One Last Time: Kalimantan’s Pontianak

The multicultural city of Pontianak in Kalimantan’s west has been the reoccurring haunt to explore Borneo, although now, it’s one last time…

West Kalimantan, Indonesia, SE Asia
Fascinating Kalimantan region, Borneo Island

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.

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

Banjarmasin to Pangkalan Bun and onto Pontianak

Banjarmasin to Pontianak, Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, SE Asia

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.

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

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.

Pontianak to Singkawang, Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, SE Asia

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.

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

Pasar Terapung Muara Kuin, Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia, SE Asia
Will miss Banjamasin’s Pasar Terapung Muara Kuin

8 responses to “One Last Time: Kalimantan’s Pontianak”

  1. Ms Fei Avatar
    Ms Fei

    I’m sorry you have to go through those unbearable moments whilst staying in Pontianak. But, I live in Pontianak and I am a bataknese. If you would, one day, visit Pontianak again, do tell me and I will make up for the bad experience you have had. I know Pontianak alot and I’ll bring you to the best restaurants in town. As for your resting place, just sleep at my home for free. It is just few kilometers away from the International airport Supadio. Nice to stumble upon your website, as Google advise I might be interested in. God bless.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      What lovely and humbling feedback from a Pontianak local. A very kind offer indeed and if I’m ever in Pontianak, I will look you up. 🙂 This travel was back in 1998 and I think things may have changed since then as Pontianak wasn’t a tourist destination.
      What did you search on in Google to stumble on Image Earth Travel?
      Thanks again for the very kind offer.
      Take care

  2. gillmorris Avatar

    I feel your pain Nilla! A good experience nonetheless?! Would you ever go back there? I wonder how it has changed! xx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes, you must always take away the positives of any experience and use the negative experiences as lessons. 😉
      I go hot and cold on returning to Indonesia, but there’s still so much of the Archipelago and the untouched islands to explore. I’m not sure that I’d want to return though as I believe that Palm Oil plantations have consumed the natural jungle/forest so not much left these days, which means the fauna is also gone.
      I see photos of Jakarta and it’s such a different city and even more massive than when I was there in ’98! Think I mentioned this before, but often, when I’ve returned to a country/place, I’ve been disappointed by ‘progress’ – sometimes it’s best to remember a place as it was… 😉 xx

  3. Dave Ply Avatar

    I might be tempted to suggest that while I was a foreigner, the money I bring them is local…

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Dave
      Good point! Back then it felt as though they wanted the tourist dollar but not the tourist. I can understand tourism can destroy a culture/region/country if done badly, although if done correctly, then it benefits everyone.
      Just my thoughts.
      Hope all is well with you and appreciate your comment.

  4. Yetismith Avatar

    Wonderful series of tales. I can feel it, see it, hear it all! You endured far more than I ever did. Most of my trips were limited to 2 weeks (except Sudan which was 3). Usually at the end there was a decent hotel and how we enjoyed the luxuries! Indonesia, as I recall, was fascinating and beautiful. Most of the people were sweet and friendly. But government officials. I never met one anywhere inn the world that wasn’t arrogant and nasty. Look forward to what comes next.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Carolyn

      It’s been fun digitising my travel journals but selecting the photos was the hardest as my negatives were damaged. This series brought back a lot of memories and there’s only one more post to everything up. 😉
      Indonesia was fascinating in many ways but also a hard slog travelling there in 1998. I’m sure it’s easier these days but when I look back, I’m also sure that there isn’t much jungle or forests left. Part of me wants to return but another part doesn’t as sometimes it’s best not to return.

      I’m not sure what I’ll write about next but I have so many journals to go yet…
      Thank you for following my tales.

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