BUKIT BAKA BUKIT RAYA NATIONAL PARK
Named after the mountains of Bukit Baka (1620 m) and Kalimantan`s highest peak Bukit Raya (2278 m), the national park stretches across the Schwaner Mountains on the border of Central and West Kalimantan.
Apart from the iconic orangutan, the park is home to an exceptional eco-system, including clouded leopards, helmeted rhinoceros, sun bears, rare birdlife, the nearly extinct Pygmy elephant and various species of primates as well as rare flora, e.g. the world`s largest flower ‘Rafflesia’.
The Ot-Danum Dayak tribes still dwell in these dense tropical jungles, and this is the place to be if you want to experience the genuine indigenous culture without having to join a paid tour. The reserve truly is one of the least trodden parts of Borneo with spectacular trekking opportunities. The gateway to the park is Sintang (via Sanggau).
NOTE access to the national park is from West Kalimantan (Sintang), and you will need to purchase a permit to enter the national park at the local tourist office in Sintang.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN BUKIT BAKA BUKIT RAYA NATIONAL PARK
TO GET TO SINTANG: Fly to Pontianak first. Hire a 4WD or take a shuttle bus/minivan to Sintang (6-10 hrs) or fly directly to Sintang. From there the path leads via Nanga Pinoh, followed by Popai (boat access).
The capital of Kapuas Hulu province, 800 km away from Pontianak, is a small humble place at the heart of Borneo that has always been a homeland to the Dayak.
Apart from its strategic location on the mighty Kapuas River (Indonesia`s longest river), the town serves as a base for those who came to conquer the deepest jungles of Kalimantan and visit the oldest longhouses on the island.
West of Putussibau, on the border with Sarawak, Danau Sentarum National Park is a large floodplain of more than 20 seasonal lakes, freshwater swamps and peat rainforest, and it makes an ideal home for hundreds of unique native species, including estuarine crocodiles, rare birds and reptiles.
If you head to the east, a gorgeous montane forest will greet you in the Balai Besar Taman Betung Kerihun National Park where the star of the show is an orangutan.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN AND AROUND PUTUSSIBAU
TO GET TO PUTUSSIBAU
1.by road – take Damri shuttle bus or private minivan from Pontianak to Putussibau (20 hrs drive). Optionally, catch a bus from Pontianak to Malaysian Kuching (10 hrs), and from there Putussibau can be reached in 4 hours (much easier way)
2.by a small airplane (Cessna) from Pontianak (1 hr)
3.by boat from Pontianak (5-day cruise via Kapuas River)
BETUNG KERIHUN NATIONAL PARK
Covered with the montane rain forest, the wilderness of Betung Kerihun National Park is characteristic of steep slopes and dense tropical jungles, with the highest peaks Mount Kerihun (1790 m) and Mount Lawit (1767 m).
Stretching along the Malaysian border, right at the heart of Borneo Island, the reserve does not get many Westerner visitors.
Several Dayak Tribes live in this remote area rich in diverse fauna and flora, including the endangered orang-utan. Due to the precious eco-system, the national park was proposed to become a World Heritage Site albeit it is slowly losing the battle with illegal logging and wildlife poaching.
The national park is also a place where the Indonesian longest river originates. The Kapuas River meanders through the 1143 km of the Bornean rainforest, from its centre all the way down to flow into the South Chinese Sea at the capital city Pontianak. Journeying along its endless waterways is an adventure that few embark on, but those who take the courage will be rewarded with images and views that can rarely be seen.
Trekking, caving, bamboo rafting, kayaking, canoeing and wildlife tours can be arranged in the town of Putussibau (the gateway to the Betung Kerihun National Park), and if you want to save time and do not mind spending more, you can fly directly to the town from Pontianak.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN BETUNG KERIHUN NATIONAL PARK
TO GET THERE: Fly to Pontianak first. Take Damri shuttle bus or private minivan to Putussibau (20 hrs drive) or fly directly to Putussibau. Optionally, catch a bus from Pontianak to Malaysian Kuching (10 hrs), and from there Putussibau can be reached in 4 hours (much easier way).
KAYAN MENTARANG NATIONAL PARK
One of the least accessible places and one of the last wilderness areas on Earth, the Kayan Mentarang National Park is the newest destination in Borneo that has opened to tourism. Its isolation contributed to the area`s outstanding perseverance. It is right here where the last surviving Pygmy elephants hide in their natural habitat and few remaining individuals of the Bornean rhinoceros have survived, sadly only in captivity.
Besides, the indigenous Dayak communities have persisted in their ancestral way of life for centuries. This is still a pristine region in Borneo, with rivers at their cleanest, the forest at its healthiest and life at its purest.
Eventually, however, also this will change, and slowly but surely, the tradition will start wiping out, and wildlife will be pushed further to the edge of extinction – just like elsewhere in Borneo.
