Kalimantan’s dense jungle and flat, wet terrain make communications and travel difficult. Bus travel is the norm, although roads vary from a few tarred routes to laughable trails of dust and potholes. Boat is often quicker and more comfortable, although also pricier. For comprehensive travel it’s best to throw the odd flight into your itinerary. Sufficient competition makes them affordable and a flight can spare you a day or two on the road.
The various river ferries have gone by the wayside these days as most public transport is by bus or Kijang (4WD vehicle used as a taxi). That said, one of Kalimantan’s cultural highlights is to journey up Sungai Mahakam on a longbot, which, as the name suggests, is a longboat – a narrow vessel with two large outboard motors at the rear and bench seats in a covered passenger cabin. These still ply the river on a daily basis.
In rivers of all size throughout the province, ces (small motorised canoes) and speedboats are common modes of transport. The cost of fuel makes them pricey options, but they are easily the quickest way to get from A to B for locals and travellers alike. In some more remote areas you may find taxi sungai (river taxi), all of which carry both cargo and passengers. Along Sungai Kapuas in Pontianak are the bandung, large cargo-cum-houseboats that take up to a month to move upriver to Putussibau.
Bus services continue to expand in Kalimantan as more roads become (at a snail’s pace) passable. There are a couple of comfortable air-con routes, such as Banjarmasin to Balikpapan or Samarinda. Other than that, most bus trips in Kalimantan are hot, crowded and…well…interesting. During the rainy season vehicles often get stuck in the mud, which is a good excuse for everyone to get out and help push. Another road option is the Kijang, a long-distance taxi, usually in the form of a small jeep with as many passengers squeezed in as possible.
Airlines have regular flights to the coastal cities and into the interior of Kalimantan. Dirgantara Air Service (DAS) and Trigana Air (Kal-Star; KS) carry the bulk of the traffic, but Batavia, Bouraq and Deraya Air also have useful routes. Other possibilities include planes run by missionaries, Missionary Air Fellowship (MAF), which serve the most isolated communities.
DAS, Deraya and Kal-Star fly small propeller aircraft and their services are heavily booked. But it’s worthwhile going to the airport even if the office in town says the plane is full. Be polite, but firm, and you may be surprised at what you can get away with. For travel on the smallest planes, passengers are weighed along with their luggage, so it doesn’t help piling all your heaviest items into your hand luggage. The usual limit is 10kg, anything over will be charged accordingly.