Klotok Hire and How to Find a Tanjung Puting Guide to See the Orangutans
Want to hire a klotok boat to Tanjung Puting to see the orangutans and travel the Sekonyer River?
The following information is meant those planning an independent trip to Tanjung Puting National Park in the forthcoming high season—and for those who want to enjoy some photographs of the area. I will save the amazing journey and the orangutans, of course, for a later post.
This is a how-to guide, an attempt to make independent bookings to Tanjung Puting more accessible and provide alternatives to the standard tour companies. This post tell you how to connect with some amazing local guides and how much it costs to hire a Tanjung Puting klotok boat to see the orangutans. There are also some ecolodge accommodation, one run by a conservation NGO and the other, a sustainable ecolodge. I also listed some volunteer opportunities, in case you have more time. This journey was part of my mostly solo, female, budget travel to Indonesia (albeit a friend joined me for this segment).
Tanjung Puting National Park and the orangutans are the main reason to visit this part of Kalimantan, on the Indonesian side of Borneo: this is one of the last places in the world to see orangutans in the wild.
I went in low season (March), when there are fewer people than high season (May-September). There are a lot more tourists—and boats—during high season, which would definitely change the experience. During high season you definitely need to make advance bookings at least a few weeks in advance. There are only so many klotok boats in Kumai, and it makes sense that the best ones get reserved. Prices may be higher, too, than what I was quoted in February. Park entrance fees will increase May 1, 2014.
The standard tour option is three days and two nights. On day one most web-based tour operators pickup at Pangkalan Bun (PKN) airport, transport you to the dock in Kumai, and have you on on the Sekonyer River for lunch. Day two is spent at one or two feeding stations, and day three is spent heading down the Sekonyer River. Breakfast is served on the klotok, and you are at the airport for an afternoon flight from Kalimantan.
This was a little whirlwind for my tastes. I knew there were only so many feeding stations and hiking opportunities, but I was determined not to be with the rest of the herd on the standard route. I also hoped to bypass a middle man tour operator, so the money went directly to the people running the boat.
You can arrange three full days on the river if you stay an extra night or two in the delightfully small port town of Kumai, Rimba EcoLodge (on the edge of Tanjung Puting), or Yayorin’s ecolodge (see Where to Stay/Accommodation). Three full days provide additional orangutan viewing opportunities and serenity, as you have more time on your klotok and solo time on the river—and for the same price.
We went to the same feeding stations, but had more time at each place, including a delicious river sunset and delightfully pokey morning at Camp Leakey, hanging out for some morning river laundry time (no swimming—and do watch for crocodiles). We caught some impromptu orangutan viewing and saw the local dominant male, Tom, building a nest, so he could mate with his female companion in the next tree. All the boat men and guides know the orangutans, so it was a morning of getting to know the local orangutan community.
TANJUNG PUTING NATIONAL PARK KLOTOK HIRE AND GUIDES
I emailed three independent guides in the Lonely Planet guidebook: Andi Arysad (firstname.lastname@example.org); Erwin (email@example.com); and Harry (firstname.lastname@example.org), the owner of the Kingfisher boat. It turned out that Mr. Harry also owned the tour company, Borneo Wisata Permai Tours, and was not an independent tour operator or boat owner, and Mr. Erwin connects people with other guides, if he is unavailable.
The prices were comparable: 2,500,000 IDR/$222 USD per person with Mr. Andi; 2,700,000 IDR/$240 USD per person with Mr. Erwin; and 3,000,000 IDR/$267 with Mr. Harry. Mr. Erwin noted that his rates would go up to 3,000,000 IDR/$267 per person in a few months, due to an increase in park fees on May 1. Mr. Andi was noted as being one of the most experienced guides—and was also the least expensive—so we went with him.
The rate typically includes: taxi to/from the airport to Kumai; boat (klotok); English-speaking guide; boat captain; cook; meals; snacks; drinks (bottled water; soft drinks; tea; coffee); and national park permits (including camera fee and boat docking fee). Central Kalimantan is a predominantly Muslim area, so alcohol is not sold or served.
