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20 things to do during the Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge III

For those who dream of an authentic adventure through Borneo, the Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge III will take you on a truly unique adventure where you can relive history, experience culture firsthand and appreciate the stewardship of nature .

Organised by the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Highlands of Borneo or Formadat, this year the event will be happening from June 27 till July 10.

Overall, there are seven packages for participants to choose from, ranging from moderate to strenuous level.

For five days to two weeks, participants will roam the jungles of the Borneo highlands in a cross-border adventure that will take you to Long Semadoh (Sarawak), Long Pasia (Sabah), Ba Kelalan (Sarawak), Bario (Sarawak) and South Krayan (Indonesia) and Krayan Induk (Indonesia).

A view of the hilly landscape and paddy farms from a plane.

The event is limited to 50 participants only. Each stage of the Eco Challenge comes with activities that take participants on a journey in the footsteps of the ancestors of the highland peoples.

During a trip organised by WWF-Indonesia to the Krayan Highlands (Apr 2-5), KajoMag and several other media practitioners from Indonesia had the opportunity to experience some of these Eco Challenge activities.

So here are 20 things to do when you join the two-week long Heart Of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge III:
1.Come and appreciate the beauty of Heart of Borneo highlands’ biodiversity
Pitcher plants are commonly found at these central Borneo regions.

Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge III will take participants through the Maligan, Kelabit and Krayan Highlands.

These highlands offer unique flora and fauna as they stand about more than 760m above sea level.

Though divided by political boundaries, the Heart of Borneo Highlands share the same beautiful landscape and biodiversity.

From pitcher plants, orchids to other various vegetation forest, hiking through the highlands is definitely different from passing through hot and humid Borneo lowlands.

Locally known as Anggerik Hitam (black orchid), this plant is also found in Sumatera and Borneo.
2.Experience the culture of indigenous people living in the Heart of Borneo Highlands
Experience the rich culture of Lun Bawang and Lundayeh people of Borneo Highlands.

The Heart of Borneo Highlands are home to the indigenous Lun Bawang people in Sarawak, or Lundayeh as they are called in neighbouring state of Sabah and Krayan highland in Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Besides them, the Kelabit and Sa’ban people have also been living in the highlands for centuries.

In the Ba Kelalan highlands for example, there is a population of around 1,030 people, with the majority being Lun Bawang.

Meanwhile located 1,110m above sea level in the Kelabit Highlands, the majority of the 1,200 people who call the place home are the Kelabit people.

Coming down to the Kalimantan side of South Krayan, there are about 2,400 people of the Lundayeh and Sa’ban with a small of group people.

Over the course of Heart Of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge III, participants will have the opportunity to visit some the villages of these indigenous people.

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3.Take a thing or two about the traditional knowledge of the local people
Harvested dried ant nest.

Speaking of indigenous people, the Eco Challenge will give participants the opportunities to learn more about them and their heritage.

A hot glass of ant nest tea.

Hence, take this chance to learn about their traditional knowledge, especially in medicine. For instance, did you know that you could make tea out of dried ants’ nest? This happens to be a particular delicacy among some of the Lundayeh people in Krayan, and it is believed that this tea can lower blood pressure and be beneficial to your heart.

The traditional method of boiling ant nest.
4.Enjoy the local fruits and vegetables
Tarap or terap ( Artocarpus odoratissimus ).

There’s a saying: “Only lazy people go hungry in the jungle”, showing how important the jungle is as a source of food.

The Borneo Highlands are like free grocery shops that Mother Nature offers for the local people.

By 4 o’clock in the afternoon, you can see some of the women with their traditional woven baskets at their backs looking for wild ferns and vegetables to make dinner.

Heart Of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge III gives participants the perfect opportunity to enjoy the local fruits such as tarap and wild ferns such as sayur pakis fresh from its source.

Ellias showing how you can eat one of the edible orchids.
5.Listen to the local legends
A hill in Krayan which was named after Yuvai Semaring. Legend has it Yuvai watched out for his enemies from the top of this hill.

Although the Lun Bawang/ Lundayeh people are separated by international borders, they still share the same roots, including legends.

It doesn’t matter if you are on the Malaysian side or Indonesian side, each has its own legend of Upai Semaring (spelled Yuvai Semaring in Indonesia).

Believed to be as tall as a giant, this local legendary hero has traces all over the Heart of Borneo Highlands.

The local Lun Bawang and Lundayeh people believed he was their protector defending them from their enemies, especially headhunters from other communities.

6.Visit ancestral burial grounds
One of the ancient burial grounds at Terang Baru.

Besides local legends, the Lun Bawang and Lundayeh peoples also shared similar ancestral burial rituals.

Hence, you can find ancient burial grounds in both countries. Nobody is 100% certain who some these tombs belonged to, but everyone is sure they belonged to important figures in their communities.

One of the stages of the Eco Challenge is to visit an old burial site called ‘Lengutan Anak Adi’ to see the ancient remnants of skeletons and broken jars.

This is because like most ancient communities in Borneo, jars were important as a a secondary burial tool in sending off their dead.

7.Take a look at the rock art of Heart of Borneo Highlands

Another important archaeological site included in the Heart Of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge III is an ancient stone carving site by the legendary giant Upai Semaring.

