Relying on the Ba Kelalan-Long Midang border route for a livelihood

Living near the border between Indonesia and Malaysia, the Krayan Highland communities have one famous saying among themselves: “Harimau di perut, Garuda di dada.” It means ‘tiger in my stomach, Garuda in my heart’, with the tiger referring to Malaysia, and the Garuda to Indonesia.

Although they are Indonesians by citizenship, they rely heavily on Malaysian supplies for their daily lives.

Since the Krayan Highlands are surrounded by mountain ranges and connected by rivers with high rapids, there is no river or land transportation to the rest of North Kalimantan.

Ba Kelalan Long Midang
Aircraft flying into Krayan Highlands are usually small models such as Cessna Grand Caravans, Twin Otter, or Pilatus aircraft.

The biggest township in Krayan, Long Bawan has an airport offering daily flights to coastal towns such as Nunukan and Tarakan.

But the air fare is expensive and not everyone can afford it. Furthermore, each passenger can only bring up to 10kg of goods.

The solution? They head over to Malaysia’s Ba Kelalan to buy their supply.

Ba Kelalan Long Midang 2
The flight from Nunukan to Long Bawan flies over a mountain valley.
Passing through the Ba Kelalan-Long Midang border for basic necessities

There is another famous saying in Krayan, “Everything here from Malaysia is enough, except for cigarettes.”

True enough, everything they use such as sugar, coffee, Milo, flour, cement, batteries, toothpaste, detergent, cooking gas, mineral water, biscuits are all sourced from Malaysia. Even the vehicles such as motorcycles and 4WD trucks there have Malaysian registration plates.

Most Krayan residents come to Malaysia to shop via the Ba Kelalan-Long Midang route. Recent statistics from the Malaysian Immigration Office showed that more than 2,000 visitors come in via the Ba Kelalan-Long Midang route every month.

Ba Kelalan Long Midang 3
A sign indicating the international border between Malaysia and Indonesia.

They used to shop at Ba Kelalan without going any further than that. For the past 15 years or so, the Krayan residents also drove directly to Lawas, bypassing Ba Kelalan.

Ba Kelalan Long Midang 5
See the difference in road condition between the two countries? The left side is Malaysia while the right side is Indonesia.
Crossing Ba Kelalan-Long Midang border for source of income

According to local guide Alex Ballang, the residents from Krayan also used the Ba Kelalan-Long Midang route to sell their products.

“Here in Krayan, we have three main products; mountain salt, adan rice and buffalo. We do not sell them solely to Malaysia but also to Brunei. Buffalo can be sold up to RM5,000 per head.

“Some might complain why we don’t sell our products such as salt and rice in Indonesia. But due to accessibility, it is easier and more convenient to trade across the border.”

Ba Kelalan Long Midang 6
The signage at Ba Kelalan-Long Midang border.

A visit to any sundry shop in Long Bawan and you will find the local traders selling more Malaysian products.

Living near the Indonesia-Malaysia border has been relatively peaceful for the people in Krayan. “We have families across the border and cross-border marriages are common here.”

Plus, the Lundayeh people in Krayan are considered ethnically the same group as the Lun Bawang people in Malaysia. Alex added, “We are from the same root. Even language-wise, we speak in a similar language.”

Ba Kelalan Long Midang 7
The road heading to Ba Kelalan.
Improving the livelihood of the Krayan people
Ba Kelalan Long Midang 8
The Krayan people sell one buffalo at about RM5,000 per head.

Perhaps because Indonesia is a large country, it has been difficult to provide basic infrastructure and supplies to the Krayan Highlands.

Besides public schools, other basic infrastructure provided for by the Indonesian government so far have been solar power and telecommunication towers in selected places.

However, not all villages in Krayan are able to enjoy the privileges. Some residents like Alex are still optimistic about the government’s latest effort.

“For starters, we had asphalt road for the first time here in Krayan. Plus, construction is still ongoing to improve the road condition here. Recently, we had diesel and petrol subsidies flying in three times a week from Tarakan so we no longer need to buy them in Malaysia.

“But we still need to rely on Malaysia to buy our basic food supply like sugar and other necessities. Will Jakarta remember us if we can no longer buy these items from Sarawak?”

Ba Kelalan Long Midang 10
A sundry shop like this in Long Bawan sells mostly Malaysian products.

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 is currently obsessed with silent vlogs during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Due to her obsession, she started her Youtube channel of slient vlogs.

Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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