Friday, November 6, 2009


1. 5 Nov, Day 22, at breakfast at Hotel Idola, we met a group from GT Tyres (PT Gajah Tunggal) and its local agent in PT Trijaya Perkasa Abadi. Arijanto was wearing a T-shirt with the IMI logo. I thought they were on a auto trip too and wanted to exchange notes with them, but they were not. Told them Colin Heng of GT Tyres in Singapore was looking at sponsoring my all terrain tyres but this fell through as he could not get the right size in time for me. Mrs Purnomo were kind enough to arrange her company to check my tyres when we reach Banjarmasin. We took a group picture in front of Hotel Idola.

2. We left for Banjarmasin at about 11 am. Someone told us that it would take 4-5 hrs to get there and we did not check. As it turned out, it was more like 6-7 hrs, as Banjarmasin was some 420 km away. We told ourselves that in future we should always check. When we reached Palangka Raya, the provincial capital of Kalimantan Central, it was about 5 pm and it was getting dark. We decided to break journey here instead rather than proceeding to Banjarmasin. However, when Yeow Pheng called his relative, Ah Meng, Ah Meng told us he had already paid for the hotel in Banjarmasin. That left us no choice but to press on to Banjarmasin. We reached there at about 7.30 pm. It was not a joy driving at night. It required full attention, with little room for error and we were just traveling in darkness.

3. Ah Meng, his wife and youngest son met us at the Rattan Inn Hotel, the newest and most preferred hotel in Banjarmasin at the moment. After checking in and settling our luggage, we went out for dinner.

4. Banjarmasin has a population of 630 000. It is the largest city in Kalimantan and is also the provincial capital of South Kalimantan. It is located on the delta island near where Barito and Martapura rivers meet. It is a major trading centre in Southern Kalimantan and handles major exports from the region like timber (which has decline in importance), coal, gem stones etc. Its population comprises 96% Muslim.

5. Next morning, we woke up at 4.30 am to visit the floating market, Pasar Trapung at Kuin. It is considered a must-see for visitors to Banjarmasin. At the village jetty, Ah Meng hired a boat for 100K Rp. At 5.30 am, we made our way to the floating market in near darkness. There was few boats initially, but by about 6 am, many seemed to appear from nowhere.

6. They were mostly sampans, operated by 1-2 persons, selling vegetables and fruits. Ah Meng bought rambutans and some vegetables. There were more women than men in the sampans. The women wore colourful tudongs, adding to the colours of the morning landscape. All in, there must be 80-90 boats.

7. On the river banks, men and women in sarongs started to gather at the jetties of the sawmill to wash-up and do their morning washing. I presume their homes must be behind the sawmills. Away from the sawmills, along the shore, were houses in stilts and, at regular intervals, mosques. Smoldering smoke was emanating from the sawmills, even in the early hours, polluting the air and clouding the sky. Sun rose about 6 but we did get to see the sun until after 7 am.

8. At 6 +, boats carrying tourists like ours started to appear in good number. These 2 girls were obviously in very good mood and they posed for our pictures.

9. With better road networks, and now shops and supermarkets in the town, the floating market has outlived its original purpose and has now become more of a tourist event. There were more tourists with their cameras clicking away than locals shopping.

10. We hopped on to a breakfast boat and for about S$3 had coffee, satay and ketupak. More than other boats, the breakfast boat was doing a thriving business. Here is a picture of Ah Meng and his family.

11. As we made our way to the Monkey Island, the sun was just appearing. Not far away, we saw silhouette of a couple of islands. Visibility was really bad. They were really barges loaded with coal, pulled by tug-boats. We were told South and East Kalimantan are major coal producing regions, and coal is consumed internally or exported to China. The area is also a major exporter of gem stones.

12. The Monkey Island was nothing but an island to get the tourists to part with a few Rupiahs to buy peanuts to feed the monkeys. Nothing more. With the number of tourists turning up at the island, the monkeys must be overfed. They could also be very aggressive. There was a small temple with 2 broken statues of the Monkey Gods. It had deteriorated and I had feeling that few people now visit the temple because of the unpleasantness of the visit.

13. After a porridge breakfast, we returned to the hotel to collect the car for washing. This was how the car looked like, before cleaning. It took 2 hours to give the car a thorough clean up.

14. For lunch, Ah Meng drove us to Martapura (about 40 km from Banjarmasin), to eat Ikan Bakar (basically barbecue fish), at a place called Bincau. They were open air wooden sheds, built on stilts on the fringe of a pond. Was told on weekends, the place could be packed. Like the locals, we ate with our fingers.

15. I had always thought that bird nests were harvested in caves, like the Niah Caves we saw in Sarawak. I first saw buildings that were constructed to attract the swallows to build their nests in Singkawang. Ah Meng had invested in one, built next to his home, 4 storey high, 12 m by 24 m. According to Ah Meng, it would normally take about 5 years before one sees any return. Like all businesses, knowledge is key to success. Ah Meng explained to us how he experimented with various ideas to improve yield. In the evening, the swallows, like a swarm of bees, returned to their home. It is not as simple as we initially thought.

16. We had turtle soup dinner at Ah Meng's house, while watching the swallows coming home. In sharing our experience traveling from Pontianak to Sumpit, Ah Meng told us that the road from Balikpapan to Pontianak, coast to coast, from East to West Kalimantan, will be ready in 2010. The road will open up more areas for development. With 40-60% of the state revenue now kept by the provinces, the provinces now have more fund to undertake infrastructure projects. Previously, Jakarta took 70%.

17. Ah Meng (his name is Zhu Yuming), a Khek, grew up in a town near Singkawang. After school, at about 18, he went to work in Pontianak before taking up a job in the timber business in Banjarmasin. With the decline of the timber industry, he decided to move into the bird nest business. He is related to Ah Lan and Ah Keong of Singkawang. He and his wife, Ah Moi, were extremely good hosts during our brief visit here to Banjarmasin.

18. We will have our tyres checked by GT Tyres tomorrow before we head for Balikpapan, traveling along the coast and making one night stop before we get there.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


1. Yeow Pheng and I were delighted to celebrate our arrival at Sampit, with a beer at Hotel Idola, after 2 days of more than 500 km of grueling journey from Pontianak to Sampit, as we moved East and South into Kalimantan. It will be about 6-7 hrs drive to Banjarmasin today, but it should be a much easier drive.

2. Without a 4 by 4, one should not attempt this journey from Pontianak to Sampit. It will be much easier driving 1-2 years' time when the road improvement works are completed.

3. It was promising coming out of Pontianak, traveling East to our first check point, Tayan, but soon the road turned to unsealed laterite track. Along the way, we could not resist making a durian stop. Here, Yeow Pheng was having his durian breakfast in the middle of the road.

4. Near Tayan town (see landmark at the junction at Tayan), we had to take a ferry to cross the 300-400 m wide River Kapuas to Piasak. It was a 1.5 hrs wait at the ferry point, as we had to join the queue for the ferry which had a capacity of 6-7 vehicles. It was a steep slope down to the ferry and the heavy vehicles had to be pulled up by another vehicle. We had a drink at the shop near the ferry point while I read a book. The 2 girls there were too shy to have their picture taken.

5. From Piasak on, it was a mix of not bad sealed road, laterite tracks, and gravel roads in the process of upgrading. Roads were wide. My guess is that they were created by the logging industry some years ago. The 200-300 km from Tayan to Simpang Runtu was like a construction site, work in progress. Countless bridges and culverts were under construction, next to the old wooden bridges (some close to crumbling) and mud pools near them. There were 4 "serious" mud pools that could have got us stucked. We had to switch to low gear, high torque for the Pajero to get us out of the trouble. Otherwise, we would likely have to stay the night next to the mud pool.

6. It was heavy driving, but we were happy with some distractions along the way - the scenic view of rolling terrain (reminded me of NZ, but less the sheeps), and the small beautiful wooden churches and mosques. The variations in their design made them especially interesting. The picture on above (with me in yellow T shirt) shows an
hill with stones and many dry tree trunks sticking out. A pretty scene.

7. Many of the hills were covered with secondary forests, possibly the result of the logging industry some years ago. Many had now been cleared, with remnants of charred trees, ready for possibly oil palms. Oil palm plantations were common along the way, but they became massive as we approached Simpang Runtu; kms after kms, all the way to the horizon. Without doubt, Kalimantan will become a major palm oil producing region in the world; and it has the land.

7. The area where we traveled through was very thinly populated, with occasional small villages. Near them, there were some small clearings where padi was planted; often they were planted between remnants of charred stumps. It was a fair mix of churches and mosques along the way; unlike on the way to Singkawang over the hills where they were mostly churches. There were no petrol stations for a long stretch, from Tayan to Simpang Rintu, and it got us very anxious at one point. It was a great relief when we were able to buy 20 litres at a stall along the way, though at 50% higher in price. If we run out of petrol there, it would be real trouble.

8. At the end of the first day on this stretch, we ended up near Sandai and checked into Hotel Rahayu after dark. We slept in separate rooms, as the hotel did not have twin-sharing, at 100-120K Rps a night. We had chay kueh tiow at the fruits stall along the only street in Sandai. A shop ran by a Teochew lady ran out of food (ran out of food at 6.30 pm!!) and we were referred to this fruit stall. The "chef" too was Teochew. Went to bed early. The hotel generator came on at 5 am and woke me up. Read a book before Yeow Pheng came knocking on the door at 6 am. He was all ready to drive. Here you see him cleaning the windscreen and windows of the Pajero. The rest of the car was too dirty to clean. The 2 lady receptionists at the hotel were very friendly, probably seeing the 2 Martians coming to their hotel at Sandai for the first time.

9. At one of our coffee break, we saw this cute little twin.

10. From Sampit, the checkpoints for this part of our journey through the rugged terrain of Kalimantan included:

Tayan (426 km), Piasak (418), Balai Berkuak (365), Air Kuning (325), Sandai (301), Nanga Tayap (289), Tanjong Asam (277, see the picture on the right, of the formless structure at the junction), Kudangan (237), Lamandau (169, see the sculpture with a pot at the top), and Simpang Runtu (136).

11. This was the arch marking the separation between East and Central Kalimantan.

12. Overall, it was a challenging but a very memorable part of the Part 2 journey.

Monday, November 2, 2009


1. Day 18, Nov 1, was a Sunday. After breakfast, Yeow Pheng left for mass with Ah Keong and Ah Lan and then to the cementary to pay respect to his in-laws. I stayed behind at the hotel to read and blog. At 10 am, they came back to the hotel to pick me to go for the famous Singkawang pork noodles. Looking at the turnover of customers, the stall was obviously popular with the locals.

2. After dropping by to see a garden at the outskirt of the town (Yeow Pheng was considering the possibility of doing a lantern show there) and a brief stop-over at Ah Keong's furniture shop, we returned to the hotel to check-out. At 2 pm, we were off, on the road to Pontianak. The very hospitable Ah Keong and Ah Lan were there to send us off and ensure that we were on the right road to Pontianak.

3. Pontianak was some 120 km away, and we were expecting to reach it before 5 pm, including breaks in between. It was a pleasant drive, hugging the coastline for most of the way. The road was densely dotted with houses on both sides, interspersing with mosques at regular intervals. We had a rambutan break first, eating the rambutans Ah Lan bought us, followed by a coconut break at one of the scenic rest stops.

4. After Sungei Pinyuh, we had about 40 km to go to Pontianak. As we approached the city, a canal separates the houses from the road that we were traveling. Arched wooden bridges span the canal at regular intervals, making it looking rather like Suzhou and Venice. Small boats plied the canal. Some children were swimming, some were having their evening baths. Others were doing their washing. It is the life-line of the people there.