If you stay at Rimba Ecolodge (like we did), you must also charter a speedboat (300,000 IDR/$26 USD). The trip from Kumai to Rimba takes about an hour.
A typical three day klotok hire stops at:
- Tanjung Harapan and Sekonyer Village (across the river from Tanjung Harapan)
- Friends of the National Park Foundation Camp Pesalat reforestation project
- Pondok Tanggui
- Camp Leakey. Established in 1971 by Professor Birute Galdikas, a student of Professor Louis Leakey. Professor Leakey was also known as a mentor to Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey in their study of chimpanzees and mountain gorillas.
The klotok rate includes lodging and meals. You sleep on the covered top deck of the klotok; the crew provides single or double bed mosquito nets. There is a simple shower onboard, but if you want more creature comforts, you could stay at a Sekonyer village homestay or at the Rimba Ecolodge (see Where to Stay/Accommodation).
I found everything about the klotok absolutely delightful, however, and the whole experience was absolutely one of my favorite parts of my trip to Indonesia! It was truly some of the best food during my six weeks in Indonesia—Chef Dayang is a freelance cook in Kumai and was one of the primary cooks for the Kumai wedding I attended (see below).
When it came down to the actual trip, Mr. Andi was already booked with another client, so he had his colleague, Siti Nurul (see below) arrange the tour details. He assured me she would book a very knowledgeable guide with good English. All very true! (see below).
I arrived in Kumai a few days ahead of my friend, and had the good fortune of having Siti take me around. As she put it, she did not want me to be bored in sleepy Kumai.
So, the first night Siti took me to a local wedding—who knew a sleepy and dusty little port town like Kumai could get so glammed up? On the second day Siti picked me up on her motorbike, and took me to the local market and then Pasir Panjang, a modern Dayak village and the home of Orangutan Foundation International. We met Guide Jefri (see below) in Pasir Panjang, his home village, and went around the Orangutan Foundation International quarantine area and training forest and the village longhouse. We continued to Pangkalan Bun by motorbike, visiting the Istana Kuning (the former sultan’s home, nicknamed the Yellow Palace, as it used to be swathed in yellow fabric). Siti wanted to me for a sunset trip to Kubu Beach, a local beach, but I was exhausted and regrettably opted to stay in.
INDEPENDENT TANJUNG PUTING GUIDES
Jefri is delightful and personable, a young Dayak man from Pasir Panjang, a modern Dayak village. He was a Tanjung Puting National Park ranger for seven years, and before that, worked at the Orangutan Foundation International quarantine and training center, rehabilitating abandoned orangutans and teaching them to live in the wild. This process involves teaching the orangutans what to eat, how to climb, how to take care of themselves, and well, everything—and then tailing the orangutans to make sure they are successful. A mother orangutan typically spends six years with her baby, teaching them these jungle lessons. It is a long process.
Jefri started guiding last year, while his mother continues his work with the Orangutan Foundation International. Your jaw will drop when you see how quickly Jefri can scurry fifty feet or more up a tree. As he pointed out, he had to teach the young orangutans.
Jefri can help arrange tours to traditional Dayak communities (just a few hours by taxi from Pangkalan Bun), Kubu Beach, and Tanjung Keluang (Turtle Island). He is also very familiar with the Orangutan Foundation International and their training forest, where he used to work.
Siti is a bubbly, energetic, and personable young woman. She is originally from Java, but has lived in Kumai in Central Kalimantan for a number of years. She has worked for several tour operators and Mr. Andi, organizing their klotok trips and arranging all the trip details, as well as working as a guide. She thus knows the guides, boat captains, and cooks, and makes all the klotok arrangements for the tour companies. When she took me to a local wedding, she introduced me to a number of guides and other folks in the industry. It is a small community and she is very familiar with all that is involved with planning a klotok trip. Both Jefri and Siti speak excellent English.
