Exploring Indonesia: Borneo Adventures

Many beautiful places make up the unique archipelago of Indonesia, and after we explored the island of Flores (click here to read all about our trip to Flores) not so long ago, we decided to venture beyond Bali again and share a Borneo adventure with you. 

Directly north of Bali lies the enchanting island of Kalimantan, better known as Borneo, which comprises three different countries; Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia.

It might surprise you that Borneo’s rainforests are thought to be the oldest on the planet, estimated at over 130 million years old – that’s twice as old as the Amazon rainforest in South America.

It is also one of only two places in the world where you can still see orangutans in the wild, the other being Sumatra. And with Borneo being surprisingly easy to access from Bali, we didn’t need much persuasion to pack our mosquito spray and binoculars and venture off in search of spotting these elusive primates for ourselves.

An Orangutan looking for food in the Borneo jungle
Photo by Chantal Rae

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Getting to Borneo from Bali

Borneo has a surprisingly large amount of airports, so it is essential when booking the flights that you make sure to look carefully at the area you want to be in.

We arranged a boat tour with the company ‘Wow Borneo’ and found them extremely helpful throughout the booking process.

Our destination was Pangkalan Bun, located on the south-west of the island. From Bali you fly directly to Surabaya which takes around 55mins, then our connecting flight from Surabaya lasted around 1 hour and 30 mins before we landed in Pangkalan Bun.

Once we came out of the arrivals, it was easy to find the airport taxi rank to take us to our hotel. There is a flat-rate ticket system in operation, and our taxi cost 100,000 Rp (approx $7 USD) to take us to the hotel, which was a 25min drive into the main town.

Where to stay in Pangkalan Bun?

There is not much choice when searching for a place to stay in Pangkalan Bun. We decided to stay at the Brits Hotel, which was centrally located and had clean rooms, and a swimming pool and offered a decent buffet breakfast included with the room price.

Borneo is a predominantly Muslim island, and even though we were travelling during the month-long celebration of Ramadan, we hadn’t considered the amount of nighttime noise activity that would be coming from the various mosques positioned around the hotel’s location.

If you find yourself travelling during the same time of year, we would recommend taking some earplugs to help you get a restful night’s sleep!

There was a great variety of room service food on offer at the hotel, however, we wanted to venture out in the evening and enjoy exploring the hustle and bustle of the town as people came out to break their fast (puasa).

There are plenty of cheap, local warungs to eat at, but our advice would be to make sure that the prices are displayed on the menu before you order, so that you don’t get any expensive surprises when you go to pay your bill.

Brits Hotel

Orangutan boat tour – Day 1

After breakfast, we were collected from the hotel by our guide from the company ‘Wow Borneo’ who we had arranged our boat tour with. They offer a whole host of different boat tours, with various sightseeing opportunities around the local area.

We had decided to go for the ‘3-day, 2-night Orangutan Tour’ option and were driven to the port of Kumai, about 25mins away, to board our boat. Our guide Faisal was from the local area and spoke perfect English.

As we climbed aboard our boat, we were introduced to the rest of the crew who would be looking after us during our 3-day adventure. The boat was a traditional wooden boat called a Klotok, and ours had been designed to accommodate up to seven passengers with the option of a double room, superior double room and a room with bunk beds. It impressively boasts solar panel technology, which runs the fans and air conditioners on board, keeping you nice and cool in amongst the jungle heat.

The Kumai - the boat we stayed on during our 3 days 2 nights Borneo Adventure
Photo by Wow Borneo
A superior cabin on the boat we booked by Wow Borneo
Photo by Wow Borneo

We set off and slowly made our way into the entrance of the Tanjung Puting National Park, taking full advantage of the relaxing ambience onboard as our informative guide told us all about the local ecosystem.

There are 100 animals that are endemic to Borneo, meaning that they can only be found in this particular location, such as the Proboscis monkey, Bornean clouded leopards and Bornean rhino. Unfortunately, due to the growing trade in palm oil these habitats are growing ever smaller. Faisal warned us that we needed to be prepared that we may not be fortunate enough to see orangutans in the wild during our trip.

As the boat navigated its way through the vast Sekonyer River, we found ourselves at Tanjung Harapan, the first of three orangutan rehabilitation centres we would visit on our tour. It was a short walk through the forest (bring plenty of mosquito repellent!), and we soon found ourselves at the platforms, ready for feeding time. We sat and watched in awe as orangutans appeared from all directions, loading up with bananas before taking themselves off the trees. Faisal, our guide, was a wealth of information and answered all of our orangutan-related questions as we simultaneously gazed upon these peaceful creatures that were a mere 10 metres away.

