Looking for somewhere completely different to go when you’re travelling in Sarawak? Consider Bario in the Kelabit Highlands.
A collection of about 14 villages, Bario Sarawak is situated about 1200 metres above sea level in a gorgeous valley known for its rice. Tourists travel here for the rainforest and hiking opportunities that you can take to remote longhouses.
While it’s a fascinating place to visit, far off the main tourist trail, visiting here can feel hard simply because there is little information available online of how to visit here. The lack of internet coverage in the region can make contacting people here difficult, and it’s definitely the hardest place I have visited in Malaysia to arrange a trip. Even local travel agencies struggle to have good options (if any) to travel here.
I spent far too long trying to Google tour operators, travel agencies and accommodation providers that could help me, and then ended up whatsapp-ing a random number I found. I arrived at Bario Airport with my fingers crossed someone would be there waiting for me!
However, it is very possible to visit Bario Malaysia, and between this and our full guide to the Kelabit Highlands here, we’ll give you all the information you need about this area so that you can plan your own trip to this special part of the world.
While I wondered if I was making the right choice when it was so hard to make a booking here, I never regretted coming for a second once I arrived, met my lovely host who picked me up at the airport and soon met many people in Bario that were so welcoming, interesting and made my stay perfect.
This is a really special part of the world, and it’s so worth making an effort to come. And now I have put in the leg work, you won’t find it hard to visit here 🙂 So there is nothing stopping you!
Below, you’ll find more information about what to do in Bario, a Bario Sarawak map, Bario Sarawak homestay information and more. Everything you need.
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Introduction To Bario
The name Bario comes from the local language and means wind. This area is also known as the “land of a hundred handshakes” thanks to the friendliness of the people. Everyone I met, walked past in the street, had any interaction with at all, had a smile and a greeting.
The population of Bario and its surrounding villages is about 1,200 people. There was just one longhouse here before the Konfrontasi with Indonesia. At this point in 1963, longhouse residents near the border with Indonesia fled to Bario after raids by Indonesian troops.
Since then, the population has only grown, but it is still very small. There is not much in Bario at all so bring what you need with you. It is best to book accommodation that includes meals.
Much of the valley that Bario calls home produces the Sarawak Bario rice.
The area is home to the Kelabit people, an Orang Ulu group (the collective term given to the 27 tribal groups in the northeastern part of Sarawak). There are also Penan people here (a semi-nomadic group).
The isolation of this area, the cooler mountain climate and the friendly Kelabit people are all reasons to visit here as well as unique trekking and longhouse experiences.
I did not expect to access internet here but Digi (my carrier) was available in a small part of Bario including at my homestay at Bario Asal Longhouse. Celecom is meant to have better coverage and I believe Maxis has similar coverage to Digi.
Even when I had four bars right next to the tower, it was slow and became unusable in the evening. Don’t expect to do much more than send a message home and check your email without a little frustration. They are in the process of building a new tower here though.
Internet is not available in homestays.
Where Is Bario Malaysia?
Bario is located inland in Sarawak, close to the Indonesian border. It’s about 178 kilometres east of Miri, the main entry point to this region.
It’s the main town in the Kelabit Highlands which is sandwiched between the Indonesian border and Mulu National Park.
How To Get To Bario
The main way to get to Bario is by flying. MASWings, the regional carrier of Malaysia Airlines, has flights here in tiny Twin Otters which seat 19 people, although they only sell tickets for about 9 people per flight now due to the runway length in Bario.
This is good as the plane is small and the seats tiny. I was very big in my seat and I’m 1.64 metres tall and a slimmer build. If someone had sat next to me, we would have got very friendly.
There are generally a couple of flights a day from Miri with some going via Marudi.
The scheduled flying time is just 50 minutes and prices can be surprisingly reasonable starting at just RM90.
The only thing tricky about getting this flight is that there are luggage limits due to the size of the aircraft. You can only take 10kg check-in luggage and 5kg carry on. They also weigh you with your luggage on check-in so they know exactly how much weight is on board.
This is problematic if you have bigger luggage as there is no luggage storage at Miri Airport. Since I flew here straight after flying in from Mulu, I could not leave my luggage at a hotel.
