Planet of the Great Apes: Tanjung Puting National Park

After a full year living in Borneo, I clearly hadn’t had enough. It was time to explore the even wilder parts of the giant landmass that housed three countries. My first stop was to Central Kalimantan (Kalimantan Tengah in Bahasa Indonesian) to visit an orangutan conservation center. I’ve mapped out my itinerary below to share tips on how you can explore the jungles and rain forests of Kalimantan on your own.

Day One

Dark waters of Central Kalimantan

Pontianak, West Kalimantan was the launching pad for my wildlife adventure. There are many national flights (direct from Jakarta and Bali for example) which makes Pontianak ideal. During an early breakfast at Pontianak’s Peony hotel, I met Alex, our eccentric tour organizer. I would not recommend Alex personally, but he does offer an interesting tour in a location where English speaking guides are rare.

From Pontianak we caught a speed boat to Melano.  The ride was stunning: a river dividing two thick banks of jungle. We embarrassingly got off at the wrong stop and had to get back on the boat ashamed.

From Melano we took a local bus for two hours to to Ketapang. The ride was cramped, bumpy and stiflingly hot, but surprisingly enjoyable. We spent the night in Ketapang.

Day Two

We boarded a local charter flight to Pangkalabun, from where we immediately took a taxi to Kumai harbor.  Our local guide then Majid introduced us to his crew, and showed us around our new home for the next. I loved being on the klotok (our boat house for the trip to the national park), with water pumped in from the river ., central kalimantan, orangutan, borneo

Klotok, Central Kalimantan, Tanjung Puting National Park

The klotok was called Satrio 03 and it was double decked with a bathroom at the back We lived on the top deck, under a canopy, and the crew lived down below.

What a life! The chef was excellent! We feasted like queens on giant prawns, friend chicken, rice and veggies.

Our first site was Haparan Village.  Majid lead us into the forest and, en route to the feeding station, we caught our first glimpse of the orangutans, high up in the trees.

About four other groups arrived at the station before the rangers began calling the apes.  Soon, they started to appear: first a lone female, then a mother of two, followed by the king himself:Tom.

Tom was amazing (!!!), and due to this arrival, none of the other men could visit the station., Central Kalimantan, borneo, apes, orangutan

Female Orangutan at Tanjung Puting National Park

Back at the klotok we had an amazing dinner and spent the night playing cards with Majid and the Captain.  I slept soundly under a shared mosquito net.

Day Three

An early morning wake up call (monkeys, birds, etc) was followed by a generator driven, water-pumped shower and breakfast.  Camp Tagui was the next stop and was equally amazing. I still remember sitting on a bench and have King Tom come up right behind me.  He was only a meter away!

BACKTRACK: Before we got off the klotok, my travel friend asked if I was scared.  “No” was my answer, confused as to what there was to be scared of.  But when Tom came that close to us, and the guides, with panic filled eyes, told us to move away, I understood. It wasn’t a hoax… the apes were wild!

We moved on to Camp Leaky, the main site, and the klotok parked at the boardwalk for lunch, There, Tuut and Thomas (King Tom’s mother and brother) greeted us.  We disembarked for a photo session.

I was terrified, ruining my own picture.

We saw tons of orangutans here, maybe because the menu was better, with sugarcane for dessert. King Tom tried his luck with the ladies, but none being to his satisfaction, he clumsily climbed a tree that was far too skinny to carry his weight and disappeared into the jungle.

The rain started and that lead us to return to our kolotok, where a storm followed., Central Kalimantan, apes, Borneo

Day Four

After an amazing adventure, we flew back to Pontianak stinky, tired, bug eaten, but extremely satisfied.



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  1. Pingback: See Simi Travel Blog » I get around: ten non-traditional means of transportation

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