Saturday, June 2, 2012

Loving Pa Lungan, Bario, Malaysia

Bario, let alone Pa Lungan are not often on the Malaysian visitor's agenda. We told newly formed friends in Sipadan, Sadakan and Kota Kinabalu that we were visiting the area to hike, and no one could offer us much advice. The Kelabit Highlands are not a bustling tourist hub, and I think that is a good thing. The slow paced village, with occasional electricity is kept apart from the rest of world by its lack of road networks, close proximity to the Indonesian border and surrounding jungle.

Whilst Bario itself is home to a school, new hospital, bars, airport and telecentre, Pa Lungan, a 4 hour trek away, is quite remote. It is surrounded by lush primary jungle and its inhabitants practice a more traditional way of life, tending to livestock, harvesting rice and practicing cultural customs. 

We were more than pleased with our guide, Redi, who took us on our journey from Bario to Pa Lungan, through various terrain and temperatures. We drank from pitcher plants, were sucked by leeches and gathered jungle greens for our dinner. 

Wild ginger

Pitcher plant

Guide Redi, and Jeff drinking from the pitcher plant 

Upon reaching Pa Lungan we were greeted by our hosts for the night at Batu Ritung, Supang and Nabun. Supang welcomed us with some much needed lunch and drinks. For the rest of the afternoon we were free to explore or relax as we pleased. Jeff choose to hike another mountain, while I settled for bead making in the bamboo hut with Supang. Kelabit glass beads were traditionally made and and worn by the women. Now however, plastic beads take their place. 

Supang's beads

My necklace

Dishes of wild honey boar, local python, fiddle-heads with wild ginger and jungle garlic greens were served with Bario rice and homemade rice wine for dinner. Afterwards, we were treated to a community dance by the local Kelabit community, including an indigenous woman with the traditional long earlobes, stretched over time and weighed down with heavy brass rings. 

Kelabit dance

Indigenous woman with extended earlobes and Kelabit beads

We even got the chance to join in the festivities. Supang is a kind of community leader, originally from Pa Lungan, but later moving to Kuching with her accountant husband, before coming back for a slower pace of life. She often holds community women's meetings, making handicrafts and organising festivities for tourists, as an attempt to hold on to and revive the Kelabit culture. 

Jeff and I with hosts Nabun and Supang

Anyone wanting to experience traditional culture, trek through primary jungle and support indigenous culture should really make it their agenda to visit Pa Lungan. If the nature doesn't astound you, the people will. 

Learn more about Bario and its tourism here.

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