My guide in Bario told me you can pay for extra baggage on check-in if you go over the limit. However, I was concerned this may not be an option if the plane if full, so I tried to keep things light for my whole trip for this flight. I was nervous, but thankfully, I came in just under the luggage requirements!
When I was weighed at check-in, they weighed both me and my hand luggage at the same time, so I could have had over 5kg hand luggage. This weight was printed on my boarding pass and highlighted. A first for me!
Flights can be delayed or cancelled due to adverse weather conditions such as wind. There are no toilets on board and no flight attendants. We actually went to a room before boarding in Miri where a safety demonstration video was shown on a screen and a Malaysia Airlines worker gave us peanuts and a bottle of water to take on board.
The flight itself is amazing! It’s a scenic flight as the plane stays quite low. It was mostly clear when I flew to Bario and I had great views, first over palm plantations and then Mulu National Park and much more rainforest. It was amazing. I spent every moment on the flight glued to my window. It is loud though, so ear plugs would probably make the flight more pleasant.
There is one other option to get to Bario and that’s trying to get a seat in a 4WD journey between Bario and Miri. This takes at least 12 hours and sounds quite painful. I am not sure how you can book this as it’s not a regular service. I would start with a local agency if you really don’t want to fly. I doubt you will save money though, and the flight is awesome!
Things To Do In Bario Sarawak
While a small place, there are some nice Bario attractions. Below is a list of some that are easy to access in the village of Bario.
Most things that you’ll want to do when you are here are a little further away though, so don’t miss my full guide to all the things to do in this region here.
Bario Asal Longhouse
This 22 door longhouse is the most famous one in this region with its traditional Kelabit layout. It’s said to be the longest one as well and is the oldest in the area.
There are enclosed front and back verandahs. The front one has a hearth for each family. The back makes a huge hall of over 100 metres long where weddings, funerals and parties can take place.
Some of the older residents have the famous Kelabit earlobes that hang down to almost their shoulders after wearing heavy brass earrings for so many years. It does feel like you are visiting living history when you visit here.
It’s quite an experience. There’s a small fee to visit.
It’s possible to stay here – I did! Read more about that below.
A shop under here also has bicycle hire if you feel like cycling round Bario.
This is the shopping area in the main part of town. It is not far from the airport.
My host told me that it used to be full of shops, but today, there is only a few including some eating options. She said that tourists haven’t come back since the pandemic, so they have shut down.
I ate at a bead shop which was run by the cousin of my host. She had the famous long ear lobes and was very friendly. What is great is that the older generation speaks some English as their schooling was in English (thanks to Australian missionaries that opened a school here).
I bought some great beaded jewellery for me and my kids and ate a delicious lunch of fish, greens, some nasi lemak and the famous Bario rice and pineapple.
It was incredibly good, and the company was even better. They were also very thankful for the purchases I made (and there had been no pressure to buy anything). It’s extra great to buy something that will have so much meaning to me and had meaning to them too.
There’s also a market held here on Saturdays.
Around here is also Bario Museum and Memorial Park. You can read more about them in our full guide to the Kelabit Highlands here.
Located on a small hill called Revival Hill, the Bario Wind Chapel is a special church near to Bario Asal Longhouse.
It has a transparent roof, no pillars and a circle of stools inside where you can sit in quiet prayer or reflection. There are wind chimes to add to the ambience.
The Wind Chapel was built here to commemorate an event on the 3rd of October 1973. On this day, people believe that the Holy Spirit descended on Bario with a sound like rushing wind. This chapel serves as a reminder of the revival of faith that it brought to Bario.
It’s a nice spot with views of the surrounding hills.
The prime religion in the area is evangelical after Australian missionaries came to the area many years ago. My guide told me that they set up schools in the area and, for this reason, the primary language at school was English when he was growing up. This means many of the older people in town do speak some English.
There is a church in each of the small villages in the area, although I wouldn’t have been able to tell they were churches if my guide hadn’t pointed them out.
The Wind Chapel is located in the school compound, and you need to sign in here (there is a booth next to the school entry) to visit the hill.
