Kalimantan: home of the orangutan

January 1, 1970

by Malou

Nowadays many people visit Indonesia, sometimes for weeks on end, but what surprises me is that they often stick to Java and Bali, while the country has so much more to offer! While I was working in Indonesia my mom came to visit me, and as most people know, getting time off from work can be tough. So with only one week of vacation I set up an itinerary that some would call ridiculous! But I am the type of person who wants to make most of her time while traveling, so visiting two different islands within a week didn’t seem like a crazy plan at all! And while Java and Bali are both beautiful, the ones we visited during this week were by far my favorite Indonesian islands. Part one of this series is dedicated to home of the orangutan: Kalimantan.

Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo)

Borneo is an island divided into two parts: Malaysian Borneo and Indonesian Borneo, which is called Kalimantan. While the Malaysian part is visited more often, Kalimantan is not be overlooked. Next to Sumatra it is the only place in Indonesia where you can see (semi-)wild orangutans. The main difference with Sumatra is that it doesn’t really involve trekking, but rather a nice and relaxing boat tour through the jungle. Since I was traveling with my mom, who is over the age of 50, this seemed like the better option.

From Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, we took a morning flight to Southern Kalimantan. The whole area is part of the Tanjung Puting National Park, which some call one of the national wonders of the world. This national park is mostly famous for its Orangutan Research and Conservation Program, with a research base called ‘Camp  Leakey’.

When we arrived at the Kalimantan airport, we were greeted by a nice Indonesian guide who drove us to the place where we could get on the boat. It was a simple, but large enough boat for the two days we would be going into the jungle. It even had something that could pass as a shower! After about an hour they served us our first meal. It was a meal of different types of fish, vegetables and white rice.

Our first encounter

After cruising along the river for a while we got to our first stop. We went ashore and walked for a little while into the jungle. Here we would encounter our first orangutan! Even though these animals are considered to be “wild”, they are fed fruits and other food. This is done mainly because they are no longer able to gather enough food due to the destruction of their habitat, but probably also to lure them to certain areas where tourists can see them. In the foggy air, surrounded by high trees, we even saw a mum and her baby!

After this first stop we went back to the boat to travel further into the jungle. We made a short stop at a local village and we got to see how much life revolves around the water in these parts. The locals seemed friendly and not too pushy, as there wasn’t much for sale anyway. The only thing that resembled something for tourists was the “tourist shop”, which basically was a birdhouse with one small statue in it.

Spending the night in the jungle

The sun was slowly going down and we had to find a spot to spend the night, which we found near trees that were full of proboscis monkeys. These are the monkeys that are known for their large noses and that can be found all over Borneo. With the sun going down these creatures were a beautiful sight. At that spot we enjoyed our private dinner on our boat.

While my mom went to bed quite early I spend some time with our guide and the boat crew, who had brought some local moonshine. I am always eager to try new things so I went ahead and tasted it. He assured me that there was only about 15% alcohol in it, but it sure didn’t taste like it! It tasted like pure alcohol mixed with cleaning supplies that could easily get you to go blind. So after a few sips of that (well, maybe a bit more than a few) I decided to leave it at that and go to bed as well.

Camp Leakey

The next morning we woke up to the sounds of the jungle, which was absolutely amazing! The birds, the insects, and vague monkey sounds in the background. We were served another great meal that got us ready to visit the main site, Camp Leakey. This is the place where we encountered most of the orangutans and where we learned more about the conservation work in the area. You could tell the animals there weren’t afraid of humans, but they told us to still be careful, since they are still wild animals and can be unpredictable. We actually had to back away at some point because a large male came quite close to us. He wasn’t dangerous but incredibly large!


That evening we had a flight back to the capital, so we had to unfortunately head back to shore. Most companies offer three day tours as well, taking you even further into the jungle and away from the tourists (which I’ve heard is absolutely spectacular and definitely worth it!) but we had a busy schedule! And to be fair, I’m not much of a boat person, so two days on a boat is definitely enough for me.

So overall, if you’ve got two or three days to spare this is definitely a must-see! It is also a boost to the local economy and an eco-friendly destination, which will hopefully lead to the preservation of  the habitat of these the wonderful animals. I am truly grateful for the experience and I can only hope that future generations will be able to experience the same thing! My next blog will be about my second destination that week, Sulawesi! So until we speak again, fellow travelers!

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