We left Bali early morning and it was 2 short flights to Central Kalimantan, both flights were delayed without updates, I was stressing a little bit (a lot) but I was just happy when we touched down in Pangkalan Bun Airport, apparently this happens a lot with internal flights in Indonesia, so just be prepared for delays. We had booked a boat trip, 3 days, 2 nights in Tanjung Puting National Park through a company called Siti’s Tanjung Puting Orangutan tours, I found this company through tripadvisor, it had 5 star reviews and seemed the most competent by far. Our guide, El, met us at the airport, we were greeted with a big smile from El, which didn’t leave his face the whole trip! He drove us through a small town called Kumai, where he is from, which took around 25 minutes and on to the port where our boat was waiting. When we pulled up, it didn’t look like much of a port, there were no buildings, just a couple of old looking boats, which are actually called Klotoks, he led us to our Klotok, where 3 men waited to greet us, we had a captain, his assistant, a cook and of course our guide El. I was a little hesitant, I think I expected the port to be more busy, more people, maybe a building for tour operators or at least some sort of sign acknowledging this was where you board for Tanjung Puting. Plus as a woman, I also wasn’t sure how I felt about sharing a boat with 4 men who are strangers to me. I was with my husband but I think we both had the same reservations. I reminded myself of all the amazing reviews I read on this company and with that, I boarded the Klotok and had a quick look around, while El explained a little bit about the tour. We later realised that this was not the official port and was just where the company moored their boats, when the tour ended we returned to the main port for the tours and it was more what I had expected.
We set off for our first day exploring, we sailed across the water and in the distance you could see the forest and the entrance to the park, there is a big orangutan statue to greet you as you turn off onto the Sekonyer river, which is the river that runs through the park. When you first get onto the river and enter the park it is mainly just lowland palms covering the sides of the river, this is where you get the most crocodiles and after 30 minutes, we saw one briefly poke his head up from the water, a nice reminder to keep legs and arms firmly in the boat at all times 🙂 it was around an hour before we started seeing the rainforest, slowly, you became surrounded by tall trees, swamp land and a lot more wildlife. This got me excited, it was beautiful, the noises coming from the rainforest were music to my ears, just what I’d imagined, I couldn’t believe I was here!
After a while, El told us we would soon be getting off the boat to trek through the forest to a feeding station for Orangutans. In Tanjung Puting, there are a lot of rehabilitated orangutans, they have been rescued from forest fires or losing their mothers at a young age. The biggest threats to our rainforests are palm oil and mining companies, this is very clear when in Tanjung Puting as there is a part of the river where the water is still it’s natural black colour, the rest of the river has changed to a brown colour from the mining companies contaminating the waters. The money from these tours help protect the rainforest and orangutans as much as they possibly can.
There was an old battered wooden platform that we stepped up onto from the boat, it was clear from this point that investing in travel insurance is definitely wise when visiting this national park. The platform lead onto a bridge through the rainforest, watching every step I took, I followed El through the trees and bushes, the bridges are very old and are in need of some serious attention, there are broken planks of wood, leaving holes in the bridge, some parts felt very unsafe to tread on and if wet, were very slippery. I was always grateful when the small bridge disappeared and we were on solid ground. We walked through the rainforest, looking up and all around us, hearing strange noises with El confirming which animal it was. The walks never felt too long but the rainforest was humid and hot and I ended up looking like I’d been caught in a downpour after each trek.
When we arrived at the feeding station, there was a small platform in a clearing, and a bench or 2 to rest. A couple of men would come with baskets full of Bananas and spread across the platform and call out to the orangutans, a couple of times when we arrived at the feeding stations, you could already spot one or two up high in the trees, patiently waiting for the bananas to arrive. The orangutans do not rely on these feeding stations for food, they are free to do as they please, they forage for their food and the bananas are more of a treat for the rehabilitated ones however sometimes no orangutans show up at all. We all sat quietly waiting for the orangutans and I was very pleased to see the first orangutan appear, he was quite small and he didn’t stay on the platform for long, he grabbed as many bananas as he could fit in his mouth and climbed up a tree next to the platform, I think it was because he could hear some others approaching and sure enough another two orangutans came to the platform and sat to eat some bananas. It was so peaceful and amazing to see these animals in the wild, their hair almost glows a bright red/orange when the sun hits it. Every now and then the orangutan sitting up in the tree would scramble down and not letting go of the tree would grab a couple more bananas, then disappear again. After a while, we heard some branches snapping and in the distance we could see a very large orangutan, slowly making his way towards us. It was a fully grown male, El said he wasn’t sure if we would see one at all, as there are only a couple in the forest and they don’t always come down. His presence was felt not just by us but by the other orangutans, who grabbed some bananas and made way for the big guy 🙂 his hair was longer and he of course was larger than the others, but a telltale sign that it’s a fully grown male is the cheek pads known as flanges, they develop when they get to around 20 years old. He sat down, facing us and began to eat, I could have watched him all day, they obviously are very similar to humans and I couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking, he didn’t seem bothered by our presence, of course he couldn’t have been otherwise he would have grabbed the food and left. You have 3 hours at the feeding station and just as it was getting close to our 3 hours being over, the large male orangutan had eaten all the bananas he could and slowly walked off into the forest, we could hear him moving but no longer could see him. We made our way back to the boat and by this time were quite hungry and ready for our first meal in the rainforest.
