Things To Do In Bakelalan

Bakelalan What To Do
Here is a list of things to do in Bakelalan, based on actual experiences that I have done over the years visiting this unique part of Sarawak, which borders Kalimantan. 

Bakelalan is home to the Lun Bawang people who live 3000 feet up in the Maligan Highlands, which is sometimes referred to as the Kelabit Highlands. This is truly one of Sarawak's most hidden gem for a true tourism experience. 

What To Do In Bakelalan

Bakalalan Things To Do
The general landscape view in Bakelalan
For those heading to Bakelalan, you should take note on what can be done here. First of all, Bakelalan is not your everyday commercial tourism destination, but more of a rural tourism destination of Sarawak. 

There are no hotels or commercial shops, cafes or anything you can find in general towns or cities. Bakelalan is a highland village that has a population of around 1000 Lun Bawang people. Only homestays, local run restaurants and sundry shops are what you will find here. 

Bakelalan is perfect for anyone wanting a digital detox, escaping the city life or anyone wanting to experience the Sarawakian outdoors, culture and heritage.

Bakelalan also consist of nine villages, where each of them are connected by walking trails. So, below is the list of what to do in Bakelalan, created from my experiences. 

1. Visit the Bakelalan Salt Factory 

Salt Factory Buduk Bui
Locals with their Bakelalan salt at Buduk Bui
This is hands down a must for anyone who visits Bakelalan, the Buduk Bui salt factory is a homegrown community business that makes traditional Bakelalan salt. This village is the furthest from the main village called Buduk Nur.

Trips here are usually arranged by your homestay or tour operator where you will take a 60 minute ride via 4WD. Once at the salt factory, you will be introduced to the traditional process of salt making which dates back hundreds of years ago. 

The unique part of the Bakelalan salt is that it is processed from natural salt springs that have been in the village for centuries.

There are actually three salt springs found in Bakelalan at Buduk Bui, Pa Komap and Punang Kelalan, where Buduk Bui is the most popular Bakelalan salt factory to visit. 

2. Try the Lun Bawang Food 

Preparing the local Lun Bawang food
This is something that you will be guaranteed to experience, which is a bonus if you are a food lover. The Lun Bawang food is one-of-a-kind and very different from the general Sarawakian food that you can find in Miri or Kuching. 

When you are staying at any of the local homestays here, you will be introduced to traditional Lun Bawang cuisine, and it is considered a very traditional ethnic food. Most of the food is organic, which is grown, farmed and harvested in Bakelalan.

Traditional Lun Bawang desserts
One of the signature dishes to try is the Nubalaya, which is pounded rice wrapped in banana leaves. If you are lucky, you can try the pickled fish or game meat called Telu.

For Muslim travelers, there is no Halal food, though maybe one or two families may have converted to Muslims, and you could probably get it there. Or, just bring your own rations for this trip. 

3. Go Trekking or Hiking in Bakelalan

View of Bakelalan from Pa Sarui Hill
When you are here, this is probably the main activity that you wile experience. Bakelalan has many trails that are very interesting, and most importantly, raw.

These trekking trails are used mainly by the local for hunting or even for traveling to other parts of the highlands. 

Some of the trails are relatively easy, while others may be a little hard. One of the trials I hiked was actually to a hill behind the village called Pa Sarui.

Bakelalan Trekking Hiking
Trekking up a hill
The trails was easy at the start but got a little hard halfway up with a total time of about 90 minutes. The reward was amazing, as you could see the entire village from the top of Pa Sarui Hill. 

These trails must be accompanied by a local guide, as you do not want to get lost here. On a side note, the border to Kalimantan is just kilometers away from Bakelalan, making this place one of the closest villages to Indonesia. 

4. Experience a Traditional Lun Bawang Cultural Show

Ladies of Lun Bawang
Lun Bawang women in traditional costume for the cultural show
This can be arranged by your homestay or tour operator, where the locals will have a special performance for you or your group. The Lun Bawang cultural show can be done in the day or during dinner. 

At this performance, you will be introduced to the traditional song and dance of the Lun Bawang people here.

The Lun Bawang traditional dances include the popular Hornbill dance, long dances and single dances, which are accompanied by a Sape instrument being played. 

The Lun Bawang people were once known as fierce warriors and also head hunters, but no longer are since the turn of the century.

A traditional Lun Bawang dinner is also part of this experience, and for any first timer to Bakelalan, this is not to be missed. 

5. Bird Watching in Bakelalan

Bakelalan Bird Watching
Some of the highland birds
This hobby and activity has been around for about a decade, with only specialist bird watchers coming here to complete their checklist of Borneo birds.

To do this, you need to engage a specialized company that does bird tours to Bakelalan, and there are not many around. 

On my last trip here, my itinerary was so filled up, I did not manage to do this, but on writing this in July 2018, I am planning a bird watching trip to Bakelalan this year.

