Banjarmasin Sojourn, South Kalimantan

Nearing the end of the four-month fabulous sojourn island-hopping through Indonesia and with only a month of exploring in Kalimantan coming to an end…

…travelling in Borneo during 1998 is at a snail’s pace, challenging, frustrating, but alluring.

The addiction is to experience more of exotic Borneo – its remoteness is seductive and foreign travellers are rare.

West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
The third-largest island in the world – Kalimantan

After interweaving several rivers and manmade canals travelling from Central to South Kalimantan on several speedboats for a very long but fascinating day, finally, land in the city of Banjarmasin.

Palankaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Luxurious cramped final speedboat to Banjarmasin

Where is Banjarmasin?

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

Nestled in the deep south-east of extraordinary Borneo island in the region of Kalimantan, the city of Banjarmasin holds any traveller captive, albeit not for its tranquillity.

Halved by the Martapura River, in the basin of the charming Barito River, tides affect Banjarmasin’s river system. Prone to flooding due to its location in a swampy region, typically, Banjarmasin is below water level.

A little on Banjarmasin

Known as the “Venice of the East” or “City of a Thousand Rivers”, Banjarmasin’s location near the junction of the Martapura and Barito rivers is interlaced with man-made and natural canals, which are susceptible to flooding. Locals live in the heart of these waterways, meaning that almost everyone owns a form of boat for transport, plying the waterways similar to a super highway.

Typically, homes are built on stilts, which sometimes hover precariously over sections of waterways. Others such as the traditional Lanting houses, form part of Banjarmasin’s riverside architecture. Lanting is from the Banjar language. Although traditional to South Kalimantan, these homes do exist in other regions of Kalimantan.

European trade between mostly the Dutch and the Banjar people started as early as 1596 after the Europeans attacked and stole Nutmeg from trading ships. The tumultuous Colonial era with the Dutch East India Company finally saw the Dutch ousted in 1638. Although it took the Sultan to pursue a war against the Dutch and the burning of much of the company’s riches around the port before the ousting.

Exploring Banjarmasin

Take a small traditional longboat to explore Banjaramsin’s captivating waterways while absorbing a little of the unique local life around the city. Locals are extremely friendly and wave while smiling warmly – this was in 1998, and not sure whether this has changed since then…

Banjarmasin, Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, SE Asia
Local transport

Surrounding suburbs are filled with iron-clad run-down buildings, which appear as a maze of crumbling chaos.

After two days bedridden from dreadfully nauseating stomach bugs and probably also a reaction from the anti-Malaria Doxycycline tablets – it feels as though someone is punching me in the stomach – we can finally do a little exploring.

What to see?

Just wandering around Banjarmasin on foot or boat is exciting and interesting enough, but this city offers so much more…

Pasar Terapung Muara Kuin

A longboat to the floating markets (Pasar Terapung Muara Kuin) is a must, although I’m not sure how touristy this daily market has become over the decades.

Cempaka gold and diamond mine – Martapura

Catch a local bus to Martapura (Land of Diamonds), only 45 kilometres east of Banjarmasin, then head to the Cempaka gold diamond mine to witness the appalling conditions in which locals work. This is home to some of the largest discovered diamonds in the world. Cempaka is foreign-owned, and there’s little evidence of the wealth flowing to locals.

Masjid Raya Sabilal Muhtadin

“The Grand Mosque”, completed in 1981 and costing USD$4.5 million, is on the west bank of the Martapura River in the Antasan Besar village, Central Banjarmasin district. Not so impressive, especially as this is the predominant mosque that blares out for most of the night, every night.

Gem fever

The city is dotted with locals that set up tiny portable stands or tables along the pavement to sell stones – either diamonds or semi-precious gems. One guy pulled out a bag and from it a lunchbox full of diamonds made up into jewellery – gem fever is everywhere.

Pinisi boat, Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Pinisi stern view

Diamonds and gold are traded here at an alarming rate. You need to know your stones in this region as there is much fancy cut glass on the streets and open to expensive scams. A lot of money can be lost in Banjarmasin. This is the first area I’ve seen in Kalimantan where local women are dripping in gold and diamonds. Kalimantan is renowned for its riches, but it’s quite something seeing the trading on the corners.

Pasar Terapung Muara Kuin

Although in 1998, the Pasar Terapung Muara Kuin (floating markets) was a little touristy, aside from this, locals still do their daily shopping at these engaging markets.

Hire a sampan for the hour’s trip from any hotel or your homestay for an amazing trip through the stilted-homes in Banjarmasin’s watery suburbs. Life on the riverways is intriguing, but make sure you travel down these watery streets when locals are home from work.

Banjarmasin, Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, SE Asia
River suburb

Polish your trading and bartering skills before thinking of buying from a savvy marketeer.

The floating market at the junction of the Kuin and Boritao Rivers starts very early in the morning. Typically, after prayers and wrapped up well before midday, with only stragglers left behind still trading and offloading remnants of their daily goods.

Pasar Terapung Muara Kuin, Banjarmasin, Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, SE Asia
Floating seller

Maybe a couple of hundred large and small boats, and canoes laden with pineapples, coconuts, and vegetables, others piled high with crockery, work the river looking for customers. Brilliant to watch.

Everyone does their shopping as though they’re shopping on the streets. Stopping at one boat selling tea and coffee but also cakes and unusual breakfast snacks, we indulge in a little breakfast. Another boat sells rice soup. Everything is up for barter in these markets.

