Hell in the Jungle!
If you’re thinking of heading to the Kelabit Highlands or anywhere else in the area then check out my post on what to pack for travel in South-East-Asia.