As Kalimantan's only cosmopolitan city, Balikpapan is almost worthy of being considered a destination unto itself. A long history of oil money and foreign workers has had a tremendous impact, bringing Western aesthetics to this Eastern port town. The city is clean and vibrant, with several enormous shopping areas and some decent beaches.
Samarinda! The very name oozes exoticism. And happily you will find some of that here in this sprawling riverfront city, including the enormous mosque of the new Islamic Center, which stands like a sentinel at the gates of the mighty Sungai Mahakam (Mahakam River), a most impressive sight. But as with many fairy tales, there is a dark side to this story.
Banjarmasin capitalises on its waterways and river life. But, as more locals board up their back porches to bathe without fear of prying eyes and snapping cameras, and as the government buys up waterfront property for parks and mixed commerce, the riverfront dynamic is slowly changing, perhaps for the best.
Sprawling south of the equator, Pontianak is the concrete cultural mixing bowl and transportation hub of West Kalimantan (known locally as Kalbar, short for Kalimantan Barat. Head inland to visit Dayak longhouses in the Kapuas Hulu, south to serene Sukadana and Gunung Palung National Park, or north to the culturally rich city of Singkawang.
Once the inspiration for Joseph Conrad's first novel, Almayer's Folly, Berau now only inspires you to move on to your ultimate destination. Fortunately, you have two great choices: the Derawan Archipelago to the east, or the karst wonderland of Merabu to the south. Choose wisely, as neither option is cheap nor easy to get to – but both are immensely rewarding.
Pangkalan Bun is largely a transit city, but with a few hidden surprises. Unlike many Kalimantan towns, the residents here have embraced the river instead of turning their backs on it, making a stroll up the boardwalk a colourful and engaging experience. 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 is the most popular tourist destination in Kalimantan, and for good reasons. A near guarantee you'll see free-roaming orangutans, combined with a storybook journey up a winding jungle river, accessed by direct flights to Surabaya and Jakarta, give this adventure world-class appeal.
The second-largest river in Indonesia, the mighty Mahakam is a microcosm of Kalimantan. As you float upriver in search of the 'Heart of Borneo', you'll pass countless barges hauling it downriver to sell to the highest bidder. You'll see centuries-old villages just around the bend from coal mines and logging camps, and impossibly tall trees looming next to oil palm plantations.
Due to its isolation, North Kalimantan contains some of the most pristine forests on Borneo, making it one of the last, and best, frontiers for hardcore jungle trekking. The 1.36 million hectare Kayan Mentarang National Park represents a significant chunk of the heart of Borneo, and contains a dizzying diversity of life, with new species still being discovered.
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.