A Travellerspoint blog

Flight, ride and boat from Balikpapan to Derawan


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large_5550_14695040045476.jpgTakes 1h20 in a propeller plane but it takes 18 hours on a bus.
Leaving the hotel at 0645 and I got to the Balikpapan [Balikpapan-travel-guide-861133]’s flash airport in about twenty minutes. It helped being Saturday. I found Wings Air’s check-in desk which was closed. There was a note saying that the flight was delayed by 50 minutes. There were quite a few people seated nearby waiting for the counter to open.

Surprisingly, the counter opened 90 minutes before scheduled departure, sharp! After I checked-in, I asked about the delay. The man looked puzzled and said the flight was on time. I pointed to the sign which was on my side of the counter. He leant over and ripped it off, apologising and explaining it was for yesterday.

The ATR left about 10 minutes late.large_5550_1469504006968.jpgFrom Berau, it is a 2h drive to Tanjung Batu to catch a 25 minute speed boat ride to Derawan Island. Tell you more when I get thereThe scenery was a mix of jungle, oil palm and coal mines. We got to Berau on time but the Garuda Bombardier 1000 jet that left after us beat us there. I looked around for people at baggage claim that appeared to be divers. I struck it lucky second time and managed to get a car and boat ride with a Norwegian living in Balikpapan and his young son. They were off to the same hotel, so that the boy could learn to dive.

The car journey to Tanjung Batu took 2h on potholey sealed roads through remains of forests and oil palm plantations. Time went quickly as the man was very interesting having worked in many countries in the world, and even recently in Iraq.

Once at Tanjung Batu, it was a 25 minute ride in smooth conditions to the hotel’s private jetty (one of many jetties) on Derawan.

The kind Norwegian didn’t want to take any money for sharing the ride. The hotel had wanted to charge IDR2.2m roundtrip. So I gave IDR300K to the boy who was in the process of building his own super computer.

My room at the Derawan Dive Resort (as opposed to the posher place called Derawan Dive Lodge) was surprisingly well kept. The bathroom could have been better maintained though. The whole island needed an anti-littering campaign both on land and in the water. I’m sure some of the overwater hotel rooms discharge sewage into the sea.

I took a light and simple lunch of instant noodles and egg in “town” and returned for a rest. An alumni gathering from Berau was very noisy with music, announcements, etc. It was like a Miami beach party without alcohol and scanty swimwear.

When it was a little cooler, I explored the entire south side of the island which was more built up. I ran out of time before nightfall to explore the other side; high tide didn’t help as it made access difficult from the east end of the island.

During my evening walk, I ran in Simon & Karen. We ate together and priced some dives. We decided that we should try diving in Kakaban and also see the jellyfish at the same time. Except for the prices at dive resorts, the villager-operated dive centres had similar pricing. What did vary was the price of the boat; you do get what you pay for as some may hire larger boats than others. They typically have their own boat for around the island but hire one for going to the other islands; the prices vary for them too. We decided to meet back at 0900 in the morning to confirm the pricing at Danakan.

I called it a day around 2030 and fell asleep despite the noise outside.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Sun Bear sanctuary


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large_5550_14685895144499.jpgBalikpapan is a surprisingly nice city (in relative terms). It is by the sea which is blue, despite being near an estuary.
I woke around 0330 and stayed in bed till 0530. I finally opened the bag of muesli which I had brought along and had it with some milk and a cup of coffee.

I had investigated taking a taxi to KWPLH Sun Bear Sanctuary but prices came in consistently at IDR400K (NZD40). They were negotiable but I didn’t think they would move very much. A taxi to Samarinda [Samarinda-travel-guide-869709] would take 2h30 and costs IDR350K. The Bear place while about half the distance, would take more time.

Since I was up so early, the angkot seemed like a good idea. I found #3 straight away which took me to Batu Ampar with some small detours. At Batu Ampar, the driver didn’t drop me at the terminal but a little beyond on the roadside where there was a #8 waiting to fill up.large_5550_14685895215145.jpgBalikpapan is a surprisingly nice city (in relative terms). It is by the sea which is blue, despite being near an estuary. Strangely, the driver took off with just me and another but picked up a few more guests along the way.