5. Pontianak is located at the confluence of 2 major rivers that flow into Kapuas River and then to the sea. To get from one part of the city to another would often entail crossing 2 high metal arch bridges. This is the signature skyline of Pontianak, much like Sydney. With the help of our GPS, we checked into Grand Mahkota Hotel, at 335 000 Rp a night (less than S$50).

6. From the 7th floor of the hotel, we have a good view of the city from the window. It is a city of largely low rise buildings, a sea of rusty brownish zinc roofs; densely compacted. Kapuas River could be seen in the distance, with a couple of high container quay cranes sticking out. River was a busy river. Roads are swarmed with motorcycles, though not quite a much as Ho Chi Ming City. One check put its population at about half million in 2004, but it looks like more than one million to me.

7. We had the chay kueh tiow packed from Singkawang for dinner. After some blogging, we had a round of karaoke at the hotel.

8. The next morning, Day 19, Nov 2, we had a couple of things to take care of at Pontianak. First stop was IMI (Indonesia Motorsport Association) and we got there at about 10 with the taxi booked from the hotel for the day. IMI Head Office at Jakarta required us to have our International Driving Licence endorsed by IMI. Machmud Alkadrie, Head of IMI West Kalimantan, duly had our licences stamped and endorsed by him. He was unsure initially where to stamp on the licence and I suggested to him an empty space to do so.

9. Next was to Pelni office to find out more about the shipping schedules between Balikpapan to Makassar and from Makassar to Flores Islands (or to other islands). Two lady officers there assisted us with our queries. They told us that Pelni ships are largely passenger ships. Ships that could carry cars ply between Pontianak to Jakarta and to Semarang but their schedules are established by its HQ in Jakarta and are very uncertain. They had no information about shipping between Balikpapan and Makassar and advised us to see a shipping agent, Prima Vista, instead. At Prima Vista, we were similarly advised that shipping schedules are tentative and that on 7 Nov there is a ship calling at Balikpapan for Makassar, adding that the company does not take booking. From Makassar, there are ships sailing to Surabaya and other islands, but we have to find out more at Makassar.

10. Taking stock of what we were told, Yeow Pheng and I decided that we should proceed with our journey tomorrow to Banjarmasin and then to Balikpapan. We will aim to reach Balikpapan by 7 Nov to catch the ship to Makassar. At Makassar, we will adjust our plan accordingly depending what ship is available and suitable for us for our next stage of the journey.

11. After lunch, we took a drive to visit the Equator Memorial. It was first built by a Dutch geographer in 1928 to mark the point where the Equator crosses Pontianak. Since then, it had been refurbished. Here, I was standing on the Equator itself (the green line) to take this picture. Here, one could hop from one hemisphere to another.

12. We next dropped by the West Kalimantan Museum and the Dayak Museum (the long house), but unfortunately they were all closed. These are some pictures of the outside. Along the corridor of the long house were some beautiful art work of the Dayaks.

13. Our next stop was the Kadriah Palace of the Sultanate of Pontianak; built by Sultan Sayyid Abdurrahman Alkadri, the founder of Pontianak City, in 1771. Made of wood, the palace is still in relatively good condition, though could be better maintained. In there, there are many pictures of the sultans and their families, bed, clothes etc. The entrance to the hall is beautiful. If properly done, this palace could become a tourist draw. The approach to the palace, however, would require a major cleaning up.

14. We had early dinner at a seafood restaurant along Kapuas River, in a boat berthed along side the stilt structures. Nearby, kids were skate boarding and playing cards. They were happy to have their pictures taken. We were fortunate to have a few great sunset shots.

15. We will set off early this morning to Banjarmasin. Journey is about 1400 km and we intend to take 2 night stops so that we can make the distance in a more leisurely pace, especially when the route there is still unclear for a stretch.