A major producer of oil and timber, East Kalimantan is at present the most industrially advanced province of Kalimantan. Its population is less than two million, and the density figure of seven people per kilometre is among the lowest of Indonesia, although relatively high for Kalimantan. More than 80 percent of the area, or over 17 million hectares is covered by forest. This is where the “Black Orchid” and many other orchid varieties grow within the sheltered confines of nature reserves.

The Banjarese and Kutainese are mostly the coastal population, living in towns and cities. The Dayak peoples form the overwhelming majority of the population of the hinterland, who live in longhouses called umaq daru. It is customary for one whole extended family or even one clan to occupy one long house. Each family is given a separate compartment with the chief of the clan occupying the central chamber. Guardian statues are normally placed in front of the long house to protect it against evil spirits who bring disease and bad fortune. Such longhouses, however, are gradually disappearing and many have been converted into meeting halls or stages for dance and music performances. The Dayaks are also known for their artistry, making beautiful cloths and ornaments for their traditional houses. The Tunjung Dayaks still make a kind of cloth called doyo, which is woven from certain plant fibres, used in the past in rituals. These are now offered for sale to visitors. Oil and natural gas are found along the entire east coast, with refineries centred at Balikpapan and Bontang.

A Black Orchid




Samarinda is the capital of the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan (Kalimantan Timur). The city lies on the banks of the Mahakam River. The name Samarinda originates from the description of the way in which the Buginese houses were constructed. At that time the custom was that all houses were built on a raft and generally had the same height. This had important social relevance, symbolising equality between residents; no one’s house, and therefore, no person, was seen as higher or lower than another. The settlement was named ‘Samarenda’, meaning ‘equal in height’. After hundreds of years of use, the pronunciation of the name changed slightly and the city became known as Samarinda.

Samarinda is known for its fine sarong cloth. The city shows some signs of being the capital of a prosperous province. New government offices and public buildings are rising everywhere. Samarinda has a number of modest but comfortable hotels.

Houses on the Mahakam River near Samarinda


Market Scene in Samarinda


BalikpapanBalikpapan, the centre of Kalimantan’s oil industry is also the gateway to East Kalimantan with air and sea connections to Jakarta and other major points in Indonesia. Even the trip to Samarinda, begins in Balikpapan. Living up to its importance, Balikpapan has a number of good hotels, including one of international standard, as well as recreation facilities. It has the second busiest airport in the nation after Jakarta, due to its strategic position.

Berau and Marine Tourism on Derawan island

Found here are the remains of a king called the Keraton Gunung Tambur and The Keraton Sambaliung. Historic objects can be seen here. Derawan island is about 3 hours by a long boat from Tanjung Redep (The Capital of Berau Regency) or via Tarakan.

There are many rare animals such as the green turtle, the scarlet turtle, star fruit turtle and sea cow. Also of interest are rare species of marine plants, coral reefs, iguanas, sea birds, crab and the location for pearl diving.

It is also excellent for scuba diving, fishing, swimming, and other water sports.


Located in the regency of Kutai with an area of about 200 000 ha, Bontang has rare flora and fauna. The Kutai National Park near Bontang is worth visiting for the wonderful scenery, especially at Beras Basah.


Bulungan is the place for the adventure-seeking visitor. You will also find ancient remains, art collections and traditional ceremonies, with a background of beautiful panoramas of the jungle and mountains.

Tanah Merah Indah – LempakeThis is a recreational park called Tanah Merah Indah-Lempake with a waterfall, located about 16 km from downtown Samarinda. It can be reached by car or public transport.

A water fall in Tanah Merah Indah


TenggarongTenggarong, up the Mahakam river from Samarinda, is the capital of the Kutai regency and was once the seat of the Kutai sultanate. The Sultan’s palace on the riverside is now a museum where the old royal paraphernalia are kept, as well as an excellent collection of antique Chinese ceramics. Dayak statues can be admired in the yard. A curious thing about the royal paraphernalia is that they display a strong resemblance with Java’s court traditions.

Each year on 24 September, the former palace becomes a stage of dance and music performances given to celebrate the town’s anniversary.