It is said that you can find two endemic birds in Borneo in Bakelalan, and they are the Dulit Frogmouth and the Black Oriole. Nowhere else on the island of Borneo can you spot them too. 

Not to worry, as when I complete my bird watching here, I will surely post about it in my future postings. Yes, I am an amateur bird watcher with a lot of experiences all over Sabah and Sarawak over the years. 

6. Try the Bakelalan Pineapples

Pineapples from Bakelalan
A Bakelalan pineapple growing in the wild
Yes, they have pineapples growing, but not on a commercial scale. You need to ask the locals when is the season the fruits are available, and I was lucky enough to try one of them, which was on par with the ones I tried at the sister village called Bario. 

One of the places where you can see the Bakelalan pineapples growing is on the trek up to PA Sarui Hill, the part when it starts to ascend, there are pineapples grown in the wild.

So if you are lucky, you can find a ripe pineapple and eat it on your way up or down the hill. Not to worry as these pineapples are free for all, because no one wants to look after them. 

7. See the Bakelalan Megalith Stones

The Bakelalan megalith stones. Photo by Carolyn from Footsteps on the Fringe.
As any old culture has their own myths, the Bakelalan megaliths are one of them, and the best part is that you can actually see them. This is provided you have a good guide that can explain the stories behind these strange stones found in Bakelalan. 

The Bakelalan ancient stone monuments are seen at Long Lemutut village, and there are a few of them which carries their own stories.

One of the more popular and easier to get to megaliths is the Upai Semaring Stove at Pa Tawing. Here, four to five massive boulders make up a cooking stove area, as the legend Upai Semaring was known to be a giant. 

If you have seen the Bario Megalith stones, the ones here in Bakelalan are totally different, minus the carvings and purely myth or legend driven. However, a good guide will share a very interesting story on them.

8. Visit the Bakelalan Waterfalls

One of the Bakelalan waterfalls. Photo by Carolyn from Footsteps on the Fringe
According to Kevin from Dayak Wanderer, there are two main waterfalls in Bakelalan worth exploring. They are the Ritan Waterfall and the Pa Kumap Waterfalls. Both which require trekking and is generally a half to full day trip. Honestly, I have not been to either, but plan to do so.

Pa Kumap Waterfalls in Bakelalan is the nearer one, which is only a two trek from the village, and can be done in half a day.

The Ritan Waterfalls is the harder one, which is about six to eight hours of trekking. Generally, people would take a 4X4 to get here, as it saves a lot of time.

I found out that there are in fact a few other smaller waterfalls located in Bakelalan, but sadly due to the hydro electric dam project, most of these waterfalls have shrunk in size, with very little water.

9. Try the Bakelalan Rice Coffee

Kopi Bera Bakelalan
Bakelalan Rice Coffee or Kopi Bera
This is one of the most intriguing things I did when I visited Bakelalan, trying the local rice coffee. I have to admit, in my lifetime, I have never heard or rice being made into coffee until I visited this place.

They call this Bera Kopi or literally rice coffee made from the Adan rice, which is one of the highest grades of highland rice. The rice is fried in a pan over firewood, and sugar is added while constantly stirring the rice to caramelize it a little.

After the rice turns to a dark reddish brown, it is ready to be made into your regular black coffee. The method is so straight forward, put the rice in a cup, just add hot water and stir. Sift it and your Bakelalan coffee is ready.

10. Visit the Bakelalan Strawberry Farm 

Since Bakelalan stopped growing apples, some local farmers have resorted to growing strawberries as the climate is much more suitable here. The Bakelalan strawberries project was initiated in 2015 and the farm is located in Buduk Nur.

This private farm is owned by local Purait Gatum or Tagal Paran (Pak Tagal) and they open their houses and farms for visitors who want to come and see his Bakelalan strawberries. You can even buy them fresh from his farm.

11. Try the Bakelalan Apples

A Lun Bawang girl holds the Bakelalan Apples. Photo by Cinta.
Alright, this one is a little vague but you should know that Bakelalan was once the apple capital of Malaysia. Yes, they grew apples in Bakelalan,which was an amazing feat, considering that Malaysia is a tropical country.

I was told by a local that they stopped the apple farming many years ago due to manpower shortage and weather changes in Bakelalan.

However, the good news is that some of the locals recently started to plane apples in early 2018, hence it takes a three to four years before we can see fruits.

But there are a few apple trees that are still being grown in Bakelalan, but unfortunately, they are not well taken care of, and if you are lucky, they may be fruiting. Or else, do ask about the other unique fruits that they grow here like oranges, grapes and even persimmons.

12. Attend the Irau Aco Lun Bawang Festival (Special)

Lun Bawang Irau Aco Festival Lawas
The Irau Aco Lun Bawang Festival held in Lawas. Photo by Irau Aco FB Page
This is only for those who are seriously into the whole ethnic culture. The most popular local festival is called Irau Aco Lun Bawang which is held on from the 31st May to 1st of June every year.