When we got back to the boat, we sat at the front and caught up on all the photos we had taken and talked over the experience of seeing the orangutans. The views while sailing down the river are dreamy, we saw proboscis monkeys high up in the trees, swinging, fighting, sleeping and playing as well as Macaque monkeys, which seemed like little trouble causers to me, they sometimes were around the wooden platforms where you got on and off the boats. As the sunset, El made our bed and set up the mosquito net as well as laying the table for dinner. The Klotok was basic, on the deck we had a mattress which was our bed and a table and chairs, the boat was completely open and at night tarpaulin was pulled down the sides to give some privacy. Down a couple of steps was the bathroom, the toilet was fine, you needed to use a ladle to fill the toilet to flush when using it, the floor was always soaked, there was a shower head in the bathroom but it didn’t really work, there was a bucket of river water too, which I ended up using to have a small wash in the mornings (not great) but it was all part of the experience, you can get more luxury boats but I wanted to experience the basics, it definitely made us appreciate the beautiful hotel in Nusa dua after! Just outside the bathroom was another door which lead to under the deck, where the crew slept and food was cooked.
The captain’s assistant and the chef bought our food out to the table, we only had candle light to avoid flies surrounding our food. I am vegan and my husband a vegetarian, I heard you get some good veggie food in Indonesia, I also had read the food on the boat was lovely and it certainly was! It was simple yet so tasty and filling and it maintained quality throughout the trip, we had noodles, mixed veg, sticky rice, tofu, tempeh and a few other sides, the flavours were so nice, I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy the food as much as I did and we never went hungry! After we finished with dinner, we got into the mosquito net and after a while I drifted off however, my husband found it more difficult to sleep, there were a lot of noises coming from the rainforest but of course it was pitch black so you couldn’t see anything even if you wanted to, plus the boat is very open, it can take some getting used to.
The next morning we woke bright and early, ate breakfast and went off into the rainforest, this time to a different feeding station from the day before. This was our first and only real full day in the rainforest, we visited 2 feeding stations, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, this time we were lucky to see a mother and baby, the mothers are very protective of their young and at one point the mother threw another orangutan off the platform when he got too close to her baby. It was really interesting to see how they interact with each other, a young male was also chased off by another larger male, he came running right towards us, I just froze but he flew up a tree that was directly in front of me, luckily! In the afternoon, the feeding station was quiet, a lot of people were looking around elsewhere to see if they could spot any in the trees, sure enough they did and a small group gathered to see him, I stayed on the bench in front of the feeding station alone, it was peaceful and I found it quite relaxing. I could hear my husband quietly calling me, trying to whisper but still loud enough for me to hear, I turned to see what he wanted and at that very moment an orangutan with her small baby attached to her came walking past me, so close although she didn’t even acknowledge I was there, I felt invisible, I could not believe how close she had come and I was very happy that it was just me at that moment. I guess she wouldn’t have taken that route if more people had been there.
When we got back to the boat, we laid out on the front staring up at the sky as we sailed along, the tops of the trees hung over us and I felt like I was in a dream. There is something so magical about being out among nature and wildlife, it really makes you feel alive. As the skies darkened, the wind picked up and before we knew it, the heavens opened and we were caught in a downpour which raged on throughout the night until the morning. Even though we had covered the sides of the boat, the water still made it’s way in and we woke up on a damp mattress on a soaked deck. Luckily it was our last night as we were in need of a hot shower and a comfortable bed! But we still had the day to explore and with that we hopped into a small old speedboat, which I felt dangerously close to the water in, luckily crocodiles do not like the sound of speedboats and off we went.
This time we went to explore the rainforest a little more, we stopped at Camp Leakey, which is named after Louis Leakey, who was a mentor to Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, 2 people I admire a great deal, it is a base for research and many students come here to study. It also is home to another feeding station, which we of course visited to get a last glimpse of the orangutans before we left. This day involved more trekking through the rainforest and after spending some time at camp Leakey, we made it to a small house where a volunteer lived for most of the year, he was there to plant trees to help the rainforest recover from forest fires. He showed us different trees and told us their names and what they are useful for in the rainforest, we were then allowed to choose a tree we would like to plant, I picked a small tree that fed the majority of wildlife in the rainforest, it was called an Idur. We picked a spot to plant them and stuck a small sign in front of our trees with our names on. It was a lovely thing to do before leaving the rainforest. We made our way back to the speedboat, this time to head out of the rainforest and back to Kumai to catch our flight, the speedboat was so much fun and a great way to end our trip!
The weather in the rainforest can change quickly, so always be prepared. I would advise wearing long loose trousers for comfort in all weather conditions. Take a fleece or 2 incase it gets chilly especially on the boat. A rain jacket is a must, always keep it in your rucksack when out!
Comfortable footwear – you don’t necessarily need big trekking boots, a comfortable pair of trainers will do, your main priority when packing for this trip should be comfort, as there is little comfort on the boats
A good camera with a good zoom to catch shots of the bird life and small monkeys in the trees.
Wet wipes are useful to freshen up as the washing facilities on the boats are not much to be desired.
If you have time at one of the airports, pick up some snack bars, it’s likely you will experience delays on one of the flights and the airports are tiny with no where to get a meal