Central to South Kalimantan: Pangkalan Bun to Banjarmasin

Hitching a speedboat from Pangkalan Bun to Banjarmasin is an intoxicating 4-hours while zigzagging rivers interlinking canals, and crossing over from Central to South Kalimantan…

Traversing Borneo in 1998, the third-largest island in the world, is extremely slow and fraught with delays, cancellations, and no transport or accommodation information, but exhilarating nonetheless.

Mostly mountainous, Borneo also has extensive lowlands, especially in Central Kalimantan, which are often swampy along the coast.

West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Mysterious Kalimantan (Dutch Borneo)

At the tail-end of almost four months of exploring Indonesia, time is of the essence but travel in Kalimantan is not fast.

Pangkalan Bun

Following a perpetual and exhausting travel day taking three speedboats, one bus, and one 4×4 getting from Pontianak to Pangkalan Bun for the past eight hours, met Andy an Indonesian during the 4×4 leg of the journey. Andy lives in Jakarta (Java) but works in Kalimantan. Thinking he knows this small village of Pangkalan Bun, he leads us endlessly around the streets to find food until we realise he doesn’t really know the village at all. At least he tried with good intentions but at this point in time, sleep is the priority as tomorrow is another exhausting travel day.

Delayed in Pangkalan Bun

Checking out of the basic accommodation early at 7 am, discover that the bus for the 10-12-hour journey to Palangkaraya is completely full and instead, need to take the overnight bus at 4pm. What to do for a whole day in the small remote town of Pangkalan Bun?

Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, SE Asia
Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan

Waste the day wandering around the town, checking out local shops and managing to buy some Manik – Dayak trading beads. One can only hope that they’re original beads but you can never tell in Indonesia.

Meeting a local that can speak a little English, she lets us know of a great 2-hour trip to a smaller village up the river but takes another 2 hours to return. Sadly, there isn’t any time to explore.

Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, SE Asia
Visiting locals

Many stone shops grace this small town and discover one that also sells Kalimantan diamonds. As we’re making our way to Banjarmasin and this is where Kalimantan’s diamonds are from, decide not to splurge just yet and wait.

Due to the flooding this past month, the river is higher than usual and just as in Sintang and other towns, tiny narrow timber planks overhang the water as makeshift paths to shops and home entrances.

Pangkalan Bun to Palangkaraya

Locals advise us to take the MP bus but somehow, manage to book tickets on the Yessee bus company, which we would regret later.

Pangkalan Bun to Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, SE Asia

Finally catching the overnight bus, the journey is plunged into deep darkness after only a couple of hours on the road, as street lights are sporadic.

A couple of hours of light reveals a barren-cleared landscape with hectares of mostly Palm Oil trees in their infancy and scattered crops – tragic – it is, after all, 1998. I dread to think about what this region is like in 2022 and whether any jungle at all is left. People have to survive at any expense, including plundering Kalimantan’s natural jungle.

Bus trip saga

Of course, this being Kalimantan, the bus gets a flat tyre several hours into the journey. Surprisingly, the tyre is changed in only half an hour, and then it’s back on the road once more. But, not before the driver uses 2 jacks on the tyres as neither were good while three MP buses sail past us…the better bus line we were told to book. Not sure how long this tyre will last as it’s worse than the flat one.

Another half-hour on the road and the driver stops once more but this time to drop off the flat tyre as he only carries one spare. Another wait of forty minutes for the tyre’s repair so male passengers leave the bus to play cards and gamble by the roadside, under a plume of pungent Kretek cigarette fumes. Boarding again, trailing cigarette plumes follow passengers into the bus and so, the smoky journey continues. With such scarce and poor roads in Kalimantan, you would think that buses would carry a couple of spares…


Pull into Palangkaraya’s bus stop at 3:30 am while the rest of the city still slumbers.