Known as a rice harvest festival for the Lun Bawang people, this is also in conjunction with the Gawai Festival that is celebrated all over Sarawak. 

The Lun Bawang people celebrate this all over Bakelalan on a local scale, but if you want to fully experience this on a large scale, the main event will take place in the town of Lawas, which hosts the Irau Aco Lun Bawang Festival. 

At Lawas, you will see a Lun Bawang beauty pageant contest called Rurun Ulung and also the male warrior contest.

Visitors can also find the Ngiup Suling, which is a local traditional bamboo flute band, accompanied by an Angklung performance, which is a traditional bamboo instrument being performed here. 

Many other activities take place in the day and night, hence this is one of the Lun Bawang festivals not to be missed if you love all things ethnic.

When is the Best Time to Visit Bakelalan? 

Bakelalan Sunset
A rare sunset seen in Bakelalan by the airport when I was here
For me, anytime is a good time as Bakelalan is located in the highlands, the temperature is always cooling, and ranges from around 19°C and 24°C.

If you want to see the beautiful green paddy fields in Bakelalan, the best time for this is from November to early December.

This is when the paddy fields are in full green color. At the end of December, the color begins to turn golden yellow for the harvest.

Rainy season in Bakelalan is from November to January, but with today's unpredictable weather, it can rain anytime. Other months, it is often dry season.

June is the harvest season celebration or Gawai, and is also a good time to experience the local Lun Bawang harvest festival in Bakelalan. 

How to go to Bakelalan? 

Bakelalan How to Get There
A DCH6 Twin Otter aircraft operated by MasWings landing at Bakelalan airport
Overall, Bakelalan is one of the truly amazing destinations in Sarawak which caters to a very niche breed of tourism.

Due to connectivity and infrastructure, this place is not that easy to access and here is the best way to travel to Bakelalan.

Flights to Bakelalan - I highly recommend you book a flight there and back, as it only takes about an hour from Miri with a quick stopover in Lawas. There are only three flights a week, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.

You also need to book well in advance if you plan to travel in groups of two or more. There is also a strict weight allowance for passengers, and usually flights will take up to 12 or 14 passengers, even though they say it is a 19 seater aircraft.

Bakelalan 4x4 Trip
4x4's that travel to Bakelalan
4x4 to Bakelalan - This is the old way, and is still being used by the locals to transport items. However, you need to do this via Lawas, and through a travel agent that specializes in Bakelalan tours.

The 4x4 journey will take you about four to five hours one way through logging roads, plantations and beautiful picturesque scenery.

You will also experience the famous Bornean massage on this journey. No, not that one, but the one sitting in a bumpy 4x4 for the entire journey. I did this!

Other Ways - Sadly, the above are the only two ways to go to Bakelalan. There are no buses or trains for this experience. Out of curiosity, I did a Google check for walking to Bakelalan from Laws, and it would take you 31 hours non stop.

What Should I Bring To Bakelalan?

This has to be added, if not visitors will travel with their extra large luggage bags, hair dryers, laptops and so on. First of all, if you take a flight here, they need to weigh you and your luggage. So, just bring what you need.
  • Trekking backpack
  • Trekking clothes and shoes (I just use Adidas Kampung)
  • GPS tracker if you plan to explore on your own
  • Mosquito and insect repellent
  • Special dietary food if required
  • Snacks and junk food if you must
  • Halal or vegetarian food for special needs
  • Camera and chargers
  • A book would be a nice touch
  • A good attitude towards the amazing local Lun Bawang people
Ba'kelalan Sarawak
Stunning landscapes waiting to be discovered in Ba Kelalan
Conclusion

If you have been looking for a special destination in Malaysia to explore, which is rustic and out of the ordinary, Bakelalan is the just the perfect place to visit. Just keep in mind that Bakelalan and Bario is not your regular tourist destination.

For those contemplating on where to visit, you can also read about my travel to the Bario Highlands, which is the sister village of Bakelalan. I have visited both, where each of them have their own unique experiences.

Bakelalan Photos
An image of what you can expect in Bakelalan
Bakelalan is suitable for anyone who wants to experience what real tourism in Malaysia is all about. This location lets you experience what the local Lun Bawang highland people go through on an everyday life, which is sweet and simple.

There is little to no phone signals and WiFi available, hence you will most likely be disconnected from your daily grind. I call this a digital detox, which I believe is good for everyone, especially when you know how everyone is just attached to their smartphones and gadgets nowadays.

Up here, you will embark on a unique experience and learn about the Lun Bawang culture, feast on the local food while exploring the many things to do in Bakelalan as shared above. 
Things To Do In Bakelalan Things To Do In Bakelalan Reviewed by David Jr on Wednesday, July 25, 2018 Rating: 5

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