Sarawak Bario Rice
Short grain Bario rice is famous within Sarawak. Bario is a great place to grow rice thanks to its wet climate.
The Kelabits have been growing rice for a long time, although these days, it’s not as popular as it was as younger generations move away for easier work. It was cultivated by hand with only one harvest per year in January after sowing the fields in August. However, these days, some basic machinery is often used as younger generations don’t want to do it by hand.
I was here in early August and I could see them getting the fields ready to plant with some already planted and a brilliant green.
The traditional farming methods lead to a top rate, organic Bario rice Sarawak valued by many.
Of course, when you are Bario, you should visit a rice farm. You may be able to see the rice farming in action and can learn more about Bario rice. It’s very easy to find rice farms. They are seemingly everywhere. A guide as you walk around Bario will help you learn more about them.
Bario is also famous in Sarawak for its pineapples. They are known to be extra sweet and are farmed traditionally without fertilisers. Some locals believe that eating them will help you stay youthful, and they help gastro problems.
With a local guide, it is easy to visit a pineapple farm and try a pineapple. The pineapple jam produced here is a good souvenir too.
Pineapples were served at just about every meal I ate in Bario. I don’t usually like pineapples, but these are extra sweet and delicious.
Located close to the Bario Asal Longhouse is Prayer Mountain. This is one of the popular hikes in Bario as it only takes a couple of hours and you get great views over the whole Bario valley.
I had read that it was a two hour walk up with the first hour being easy and the last hour being hard. I don’t think those people had walked this 😀 Unless maybe they started at Bario Airport or somewhere far from the track.
From the start of the track, it took us about 55 minutes to walk to the top and it’s basically all tricky after the first five minutes. It’s not just trekking but climbing as well. This time includes lots of small breaks along the way including 10 minutes at the old church though, and I am not super fit so you could do it faster.
The old church is about 2/3 of the way up. There is a washroom here as well as nice views. There were also bees that managed to sting me! Thankfully, the views made up for that.
The last part to the top after the church, which took me 17 minutes, is especially tricky and steep. There are ropes to help pull you up much of the way from the bottom of the trail and you really need them in this top section.
At the top, there is a big cross that you can see from across the valley. There’s also an older, smaller cross and two chairs. However, the main reason you’ll want to do this hike is for the great views over the valley. They are awesome!
Going down wasn’t as tricky as I imagined on the way up thanks to all the ropes, but it wasn’t much quicker to get down than up. While it’s a moderate hike with some very steep parts, I did it with a bad ankle so it is doable by most people 🙂
A common thing to do is to walk this early so you arrive at the top at sunrise. I didn’t want to do this hike in the dark, so I changed our itinerary. I’m glad I did. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it without better visibility. Early morning is beautiful.
You can do this with or without a guide.
If you do it alone, the start of the track isn’t where Google maps says. It’s the road that runs along the back of the Bario Asal Longhouse. Follow it to another village and then walk to the far end of the village, through a rice paddy field and up to the start. It took about 15 minutes to the start of the trail from the longhouse.
It’s not signposted so I recommend you ask people to make sure you don’t go the wrong way.
It’s definitely an activity I highly recommend in Bario.
My favourite thing to do in Bario was my walking tour round the valley visiting many of the villages and attractions mentioned above with a guide. While you can do this by yourself, a guide really adds to the experience.
He helped me interact with people as we walked, took me to the best spots, including look-outs on people’s land and inside an additional longhouse, and talked about the local agriculture, the people and more.
It was an incredibly insightful couple of hours.
You can book guides through many of the homestays or in advance in a package like I did. Otherwise, still walk around by yourself. I can’t emphasise enough what a beautiful area this is.
Accommodation in this area is available via a Bario homestay. This is where you’ll have a room in someone else’s house, longhouse or a house set up for guests.
Most homestay options include all meals which is the way to go since there aren’t a lot of choices in this area. You usually have to share a bathroom.
You can find a couple of choices on Agoda, but generally you need to book with a local agency as not much is available online. There are many in the Bario area though. I walked past many as I explored and the Bario Asal Longhouse where I stayed had at least three different ones!
