Wonderful Indonesia: A river cruise through the Borneo jungle on a Klotok

I would never have believed you (or anyone else for that matter) if you had told me that one day, I, a very average mom of 2, would travel to the exotic island of Borneo!

Never in all my travel dreams (and there are many!) did I imagine myself sailing down a river through a jungle, or sleeping on a traditional Indonesian boat while lying next to 6 strangers and listening to the sounds of nature at night, or trekking through the dense jungle alive with poisonous creatures, or staring into the eyes of a huge orangutan…

Nope, these are the things of National Geographic, or David Attenborough documentaries, or at the very least those exotic Instagram accounts that I follow with envy… These are not the experiences of my suburban life!

Except when they actually are!!

I recently had all of these experiences, and so many more, on my amazing #TripofWonders to Indonesia.

It’s impossible to capture the entire experience in one post so I’m going to have to cover each highlight and destination in a separate post. Expect 8 over the coming weeks!

I advise you to look away now if you can’t handle an overload of photos of my incredible trip, but I hope you won’t leave. I hope you will stay and be infinitely inspired by incredible Indonesia.

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After a day spent unofficially exploring Jakarta and an official welcome dinner, it was time to head off on our itinerary to discover the first of our 4 destinations scattered across the Indonesia archipelago.

The first flight of 10 internal flights landed at Iskandar Airport in Pangkalan Bun and we headed off on a bus to the river port. We were greeted by an amazing group of traditional dancers who performed a welcome ceremony for us…

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After the beautiful ceremony and a meet and greet / selfie session with the dancers, we head off to what is to become our home for the next 48 hours… A traditional Klotok boat.

If I’m honest I was very nervous about what to expect. I had read on the itinerary we would be spending the night aboard and having only just met my fellow travellers the night before I didn’t know how I would feel about spending the night sleeping next to them in such close confines!!

I shouldn’t have worried. By the end of the first day we had spent so much time together chatting about every topic under the sun that they all felt like fast friends! Not to mention the bonding that happens when you’re experiencing the most extreme humidity (and subsequent sweating) you’ve ever encountered!

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Cruising on a Klotok

These traditional fishing boats are basic, but the experience was anything but! In fact I would say that this was my most preferred method of travel throughout the whole trip. I loved it’s authenticity.

Families, many with small kids, run the boats as their businesses and live on the bottom deck, preparing food, washing dishes, steering us through the quiet waters…

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Our journey was to take past these strange “hotels” No, not for people… but for swallows! Yes this is big business in Borneo. The swallows spit is used in the manufacture of whitening creams!?

As we cruised the wide river heading to the entrance of the Sekonyer River, we made ourselves comfortable on the upper deck. It wasn’t hard. Lunch was served swiftly and it was delicious!

I had been nervous about what food to expect on the trip, especially on a boat in Borneo. Again my fears were unfounded. The food was incredible. Plenty of fish, rice, tempeh and steamed or deep fried veg, including what were to become my favourite foodie find of the trip… Piesang Goreng… otherwise known as fried bananas! Mmmmmm

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Tanjung Puting National Park

Borneo is one of the only places in the world where you can see orangutans in their natural habitat (Sumatra being the other).

Tanjung Puting National Park, signposted on the side of the jungle mangrove, is one of the best places to see these beautiful primates…. We had arrived! It felt like I was living in The Jungle Book.

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As we cruised deeper into the jungle the vegetation changed from palm-fringed mangroves to denser forest. The water changed too… it started as muddy and brown and later became black and much clearer!

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We changed too on that river.

We started the journey as a group of strangers making polite conversation and became a group of friends enjoying an amazing adventure together.

I started the journey as a mom of 2 terrified of what lay ahead. I became a woman embracing an incredible solo travel opportunity, appreciating the beauty of this unique experience, tapping into a side of me that has been dormant for years. The quiet hours that this slow journey allowed changed my soul.

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But it wasn’t all serious introspection… there was fun to be had too! A few hours of slow travel on a river also allowed for some great moments of boat to boat charades – making this trip even more memorable!

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Travelling by Klotok, although basic, turned out to be a highlight of my trip. At each pier we pulled up alongside our fellow boats and clambered across their decks and off into the jungle to find our orangutans.

Each time we when trekking, we arrived back hot and sweaty, and were always welcomed with fresh face towels, delicious snacks and cold drinks…

There was even the chance to buy a few beers from the friendly “beer guy” who sped up and down the river with supplies of Bintang for the parched foreigners and these were particularly pleasant for our sunset cruise as we tried to spot the bizarre looking Proboscis monkeys in the trees…

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Fortunately we found them… a whole family feasting on berries at the top of the trees…

Known as the bekantan in Indonesia, the monkey is a reddish-brown arboreal Old World monkey that is endemic to the southeast Asian island of Borneo and it co-exists peacefully with the orangutan.

Fun Fact: The monkey also goes by the Indonesian name monyet belanda (“Dutch monkey”), or even orang belanda (“Dutchman”), as Indonesians remarked that the Dutch colonisers often had similarly large bellies and noses.

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Our first evening meal was a magical one, our tables taken ashore onto the pier for a candlelit meal of prawns, noodles and fish, under the stars.

As the cool of the night came, it was finally time for bed and we headed back to our respective boats (all tied together for the night) and found our spot beneath the communal mossie net.