Mr. Andi trained Siti as a guide, and she is now one of six woman out of a pool of sixty Tanjung Puting National Park guides. I also met her friend, Daisy, another delightful female guide, in Pasir Panjang, where she lives with her Dayak husband. As Daisy put it, they are the tough girls.
Mr. Andi, one of the park’s most experienced guides, has thirty years of experience. He trained Siti and many of the younger guides, and connects them with work. You can contact him directly, but his guide services are in demand and he is often unavailable. Based on my experience, he will connect you with a trusted and wonderful guide—but it is definitely better for Siti and Jefri if you contract with them directly.
I highly recommend Jefri or Siti as your guide for the Tanjung Puting National Park klotok trip! They will take care of hiring the klotok, boat captain, and cook, purchasing the food, and arranging transportation. They are both very familiar with the various parts of the tour process and know of interesting local places if you stay a couple extra day (see Other Activities below).
See Contact Information section for more information.
FRIENDS OF THE NATIONAL PARK FOUNDATION
Yet one more independent klotok hire option!
I also contacted Friends of the National Park Foundation (FNPF) to inquire about their ecotours. FNPF provides klotok trips to Tanjung Puting National Park‘s Sekonyer River, as well as some other options, such as sleeping in tents at their Camp Pesalat reforestation project and day trekking. The FNPF ecotour options were unfortunately out of my travel budget—albeit still reasonable and profits support FNPF.
The FNPF director, Dr. Wirayudha, kindly offered to have his staff take care of the klotok hire for us, in exchange for a small donation FNPF, a very fair arrangement (500,000 IDR/$44 USD). Mr. Andi had already invested quite a lot of time with our requests, so I decided to stick with him. I still made a donation to FNPF—this was on my list!—as they are an organization that does valuable conservation work and habitat rehabilitation from areas damaged by palm oil plantations and fire.
FNPF also offers volunteer opportunities at their Camp Pesalat reforestation project in Tanjung Puting, Central Kalimantan; Nusa Penida, Bali; Besikalung Wildlife Sanctuary, Bali; and their Bali Wildlife Rescue.
ENVIRONMENTAL DEVASTATION IN BORNEO
Wild orangutans only live in Sumatra and Borneo. Unfortunately their habitat is rapidly disappearing due to deforestation from palm oil plantations and mining. Sumatra and Kalimantan are threatened by environmental destruction, with hectares and hectares gobbed up by the palm oil plantations. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimated that 230,000 orangutans lived in the wild one hundred years ago, but now there are only 41,000 orangutans remaining in Borneo and 7,500 in Sumatra.
Deforestation is a huge part of the problem. Go now, before it is too late. And support the organizations doing valuable conservation work in this area!
It is my hope that once the Indonesian government understands the financial benefits of ecotourism—for local people and business development, conservation organizations and even government bureaucrats (including park fees sent to Jakarta)—they will stop caving to logging and mining interests. These industries are destroying Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan—and Borneo—and destroying the orangutan habitat.
These industries also threaten the human population. The lower part of the Sekonyer is so contaminated from gold mining, that the people living in Sekonyer village must import bottled water from Kumai.
DAY TREKKING IN TANJUNG PUTING NATIONAL PARK
I found out about the twenty kilometer jungle trek from Tanjung Harapan after we landed and the schedule was set. A few months ago this would have intrigued me—but I also entertained the idea of the fifteen day cross-Borneo trek. I have come to the conclusion that jungle trekking is extremely hot and humid business with a lot of creepy crawlies. If you go, hike with your guide, wear gaiters to protect against leeches, and take electrolyte tablets.
Guide Jefri’s elderly uncle, Babek Umar accompanied us for a short walk (about two hours) around the Orangutan Foundation International trails around Camp Leakey. We learned about jungle fruits the young orangutans learn to eat, along with a vine that provides liquid during jungle trekking (which looked exactly like something I learned about in Virachey National Park in northern Cambodia).