The easiest way to visit the Kayan Mentarang National Park is booking a river tour from Tarakan or Samarinda. There are numerous expedition providers offering various packages.
TO GET THERE:
THE DAYAK TRIBES
The aboriginal hill-tribes of Dayak are one of the major reasons to visit Borneo. More than 200 of these native ethnic subgroups occupy the interior parts of the island, living in isolation and still today cultivating animism.
Once notorious warriors, known as ‘The Headhunters’ but also some of the world`s oldest ‘Tattoo Artists’, today these friendly communities happily greet the ‘rich’ Westerners within their jungle-territories, and anyone who brings some gain is welcome to stay at their famous longhouses and watch cultural performances.
There are still genuine Dayak communities that dwell deep at the heart of Borneo albeit most of the villages available to visit are living museums and quite sadly sort of ‘human zoos’.
THE DILEMMA OF ECO-TOURISM
National parks of Kalimantan have often been an object of discussion due to the past logging and still present illegal forestry. Borneo was gifted with some of the most biologically diverse habitats on Earth and also the world`s oldest rainforest. The extensive deforestation, caused by rapid industrialisation, started in the 1960s.
Since then, Borneo has undergone a dramatic transformation, and even though there were several attempts to stop these activities, illegal logging is still a big topic.
Naturally, the fast-growing tourism, especially the eco-tourism industry, does not help to prevent this from happening. Tourism not only indirectly encourages the deforestation (building new facilities, providing tours into the previously untouched areas) but also contributes to disappearing of the indigenous Dayak culture and their traditions, and it ultimately affects the future of orang-utans and other endangered species.
Therefore, every visitor is strongly advised to do some research and re-consider the concept of eco-tourism prior to travelling.
USEFUL TRAVEL TIPS
Religion – Borneo is predominantly a Muslim enclave, and conservative dress is expected at all times, especially women. Many female travellers reported situations when they felt extremely uncomfortable in some places. Besides, when travelling to the indigenous regions and Dayak villages every visitor should make themselves familiar with the local customs and follow the etiquette.
Health – There is a high risk of Malaria in Kalimantan, particularly during the rainy season (Dec-Feb). Vaccinations such as Hepatitis A, B and Tetanus are recommended. In some cases, the Yellow Fever Immunisation is required (check with your national health policies).
Transport – The only way how to get around Kalimantan is using public buses and boats (unless booking a private tour). However, this can sometimes be a gruelling experience – distances are huge, the roads tortuous and the driving hair-raising. On the other hand, it is part of the Bornean travel adventure.
Food – Kalimantan is strongly influenced by both the Chinese and Malay cuisines, hence noodles, soups and satays are popular dishes at all warungs. Chicken, fish, eggs and rice can be found on the everyday menu at most of the families and durian is the favourite fruit. Remember that the Indonesians like it hot & spicy!
Alcohol is fairly limited in Borneo
Most of the river tours use the local klotok boats, specially designed navigators that can move efficiently in the narrow and often shallow rivers. Since they can access some of the least accessible places in the jungles and swamps, they started to be used in tourism as the major transport – an ideal way to spot wildlife from a very close distance.
TRAVELLING IN KALIMANTAN
Kalimantan is not a cheap place to travel at all. The locals know the value of their land and the Westerners too persistent in seeking for exciting jungle ventures. Hence that reflects in prices and also in the type of travelling here – most of the time visitors will need some help of the local guides or tour agencies.
Independent travellers who look for an ‘out of comfort zone’ trip will surely find their needs satisfied as it is quite a mission to explore the wilderness of Borneo on your own and it requires patience, good planning and lots of time.
NOTE To enter any national park and protected area in Kalimantan you will need to purchase a permit at one of the local tourist offices.
WHEN TO TRAVEL
The Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan) is generally recommended to visit between June and October, during the dry season.
Especially, wildlife spotting and eco-tourism are dependent on good weather. In fact, many reserves and protected areas are only accessible outside of the rainy season.
HOW TO GET HERE
Fly to Pontianak (flights from Jakarta/Singapore/Kuala Lumpur)
To Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park: take a bus from Pontianak to Sintang (10 hrs drive), from there the path leads via Nanga Pinoh, followed by Popai (boat access)
To Putussibau: by bus or hired 4WD vehicle from Pontianak (up to 20 hrs drive), by small plane (Cessna)
To Betung Kerihun National Park & Danau Sentarum National Park: arrange a local guide in Putussibau (unless you booked a Kapuas river tour from Pontianak)
To Kayan Mentarang National Park: via boat from Tarakan (see above)
For all domestic flights check out the Indonesian flight companies Wings Air, Susi Air, Kartika Airlines, Lion Air, Silk Air, Sriwijaya Air and Garuda Indonesia.
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