Pasar Terapung Muara Kuin, Banjarmasin, Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, SE Asia
Fresh market fair

The buzzing atmosphere exudes excitement with hustling sellers and buyers vying for the day’s best deal. The seller provides a long bamboo pole with a nail at the end, which you use to spike your purchase and drop it into your boat.

The slow sampan to the markets heads to Pulau Kemban only 20-minutes away for a quick visit to see the Long-tailed Macaque. The monkeys are quite cheeky and a couple of the males are quite aggressive. Especially as they smell our bag containing Paw Paw and bananas purchased from the floating market.

Long-tailed Macaque, Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, SE Asia
Brazen Long-tailed Macaque

Return to Banjarmasin before the scorching midday sun, but not before passing the traditional large Pinisi sailing vessels waiting at the dock to be loaded, probably with timber.

Pinisi boat, Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Pinisi splendour

Need a rest at the homestay after sitting on the sampan’s hard timber seat for three hours.

Where to sleep

Bumping into the Borneo Homestay shortly after the epic journey on three speedboats travelling east from Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan to Banjarmasin in the south of Kalimantan, decide to crash and relax.

Banjarmasin, Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, SE Asia
View from the homestay

Although the homestay offers dingy rooms, there are a couple of windowless rooftop floors where you can lounge around, relax and catch a breath of breeze while escaping the blistering stifling midday sun.

Sleep is ever-elusive as the city is full of mosques blaring the call to prayer, which starts at around 4 am. Not just one mosque, but from five booming in synchronisation around the homestay, with the reading in-between the earsplitting noise.

Venturing tomorrow on a local bus to Martapura’s Cempaka mine to learn how gold and diamonds are extracted in this part of the world. Hopefully, this won’t be too confronting…

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



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29 responses to “Banjarmasin Sojourn, South Kalimantan”

  1. Malik Perdana Avatar

    Great, i love your post!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Malik
      Thank you for your kind feedback.

  2. gillmorris Avatar

    Your pics are great Nilla and capture life there brilliantly. I wonder what it’s like now? Hope you are well x

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Gill
      Thank you. The negatives are quite old and I don’t like post-production so this is the best I can do. 😉
      All is well and hope it is for you also. Still can’t get into your site.
      Nilla x

      1. gillmorris Avatar

        that is so weird, it’s all been sorted now.. try if you havent already ? xx

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yes, been over and left you a comment, so hope it’s gone through. x

  3. Dave Ply Avatar

    Just out of curiosity, do you still have the sense of adventure that led you on this trip back in 98, or have you toned it down these years?

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Absolutely Dave!
      The only thing that’s toned down over the years is that I’m a little more selective of accommodation so don’t do shared dorms anymore and usually want a private bathroom. But in saying that, sometimes when you have to do a tour to get somewhere and it’s a ‘cheaper’ tour, you’re thrown in together with a bunch of people that you don’t know. This happened in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni back in 2011. Does this count? 😉

  4. equinoxio21 Avatar

    My favourite is probably the floating seller. Similar to my mother’s film in Bangkok in 1957.
    Off tonight. Chhers NIlla. Have a lovely “winter”… (Do take a break if you can…) 🤗

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for the great feedback as always Brian!
      Enjoy your holiday – will be fantastic I’m sure. Ha, ha, I’ll try but very much doubt it… 🤗
      Today is super icy!

      1. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Icy in Oz? Good Gracious.
        Greetings from London.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yes, in Oz. It was 3deg C half-hour north of us and we’re in the sub-tropics. 😉
        Great you made it safely. Enjoy your sojourn!

      3. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Weather has indeed gone bananas…
        Looks like half the planet is in London. Never seen such crowds here…
        Cheers Nilla.

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Stay safe and wear a mask! 😉

      5. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Thank you. We did. But my wife just tested positive. I suspect a family reunion in London. Which I was not too keen on… Grrrr.

      6. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Oh no, that’s bad news and hope you escape the dreaded lergy! I hear the UK is under a heatwave…stay safe!

      7. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Yes the UK, and France are under a heat wave. Back to Paris last night. I tested positive this morning. My wife looks ok, and so far I just have a sore throat. Fingers crossed. 🤞
        Buona settimana amica.

      8. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I’ve been reading about the heatwave across Europe and the temps in the UK – bizarre.
        Oh no, hope your symptoms don’t progress and you can enjoy the rest of your trip after isolating.
        Grazie e anche a te 🙂

      9. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Very bizarre heat. As for symptoms we should be all right after isolating

      10. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Around the world, not just in Europe. Take care of yourselves.

      11. equinoxio21 Avatar


  5. Stella, oh, Stella Avatar

    I am surprised that they let tourists visit the mines …

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Stella
      This was in 1998 so back then, anything went. I’m not sure whether this is still possible today.
      Hope all is well with you.
      Take care

      1. Stella, oh, Stella Avatar

        Thank you, yes, I am fine.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Great to hear!

  6. Bahanur Avatar

    It was such an interesting read. Thank you!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Bahanur
      Thank you for the great feedback and happy that you enjoyed my post.

  7. Yetismith Avatar

    A very aquatic society! I love those sailing boats with the high prow. They used to make sails from palm fronds but maybe that is a thing of the past? You are brave to go to the mines! Look forward to reading about that!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Carolyn
      I had to salvage your comment from my Trash folder. It appears that WP is throwing all my legitimate comments in the trash again… 🙁
      Banjarmasin is very aquatic but then again most of what I saw in Kalimantan was – wonder whether with global warming things have dried up.
      Yes, they did indeed make sailes from palm fronds but I don’t remember seeing any of those whilst in Indonesia.
      The mines were quite confronting…stay tuned.
      Hope all is well.

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