Bario Asal Longhouse
I stayed at the Bario Asal Longhouse which is not just a place to visit when you’re in Bario but also a place to stay.
I stayed at the Bario Asal Longhouse homestay which had a building off and (completely connected to) the main living area of the long house. It was at the front of the long house so had a nice balcony area with great views (pictured above).
There was a big common area with bedrooms off this and the hallway leading to it as well as a shared bathroom and an extra toilet. The common area was great with many awards on display for the host’s homestay and bead making. There was also some traditional items on display.
My room was basic with two single beds, two big bedside tables where I could fit all my luggage and some shelves. There is no fan or air-conditioning but it stayed fairly cool here, especially at night, so it wasn’t that necessary. My room did get a bit stuffy though.
The biggest thing to note is that this isn’t a hotel and this is a rural area. There is a lot of animal noise with roosters starting at 4:15am so ear plugs would be a good item to have. There is also noise from the longhouse, but not excessive at all, and it stopped about 9pm.
My meals at the homestay were served in the longhouse main living area itself which was quite an experience. I could see other families eating nearby in their areas and I ate with my great host, Sina. She prepared incredibly fantastic and big meals. There was so much food! It was nice to eat together too.
She also took me to other places to try foods, like my arrival lunch at Bario Market and I had curry puffs at a stall next to the longhouse. I have never been so well looked after.
There was also tea and coffee making facilities and purified water at the longhouse that I could use to fill up my drink bottle.
Other Bario Sarawak Accommodation
There aren’t really hotels in Bario Sarawak. If you don’t want a homestay, there are some guesthouses although the line between guesthouse and homestay here seems very thin.
You could consider:
- Zara Lodge – Rooms in a central location in Bario with access to shared living and kitchen facilities
- Bulan And Daud Homestay – Twin rooms in Bario with shared bathrooms
Bario Package Tours
While you can fly up here and worry about everything later, I think this can be quite difficult especially if you are on a fixed itinerary and want to see certain things. The airport isn’t right next to a guesthouse, so I recommend at least booking accommodation and a transfer before arriving. There are no taxis waiting to drive you at the airport. You would need to walk into town.
But even better is to buy a package tour so you know you won’t be stuck with nothing to do and can make the most of your time.
I booked a package tour with Bario Reality Tourism. Unfortunately, I could only do this via whatsapp and their account was set to make all messages disappear after 90 days! I went to go to Bario and realised I no longer had a record of what we discussed so make sure you save it somewhere if you go with them. They also had seemingly forgotten what I had booked and I had to go through it with them again.
The upside was that they had lot of options and reasonable prices. I tried to go through a Miri travel agency but the prices quoted for a solo traveller were very high. They also only offered 4 day/3 night tours and nothing else.
I paid only RM630 for a 3 day package full of things to do in Bario Sarawak, my own guide, accommodation, airport transfers and all meals. I think this was a total bargain.
Bario Sarawak Weather
Bario has a tropical rainforest climate with heavy rainfall year round. The higher elevation does make it cooler than the coast but temperatures are similar throughout the year.
Average minimums and maximums vary from around 18 – 26 degrees. The driest months are January and February and the wettest is May followed by April, September and December. However, this can vary and traditionally the wet season is November to February.
Bario is a unique place to visit which isn’t that hard to visit via plane. It’s off the majority of tourists’ radars which makes it extra special.
I had such a fantastic experience here. While I generally hate the use of the word “Authentic” in regards to travel, I really cannot think of a better word to describe a visit here. It was truly authentic and not just a buzz word. I interacted with local people the whole time and barely saw another tourist.
It is like nowhere else in Malaysia and I highly, highly recommend it.
While it is a little harder to organise a trip here, it is worth it so fit it into your Malaysian itinerary if you can.
I hope you have found this guide to Bario Sarawak useful. You can find our full travel guide to the Kelabit Highlands here. Travelling through Miri? Find our guide to Miri here.
Planning a trip to Malaysia? Have any questions? Join our Malaysia Travel Planning Facebook group here now! It’s the perfect place to ask any questions and to be inspired!