Initially I struggled to fall asleep, (the sounds of the jungle far louder at night!), but fortunately fate had me pack a pair of earplugs at the last minute and I snuck off to search for them in my bag, trying not to disturb my fellow snoozing travellers and the resident boat kitten who had made it’s bed at my feet for the night!

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The next morning started early (no black out lining here!) But, as is the case with most early starts, it was worth it! A beautiful mist rose from the water and we set off early to ensure we got a good viewing spot at the next camp.

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Our trip down the Sekonyer River included visits to 3 orangutan camps with our knowledgeable guides: Tanjung Harapan, Pondok Tanggui, and Camp Leakey. (Come back next week to find out more about these incredible creatures and see some of my photos. OK, a lot of my photos!)

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How to get to Tanjung Puting National Park, Borneo

Flights from Jakarta to Pangkalan Bun, Kalimantan are about 1 hour long. Prices start from around R1500 (approx US$100) return depending on the airline and when you fly.

Airlines that fly to Pangkalan include Kalstar and Garuda but you can also search and book via Skyscanner as they have all the local airlines listed and you can compare the prices. Flights from Jakarta are generally cheaper than from Bali.

If you arrive one day before the boat tour leaves, or want to rest for one night before catching your outbound flight, you might need to stay one or two nights in Pangkalan Bun town. We stayed at the Swiss Bellinn Hotel and it has a shower, comfy bed and good breakfast.

 

How to visit the orangutans of Borneo

You are only allowed to enter in the Tanjung Puting National Park accompanied by a local, certified guide.

At the airport you can ask for info on tours at the tourist information desk but it’s recommend that you book everything in advance.

Our Klotok boat cruise and orangutan visit was with Orangutandays. They run trips from 1 Night 2 Days to 3 Nights 4 Days in length and you can choose the length of your trip according to your budget and ability to rough it!

Prices start from R2800 (approx US$200) depending on how many people are on board the boat.

All tours include transport from the airport, accommodation on the boat, three traditional Indonesian meals per day, snacks and drinks plus the guides and the camp entrance and ranger fees.

It’s really great to go with a guide as they explain all about the orangutans and their habit, the climate, the river, the work at the camps as well as pointing out the local plants, trees and the history behind each conservation center.

A good guide and responsible tour company are essentials when travelling to this part of the world.

 

Tips for visiting the jungles of Borneo

  • Be prepared to disconnect digitally. There is no wifi or 3G in the jungle!
  • Drink only bottled mineral water to avoid stomach upsets (I’d also advise to use it to brush your teeth)
  • Boats have generators that can be used to charge camera batteries or electronic equipment but come prepared with extras just in case!
  • Jungles = insects. Bring mosquito repellent. One with DEET is recommended. That being said I barely had any mosquito bites during this trip. Maybe 1 or 2 at the most.
  • Use sunscreen and wear a hat
  • Pack a pair of running shoes and thick socks for the short treks to the feeding stations (2km at most)
  • Be sure to watch where you walk to avoid twisting your ankle on a tree root!
  • High season is from June – October. Feeding stations at the camps will be more crowded during this period.
  • This is not a 5 star hotel. You will sleep overnight on the boats and will only be provided with a mattresses, pillow and mosquito nets.
  • Pack a sarong, eye mask and earplugs – these were my lifesavers for getting a good night’s rest
  • Take motion sickness tablets just in case you struggle with being on a boat all day (and night!)
  • Wear lightweight clothing but take a warm top too. You might be more comfortable at night in a pair of long pants like leggings and a long sleeve top as it can feel quite damp in the jungle at night.
  • Be prepared to sweat. There are only bucket showers on board the boats so you’ll likely be sticky for a good 48 hours!
  • Don’t take too much luggage
  • Take a zoom lens for your camera for the best photos of the orangutans.
  • I loved trying the Indonesian food and had not problems with it affecting me but if you are worried about food poisoning avoid raw food, and stick with rice and cooked fish.
  • Bring cash to buy soft drinks or beer from the speed boats that cruise the river selling drinks and to tip your crew at the end of your trip.

 

 

To see more of what my fellow travel bloggers enjoyed about this part of our trip visit a few of their blogs by clicking on the links below…

Amelia from xameliax

Annika from The Midnight Blue Elephant

Nikki from Pin the Map Project

Cynthia from Every Footstep an Adventure

Natalie from Love and Road

 

And be sure to check out this awesome video from Tyler Cave of our time spent in the jungles of Borneo. Amazing!

Read more about my #TripofWonders experience in Indonesia here:

Exploring Jakarta

Orangutan encounters in Borneo

The incredible islands of Wakatobi

Visiting the Bajo Tribe of Water Gypsies

The paradise of Hoga Island

Exploring the Komodo Islands

Experiencing the culture of Melo Village in Flores Island

A visit to Uluwatu Temple in Bali

A beautiful day spent at a Balinese home -cooking Balinese food and ploughing the rice paddies!

Images: Kathryn Rossiter

 

Disclosure: 8.

My trip to Indonesia was on the invitation of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism as part of the Trip of Wonders. For more information on travelling to Indonesia please visit www.indonesia.travel and follow @indtravel on Twitter or Instagram and search the hashtags #WonderfulIndonesia #TripofWonders for more incredible photos from our journey

Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for almost 6 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

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