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Visiting Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia

Posted by somtam2000 on 1/4/2019 at 22:04 admin

Here is a quick wrap and a few happy snaps on a trip we did earlier this week. Questions, let me know!

For me this was a once in a lifetime experience. I say that partly due to the costs involved, but also simply because the experience was so extraordinary—I can’t imagine doing it again and finding it even more rewarding.

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Nuts and bolts
Closest airport is at Pangkalanbun which has regular flights to Surabaya, Semarang and Jakarta (among others) but notably not Bali. Carriers include Wings, Trigana & Nam Air—unfortunately not Garuda.

If you are using a foreign credit card, it may be easier to book through an agent like Tiket. The boats used to visit the park depart from Kumai (around 30 minute drive from the airport and town).

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Boats are klotoks—traditional single or double deck wooden boats. You sleep on a deck mattress with a mosquito net. Standards vary, but generally the more you pay the more you get. Expect cold water shower & Western loo. Crew of four people is standard, including an English speaking guide.

Trips are full board. Food is simple: pick any food group and fry it. We had fried chicken, fried prawns, fried fish, fried eggs and fried other stuff. It was all fine, but probably wouldn’t make the cut for Gourmet Traveller.

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Drinks (Coke, Sprite, cowboy coffee and all the water you could drink) also included. Don’t be shy about requesting extra stuff nor about bring your own snacks and extras.

Due to inter-ethnic violence between Dayaks & Madurese in 2001 (when 500+ people were killed) alcohol is banned, tho is available via black market. Some captains may offer to organise alcohol (request beforehand). Expect it to be expensive (70,000ish rupiah for a large beer). If you would like to learn more about this terrible period, I highly recommend reading In The Time Of Madness by Richard Lloyd Parry.

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Boats vary. From small & narrow to wide & comfortable (some have air-con). Our boat could carry 11 in season so was positively luxurious (space wise) for two adults and two kids. Aside from beds, we had hammocks, beanbags & a dining table. We were not uncomfortable.

What to pack
Pack light. Mosquitos are an issue, though not as bad as we expected. Bring repellant, and cool, light coloured clothes (mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours). We just wore flip flops, though sand shoes would have been far more sensible.

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Leeches can be a major issue, though we had no problems. Hat, sunscreen, a poncho and a refillable water bottle should all be standard. Bring books—there is no internet nor phone signal in most of the park.

How long for
We did 2N/3D. Left from Kumai around 10am on day 1 & back day 3 midday. This allowed us to visit all 3 feeding centres & travel at a slow pace. Could have crammed into 2 days, but would've brought us back too late for a flight out—rather stay on the boat.

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Typical route
Day 1: Leave Kumai, catch the 3pm feeding time at Camp 1 then sleep further upriver.
Day 2) 9am feeding slot at Camp 2, 2pm feeding slot at Camp 3 (Camp Leakey), Night trek and sleep somewhere along the canal to Leakey.
Day 3) Return to Kumai for middayish

What will you see
Across the three camps we saw (I think) 10 orangutan. Along the way at least 100 proboscis monkeys, some macaques (mostly near Leakey) and heard, though never saw, gibbons. Spotted two totally evil looking false gharial crocodiles—do not swim in the river!

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Birdlife included hornbills, black and red broadbill and plenty of storkbill kingfishers. Note though there are no guarantees. Camp Leakey in particular can be erratic for sightings.

When to go
At all costs AVOID Euro summer (Late June to end August) & after Ramadan. In both the crowds would seriously detract from the experience (both for tourists & orangutans). At Camp 2 & at Camp Leakey there was just 3 other boats, so around a dozen people. Perfect.

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In peak season there can be 30-40 boats and near Jakarta-esque traffic issues on the river, with tourists having to walk through a dozen plus boats tied up aft to bow along the bank. Plus the noise at the feeding stations. Just no.

Also, with this volume of boats on the river, you will probably never be out of sight of another boat—on our trip we went for hours without seeing another tourist boat—which just amplified the wonder.

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What does it cost
There is no two ways about it, a visit to Tanjung Puting is expensive. For starters, foreigners pay 20 times what locals do for park fees. Admission is (per day) 150,000 rupiah for foreigners Vs 7,500 rupiah. I won't bother flogging this dead horse again.

On top of this there is a boat parking fee and, in holiday season another surcharge. All of these costs should be included in the "package price" offered by agents, though they tend to just give an all-encompassing number rather than a breakdown.

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There is price variation depending on boat & agent, but roughly speaking for 2 people you're looking at about 7-8 million rupiah for a 2 night trip (including full board, park admission, park tips, airport transfers etc) & around 9-9.5 million for 4 people. These prices are all before flights.

You can bring per person costs down by taking more people—6 people on a good sized boat would be a sweet spot. We were told of a trip with 13 people on it who paid 3,500,000/pax. So yes, it is expensive, but it costs what it costs so I see little point whining about it.

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Should you do it?
It depends on your interests. For the same spend you could lay on a beach in eastern Indonesia for a week or so & still have change left. Personally I thought the experience was magnificent & returning to Bali last night was positively grating.

Avoid EU summer, pick a boat wisely (ask for photos before committing & be sure pics are of boat you are getting). Pack books & get ready to drop off the map for a few days. Experience (& support) the Park to show there is a way other than freakin palm oil to pay the bills!

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We used Pak Ambo. He's been involved in the Park since 2001 & has 4 boats. No website, so is best contacted by email at Orangutanteam@gmail.com or WA +62 813 4900 9616. I have no hesitation in recommending him, just make sure there is an extra can of condensed milk stowed.

Questions, let me know!

#1 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,011
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Posted by gecktrek on 12/4/2019 at 00:35

hey, great reportage and photos, sounds like it has changed quite a bit since i was there...

#2 gecktrek has been a member since 24/3/2013. Location: Australia. Posts: 161
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