When we decided to head over to Borneo, specifically the Malaysian side, we were keen to take the opportunity to soak in all this magnificent and mysterious island had to offer and especially to visit a Borneo cultural village. From trekking through the jungle in search of endangered animals to embracing the rich tribal culture of this wonderful region, we Borneo would allow us a fascinating insight into some of the world most diverse cultures and landscapes. Many of which, animals and people alike, are threatened by modern developments and loss of habitat. However just like the precious creatures of this land, the important cultural history is also being carefully preserved for generations to come. The Mari Mari village of Sabah is one such place and is the best day trip from Kota Kinabalu to take if you are looking for local culture.
Borneo cultural village: Being introduced to the rich and diverse tribal culture of Borneo at the Mari Mari village. A perfect day trip from Kota Kinabalu.
Arriving at the Mari Mari culture village half an hour or so away from Kota Kinabalu we were greeted by a member of one of the tribes who would be our guide for the day. Here we would have the ultimate access to many of these little know hill tribes of Borneo, we would get to learn directly from a member of those tribes about their unique cultures and customs. It was really a wonderful and unique opportunity to have an insight into what are often very secretive and wary groups hidden in remote areas of this island so to visit a Borneo cultural village is very special and was a day trip from Kota Kinabalu we were really keen to make happen after our incredible adventure climbing Mt. Kinabalu a few days earlier.
Usually and unlike many other villages around South East Asia they are very hard to visit and require much dialogue and negotiation. The Mari Mari culture village was set up for visitors as a way to allow access whilst protecting the tribes of Sabah and to celebrate and protect their culture through the Borneo cultural village. So we arranged to take a day trip from Kota Kinabalu to see this incredibly interesting place of local culture.
A day trip from Kota Kinabalu: Coming face to face with the headhunter tribes of this unique land at the Mari Mari village
Deep in the Borneo rainforest with noises from the trees emanating in every direction we hear a blowpipe whistle through the air and spear a coconut just inches from our heads. This is part of our welcome but also a warning! As is tradition when entering the villages of the Murut people of Sabah, one of the most feared head hunting tribes of Borneo the leader of the group must come face to face with the leader of the tribe. What goes on next is an interrogation, asking the visitor why they are here and what they want with the Borneo cultural village as they eye each other up for trouble.
Luckily with our guide as translator we were allowed into the highly guarded village and even luckier still is the fact that head hunting hasn’t actually been practiced here for many years. However the Marut were one of the last tribes of Sabah, Borneo to give up this practice as was its importance to their spiritual beliefs and customs. Often the case was that a man could not marry unless he presented at least one head to the family of his potential wife to prove he was a worthy husband and warrior. Often the traditional tattoos of the tribes would indicate the wearers achievements in battle or their ancestral heritage and their application would be a ritual event.
Borneo cultural village: Experiencing what life is like for the tribes of Borneo and Sabah in this unique cultural setting of the Mari Mari village.
Referred to often as the Dayak people the indigenous tribes of Borneo are vast with many different practices, languages and cultures. Dayak is used as an umbrella term to bring these tribes together. Here we got to sample life for just a few of these amazing local tribes of Sabah and see their unique traditions and culture up close and for us it was one of the best things to do in Kota Kinabalu.
Visiting a Murut tribe first we discovered the famous headhunters of Borneo, those feared the most for their accuracy with the blow pipe and ruthless nature when it came to punishments. Their rice and grain houses as an example would be high on stilts only accessible by ladder. Those caught stealing would end up on the end of a spike, a gruesome display to ward off the next would be thief!
Other interesting practices include sleeping arrangement, often the daughters of the man of the house would again be on high beds with ladder removed in the night and brothers sleeping below to protect their sister. There were many tribes in this region and most did not or could not communicate with each other, they spoke different languages and wore different clothing. Keeping your tribe and family safe from the other tribes was a daily challenge and often meant displaying human heads at your gates to scare others away and warn off possible intruders by displaying the length the tribe will go to to protect themselves! Seeing these shrunken skulls made it a memorable day trip from Kota Kinabalu!
Many families or even the whole village would live inside what is called a “longhouse”, a huge woven bamboo hut constructed with rooms for each family coming off the central area for communal use. This meant that everything was done together, cooking, entertaining, bringing up the children and importantly together they were safe. We even visited one long house with a “lansaran” in the centre, a trampoline type construction used to perform important Murut dances which test the skill and coordination of the dancers and ultimately their suitability as a husband or leader.
Supporting the nurturing of local cultures through this important centre of learning at a Borneo cultural village
The Mari Mari culture village is an important heritage centre for the fragile tribes of Sabah. So much of the modernisation and gentrification of Borneo has affected their centuries old traditions and customs. The Mari Mari culture village allows those unique practices to be nurtured and celebrated whilst being passed on to the next generation of villagers. It also has to be one of the most fascinating things to do in Kota kinabalu and a perfect day trip from Kota Kinabalu.
It also allows access to visitors to see these wonderful traditions up close, to learn about them and importantly to help rather than damage them. The people of Kota Kinabalu and Sabah see the village and an important place for preservation of their proud heritage whilst also allowing them to engage in the modern world without damaging that history. We thoroughly enjoyed our day trip from Kota Kinabalu to visit this incredible village, it was so eye-opening and fascinating. It was one of the highlights of our time in Borneo alongside places like Bako National Park and somewhere we would highly recommend.
Borneo cultural village: How to visit the Sabah Mari Mari village for yourself:
* The cultural village is about half an hour from KK making it a perfect day trip from Kota Kinabalu, it is located in the district of Likas.
* The entrance fee for the village is RM90.00 Adult & RM80.00 child. This includes a guide in a group and lunch afterwards.
* We are usually against organised tours, however the village is in a remote area and transport is difficult. Tour prices seem to be quite reasonable too. Expect to pay around RM 190 per person for entrance, return transport and a meal.
* UBER and GRAB are very reasonably priced in Malaysia but it is a half an hour long journey and you might have trouble getting a ride back from out there, but it would work out cheaper than a tour but be sure to organise your ride back in advance with your driver!
* You can also organise a tour which includes transport or you can pay RM 170-200 per person for entrance and transport from the city at 10am, 2pm or 6pm.
* Another good idea would be to rent out a scooter for the day and ride out here, you can then explore the area further before or after your visit to the village.
Things to do in Kota Kinabalu: Book your tickets for the Mari Mari village here:
A day trip from Kota Kinabalu: Read more about the Borneo cultural village here:
Book your bus, flight, train or ferry for Malaysia here:
Book your accommodation here
Hey, you’ve got your Travel Insurance sorted haven’t you?
Travelling and especially backpacking is a wild adventure, but make sure you are covered just incase something goes wrong, which if you’re living it up to the fullest it’s always a possibility!
Check travel insurance prices with World Nomads here!
Have you ever experienced the a Borneo cultural village or the Mari Mari village and what was your favourite day trip from Kota Kinabalu?
See more from this country:
See more from our backpacking adventures:
Pin for later: