In the Time of Wanderlust: Photographing the Bajau Laut


The Bajau Laut are a stateless tribe living off the coast of East Malaysia. They have no country citizenship (although Malaysia has a program for them if they are willing to send their children to school and meet other requirements. This requires living on land much of the year.) As a result many of the tribes choose to remain on the water. In many ways, they epitomize wanderlust. But they also embody a unique and independent way of life that’s quickly disappearing.

However, their traditions live on for the now and were a pleasure to witness. I stayed in Semporna, which is close to the southernmost tip of the Philippines. See that gorgeous blue and turquoise water? It’s the same you see in gorgeous photos of the Philippines. Unfortunately, that part of the Philippines isn’t very stable at the moment. So it’s best to spend your evenings off the water and back in town enjoying the huge variety of fresh seafood.

I had the help of a tour guide to arrange my visit to Semporna. It’s not completely necessary, but it is definitely helpful. Especially since one thing you must do is hire a boat. Because sea nomads. But I was also using this short weekend as my first attempt at a photography tour.

On my second day visiting the Bajau Laut tribe we were bouncing across the crystal clear water outside of Semporna. I was in awe that I had found myself in this beautiful and fascinating part of the world. Between bounces, when the front of the boat where I sat was temporarily airborne, thoughts flickered in and out.

Would I have ever predicted I would be here? In a place like this doing something like this?

What would it be like to live as a nomad? On the water?

Here’s a little view into life among these unique people.


Warrior princess and courageous solo traveler (she followed our boat quite far out and away from her home.) This girl sings to my heart.

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Single mother

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Afternoon games

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Best friends




  1. Jill

    September 13, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Kate – these pics are AMAZING. seriously. You need to submit to National Geographic, literally each one is stunning. 🙂
    miss you and I love living vicariously through your wanderlust! keep posting so I can experience your adventures.

    1. curlywan

      September 17, 2016 at 8:43 am

      Aww – thanks Jilly, that’s really sweet. It was a fun trip.

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