Not a bad overnighter considering the bus stopped to offload and pick up passengers throughout the night, and also the tyre drama. The remaining passengers grab a roadside bench to catch an hour’s sleep and wait for the city to awaken.

Palankaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Friendly locals

Wander around the small city almost comatosed from the overnight bus journey and bump into a market. Splash out on what we think is an original Mandau – knife with sheath, which the non-Muslim indigenous Dayak tribes use for many things including head hunting. This one is sans blood. An original Mandau is also known to have magical powers but not sure if this one is old or real.

Palankaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Every house dons a Satellite dish!

Enjoy a delicious breakfast of fresh barbecued fish. The cuisine here is different to other regions of Kalimantan – each seems to have its own unique style. Tea, a bowl of soup, rice (and more if needed) and the main dish are served as one portion all for just AUD$0.70 – so cheap.

Central to South Kalimantan – speedboat from Palangkaraya to Banjarmasin

As time is running out on the one-month Kailmantan visa, decide to forfeit the 130-kilometre boat trip leaving from Palangkaraya’s Flamboyan Pier in Central Kalimantan. This intrepid journey travels up Kalimantan’s second-largest river, the Kahayan, to the gold-mining town of Tewah.

Palankaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Speedboat to Banjarmasin

The cost for this return boat trip is exorbitant. Instead, decide to grab a speedboat from Rambang Pier and head on another wild journey bound for the bustling city of Banjarmasin in Kalimantan’s south.

Interweaving rivers and canals

The overladen boat with passengers and cargo sinks precariously low at the stern, which is weighted with two 220HP motors, for the 3.5-hour trip.

Palangkaraya to Banjarmasin, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, SE Asia

Heading down the murky Sungai (river) Kahayan to the town of Pulau Pisau Regency, the speedboat’s motors pushes the boat along at an alarming speed.

The boat groans and sounds like it will crack under the strain of hitting even the smallest of river swells, but the captain ploughs on…

Crossing one of the many manmade canals to Mandawai, the boat speeds on until reaching busy Kuala Kapuas. The riverways intertwine with canals and are just like super highways – everyone owns a boat in this region – the lifeline of everyday life for locals.

As with all the canals in this region that the Dutch constructed, this 30-kilometre canal was built from 1880 to 1890 to connect the Kapuas with the Barito River. The area’s tidal swampland had the potential for cultivating wetland rice and was too irresistible for developers. The canals opened the area for agricultural development.

The captain pushes the boat hard and only slows down for mere seconds when dropping and picking up passengers along the way. From the Kapuas, it’s onto the Barito River passing amazing and fascinating river life before crisscrossing down a second canal to the Sungai Negara. Weaving back to the Barito River, the boat whizzes down the muddy Barito abundant with local life, until finally reaching the bustling city of Banjarmasin.


Every conceivable boat carts some type of wood – even the tiniest canoe. Logging is huge and lucrative (for some) in Kalimantan. Up and down the boats ply crossing canals and rivers to arrive at their next destination. Houses are built on stilts over the river and although the rivers are high from the past month’s floods, it doesn’t seem as bad as Sintang in West Kalimantan.

Landing in Banjarmasin

By the time the speedboat stops in Banjarmasin, exhaustion overcomes even the most toughened traveller, so check into the Borneo Homestay and crash for a few hours. Excited to explore Banjarmasin tomorrow but also stopping to rest for several days…