TANJUNG PUTING KLOTOK TOUR PRICE
The rate for two travelers for three days and two nights is 2,500,000-3,000,000 ($219-262) per person. The price is typically less if you have more people. Note that park entrance fees will increase May 1, 2014.
The price does not include gratuities. Although tipping is not mandatory in Indonesia, it is always appreciated—and I cannot imagine not tipping. The Rimba Ecolodge recommended tipping the equivalent of $15 for the guide, $10 to the driver, and $10 to the cook.
The folks at Friends of the National Park Foundation provided a cost breakdown for hiring a klotok, in case I wanted their staff to make arrangements (see end of article). The Lonely Planet has a similar breakdown, if you need to compare costs, or if you are quoted a price and not sure what it includes.
KLOTOK HIRE DETAILS
I paid a 50 percent cash deposit two days before the klotok trip, and we paid the balance one day before, before going to Rimba Ecolodge. I believe web-based tour operators require a credit card deposit. There is an ATM in Kumai and the bank exchanges United States dollars
Bring two copies of your passport for the police and national park permit. There is a photocopy shop in Kumai, but you should not rely on that.
I made all arrangements via email, as I did not have an Indonesian mobile phone. Mr. Andi, Siti, and Jefri are often in the jungle, as they say, so it might take them a few days to reply to email. They did not have cell service within the park, but it seemed to kick in a couple hours from Kumai.
Mr. Andi Arysad (guide)
62 082 148 021 891 cell
Mr. Jefri (guide)
62 085 751 999 944 cell
Ms. Siti Nurul (guide)
62 081 256 721 645 cell
Friends of the National Park Foundation (conservation NGO with ecotour options)
Director Drh I Gede Nyoman Bayu Wirayudha
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
62 361 977978/62 82897209633
WHERE TO STAY/ACCOMMODATION
Reservation Manager Mr. Gedi Ori
Sekonyer River, edge of Tanjung Puting National Park
62 361 7474205
62 361 7474204
62 81 23995212 cell
The Rimba Ecolodge is perched on the edge of the Sekonyer River and is surrounded by forest. The rooms, restaurant, and main lodge are built on elevated platforms. There are no roads: access is only by boat from the Port of Kumai. Book a charter speedboat (300,000 IDR/$27 USD, one hour) via Rimba Ecolodge, your guide, or at the harbor. There is apparently a public boat that runs between Sekonyer Village and Kumai, but I never saw anything resembling a collective boat or ferry, beyond a few folks in local boats.
There are five categories of rooms: diamond, emerald, amethyst, sapphire, and ruby. I really do not understand air conditioning in that type of environment—you have to go outside eventually! I booked a sapphire room (with ceiling fan) for $65 nett/night inclusive of breakfast, tax and service charge. Dinner is available à la carte in the dining room. Rimba Ecolodge accepts cash payment in Indonesia rupiah (IDR) or U.S. dollars.
I highly recommend staying here for a night before your tour starts and having the klotok pick you up at Rimba Ecolodge.
Yayorin Homestay Ecolodge
Jl Bhayangkara, km 1
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
62 0532 29057
300,000 IDR ($27 USD) including breakfast
Run by Yayorin (Yayasan Orangutan Indonesia), a grass roots conservation NGO. We spent one night here after leaving Tanjung Puting National Park; it is close to the airport and partway between Pasir Panjang and Pangkalan Bun. The rooms have woven fiber walls, batik print linens, and private verandas overlooking wooded gardens. Absolutely charming! They offered to loan us a motorbike so we could go to a nearby restaurant, or offered dinner on the veranda (40,000 IDR/$3.50). Yayorin can also book taxis to the airport, which takes about twenty minutes and cost 50,000 IDR ($4.45 USD).
Jl Gurilaya 98 (street perpendicular to the street that runs parallel to the river)
200,000 IDR ($18 USD) for a room with shower
150,000 IDR ($13) for non-shower (ladle and basin)
All rooms have air conditioning. Everything is clean enough (particularly if you had been in Indonesia for one month), but hardly pristine, with a tattooed and pony tailed Ahmed sketching at the front desk and some very bored men in the lobby waiting for the customers. It was OK, but I suggest the Aloha, which is reported to be better and very clean (see below). I made the mistake of assuming more expensive meant a better room. Your guide should be able to make the booking for you.
