Travel Guide: Banjarmasin, Indonesia
If you like to stray from the well-worn path or are looking for a real adventure, you will want to visit Banjarmasin. Rich with culture and charm, the city offers experiences you won’t find in any other part of Indonesia.
This hotel is in a good location–walking distance from the canal and morning market tours. It has AC and hot water, but the wi-fi was not working while we were there. The free breakfast was delicious and included tea and coffee, an omelette station, fruits, meats and toast. We paid 400,000 rupiah per night.
This is a cheap, quaint local restaurant where you sit on the floor to eat. They are known for their lontong haruan. Lontong (compressed rice cake) is made by soaking sticky rice overnight, wrapping a portion in banana leaf, and boiling it for an hour. Haruan means snakehead fish. Put them together, and you get this delicious dish.
Things to Do
Banjarmasin Canal Tour
This boat tour will take you up the canals of Banjarmasin, where you can see how people live along these heavily polluted waterways. The homes are built on wooden supports over the water and look to be in various stages of decay and disrepair. Our tour guide assured us the wood lasts hundreds of years, but to our eyes, some homes looked ready to crumble.
As our rainbow boat puttered upstream, the first thing we noticed was the unflagging cheerfulness of the local people. Despite the seemingly destitute living conditions, every family we saw along the canal seemed happy and content with their simple lives. As we waved and took pictures, an endless array of smiling faces beamed back at us. The children were particularly eager to pose for photos. When one spotted our boat, they would sound the alarm, shouting “Bule! Bule!” (white people). Before we knew it, a mob of children would race towards our boat waving frantically at us while shouting “Hello!”. They were so cute!
The next thing we couldn’t help but notice was the garbage floating in the water. Then we noticed the toilets, which are essentially small outhouses built over the water with no place for your business to go but into the canal. Finally we noticed the children swimming and splashing in that same body of water.
We cringed a few times watching the kids swim with their mouths open. Perhaps a lifetime of exposure to this tainted water has gifted these children with superhuman immune systems. Their bodies can repel bacteria that would have a foreigner tethered to a toilet for weeks.
For sure, if you take this tour, you will learn quickly to keep your mouth tightly sealed as the boat skips along the water, spraying water back at your face. But this is an adventure not to be missed.
To see more pictures from our tour, click here.
Morning Market Tour
Every morning at the crack of dawn (we left around 5AM) women paddle their boats up the river to sell produce to customers and wholesalers, who need to make their purchases early so they can hurry back and stock grocery stores all over Banjarmasin.By doing the tour, you get to witness it all in action. We bought breakfast, produce and donuts, from several ladies. We highly recommended this tour.
To see more pictures, click here.
Arranging a Tour
If either of the aforementioned tours sound interesting to you, you will need to arrange them with a guide. We whole-heartedly recommend getting in touch with Mulyadi Yasin. His number is +62 813 5193 6200, or you can reach him via email. He speaks English, has a great sense of humor, knows where all the great local food spots are, and can answer any questions you might have about Kalimantan. If you’re after something a little more involved than the day trips we took, Yadi can also arrange for you to see wild orangutan or spend the night in a Dayak longhouse. Let him know what you want to see and he’ll help make your trip to Kalimantan even more memorable!
Good Things to Know
In Banjarmasin, if you are white, every man, woman and child you pass will shout “Bule!” at you. The word literally means albino. Indonesians and ex-pats alike debate the meaning of this word. Some consider it offensive, while others argue that it is a neutral word that can be used positively or negatively. Like most things in life, it all depends on the context.
More times than I can count, a pair of Indonesian girls would spot Haley and chat excitedly to each other about the bule before working up the nerve to approach her and ask for a photo. We’ve also been heckled by a group of young Indonesian guys, who shouted bule after us as we walked down the street. I’m sure you will have your own bule stories to tell, but the best advise is to not let it bother you or discourage you from visiting this incredible city.
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