All-in-all it took me about 1h15 to get from the first angkot to the drop-off at Km 23 outside the road to KWPLH. It was a very hot sweaty 15 minute walk to KWPLH even at 0745. The sun seemed too fierce for early morning. I got to the sanctuary at 0800 and spent my time reading some of the very informative displays on conservation. The cleaner mopping the floor was very informative and gave me suggestions on more displays in the next area, which was about bears in general. Indonesians might be the friendliest people!

At around 0815 I heard a man shaking a plastic container of what sounded like cat food (but I think it was pebbles). The bear sanctuary is also home to over a hundred cats.large_5550_14685895266452.jpgEateries overlooking the sea at night.He was herding them into their enclosure for feeding and kind of a roll call (perhaps head count). Yes, it’s just like the expression “herding cats”. It was very slow and rather hit-and-miss.

At the cat enclosure, there was already a stack of them against the door waiting to get into the dining room. The door flung open and all the cats ran to a bowl each. What a sight!

I learnt that the cats are not micro-chipped and staff know all of them by name. They are available for adoption. They were easily the healthiest looking cats I’ve seen in any developing country.

I wandered back to the bear displays and continued taking in some of the very good information. I heard a lot of barking in the distance and confirmed with the staff that there was a dog shelter too.large_5550_1468589533553.jpgThe Sun Bear Sanctuary also has a cat shelter. This man is a cat herder. Each morning he herds hundreds of cat into an enclosure for feeding and headcount.That wasn’t promoted for some reason. I guess the Muslims wouldn’t be interested in patting them and the Christians would want to eat them (trust me, I’ve heard this from them throughout the Archipelago).

Soon after 0900, the bear enclosure gates opened, allowing us to go on the walkway which surrounds the bears’ natural habitat. We walked to the end where three bears had just been let out of their house into the forested area. Some fruit had been laid out for them near our vantage point.

It wasn’t the best for pictures as the bears were either too far, or too near the fence (meaning one would have the fence in the pictures too).

I left the Sanctuary by foot. Surprisingly, it was cooler and more cloudy than the inward walk. As I approached the main road, Yusof and Mita whom I had chatted with, offered me a lift to the main road.large_5550_14685895489100.jpgThe Sun Bear Sanctuary also has a cat shelter. Cats walk with me to the dining hall; definitely a trip hazard as they go all around (and up) my legs.But when they realised that I was in the middle of the city, they dropped me off near the brand new mall. We had plenty of nice chats, which was often the case in Indonesia, even with taxi drivers, cleaners etc.

At the new mall, I found a franchise restaurant called Kafe Betawi. I opted for a Nasi Uduk Rendang and a Es Campur. Strangely the rending had small red kidney beans in it too. It wasn’t bad but just different.

I walked back to my hotel for a shower. I had been drenched in sweat once again today and needed to rinse my clothing out. This trip, I had been so wet several times I couldn’t have just put my salt-encrusted clothing into my laundry bag. Quite unusually, I had ended up wearing the few shower-washed clothes and not used the remainder.

After a brief rest, I did laps a the Novotel pool and had another simple capcay overlooking the sea.

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Back to Balikpapan


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large_5550_14685874792900.jpgMy morning walk around Samarinda.
Due to the previous days’ early starts I woke up naturally early as well. I didn’t want to eat too early, so walked down to the waterfront and tried to take a shared boat service across the river. The boatman said there wasn’t any as it was too early. He said he would take me to the old mosque (my went across diagonally and I got dropped off at a jetty that took me there, after walking through some stilted houses.

From there, I walked along the road to where I’d be able to take a boat back to near my hotel. It was a short wait for the right boat to come along and a number of use took the crossing.

Breakfast at the hotel was reasonably good. I rested in my room to kill some time as I didn’t want to get to Balikpapan [Balikpapan-travel-guide-861133] too early.large_5550_14685874857621.jpgGetting dropped off a the old mosque.Around 1030 I checked out and ordered a taxi to the Kangaroo shuttle terminal for their service to Balikpapan city (rather than airport).