Although there are similar carving sites found in the Krayan Highlands, the one included as part of this Eco Challenge itinerary is the one found in Ba Kelalan.

A stone carving made by Upai Semaring in Long Midang.
8.Have a taste of the local cuisine

Since participants will have the chance to stay at homestays together with the local people, it serve as a great chance for them to have a taste of local cooking.

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The brown rice of Krayan highlands.

If you had the chance, give biter (vegetable porridge) or any of their traditional cakes a try. They are definitely a new gastronomic experience!

Biter, a traditional cuisine of Lundayeh people made from rice and vegetables.
A variety of Lundayeh cakes.
9.Enjoy the beautiful scenery of paddy farms

While half of the beauty of Borneo Highlands landscape comes from the misty highlands, another half comes from its vast paddy farms.

This scenery is something one should experience on your own to appreciate its serene beauty.

10.Learn about how mountain salt is processed
Salt processing at Long Midang.

Have you ever wondered how people living miles from the sea such as the Kelabit and Krayan Highlands get their salt from in ancient times?

All thanks to Mother Nature, these people did not rely on trade to buy salt to season their food.

There are salt springs spread out in several locations all over the highlands. The communities then came together to process them for personal consumption as well as to sell as an extra source of income.

Though there are several villages had its own salt processing house, the participants will visit the one in Long Midang near Indonesia-Malaysia border.

11.Watch how the local people make soap

Again, have you wondered how the olden communities washed themselves? During this Heart Of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge III, participants will have a chance to make a quick stop at a local soap production site.

There, the locals use Tenem tree essential oil extracts to make natural soap.

12.Pick up an indigenous musical instrument or two
Ellias Yesaya, Head of The Cultural Field School playing bamboo flute.

A visit to the Krayan Highland during this Heart Of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge III would not be complete without a visit to the Cultural Field School, Terang Baru.

It is a space for cultural celebrations and to learn traditional music and dances.

From string instruments to traditional percussion, the school gives its visitors a rare opportunity to learn the musical heritage of Lundayeh people.

The Cultural Field School
13.Say a prayer at Prayer Mountain

While taking a tour around Bario Valley, visitors will have the opportunity to trek to the top of Prayer Mountain.

During Bario Valley stage, visitors will also have a chance to visit the oldest longhouse settlement in Bario as well as the biggest green energy farm in Sarawak.

14.Learn a thing or two about World War II history in the area
Local guide Alex Ballang pointing out the helipads built by the allied forces during WWII.

Unknown to most people, both Kelabit and Krayan highlands played an important role during the Second World War against the Japanese.

Talk to the local guides or villagers, some might still have stories which part of the highlands were used as helipads for allied forces and how Tom Harrisson and several Z Special Unit operatives parachuted onto the plateau.

15.Enjoy the beauty of sunrise and sunset from different angle everyday on the highlands
You could always wait for the morning mist to be lifted.

For this, it does not matter if you sign up for the five-day or the two-week challenge. Since the participants are moving from one stage to another, you can enjoy the beauty of the sunrise and sunset from different angles everyday through out the event.

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While sunrise is usually difficult to see because of the thick morning mist at the highlands, one could still enjoy the scenery on how the mist is slowly lifted revealing gorgeous view of the highlands.

Plus if the weather is good, each view sunset is just unique and breathtaking on its own.

Catch this sunset at Krayan highlands
16.Pick up a set of binoculars and do some bird watching

It doesn’t matter if you are an amateur birdwatcher or not, these Borneo highlands are the perfect place to do some birdwatching, so don’t miss out on that.

There have been sightings of rare and endemic Dulit frogmouth (Batrachostomus harterti) as well as the Black Oriole (Oriolus hosii) in the area. Perhaps you might be the lucky one to spot them during this
Heart Of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge III.

You never know what you might spot while trekking at these highlands.
17.Come and take a stroll on the rocky beach of Borneo

From the mountain to the sea, Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge III has it all!

One of the final stops of the challenge is a trip to Tusan Beach in Miri. The beach is famous for its horse-like rock formation and the blue tears phenomenon.

18.Visit one of the oldest human settlements in Borneo

While in Miri, the participants will also make a short visit Niah National Park.

The star attractions here are the Painted Cave featuring prehistoric drawings and site where remains of human skeleton from 40,000 years ago were found.

19.Come and watch the Milky Way without the light pollution

Calling all stargazers out there! Imagine having to gaze on the Milky Way without any light pollution.

From KajoMag’s first-hand experience, one can look up at the sky and just stare at it for hours from the Borneo highlands.

It is a breathtaking sight that you can never get from the city. To enhance your experience even more, download a star chart app on your smartphone before you go and see how many constellations you can spot during the event.

Enjoy the skies of Borneo Higlands without any light pollution.
20. Join to unwind and let the nature of Heart of Borneo highlands heal you

There are plenty of scientific studies out there that have proven being outdoor in the nature is one of the best medicine to improve your mental health.

It lowers your chances of getting depressed as well as the risk of having mental illness.

Furthermore, making trips to the forest can actually improve your immunity. So, what are you waiting for? It is time to sign up for Heart of Borneo Highlands Eco Challenge III!

For more information, download this brochure.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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