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Dayak war dance, By: Verry Sahagun

Introduction to West Kalimantan

By: Robert Santoso

West Kalimantan is one of the provinces in Indonesia  located on Kalimantan island. It’s nickname is “province with a thousand rivers”, because hundreds of big and small rivers meander through the thick forests of West Kalimantan. Some of these are still used as main transport routes  to reach remote areas. The capital Pontianak is located right on the Equator line.

The indigenous tribe and main inhabitants of West Kalimantan go by the name of Dayak. The Dayak is a loose term describing over 200 ethic subgroups and tribes. The Iban are a sub branch of the Dayak. Known as fierce warriors and headhunters in the past, they are often misrepresented. In my opinion, the best way to enjoy West Kalimantan’s culture is to learn and interact with these people. Unfortunately (or maybe luckily for them), the Dayak mostly live in remote areas where they still preserve their culture. Only on certain occassions, the Dayak (often sponsored by the government) promote their culture to the outside world.

Dayak war dance, By: Verry Sahagun

Dayak war dance, By: Verry Sahagun

Exploring West Kalimantan

The best way to explore West Kalimantan’s potential is to interact with local people. The destinations mentioned in this article are quite far from Pontianak. Transportation and road access is very limited. That’s why it is important to have a local tour guide helping with the language barrier and other things since virtually no one speaks English outside of the capital Pontianak. For those who are adventurous and want to taste the real West Kalimantan, here are some must see places:

1. Dayak Long Houses (Rumah Benteng)
Traditional Dayak Tribe houses are absolutely stunning an can be seen at for example at Saham Village, 150 km from Pontianak. This is the best place to interact with Dayak people and explore the lush rainforest.

2. Temajok Island
This island faces Natuna Sea and offers beautiful nature scenery and crystal clear waters, perfect for snorkeling and diving. It’s located nearby Kijing beach, about 1 hour with water motor from Sungai Kunyit Village. Sungai Kunyit itself is near Singkawang, about 2-3 hours with car from Pontianak. Temajok is a remote island, there is no electricity here and as far as I know no one lives here. The people from the village will pick up visitors every 2 days at a rendezvous point. It is important to bring your own supplies and be prepared to cook by yourselves. In terms of accommodation there are only 2 cottages available, so a tent might come in handy. If you’re not an experienced trekker, maybe it is better to rely on a guide.

3. Sentarum National Park and Lakes
This is a national park that is one of the world’s most biodiverse lake systems located in an isolated area. The scenery is beautiful, since the environment is still relatively untouched. The best way to enjoy the trip is to stay in a nearby village for at least 2 days. Several  villages and lakes can be visited like Bukit Lanjak, Nanga Kenelang and Bukit Tekenang. Rent a motor boat for a quick tour around this lake from the village people. There’s a lot to learn from the friendly locals who excel in fishing “ikan belidak” (and BBQing their catch at night).

Trekking in West Kalimantan, By: Franco Pecchio

Trekking in West Kalimantan, By: Franco Pecchio

There are 2 ways to go to Sentarum lake. Pontianak – Sintang – Semitau by car takes approximately 11 hours. After that, from Semitau use the longboat to Lanjak, which takes 7 hours. The second way is to travel by air from Pontianak to Putussibau for 2 hours. From Putussibau use a longboat to Nanga Suhaid, which takes another 7 hours.

4. Singkawang
3 hours driving from Pontianak lies Singkawang, a unique town in Indonesia. It has the largest concentration of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. The celebration of Chinese New year festival is a must-see and hear experience. Check your Chinese calendar to see when Chinese New Year is;-)

5. Shopping Souvenirs at Patimura Road Pontianak (Jalan Patimura)
There are several shops along this road in Pontianak. It’s a good place if you’re looking for arts and crafts and ethnic Dayak souvenirs such as “Mandau” (a traditional sword used by Dayak people). Other souvenirs such as wood carvings, clothing and various knick knacks are also widely available here. If you decide to buy a Dayak weapon, you can pass customs at the airport by showing the invoice.

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