Travelogue Borneo: Leaving Bario + Best Kolo Mee/Goreng Pisang in Miri, Sarawak !

Our four-day stay in Bario came to an end too soon! We spent the morning soaking in final sights, smells and sounds of the long house, which was in a lull after the previous night’s festivities. After breakfast, we hopped onto the back of a pickup truck and headed for the airport.

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Bidding adieu to the cool weather, clear blue skies and beautiful mountains. 😥 Was already dreading the crazy traffic jams and stressful workload waiting back home.

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We got to the airport early, where we had… guess what? Maggi! This was recommended by Captain Mendoza, the pilot who flies the MASWings service between Bario – Miri: he says he always has a bowl before flying off ! It was, if you can believe it, tastier than the one we had in town. The noodles were done perfectly with a springy, al dente texture, topped with a crisp fried egg and with just the right amount of seasoning and soup consistency. Who knew instant noodles could be so amazing?

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There was a slight drizzle before take off, and during our flight back we saw multiple rainbows. It was my first time seeing rainbows from up above, formed in perfect arcs. It was amazing. The swathes of green hills were like a giant tapestry, and the floating clouds cast moving shadows over them. 

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A beautiful U-shaped bend that we flew by which had distinct, inky black water, in stark contrast to the milky tea-colour of the adjacent river.

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After 50 minutes, we touched down at Miri airport. Once we arrived, the messages started pinging in and everyone couldn’t keep their eyes off their phones. :/

Had a lot of time to kill before our flight back, so we took an Uber to a restaurant called Awang Mahyan Corner, which was recommended by one of the staff at the airport for its kolo mee.

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A specialty in Sarawak, kolo mee (literally ‘dry’ noodles) is characterised by its springy, al dente texture, and is served tossed in a light sauce instead of dark soy sauce which is more popular in Peninsula Malaysia. They are usually served with a side of soup, and topped with bits of meat, fried onion and spring onion for crunch. The version here did not disappoint, with the right balance of flavours. I especially liked the springiness of the noodles! 🙂

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Forgot the exact name of the dish but the place is also famous for its fried chicken done ayam-penyet style, served with an assortment of vegetables. Crispy and tender!

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Just outside the restaurant is a small stand selling goreng pisang (fried banana). The version here is topped with cheese and a thick, caramel-like syrup. Extremely addictive. The banana and syrup’s sweetness is balanced out by the slight saltiness of the cheese, and crispy batter goes well with the softness of the fruit on the inside. I could easily polish off two plates by myself lol.

 AWANG MAHYAN CORNER

1068-1077, Jalan Bintang Jaya 1, Bintang Jaya, 98000 Miri, Sarawak. 

**Halal 

 

 

Travelogue Borneo: Inside A Kelabit Longhouse in Bario, Sarawak

The concept of communal living may be alien to many of us who live in the city. Our apartments are like tiny cages, our gated and guarded homes a substitute for cells.

For some indigenous peoples in Sabah and Sarawak, however, communal living is the only way of life they have ever known. Long houses have afforded its residents protection, safety and convenience since ancient times, and allows a unique bond to form between family, neighbours and friends.

Bario, Sarawak

I had the privilege of staying at one of these long houses recently, on a trip to Bario, Sarawak, where the Kelabit people live. We stayed at the Bario Asal Lembaa Long House, the largest longhouse in the area and home to 23 families.

During our visit, it was like a big party, as not only were the people from Volvo Trucks  there for the official launching ceremony of their CSR projects, so were some research students as well as NGO volunteers. The atmosphere was festive, and reminded me of days when I was younger and everyone would congregate back in our hometown during the holiday season (not anymore since the grandparents died. Sigh

Bario, Sarawak

Dating back to 1958, the Bario Asal Lembaa long house is a living piece of history, where generations of families have lived and died. Elevated on wooden stilts, the building is mostly made from wood and has numerous entry and exit points.

Bario, Sarawak

The longhouse is divided into three ‘sections’, the first being the tawa – a long covered hallway that stretches from one end to the other. Used for ceremonies, gatherings and official functions, the space is lined with portraits of the families who live here, as well as historical figures and important community leaders within the Kelabit community. It felt a bit like a family museum, and I was touched to be welcomed into something so precious and intimate.

Bario, Sarawak

Bario, Sarawak

From the hallway are narrow corridors that pass through private living quarters, usually a space with a living room and several bedrooms. These lead to the kitchen area, which is the real heart and soul of the community, and where most of the residents hangout while in the long house. I shared a room with two others at Sinah Rang Lemulun’s Homestay. It was a spacious unit with several rooms and a living area. The kitchen, which was interconnected with the other units, had a simple dining table and a pantry.

