In a quiet, sleepy town of Sarawak, where the mountains and lands stretch as far as the eyes could see, lies the village of Bakelalan.
Imagine waking up being serenaded to the sounds of nature as you breathe in the crisp, clean air, 1,000 metres above sea level. This is what awaits you at Bakelalan Homestay, situated on the highlands of the state of Sarawak, where there resides one of the most important Lun Bawang settlements in Malaysia.
Tucked in the deep northern highlands of Sarawak, Bakelalan is the very epitome of what the more adventurous tourists would describe as ‘off the beatan tracks’ – even going into the village is an adventure on its own. The village can be accessed by a 40-minute flight from Lawas via MASWings Twin Otter that operates three times a week. If you prefer to go by land, take a 4-Wheel drive from Lawas town via an old logging road which could take around five hours – certainly not your average tourist travel.
The name Bakelalan derives from the word ‘Ba’ referring to wetlands in the traditional native language of Lun Bawang, and ‘Kelalan’ from the Kelalan river. The rural district is home to a small collection of nine villages, inhabited by around 1,200 people of Lun Bawang, who are considered as some of the earliest settlers of the mountainous regions of central Borneo. Stripped of the typical amenities you could see at tourist traps or the more popular destinations, staying at the homestay run by the villages gives you a peek into the unique lifestyle of the Lun Bawang community and allows you to interact with the people doing their day-to-day routine.
Watch the highland salt production
Due to its elevated location, one of the industries that are made possible here is the production of highland salt. The Bakelalan salt is perhaps the main homegrown industry here, dating back to hundreds of years ago. Now, it is considered a community produce where the Lun Bawang families take turns to extract the salt by boiling the spring water.
There are three salt processing spots in Bakelalan – Buduk Bui, Pa Komap and Punang Kelalan. You can visit the salt factory, the more prominent one is Buduk Bui, where you can witness the salt production. At the factory, you can get your hands on the processed salt, known to be one of the best natural salts around the region, due to the high iodine concentration.
Trek the hiking trails & go birdwatching
While you’re in Bakelalan, a good way for you to get to know the community is by trekking along the trails in the jungle surrounding the villages. As the trails are relatively ‘untouched’, you need a local guide to help navigate your way. Try trekking up Pa Sarui Hill or go on a 45-minute jungle trek to Long Kumap Salt Spring. If you’re lucky you might spot some curious wildlife along the way.
Perhaps because of its seclusion and vantage point on the highlands, Bakelalan is a great place for bird watchers. Did you know that there are endemic birds in Bakelalan namely the Dulit Frogmouth and Black Oriole? Because they can only be found here, many photographers and birdwatchers have been on a trip here to catch sight of the birds. If you’re keen on birdwatching, you can go on bird tours or let the locals guide you to secret spots for a closer view.
Rice, Fruits and Organic Vegetables
Another commodity that is produced by the community is highland Adan rice, or more famously known as Bario rice. The area has well-irrigated paddy fields with water sourced from the Kelalan river. The cool climate on the highlands allow Bakelalan to farm mandarin oranges, apples and persimmons.
The upside of a farming community is having a steady supply of organic goods, which is probably why traditional Lun Bawang cuisine is something to look forward to – they are made from ingredients that are grown, farmed and harvested here. In other words, you can expect natural and fresh food. The signature dish is known as Nuba laya (Nasi Bungkus) where pounded rice is wrapped in banana leaves. While you’re here, don’t forget to also try Bera Kopi – a local coffee made from the Adan rice.
If you’re looking for a new cultural experience to explore, homestay in Bakelalan is the place to be. Let the music of Ngiup Suling, the local Bakelalan traditional bamboo flute band take you on a journey up the highlands, to a place like no other.
Sk Ba Kelalan,
98850 Lawas, Sarawak
Contact number: +6012-8751412 (Julia Sang)
For more information on Sarawak, please visit the following website: https://sarawaktourism.com/