The multicultural city of Pontianak in Kalimantan’s west has been the reoccurring haunt to explore Borneo, although now, it’s one last time…
Lingering in Banjarmasin for several days exploring for the last time this region in exotic Borneo, the time has come for the flight out. And, we can only hope that nothing goes wrong, as nothing has gone our way with Kalimantan’s transport over the past month.
Banjarmasin to Pangkalan Bun and onto Pontianak
Although the flight from Banjarmasin to Pontianak is scheduled for 11:30am, the flight leaves late at 1pm, of course. Not even flights run on time in Indonesia.
Barely settled in our seats for an hour in the air before the descent starts for Pangkalan Bun to drop off passengers and refuel. With only a 15-minute wait on the craft, the plane takes off for the remaining 1.5-hour flight to Pontianak.
The rustic 20-seater cargo plane is more of a miniature military Hercules than a commercial craft. Flying through a plethora of unstable thermals and dense clouds, driving rain starts to pelt against the tiny porthole windows. The experience always feels worse in a small craft.
Where to stay
Landing in Pontianak, we try to check into the Equator Hotel, but the manager advises that there’s no vacancy – a polite excuse. On questioning the manager further, discover that this hotel doesn’t accept foreigners, which was the same in Banjarmasin and in particular, with Muslim-run hotels.
These hotels do not want foreigners, so happily advise that there’s a specific rule prohibiting the hotel from accepting foreigners. Quite hypocritical as on the streets and in front of Mosques, Muslims openly ask foreigners (us) for monetary donations for their causes.
In the pouring rain and laden with gear, we check into the Orien Hotel, which doesn’t mind foreigners.
Becoming old hands at wandering the streets of Pontianak as this is the third time landing in this city over the past month in Kalimantan, running out of quick day trips to take from the city.
As travelling across this expansive part of Borneo is adventurous, difficult, and slow in 1998, a day trip or overnight stay is only what’s left to experience, as Singapore is the destination in a few days.
With the city centre less than 3 kilometres south of the equator, Pontianak is hot, sultry, and scorching. Strolling around the city for just ten minutes works up a constant dripping sweat while baking under the burning sun. Publishing a couple of posts on Pontianak, you may want to read more about this multicultural city.
Getting to Singkawang
It never seems to stop raining in Pontianak, so leaving for the day to seek some dry weather is a great idea.
Not to waste time while waiting to leave Kalimantan, take a couple of Opelets to reach the local bus station, before finding a local bus for the 3-hour trip north to Singkawang.
Surprisingly, the roads are not too pot-holed for once and the trip isn’t at all stressful – unusual for Kalimantan.
A day in Singkawang
The city of Singkawang is ringed by the Pasi, Poteng, and Sakok mountains. Singkawang is known as the “cleanest city in Indonesia“. From what I’ve seen in the last four months of travelling through the Indonesian Archipelago, I can vouch for this city’s reputation.
With a population of predominantly Chinese-decent, Singkawang is also known as “the city of tolerance”. An acceptance of cultural diversity is intrinsic in the city, which makes it a pleasure to explore. The only problem is that today is Saturday and most everything is closed – bad planning – but it’s easy to walk around the city in an hour.
Wandering around definitely makes you hungry so pull up a chair at a soup kitchen along the way, where the Chinese lady cooks out on the street. Heating the noodles in a wok’s scorching hot water, the cook throws the noodles a metre-high in the air a couple of times (not sure why), before landing everything in a serving bowl. Deliciously good and very entertaining.
Returning to Pontianak
Meandering Singkawang’s streets for another couple of hours, decide to take the local bus back to Pontianak. Taking longer than 3 hours, the bus continually stops along the way. The feeling of being extremely sick overpowers the pleasant return journey. Thinking at first it was the bus trip or maybe the food, soon remember the tea served at the soup kitchen was tepid. I suspect the water wasn’t boiled for long enough. Decide that hibernating in the hotel is best as, throughout the night, the hourly run is between the bed and toilet bowl only. The room faces the road so the noise is deafening until sleep overcomes the city and the elephants upstairs stomping around their room until midnight stop. If that isn’t enough, at 3 am this morning, we’re rudely woken by a drunk guy mistakingly trying to get into our room and only successfully waking up the whole hotel.
Looking forward to finally washing my hair in hot water this morning only to discover that there is no hot water. Of course, promised services when handing over your cash are just that in Kalimantan – empty promises. Without a good night’s sleep for the past 3 nights, my cynicism and snappiness are fully heightened! The other morning at breakfast, only ordered 2 hard-boiled eggs, as still feeling quite queasy. The tiniest eggs were served on a massive plate and looked quite ridiculous. One egg was rotten, so left this one on the plate. The cashier argued that we must pay for both eggs, and at a higher price than the menu’s price. This is Indonesia in 1998 and as we’re foreigners, charge they will and pay we must.
A surprise hotel in Pontianak
As the Orien Hotel is much too noisy, we hunt for another hotel for our last night in Kalimantan. After a sleepless 4 weeks, yearn for a hint of sleep as tomorrow is another long travel day.
Bumping into the City Hotel (or Pontianka Raya) is a pleasant surprise, finally. A lovely hot shower, colour TV, a clean tiled room, clean bathroom with flushing toilet and spotless bath – a first in 4 months. A charming and quiet hotel, which includes a delicious breakfast in the room’s price. What luxury and what a shame we only discovered this gem on our last night in Kalimantan.