An Orangutan looking for food in the Borneo jungle
Photo by Chantal Rae
Taking a selfie with an Orangutan in the jungle of Borneo
Photo by Natasha Ross

Back on the boat we were greeted with cool towels, fried bananas (pisang goreng) and fresh dragon fruit juice as we set off down the river. As we basked in the sunshine, we saw bright Kingfishers swooping over the water and groups of Long-tailed Macaque monkeys cheekily playing in the trees.

Dinner was served, and the food was not only beautifully fresh but also delicious. Just when we thought the day couldn’t get any better, we suddenly caught a glimpse of a large figure huddled high up in the trees – it was a wild female orangutan! We couldn’t believe our luck and were totally captivated as we observed her frolicking in the branches for over twenty minutes, before she gracefully made her way further into the forest. What a way to end our first day.

Dinner time on the boat we stayed at during our Borneo Adventure
Photo by Wow Borneo
Orangutan in the trees of the Borneo jungle
Photo by Chantal Rae

Orangutan boat tour – Day 2

After a comfortable night’s sleep, we were keen to see the sunrise over the river and were greeted with a dawn chorus of birds, gibbons and Proboscis monkeys as the wonderful crew brought us steaming pots of hot tea and coffee. After a delicious breakfast, we made our way deeper into the National Park onto our next destination, Camp Leaky.

The muddy Sekonyer River turned into a narrower, black canal locally nicknamed the Coca Cola River due to its colouring. Our guide told us to be on the lookout for crocodiles that are often found in the area, and sure enough, we spotted a couple that was lurking below the surface.

We arrived at Camp Leaky, established in 1971 and still an active research facility that continues to support the efforts of students and scientists from around the world in their research of orangutans. It was another short walk through the jungle to the feeding station, where we were greeted with the sight of numerous orangutans frolicking in the trees, and some curious ones venturing for a closer look at their latest human visitors.

Whilst it was heartening to see many baby orangutans being cradled by their mothers, the knowledge that these precious creatures are under threat due to habitat deforestation was never far away.

Primate in Borneo Sanctuary
Photo by Chantal Rae
River tour on the Sekoyor river
Photo by Natasha Ross

Back onboard the klotok boat, we continued to cruise downstream, enjoying another delicious meal along the way. In the late afternoon, we moored the boat, ready to take part in a night trek once the sun had gone down.

After dinner, we were given torches and enjoyed an hour-long guided trek where we saw fireflies, tree frogs and even some rather large tarantulas! It was a memorable way to finish off our final evening in the jungle.

Night walk around the jungle
Photo by Natasha Ross
Boat View along Sekonyer River
Photo by Natasha Ross

Orangutan boat tour – Day 3

Our final morning started with an enthusiastic display from a group of newly awoken Proboscis monkeys that had been nestling in the trees near to our moored boat. After another delightful breakfast, we began to make our way back to the Sekonyer River, stopping-off at our third and final destination, Pondok Tanggui, a rehabilitation centre for ex-captive orangutans.

It was a short walk through the natural setting to the feeding station where we were met with a rather impressive-looking male orangutan who strutted confidently past us, making his way towards the food.

Faisal explained that the rangers never know how many orangutans will turn up for feeding time each day, as their preference is for a local fruit that grows deeper in the jungle. We had been so fortunate that at each location we had been to, we had seen more orangutans than we had been expecting. 

Sunrise on Sekonyer River
Photo by Natasha Ross
Breakfasts on board the boat during our Borneo Adventure
Photo by Natasha Ross

Back on the boat, lunch was served as we made our way back up the river one last time and out of the National Park. It was a seamless journey back to the port and we said heartfelt thank-yous and goodbyes to the crew that had truly gone above and beyond to make our experience in Borneo such a memorable one. 

Next, it was back in the car where we returned to the Brits Hotel for one final evening before returning to Bali the following day.

Needless to say, our Borneo adventure left us all with huge smiles on our faces and numerous happy memories of such a tranquil and magical setting. The amount of wildlife we saw had surpassed our expectations, and it was heartening to see a real commitment to protecting the future of the local orangutan population.

Unfortunately, with an increase in logging and rapidly spreading palm oil plantations, the number of orangutans is in dramatic decline. The Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation are working tirelessly to work with local communities in the area to conserve the Borneo orangutan and its habitat. You can find out more about how to support them on their website.

What was included in our Wow Borneo boat tour?

Transfers to and from the airport, private cabin accommodation with ensuite amenities and air-conditioning, all meals during the cruise, National Park entry ticket, English-speaking guide, snacks, coffee & tea, fruit juices & mineral water, ranger donations.

What was excluded in our Wow Borneo boat tour?

Final Words

Indonesia offers so many wonderful and exciting adventures to be had. Bali makes a perfect base to explore more of what Indonesia offers.

Check out the “Beyond Bali” section on our website to discover more Indonesian adventures!

 

This post was written by Natasha Ross.
Photo Credits to Chantal Rae

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