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


23 thoughts on “Central to South Kalimantan: Pangkalan Bun to Banjarmasin

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  1. Some of your trips seem to be on the exhausting side, right? 😉
    I didn’t realize Borneo was the 3rd largest island in Earth? Couting Oz or not? (I don’t see it as an island)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Always! It beggars belief sometimes…why nations just don’t get on with life instead of tearing each other apart is beyond me…
      I see you get loads of interaction on your posts – excellent work! I’ll have to fleece you for some tips. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I think it’s a human trait to not mind one’s own business transposed at country level… Sigh.
      Tips? Not sure. I feel my volume has gone down a bit since 2020-21. Lockdown pushed people more into blogging and that is receding.
      I don’t post on week-ends, I have found people do other stuff, so my week-ends posts pass by like a ship in the night.
      I use a white background, not black like yours, because my master David Ogilvy had done research on white print on black background and found out people read less. (Maybe you can give it a try?)
      I can’t get everybody I like in my mail (You are) because my inbox would explode.
      I do two things:
      1) periodically I look at my post of the most views in the year, and visit all those who’ve liked it. (Sometimes I go back to previous years
      2) I go to my reader, click on the Manage button and visit everyone systematically. It can take a while, but it helps keep in touch…

      Liked by 1 person

    3. So true! But, it’s frightening when it’s at the country level. I can’t believe the US is going down this path but the scary thing is that European countries are thinking of doing the same. It makes me so angry that someone thinks it’s their right to tell another human being what they can/can’t do with their body!

      That’s interesting and I remember you saying that you post on a Tuesday, not on a weekend – this is when I look out for your posts.
      Hmmm…I would have to completely change my site as I have a zillion lines of CSS to change it all over, but I have read the same.
      Great tips and this definitely seems to work for you but you also have great content, so that’s half the battle. 😉
      Not quite voilà as it sounds as though you do work at it and then there’s the writing/selecting images for a post – a load of work but if you’re passionate about doing it then it’s not “work”.
      Thank you for the wisdom! 🙂
      (Luckily, I checked my Trash folder and found this comment – WP!)

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Yes, we seem to be on the road to regression. Not to mention the clear, boiling red hatred that’s moving Russia right now…
      What are zillion CSS lines? From what I understand if you change theme, it applies to all your posts? At least that’s the way it was. Maybe you can try it on the sidebar in “appearance”.
      I wouldn’t change your style. It’s fine. And it’s yours. I would say a post takes me a couple of hours. 80% of it is the selection. I have a reasonably good system of folders.
      Now the “follow up of people”? That takes forever to do it right. I try to visit my “most frequent friends at least once a fortnight… Combing the entire “base”? Every few months… (And I generally eliminate a lot of people who never show up…)
      I will check my trash tout de suite…
      A presto

      Liked by 1 person

    5. In the Trash folder again Brian! It’s happening all over again. 😦
      Totally agree, it’s unfathomable! Ukraine is going to become another Syria – nothing left of the country but when will this all end…
      Yeah but then WP changed to the block editor and I’m sure a lot of the CSS lines no longer apply but I haven’t had time to check through and clean everything up.
      Yes, it’s the reading/commenting posts that do take a lot of time but are necessary – I don’t do nearly enough.

      Liked by 1 person

    6. Available time was a commodity that went totally out of sync in the late 20th century… Disappeared. Some suspect the irruption of a parallel universe into ours…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good lord! I am more impressed with each post. You are indeed a hardy traveller. Did you ever ask yourself “why am I doing this?” My trip to Sudan was like that, but compared to this one of yours, that was a pleasure trip. What would the Indonesians have done if you overstayed the visa? A colleague of mine overstayed in Thailand and they put him in prison, bad news in Bangkok. I once saw the type of accommodation they offered (and no doubt that was the upscale version) He was Singapore Chinese but held a US passport. The embassy got him out but it scared the daylights out of him. When my Dad overstayed he showed his UN Laissez Passer and he got away with it but he was worried enough to don a suit that day! Those officials were bad news. I love your stories!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Carolyn
      Actually, I asked that question constantly but still do when travelling rough…some things never change.
      Sudan? Now there’s a country I’d like to visit. 😉
      Back then it was such a corrupt country and officials were also corrupt but not sure that this has changed. I’ve heard many horror stories of people overstaying visas in SE Asia and ending up in jail – it’s no myth. Your dad was lucky as was your colleague.
      Thank you for your kind feedback.


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