Kalimantan's only cosmopolitan city, Balikpapan is also the only one worthy of being considered a destination unto itself, particularly with children. The influx of oil money has had a tremendous impact here in recent years.
Samarinda! The very name oozes exoticism, like some princely capital in the Arabian Nights. And happily, you will find some of that here in this sprawling riverfront city. The enormous mosque of the new Islamic Centre stands like a sentinel at the gates of the mighty Mahakam River, a most impressive sight, giving the city a welcome dash of Istanbul.
Banjarmasin has been called the Venice of the East, a jaw-dropping exaggeration. Sadly, this enormous city, which lies at the confluence of several rivers, sprawls in all directions but offers very little for its size. It is best known for the boat trip to its floating markets, an experience both interesting and discomfiting, as it passes through great poverty.
Standing astride the equator, Pontianak is a gateway to all points of the compass: Putussibau (east), Singkawang (north), Sukadana (south) and Natuna (west). Commerce keeps things buzzing, but the city is otherwise a grey jumble, brightened only by some inexpensive luxury hotels and lukewarm sights.
Originally envisioned by President Sukarno as a new capital city for Indonesia – and even for a pan-Asian state – Palangka Raya was built from scratch beginning in 1957. It shows in the streets, which are clearly laid out to plan, giving the city wide boulevards and a refreshing orderliness.
Berau's new international airport has made this flat riverside town the first stop en route to the Derawan Archipelago. Another reason to come here is not readily apparent.
Pangkalan Bun is largely another transit city, with an airport, some hotels and very few ways to spend your time. But if you want something better than backpacker digs before or after visiting Tanjung Puting, you'll only find it here.
Tanjung Puting National Park
Tanjung Puting offers a safe and comfortable jungle river cruise, open to anyone, that brings you up close and personal with Borneo's great ape, the orangutan. This winning combination, part African Queen and part National Geographic, has made it the most popular tourist destination in Kalimantan, with many people flying in and out on their way to Bali or Borobodur.
North Kalimantan is a brand-new province carved out of the top of East Kalimantan. It includes the island of Nunukan (not to be confused with the one in the Derawan Archipelago) Sembakung, Bulungan, Tanjung Selor, Tarakan, Krayan, Kayan Mentarang and the Apokayan.
Although it’s conveniently close to the Sabah border and a stepping stone to other places, Tarakan offers little of cultural interest. It was the site of bloody fighting between Australians and Japanese at the end of WWII. Information BNI bank (Bank Negara Indonesia; Jl Yos Sudarso) Foreign exchange and an ATM.
The second largest river in Indonesia, the mighty Mahakam is at once a major highway, a cultural tour and a wildlife-spotting expedition. It is also the only major river with public transport all the way into the heart of Borneo, making its 930km length entirely accessible. Travelling up this jungle river is a journey in the fullest sense of the word.
Tenggarong is an important destination, but also a heartbreaker. Once the capital of the mighty Kutai sultanate, it made a recent attempt to recreate that past grandeur, and failed mightily. Several years ago the local regent and his cohorts, flush with mining profits, made a massive investment in the city's infrastructure.
Loksado is an absolutely charming hamlet of gingerbread cottages flanking a rushing stream, Sungai Amandit, with a pedestrian suspension bridge.