The terminal ticket office was bursting at the seams and I could only be taken three vehicles later but that wasn’t too bad as they have a departure every 10 minutes. They load up 10 minutes beforehand so I was actually on board in no time. Unfortunately, the vehicle had been parked for a very long time and it was very hot inside. The aircon cooled the air down but the surfaces remained scorching for a long time.

It was the same 2h30 to Balikpapan airport and another 30 minutes to town. I took an angkot partway to the Ibis and walked the remainder. It was nearly three by the time I sat myself down for lunch at the hotel restaurant.

For some people the Ibis, is a low-grade hotel.large_5550_14685874995966.jpgThe old mosque.For me it is a treat! This particular one was even better as it was attached to the Novotel and guests can use the fitness and pool areas. I did some laps and lay in my nice big bed for a rest.

When it cooled down a little, I took a walk to the west to have a look a the mosque (from the outside) and then to Kemala beach. The beach would have been nice enough but there was too much litter. The oil tankers offshore didn’t add to it but Singapore’s east coast beaches with a lot more tankers somehow looks more appealing.

Around town, there are more signs of wealth than in say Samarinda. The sidewalks are in good shape, there are nice eateries, shops sell plenty of things that aren’t just basic essentials.

I found an eating area overlooking the sea and had a simple meal of capcay and rice. It was nice to have a bit of atmosphere for a change.

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Borneo's largest city


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large_5550_1469503940447.jpgFlying from Banjarmasin to Balikpapan (1h10 on propeller plane). Road travel for the 500km journey takes about 12 hours. Continuing by road to Borneo's largest city Samarinda.
I had time for breakfast at the hotel before taking a taxi at 0700 to Banjarmasin [Banjarmasin-travel-guide-861250]’s airport 45 minutes away. Checkin for my 0925 departure to Balikpapan [Balikpapan-travel-guide-861133] on Wings Air was swift. Once airside I noticed that yesterday 1555 flight had been delayed till around 0900. And this morning’s ~0615 flight delayed till around 0920.

I dreaded the possibility of my flight being delayed substantially, or worse my flight to Berau delayed in a few days time when I had to continue to Derawan [Derawan-travel-guide-1335019] by car and boat. As it turned out, my flight was only 35 minutes late.

Remembering the most horrendous weather yesterday afternoon, the delays started to make sense.large_5550_14685740931680.jpgKenyah dancer on Balikpapan airport wall. Known as a highland or inland tribe in Malaysia, they don't seem to be confined in a similar way here. Having said that, as with most riverine towns, Samarinda itself is quite Malay / Banjar.It probably caused the overnight delay to the 1555 flight, and the other one might have been a knock-on effect with crew duty and rest time etc.

Upon arrival at Balikpapan's very flash airport, everyone waited at the designated carousel. The airport had a fair bit of Dayak motifs, something to be seen in Balikpapan and Pontianak but not so much in Banjarmasin. After a while, a staff member came to tell us that our luggage had already arrived on an earlier flight. I picked mine up and proceeded to the Kangaroos Shuttle counter which offers a luxury minivan service to Samarinda [Samarinda-travel-guide-869709] which takes about 2h30.

The ride was more rural than expected. Being two large cities in relative proximity, I expected more development in between. Rather, it was somewhat hilly (or even mountainous) with a patch of forest too.large_5550_14685741134176.jpgFlowers for grave visits.With the hill, we got into a very dark cloudy area which then poured down on us.

I thought the day would have been a write-off. But it was fine when I got to Samarinda and even managed to go sightseeing and have a walk.

Kangaroo offered a reasonable connecting shuttle to my hotel, the MJ Hotel. It was a poorly finished place for the price, but that’s normal in Samarinda from what I understand. Hotels are bad value in this city.

It was around 1500 already and I needed food. After lunch in the mall, I took an angkot to the Islamic Centre. I asked the man at the entrance if I could visit. He said “Yes, but your legs are exposed”. I had brought along a towel to cover my knees and calves. He laughed and brought me out a sarong instead.

I wandered around the mosque. It wasn’t as lavish as the one in Brunei or Abu Dhabi but it does the job very nicely, I’m sure. The adjacent tower, accessed by lift, gave a good view of the Mahakam river meandering through Borneo’s largest city.

