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3 Days Dayak Encounter with Mahakam River Cruise

3 Days Dayak Encounter with Mahakam River Cruise

East Kalimantan in Indonesia provides an uncanny insight into the land of Borneo. It is much less visited than its more commercialized counterpart, Malaysian Borneo, which makes East Kalimantan a good alternative for those seeking for a thrill towards the lesser-known parts of Borneo.

Around 3.5 million Indonesians call East Kalimantan home, though it has a superbly vast area which makes it the widest province in all of Indonesia, it is very sparsely populated once you venture out of the Balikpapan and Samarinda city centres.

Day 0 in East Kalimantan, Indonesia

Arrival in Balikpapan

Balikpapan is the second largest city in East Kalimantan after Samarinda, formerly an isolated Bugis fishing village before transforming into a key economic city.

For a long weekend itinerary, you will likely arrive in Balikpapan’s Sultan Aji Muhammad Sulaiman Sepinggan Airport on Friday 4.45pm via Singapore Airlines. As such, you may want to take an early rest for the evening before you embark on a long river adventure starting tomorrow.

Day 1 in East Kalimantan, Indonesia

Mahakam River Cruise

Transfer by land to Loa Janan, a strategically important district located between three key economic cities in East Kalimantan: Balikpapan, Samarinda and Tenggarong.

Loa Janan is your entry point into the Mahakam River. This fabled river is the second longest in Indonesia, snaking over 900km from Borneo’s central highlands through Samarinda and finally to the sea. For this reason, Mahakam River is central to the economy of Borneo as a waterway to distribute fishery, agricultural and forestry resources since the ancient times up to today!

From sultans to European explorers, the legend of Mahakam River has long been enshrined in literature, yet few modern travellers had the chance to brave into this rugged region which passes through some of the world’s richest remaining wildlife ecosystems as well as remote villages of the indigenous people.

Sebulu Stilt Village

Along the way, you will make a stop at the stilt village of Sebulu, known most prominently as a boat-making village. It’s quite small and won’t take you long to finish exploring. Other than its boat-making tradition, it is also interesting to note that most of its inhabitants are of Chinese ancestry, a striking difference from the rest of East Kalimantan.

From there, you will hop back into your houseboat to continue the journey. This adventurous river barging spans 2 full days, so take it easy and sit back on your houseboat to soak in the atmosphere and watch the scenery gradually change as you venture inland into the heart of Borneo.

Day 2 in East Kalimantan, Indonesia

Muara Kaman

The overnight cruise leads you upstream into a morning wake-up at Muara Kaman. Muara Kaman was the forerunning area that led to the founding of the Kutai Kingdom back in the 4th century, which at one point ruled almost the entirety of Borneo with the aid of its famous King of Mulawarman.

While it holds a strong history value, Muara Kaman carries just as much present-day significance! Today, it is a vast nature reserve spanning 62,500 hectares with beautiful swamp scenery. From here, hop onboard a motorized canoe across Sebintulung River.

The journey gets interesting here, as you observe the lives of local people by the river! Bird life is especially prominent here, and if you are lucky, you may spot interesting wildlife such as Irrawaddy dolphins and Proboscis monkeys.

Dayak Experience at Lekaq Kidau

Dayak people are natives of Borneo, arriving on the land at around 1977-1978 and eventually settling deep in the mountains. Traditionally, the Dayak people across Borneo were revered for their ancient headhunting rituals, making use of various weapons such as blowpipes, sabers and spears. That being said, the proliferation of Christianity over folk religions eventually extinguished the headhunting practice.

There is a common misconception to group all Dayak people into one, but there are actually many different Dayak sub-ethnicities. In Lekaq Kidau, the prominent sub-tribe is that of Dayak Kenyah, or more popularly known as the long-eared Dayak tribe. In their culture, longer ears are associated with more wisdom.

Dayak Kenyah people are very creative, especially when it comes to making colourful fabrics and composing music. They will entertain you with dance performances, and afterwards, you can visit their traditional houses which is known as Rumah Panjang (Longhouse). Rumah Panjang is quite common among different Dayak tribes, with prominent stilt features to raise the longhouse which helps them better accustom to life in the jungle.

After an afternoon full of cultural appreciation, make your way back to your houseboat for a leisurely downstream cruise to Tenggarong, followed by road transfer back to Balikpapan.

Day 3 in East Kalimantan, Indonesia

Home sweet home

Your return flight to Singapore will be in the morning at 11am, so make sure you wake up early and head to the airport after your breakfast.

Places to stay in Balikpapan, Indonesia

Prices listed are based on average daily rates for a Standard Room.


J iCon Hip Hotel has a minimalist design concept and though it is quite basic, it is a decent option if you are on budget. Its strongest point is the fact that it is located within walking distance to shopping malls and public transport.

Price range: SGD 29-36

Address: Jln. Jendral Sudirman NO. 47 | Block G 02, Balikpapan 76114, Indonesia


Platinum Balikpapan Hotel & Convention Hall offers both rooms and suites to cater for different price points, whether you just want a little more comfort or if you’d like to splurge. They offer a wide range of amenities including plasma TV screens, an outdoor pool with views of the mountains, spa facilities, as well as a free sauna and steam room. Not too shabby for a hotel in Borneo! Free shuttle service is also provided at this 4-star property, so that removes most of the commuting hassle.

Price range: SGD 44-65

Address: Jln. Hatta Soekarno no. 28, Balikpapan 76125, Indonesia

Getting to East Kalimantan, Indonesia

The entry point to East Kalimantan is the city of Balikpapan.

Singapore Airlines flies between Singapore and Balikpapan thrice weekly every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Monday and Wednesday, it flies from Singapore to Balikpapan at 8.00-10.20am and returns at 11.10am-1.25pm. On Friday, it flies to Balikpapan at 2.20-4.45pm and return to Singapore at 5.30-7.55pm.

Getting around East Kalimantan, Indonesia

Infrastructure and language barriers can prove to be a challenge for foreigners travelling to East Kalimantan. Moreover, getting around Kalimantan and remote Dayak villages require a complex combination of road driving and river barging. Thus, the best way to get around in East Kalimantan is by engaging a responsible and English-speaking tour operator such as Borneo Eco Tour.

Other important notes

Time difference

East Kalimantan is GMT+8 so there is no time difference with Singapore.

Best months to visit

Dry season in Kalimantan is between June to September, with light rain from March to May and heavy rain between November to January.


  • Encounters with wild animals can happen, so it is better to be safe by hiring qualified guides
  • Bringing a torch is a good idea as some areas can be poorly-lit once night falls
  • Like the rest of Indonesia, water is not drinkable so make sure you only drink from boiled water or properly-sealed bottled water
  • Insect repellent is advisable as mosquitoes are very active at night


  • Police: 110
  • Fire department: 113
  • Ambulance: 118
  • Search and rescue team: 115

"New Year's Eve in Asia"

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