Borneo’s Interior: Central Kalimantan

Venturing deep into Borneo and bordering Malaysia, the northern region of Central Kalimantan is foreign to tourism…

Borneo, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia

The quality of the 35mm film photo in this article is not great as all photos and original negatives from 1998 are no longer in good condition – not a fan of post-production.


Information on Kalimantan is almost non-existent in 1998 and feeling your way across the expansive island of Borneo is by word of mouth from locals. But, the problem is that not much English is spoken and my Bahasa Indonesian isn’t great…

-West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Undiscovered Kalimantan

Sintang

Pontianak to Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia

Following the arduous overnight bus from Pontianak, bouncing around in the cramped back seats, finally arrive in Sintang at 4 am.

After no luck trudging around looking for open accommodation, decide to sleep on a bench under shelter for a couple of hours waiting for Losmens to open. The rain is not abating.

The longest waterway in Indonesia, the Sungai Kapuas is swollen, pushing roads and houses underwater. A myriad of makeshift narrow wooden planks connected by 44-gallon drums makes walking over water possible.

Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Watery streets

Laden with our gear, bounce along the flexing plankway waiting to fall in the murky floodwaters until arriving at the Losmen Setia.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Losmen Setia, Sungai Kapuas

The tiny almost village-like Sintang is lacking tourists, so we’re the centre of attention wherever we venture.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Laundry day

Regardless of the flooding, the river life is bustling with motorised boats and wooden canoes ferrying locals up and across to surrounding smaller villages. Travel is on the Kapuas river by whatever boat is going.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Rustic transport

From Sintang, the next destination is Putussibau, north-central Kalimantan. This trip can be done in a chartered 6-hour ‘speedboat’ or the 24-hour ‘slow boat’.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Not our speedboat

Having tasted Indonesia’s ‘speedboat’ enduring a 3-day ferry trip scheduled to take only 20 hours, settle on the slow boat this time. Hope to secure a piece of the deck with every man and his chicken!

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Front river entrance

Bump into many university students studying difficult subjects – engineering, political science, medicine – and most hope to procure only factory jobs once matriculated. So sad discussing their aspirations of government jobs, although the reality of much lower paid unskilled positions is the expectation.


Leaving for Putussibau

Sintang, Semitau, Putussibau, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia

Arriving a couple of hours early, we grab a piece of the deck inside the rickety wooden boat.

At least the timber is covered with linoleum to minimise splinters on this 24-hour journey.

Leaving the wharf on time, the boat crosses the river only to fuel up, then crisscrosses back again from where we started to pick up more passengers!

Boat, Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Home for the night!

Another hour later and finally, we leave Sintang.

boat, Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Spot the tourist!

The hardened timber is fast forgotten as untouched and fascinating slower-paced river life…

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Tightening the lines

…emerges, while steaming up the stained brown Kapuas.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Fishing from the back door

Timber houses float calmly on massive aged logs tied to the riverbank while others sit on wooden stilts.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Jungle life

Everywhere seems flooded right now.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Apprehension

Numerous stops along the way to drop off and pick up more passengers, and the boat sinks further into the tanned tea tree-coloured water, laden with cargo and bodies.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Floating bathroom

Stopping at a trading boat and peeking inside, discover congestion of groceries, bags of salted fish, and a plethora of produce crammed in every corner of the boat.

boat, Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Weathered trading boat

These heavy timber boats plough up and down the river laden with goods and supply villages that are not accessible, where roads are non-existent.

Predominantly, Chinese and Chinese/Indonesians run businesses in Indonesia and this is the same with the river trading boats.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Local life

The beautiful expansive Kapuas river extends some 1,143 kilometres snaking its way in twists and bends from West Kalimantan to Borneo’s deep interior.

poverty, Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Jungle vistas

Most of the river is navigable and a major artery for transport vehicles, but also for felled logs that are floated down from the interior.

Thick heavy jungle lines the riverbank with starving mosquitoes and ferocious sandflies never too far from feeding on exposed flesh, or the occasional jungle clearing.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Serenity

The further the boat ventures up the picturesque river, the poorer the locals.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
River garden

A sleepless night on the boat’s hard timber floor sees new river canvases with the breaking dawn.

Everyday life is soon forgotten when the inevitable happens…

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Someone’s happy!

…the boat breaks down in Semitau only 12 hours after leaving Sintang!

Sintang, Semitau, Putussibau, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia

Semitau is only around the halfway mark to Putussibau.

This is becoming a habit in Indonesia – boats always seem to break down at the halfway mark.

Definitely much smaller than Sintang, inquisitive locals stare at us with fascination and…

poverty, Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
A simple life

…as though they have never seen tourists. I doubt that many have…

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Playtime

Advised the boat would leave again for Putussibau this morning, the story is rapidly changing. The situation is not looking good – visions of being marooned in the jungle and over-staying visas are becoming very real.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Friendly boat crew

There seems to be a hole or rapid leak in the timber boat as, throughout the night, the crew continuously pumped out water. Sad to leave this old boat that served up 2 good cooked meals a day plus free tea and coffee – a far cry from the Jakarta to Singapore fast boat – but we need to look for another boat to continue the journey. With only one month of travel for Kalimantan, time is quickly running out.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Calmness

Try to hire a speedboat for the rest of the journey but all the opportunists and touts are out, charging unforgiving prices. As the only tourists around for miles, locals believe our pockets are laden with cash.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
River garden

Walking into the village of Semitau, meet a lovely local. Ida helps us to get on an Opelet to Simpang only an hour away, which is the crossroads for buses going east and west in Kalimantan.

Crossing many flooded bridges and scraps of road, the picturesque thick jungle once again overhangs the narrow road’s path, brushing against the tiny Opelet until reaching Simpang.

Sungai Kapuas, Sintang, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Jungle village

Abandoning the romantic idea of continuing on a boat to Putussibau as boats are not operating right now and time is running out, we wait in Simpang for a bus instead. Taking some tea, then more tea, until 3 hours later, the shonky bus to Putussibau finally arrives to whisk us away…

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts at Image Earth Travel.

16 thoughts on “Borneo’s Interior: Central Kalimantan

Add yours

  1. Your photos are fab NIlla. Preserve the times when there were hardly any tourists. I remember parts of Thailand (much later than your trip) but even so, when I was the only foreigner in the village! so to speak LOL.. Good memories! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True! We don’t really realize how was to travel in the 80-90’s, no internet, no phones, no gps LOL So many places got spoiled, but I guess more people will travel locally for awhile.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. We took Canadian roads this year🙂 as too many problems with our cancellations last year LOL We are still having an amazing autumn here, so I’m trying to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. But stay tuned, I shall catch up one day with our road trips🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Sounds like you’ve been enjoying the outdoors – great to see. I’m reluctant to travel OS for now, especially after all our cancellations in 2020 also…Australia is the place for now. 😉
      Look forward to reading your road trip posts. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really don’t know what is worse … broken boats or shonky busses 😬. Oh, and starving mosquitoes in the jungle – this is definitely one adventurous trip!! But for some reason, your story almost had a tranquil tone to it (but I think it was far from it)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’m sure it wasn’t!! All is good here … can’t wait for proper summer days (it’s still a bit chilly here, but hopefully soon we’ll be enjoying warmer weather)! Hope you’re also doing ok 🌸.

      Liked by 1 person

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