The Hotel Mentari is right next to what appears to be the only internet cafe (about 6000 IDR/$0.50 USD hour), the best rate I had in Indonesia. There is no wifi in Kumai. You might have to wait a bit for a computer during the late afternoon, when the after school crowd is around.
Jl Gurilaya 392 (just a few blocks north of the Hotel Mentari)
60,000 IDR ($5.30 USD)
Although I did not stay here, I think it would be a better bet than the Hotel Mentari. It was recently rebuilt after a fire destroyed the previous building.
Kumai offers simple, but clean accommodation and is a lovely and friendly little port town. I appeared to be the only foreigner staying in town (which I loved!) Most tourists stay in Pangkalan Bun and hop on a flight as soon as they are off the klotok.
Sekonyer Village (near Rimba Ecolodge)
62 0812 516 4727
350,000-450,000 IDR ($31-40 USD) en suite including breakfast.
I did not stay here, but it is said to be a good village homestay, just a bit expensive. Flores only has three rooms, and offers twin or double beds with mosquito net and small verandas overlooking the Sekonyer River). Meals are available for 75,000 IDR ($6.70 USD) per meal.
Ojek drivers (motorcycle taxis) seem to hang around near the river near the main intersection in Kumai. It is a small place, however, and you can walk around town. Your guide will book your taxi to and from the airport, and can help you book other rides, if necessary.
The taxi from Pangkalan Bun to Kumai should be included in your klotok tour price, but if you need to make other taxi trips, it costs 150,000 IDR ($13 USD) oneway.
WHERE TO EAT
Kumai does not have any tourist restaurants: it is all warung (food stall and simple restaurant) dining. If you ate not comfortable with that, it might be best to stay at the Rimba Ecolodge or in Pangkalan Bun.
A number of vendors set up shop along the street parallel to the harbor and Jl Gurilaya at night. If you cannot find a warung open for breakfast, head to the pasar (market), the western part of second street parallel to the harbor.
In Kumai, mie goreng costs about 10,000 IDR ($0.90 USD) and a plate of gado dado with tea is around 20,000 IDR ($1.80 USD).
- Istana Kuning, Pangkalan Bun. The former sultan’s home and nicknamed the Yellow Palace. 5000 IDR/$0.45 USD motorbike parking and 50,000 IDR/$4.45 USD tip to the caretaker, who—as it turns out—was related to the last sultan.
- Tanjung Keluang, a small conservation project ran by the Indonesian Nature Conservancy Agency (local name, BKSDA), where Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are protected and released. Go by car or motorbike to Kubu Beach, then go by klotok or speedboat to Tanjung Keluang
- Kubu Beach, a local beach. About one hour by motorbike from Kumai
- Interpretive centers at Tanjung Harapan and Camp Leakey. Very nicely done!
- Friends of the National Parks Foundation
- Orangutan Foundation International. Longterm volunteer positions are available at the Orangutan Care Center in Pasir Panjang. Room and board is approximately $200-250 USD per month.
TANJUNG PUTING KLOTOK PRICE BREAKDOWN
From Friends of the National Park Foundation:
Boat 600,000/day x 3 = 1,800,000
Food + cook?/day 75,000 x 6 x3 = 1,350,000 or just food
Guide 250,00/day x 3 = 750,000
Registration 170,000/ day x3 = 510,000
Camera 50,000 x 2 = 100,000
Boat parking 50,000
Police permit 25,000 x 2 = 50,000
Tip to rangers 15,000 x 3 = 45,000
Donation 500,000 x 2 = 1,000,000
Taxi PKN to Kumai x 2 150,000 x 2 = 300,000
5,955,000 IDR ($528 USD)
Note that park entrance fees will increase May 1, 2014.
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