Basic info about traveling in Eastern Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia

I did this trip in June 2010 by myself ( with a companion only for half of the trip). I wrote this info, because I still get questions about my travel in Eastern Kalimantan in Borneo, Indonesia. In the end of this blog you will find the summary of costs/times from 2010 as far as I can still remember them and you can also see the map included.

Some info might be already dated today!

Note this, Lonely Planet Borneo was quite useless during my trip. Be aware, that information will be dated or not accurate and always ask locals for correct information, especially when it comes to timetables! The routes might also be without connection service, but there might be an alternative route. Lonely Planet can though still be the only source for maps. You might not make this route it in 2 weeks, try to leave more time if there is a delay.

The route I did was from Tawau, Malaysia to Balikpapan. Destination to Pulau Derawan and then to Balikpapan. Made overnight stops in Tarakan, Berau, Pulau Derawan (of course), Sangatta and Balikpapan. From Balikpapan I flew through Jakarta to Pontianak and continued to Kuching.

Pulau Derawan sunset.

Transportation in Kalimantan
The roads are rough, bumpy, mostly paved but can also be taken over by the fast growing jungle or falling trees. The travel times (on roads) are ONLY ESTIMATIONS and in real life you need to double the longer routes. Example, we took the bus from Berau to Samarinda and jumped off after 14h horrible ride in Sangatta. It is better to do more stops overnight.

The bus alternative is a shared car called kijang, it can be any car/jeep with seats to transport up to 5 people. Anghot is a van transformed to a bus for bigger loads. Taxis in towns are widely available and very inexpensive. The price is usually stated for one person, two persons pay the double etc. Remember this to avoid confusion. People may also want to give you a ride in a private car because you´re an exotic stranger. I would consider hitchhiking quite easy.

Boats/ferries and speed boats are another travel option because of the rivers and jungle, sometimes an only option when there just is no road.

Thunder is rising at Pulau Derawan. 
In general NO ONE really speaks English! There are some people that do, but they are very rare. Try to learn at least the basics in Bahasa Indonesian; the numbers (also thousands because of the money), eat, drink (some food words are also good to learn, like chicken, fish, shrimp, egg etc) and how to get a room for xx amount of people. You might also want to learn to say where you are from. People are happy to teach you some more of their language. Always bring a paper and a pen, you can also draw! Remember that there are a fare amount of illiterate people (also taxi drivers) in Kalimantan, do not expect them to read letters or numbers, or a map.

Food and drinks
In Kalimantan there will be NO ALCOHOL, because Indonesia is a Muslim country. Do not expect anything similar to Bali or Gili, Lombok etc Indonesian tourist areas. In bigger cities in Kalimantan you might find a bar (Philippino videoke), but also there the beer will be warm and sold under the table ( we visited a bar in Berau). Bintang beer is the local brand. We were asking about beer from some people, but they refused to tell us. Maybe it was because we were ladies, guys might have better luck. Pulau Derawan does not have any place to serve beer. If you want to have a drink, smuggle your own bottle (discreetly) from abroad or be prepared to ask around. It is also disrespectful to appear drunk.
The menus are only in Indonesian, if there is a menu. Mostly you will get fried rice and fired noodles from anywhere, better learn the language for some dishes. My local favorite was gado-gado, a salad type of dish with satay sauce.

Sea urchins. 
There are several inexpensive hotels (with shower) and guesthouses “losmen” (with mandi = a water bucket method) all around. We ended up to Pulau Derawan at the time of a holiday weekend and most of the places were fully booked, but there is always and option to get a homestay. Homestay means you´ll rent a room from a local family. Usually breakfast (tea and coconut doughnuts) is included in the price.

Mandi in a motel. 
Dress up modestly and wear something that covers your knees and shoulders. It will show respect. You do not need to cover your head if you´re not a Muslim. I was wearing a hat and a loose long sleeve to avoid the sun burns, you are near the equator anyway. The sun block I used was 60 and more and I still got burned, be cautious!

Medical attention
I got very nasty headache on my way and I got the traditional treatment for it, but before I went to hospital to seek for painkillers. The service at the hospitals/pharmacies was efficient and sanitation was good. Doctors and pharmacy workers spoke English. I was also treated in a very humane and warm way. The malaria is not a thread on the islands (we were told, no one had been infected lately, 2010 June ) and I highly trust the local malaria treatment. Inland Borneo might be a difference, but ask the locals, they know the best. If you want to be very careful, you can choose to take the preventing pills before you go. Sweating in humidity can cause a fungal skin infection, had that, but it is easy to treat with the help of local pharmacy.

A lot of working internet cafes with fast connections, not wireless while we traveled in 2010.

Everyone will be calling "Hello Mister" after you, no matter which sex you are. You will be most likely the one and the only "Westerner" around the area and you will draw A LOT of attention. Not all of the attention is something you like. I seriously got very annoyed that people started taking photos of me with their mobile phones and did not ask...but then, isn´t it what tourists do all the time? There will be a lot of teenagers willing to chat with you and ask for your phone number...and text you. That will give them a higher starting point in their social system because they can say they are in a contact with a foreigner, and that means more like a celebrity. On the trip through (3 weeks) me and my travel companion met 3 other Westerners.

Route summary
Tawau (boat 4h, 130 riggit) →
Tarakan (speed boat 1 1/2h, 80 000 IDR) →
Tanjung Selor (kijang 3 1/2h, shared 70 000 IDR/ locals 50 000) →
Berau or other name Tanjung Redep (kijang, 2h, 50 000 IDR) →
Tanjung Batu (speed boat, max 1h, shared 50 000 IDR, there are many boats available, try to get there in the morning or before sunset. After sunset boats do not travel.) →
Pulau Derawan

From Pulau Derawan we did a boat tour for 3 days (45 dollars each) around the other islands.
Berau to Samarinda → stopped after 14h ride in Sangatta.
Sangatta → Samarinda (4 1/2h)
Samarinda City Center -anghot to bus terminal (30min)
Samarinda bus terminal -bus to Balikpapan (2 1/2 hours)

Balikpapan bus terminal, anghot to Balikpapan Airport (20min)
Balikpapan to Jakarta flight by Lion Air (2 1/2 hours)
Jakarta transfer flight to Pontianak, by Lion Air (1 1/4 hours)
Pontianak airport to city, private transportation to the Bus Terminal (spent the day with friends relatives)
Pontianak → Kuching, night bus(10hrs)

Hope this helps you fellow traveler!
Please, leave me a note if something in this info does not match anymore!


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this info - it is super helpful! I'm wondering what the ease of access to cash was? Are there ATMs on most cities, or only the larger ones?

Miss Mureena said...

Hey Anonymous! I think it is wise to be prepared with some money, if you get ill in the middle of no where etc... I remember getting money at the biggest towns and that, I think, is the best choise.

shaepy said...

thanks to share an information about Kalimantan Island

Tukang Jalan Jajan said...

Nice information and very complete. Lets try....!