East Kalimantan, or Kalimantan Timur (Kaltim), is perhaps the most accessible part of Kalimantan and at present probably the most industrially advanced province of Indonesian Borneo. Mostly its prosperity is due to its oil and timber resources.

Dayak secondary graves
Dayak secondary graves. Photo ©Narve Rio

After Irian Jaya it is the second most spacious province of Indonesia, and with its 2.5 mill people population density is among the lowest of Indonesia with about 12/km2.

The oil-port of Balikpapan hosts an international airport, the second busiest airport in the nation after Jakarta, and is the gateway even to the provincial capital of Samarinda a few hours inland by car.

Ironwood (kayu ulin) paving in Muara Muntai
Ironwood (kayu ulin) paving in Muara Muntai. Photo ©Narve Rio

In these cities you’ll find up to four-star hotels and most conveniences such as internet access etc. From both Balikpapan and Samarinda it is possible to fly inland and to coastal destinations, notably Berau and Bulungan to the north and to the upper regions of the Mahakam river in a western direction. Other means of transportation are boats; ferries, speedboats or longboats (ketinting), and cars. The “Trans-Kalimantan Highway” connects Sangkulirang (Banua Baru) in the north with Samarinda through Balikpapan further on to the southernmost district capital of Tanah Grogot in Pasir.

Rattan handicrafts and 'ikat doyo' weaving
Rattan handicrafts and ‘ikat doyo’ weaving. Photo ©Narve Rio

The main attractions of East Kalimantan are found along the Mahakam river. From the Bayur Estuary the Mahakam reaches more than 350 km north-west into the province with its 920 km of running water. The capital of Kutai regency Tenggarong, a short distance upriver from Samarinda, was once the seat of the Kutai sultanate, and now houses several museums as well as what used to be an annual festival, the Erau festival celebrating the foundation of Tenggarong.

Tanjung Isuy
Tanjung Isuy. Photo ©Narve Rio

Further upriver there are three lakes in a row, one of them with renowned harbour village Tanjung Isuy, a tourist destination mainly founded on sales of handicrafts. Beyond the lakes you will enter the original lands of the traditional Dayak peoples. In Melak, a smaller river village, it is possible to get a taste of traditional life of the forest dependent populations. The forest west of Melak also houses the Kersik Luway nature reserve, where the ‘Black Orchid’ grows, as well as longhouse village Pepas Eheng where rattan handicrafts are produced and sold. Just a little upstream from Long Bagun the Mahakam is cut off from the coastal area by big rapids. Above this level there are few facilities for the average tourist.

East Kalimantan longhouse
East Kalimantan Longhouse. Photo ©Narve Rio

The vast areas to the north of Balikpapan are seldom visited by turists. Still, in Berau district divers and snorkellers have started to discover hidden treasures on the coast, along with the development of industrial towns. Apokayan and Bulungan still consists of mainly undulating forested hills, rapidly declining reserves though, forest dwelling populations, and the growing industrial capital of Tarakan.

River transport by 'ketinting' boat
River transport by ‘ketinting’ boat. Photo ©Narve Rio

To the south of Balikpapan the area of Pasir offers little of interest for a tourist, unless you are on your way by car to the South Kalimantan capital of Banjarmasin or to the Barito river reaching into Central Kalimantan.
Lots of information on East Kalimantan is available on the internet.

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Bjørn Grøtting

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Photographer based in Norway. See a collection of my best photos in the portfolio. Licensing of images is done through Photoshelter or alamy.
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