1. Morning of 9 Nov, Day 26, was spent visiting Prima Vista, Pelni, and KM Dharma Ferry's, to establish shipping schedules between Balikpapan and Makassar, and Makassar to the islands in the South. Prima Vista and KM Dharma have ships plying between Balikpapan and Makassar/Pare Pare with roll on-roll off facilities. Pelni said their ships only carry people. They all said that, from Makassar, they have ships to Surabaya but transit at Balikpapan; but not to the Nusa Tenggara islands in the South directly.
2. After assessing the options and our time line, Yeow Pheng and I decided to skip Sulawesi and sail from Balikpapan to Surabaya instead, and proceed to visit Bali, Lombok etc from there. Weighing between Prima Vista and KM Dharma, we decided to book ourselves with KM Dharma to Surabaya at a total cost of 3 mil Rps (S$430) for car and a twin-sharing room. Prima Vista only has one class of passenger travel.
3. Departure: Balikpapan, 12 Nov, 9.00 pm; Arrival: Surabaya, 14 Nov, 5 pm.
4. We decided to check out of Sigata Hotel, travel North to spend the next 1-2 days to visit Samarinda, before returning to Balikpapan to catch the ship. It was an easy 2.5 hours drive North to Samarinda. With Rizal's recommendation, we checked into Mesra Business and Resorts Hotel for 500 000 Rps (about S$70). Its a sprawling complex, with chalets and couple of hotel blocks, meeting and function rooms, 2 swimming pools, and 3 restaurants. Sitting on a little hill at a junction in the town, it has a good view of the city.
5. Samarinda is the capital of East Kalimantan. Its population stood at 560 000 (2000) and was reported as the largest city in East Kalimantan. It straddles the banks of Mahakam river, the major transportation lifeline to the inner areas. Tenggarong, the ancient capital of the Kutai Sultanate is half an hour away, up Mahakam river. The riverine city looked magnificent as we descent the hill from the South towards Mahakam river, with the giant mosque in the distance on the right.
6. In the evening, before dinner, we took a stroll in the town near the river. At the river bank were many loading/unloading points. Adjoining areas were used for storage and garbage in what appeared to be rather uncontrolled. Drains carried still water and garbage. A "keep the city clean" campaign will do the city a great deal of good. Before we picked up our car, we browsed the shops in a shopping mall, Mesra Mall. This showcase was beautifully done up.
7. We returned to the hotel for dinner. Two restaurants were serving buffet; one was too crowded with a group function, the other had the food containers empty. We ended up in the third restaurant, ordering mee goreng, nasi goreng and a vegetable dish. We were taken aback by the bill. Didn't expect it would cost us 300 000 Rps (about S$40) for these dishes.
8. Next morning, we decided to visit the visitor centre, before dropping by the big mosque, Gedung Islamic Centre Samarinda. After circling around a couple of times, we found the visitor centre not far from the river. Erny at the visitor centre spoke good English and pointed us to Tenggarong, to visit the Museum and the Kutai Sultanate Palace.
9. The Gedung Islamic Centre Samarinda is huge, with a beautiful dome. It was opened by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in June 2008. We had not seen anything like it during our trip. We reckoned it could possibly be the biggest in Indonesia. With its size, it could potentially take a big percentage of the Muslim population in Samarinda. In its "lobby" is this model of the complex and a big drum.
10. After the short visit, we left Samarinda for Tenggarong, to see the Museum and the palace of the Kutai Sultanate. At about 20 km away, it took us about 30 mins to get there. The road to Tenggarong was surprisingly good, 2 lanes either way, concrete. Paid 2000 Rps toll; first time we paid toll in Indonesia so far. We had lunch at Tenggarong before visiting the Museum and the Palace.
11. Like what Lonely Planet indicated, Erny of the visitor centre told us that the museum, the Mulawarman Museum, is only open on Sunday. So, we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was opened when we got there. There was a group of students in uniform which had just finished their visit to the Museum. I would not be surprised the Museum was opened for them. At any rate, we paid for the ticket and went in for a visit.
12. The palace was rebuilt by the Dutch after the original was destroyed by fire. It was the seat of 19 sultans who reigned from here. After the last sultan stepped down in 1960, the palace was handed over to the state for use as a museum. In there were artifacts belonging to the sultans - throne, jewelry, head gears, musical instruments, weapons, and etc. There was section on traditional cloth weaving by the Kutai people, key industries (gold and coal mining and timber), photographs of the sultans, and porcelains from Ming and Qing Dynasty. It had explanatory notes in English. Unfortunately, it was very thin on the history of the Kutai Sultanate.
13. Behind the museum is the new unoccupied Sultan Palace (Kedaton Kertanegara), and a charming mosque next to it. However, the palace was under renovation and I did not try to get in.
14. On the way out, we circled the new palace and the neighbouring area to have a second look but was stopped by the Police; seeing us circling the area might have created some suspicion (or curiosity). After taking my driving licence (I was driving then) we were asked to follow the Police car to nearby Police post where their bosses were. Soon, we were surrounded by some 7-8 Police officers. I was asked to produce car documents and visa. They looked through the documents, discussed among themselves, asked a few more questions; while Yeow Pheng (with their permission) was clicking away taking pictures of this event. They were satisfied with the documents I produced and we were let off after about 30 mins. This was the second time we were stopped by the Police; first time was in Sarawak.
15. Soon, we were on the way back to Balikpapan. We would have 2 days before boarding the ship to Surabaya. We wanted to leave ourselves enough time to catch up with our blogs, do our laundry and take care of whatever loose ends. We decided to check into Novotel at close to 1 mil Rps a night, to ensure that we have good internet services before the 2 days black out on board the ship.