It was only 3.5km back to town so I walked it. Even though it was Borneo’s largest city, it doesn’t feel very modern or progressive. The businesses I see tend to be selling basic necessities and there is very little evidence of wealth or even non-basic eating places. And for that reason I took dinner back at the same simple lunch place in the mall.

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Floating market


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large_5550_14684992472217.jpgLok Baintan floating market at dawn.
I had set the alarm for 0430 (which is 0330 Pontianak [Pontianak-travel-guide-869006] time where I had come from). I met the Simon & Karen at reception with their lovely guide Nurul Hidayah. We soon boarded a kelotok (boat) from the hotel’s back gate.

In the darkness we navigated upriver and saw the sky turn pink. About 90 minutes after setting off we were presented with a large collection of sampans loaded with fresh produce, largely “manned” by women. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Lok Baintan floating market or Pasar Terapung.

It was such an awesome sight, nearly completely untouristed. We were the only foreigners around and their was a boat of domestic tourists nearby. Such a far cry from Bangkok.

Their boats, laden with tangerines, bananas, veges, fish, cakes slowly drift downriver.large_5550_14684992537641.jpgLok Baintan floating market soon after dawn.They paddle a little to slow thei drift so as to continue to their trade. The sell to villagers along the way and also to those who buy to resell at the markets in town. B2C and B2B!

Nurul bought some cakes and fruit for us as a pre-breakfast. We couldn’t stop ourselves from taking more and more photos from the roof of the kelotok as it was so colourful and authentic. About 1h30 after arriving, we turned back.

In daylight, we got a better view of the houses along the river. They are just like the ones I saw when growing up; houses on stilts with an outhouse direct into the river. Here, the houses are situated on both banks which have roads alongside. This means that tap water is available to them for drinking. To save on cost, locals still was wash themselves, brush their teeth, do their laundry in the river. Sadly, this is often still very close to their toileting facilities.large_5550_14684992603528.jpgLok Baintan floating market soon after dawn.

The return journey downstream was faster. We got back to the hotel around 0900. As I had joined Simon & Karen’s prebooked tour, I offered to give them some money and also tip the guide. I said that if they didn’t want the money, they could give it to Nurul instead at the end of their arrangements. Instead, they suggested that I gave Nurul and the boatman IDR50K each (which was still cheaper than the IDR350K I would have paid on a boat by myself. I bought them dinner that night too, so I don’t feel that I have freeloaded (important as we would be in Derawan [Derawan-travel-guide-1335019] together coincidentally).

After breakfast and before it got too hot, I explored the non-floating markets on terra firma near the hotel. I found some buah keluak (a kind of nut used in very limited cuisines, particularly Rawon and Ayam Buah Keluak).large_5550_14684992649758.jpgFloating cake shop. Mmm. The banana leaves contain yellow rice with sambal. The steamed banana leaves contained like santan hoenkwe with pumpkin.They sold for IDR18K per kg and bought half a kilo for Mum as they’re not available in Kuching.

I returned to the room for a rest and messaged her. She excitedly messaged back saying that she pays about SGD0.80 each in Singapore. With about 58 nuts per kg, it was about SGD 0.30 each here. That’s about 4% the price in Singapore. Someone was making a lot of money somewhere!

Even though I needed a rest to recover from the early wakeup, I couldn’t sleep. I wasn’t hungry but I just wanted something, so wandered across the road for fried chicken, rice, bowl of veges in soup and a mango shake. That came to IDR29K which was less than one bowl of noodles in Pontianak. I’m starting to think I was cheated there even though a computerised invoice was generated in that hot steamy local cafe.

Mum had asked for more buah keluak so i bought her another half kilo.large_5550_14684992708909.jpgLok Baintan floating market.Time to cool off in the room again and look a the day’s snaps.

The heavens opened and it poured later in the afternoon. As my room faced out into a coverered courtyard I couldn’t really see but the noise a sure indicator.

I had arranged to meet Simon and Karen for dinner and we had a simple meal each in the food court adjoining the hotel.

It was a short but fruitful stay in Banjarmasin [Banjarmasin-travel-guide-861250] as the floating market was very authentic. Tomorrow I continue my journey to Samarinda [Samarinda-travel-guide-869709].

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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