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Real cosy! Photos of the family decorated one side of the wall, and there was also a bookshelf filled with books on the other. Various knick knacks added to the homely vibe. Loved the pouffy sofa chairs. Used to have those at home and my bro and I would built forts out of them 😀

The day starts early in the longhouse. The loud ringing of the church bell nearby announces the arrival of dawn. From there on, it’s a flurry of activity, and unless you’re the kind that is dead to the world while you sleep, you’ll hear every creak of the floorboard, footsteps making their way through the kitchen as the longhouse ‘aunties’ prepare breakfast, and conversations cutting through the early morning air.

Bario, Sarawak

Exiting the room, we come to the ‘tetal’ (sounds like ‘turtle’), aka the kitchen area. This is the heart of the longhouse, and where residents spend most of their time, either cooking, socialising or going about their daily lives. The hearth is a simple square-shaped fireplace in the center of each space, stocked with a special type of wood that we were told will not ‘spread’ when burned – you have to keep pushing it into the fireplace. They use these because the long house is made of wood and a fire would be disastrous.

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For guests, meals at the longhouse are prepared by your respective hosts. Although I was staying at Auntie Sina Rang‘s homestay, my food was prepared by Auntie Rita coz I swapped rooms earlier. Yes, they call everyone Auntie and Uncle here, it feels very homely!

Breakfast for me and the guys was simple but tasty – bread, Bario’s famous pineapple jam, eggs, and fried, battered slices of something that resembled yam. She also prepped halal and non-halal fried bihun to accommodate our Muslim friends. 🙂

Bario, Sarawak

As some homes are not equipped with water heaters, people tend to take showers in the afternoon or evening. At night, temperatures dip to the teens, hovering around 15-16 degrees, so a sweater is recommended.

Some of the villagers like to sit around the fireplace for a chat after a long day, where they’ll put a kettle to boil and enjoy mugs of warm tea and some food. We joined the elders for awhile, and when they retired to bed, we moved on to the next ‘tetal’, and so on and so forth, from one end to the other!  Maklumlah, orang bandar… we don’t sleep so early. 😀

At another hearth, we sat down on low stools that our guide Julian jokingly called ‘Ogawa Bario’, and listened to stories – about their lives, developments in Bario, things happening around the world, etc. By the way, if you’re worried about communicating with the locals, fret not – the Kelabit speak very good English and Malay, in addition to their mother tongue. Although the school in Bario only offers classes up to Form 3, many youngsters venture out to  big towns to complete their tertiary education and go on to get professional jobs, before returning to the village. Auntie Rita, for example, was a nurse in Miri for many years before she retired, and Julian was an engineer in KL.

My experience staying at the Kelabit long house was an awesome one. I was extremely touched by their warmth and hospitality, as never have I felt so at home or so welcomed by people I barely knew – something that’s rare to find in cities.

If you’re looking for a homestay while in Bario, I highly suggest staying at the Bario Asal Lembaa Longhouse. Prices start from RM90 for a night’s accommodation. For more information, visit: facebook.com/SinahRangHomestayAndHandicraft/

*^ Auntie Sina Rang’s homestay – she also sells handicrafts! 

More of Bario to come! 🙂

Kota Kinabalu – Of Sunsets, Rain and Pisang Goreng Cheese

I’m lucky to have been to a lot of places. The UK, the US, parts of Southeast Asia… so it’s embarrassing to admit that I’ve never been to East Malaysia. Living near Kuala Lumpur, the central hub of the Peninsula, there was little reason for me to venture there. Recently I had to travel Kota Kinabalu for work, so it was a good time to play tourist in my own country…

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Flight via Malaysia Airlines took close to three hours. They served decent airline food – rice with boiled vegetables and ginger fish with a side of peanuts and water. Juices were also available on request.

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It was evening by the time we checked in at Le Meridien KK, just across the road from the Filipino Market. Here, visitors will find all sorts of local delicacies, produce and snacks such as fish crackers, amplang and kueh cincin.

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It started raining cats and dogs almost as soon as we got to the market, but the PR guy I was with wanted to get Pisang Goreng Cheese (fried bananas topped with cheese) from a food court about a kilometer down the road. We decided to brave the rain with flimsy umbrellas, but had to stop at the nearby Oceanus Mall because we were soaking wet.

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The mall seemed sad and empty in the evening. There weren’t many patrons and most of the shoplots were empty. We bought socks to replace our soaking wet ones. While strolling around, we heard a shout, a loud bang, and next thing we knew a huge gush of water came pouring down from the upper floors. Security guards rushed over.. turns out a panel under the escalator gave way.

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The rain eased a little. We were privy to a beautiful sunset view at the mall’s ocean front, where boats were docked for the night.

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Finally made it ! Pisang Goreng is a well-loved Malaysian snack, similar to the Filipino banana cue. A few years ago some genius decided to put shredded cheese on top, and this simple addition resulted in a popularity boom. The version here uses generous amounts of savoury, stringy cheddar, which does wonders for the crunchy battered bananas. It was also drizzled over with some syrup for added sweetness.  Worth the walk in the rain!

More of KK to come. 🙂