Lamin house - the traditional house


Houses on Lake Jempang at Tanjung Isuy


Tanjung IsuyThis little settlement around Lake Jempang in the lake-studded East Kalimantan hinterland, has a traditional Dayak longhouse which has been turned into lodges for visitors. The grave of a Benuaq Dayak chief lies aside the hamlet’s only road. Visitors are usually given a traditional Benuaq Dayak welcome. The trip to Tanjung Isuy over the Mahakam River is long, but interesting, passing floating villages and forests. With luck, you can watch a belian, or witch doctor, dressed in his skirt of leaves, cure his patients at night by performing the rites prescribed by ancestors, to the frenzied accompaniment of gongs and drums. Many Benuaq Dayaks still prefer the old cures to the modern ones at government public health centres which are nearby.

Melak – Kersik LuwayMelak is a little village further upstream on the Mahakam River in the heart of the land of Tanjung Dayak. Not far from the village is the Kersik Luway nature reserve, where the “Black Orchid” grows.

Kersik Luway is a desert in the heart of a dense, tropical forest.

The desert of Kersik Luway is located in the hinterland of East Kalimantan, in the heart of Borneo. It is actually a plateau on the upper reaches of the Mahakam river, about 300 kilometres to the West of Samarinda.

White soft sand covered by shrubs and tall grass. Clumps of trees with yellowish leaves blanketed in the afternoon mist. This is Kersik Luway Nature Reserve from a distance. Kersik Luway is similar to a green oasis in the middle of a desert, which could be found in Africa and in the Middle East. The most beautiful scene is the spread of natural and unique orchids grown under the clumps of trees. Kersik Luway is home to hundreds of East Kalimantan’s wild orchids which are now on the verge extinction as forests succumb to deforestation and forest fires. As you enter the reserve you will be struck with amazement at its beauty.

Located about 18 kilometres from Melak, in the West Kutai regency, Kersik Luway is a conservation area occupying about 5,000 hectares of land (this area seems to vary from 2000 to 5000 ha depending on the source of the information – if anyone is able to confirm one way or another, please let us know!). Near the entrance to the reserve, on some 400 hectares of land, are 70 species of East Kalimantan’s wild orchids. Previously, it had around 80 species but 10 of them were destroyed in a forest fire in 1997.

Floating Houses on Mahakam River near Melak


Black Orchid found at Kersik Luway


East Kalimantan has at least 300 species of wild orchids. Wild orchids are difficult to cultivate and once their habitat is damaged, it will be almost impossible for the orchids to survive. The damage caused by the 1997 fire was therefore a big loss to the nation.The reserve owes its popularity to its rare Black Orchid (Coelogyne pandurata), found only in this region. Growing in shrubs, the Black Orchid blossoms between April and December. In fact, that is the best period to visit the reserve when all the orchids are in full bloom and all you can see is a plethora of colourful orchids. The dark-black orchid is the emblem of Kalimantan.

Forest fires remain the main threat to the reserve. Kersik Luway, according to the reserve’s forest rangers, has been hit by forest fires four times. The first was in 1982, then 1994, 1997 and 2000.

Signs of the fires are still evident. Charcoal tree barks can be seen standing, while tall grass and shrubs dominate the vast landscape. Despite the scars, the reserve still holds its beauty.

Kersik Luway, according to the Dayak people, is used as a worshipping place. Hundreds of years ago, Kersik Luway was a holy place of the Tunjung and Benuaq Dayak people. The magical and quiet nuances have made it sacred.

Traditional people who inhabit Kersik Luway, do not dare to look for wood, to hunt, or carry out any exploitative activities. The native people consider the place as the home of their ancestors which sacred, and the silence may not be disgraced. This is probably the reason why the desert is called Kersik Luway, which in the native language means “the peaceful sand”. Kersik Luway is a unique and exotic region, its beautiful nature is not yet well known.

To get there, you can travel along the Mahakam River by a car or taxi, or travel to Samarinda and then to Tenggarong. From Tenggarong, continue further to Malak. The road trip is along an incredibly uncomfortable bumbpy road. As well as getting there by road, you can also take a boat; it takes a full day and night to reach the site by river (in excess of 24 hours). While travelling along the river, you can enjoy the life of the river, with fishing and farming villages along the Mahakam River.

Muara Ancalong – Muara Wahau

Dances of the Kenyah Dayak are often performed here for visitors at a traditional longhouse. Also various handicrafts can be viewed and purchased.

Kalimantan – Kalimantan Information, Tours and Resources

Photographs copyright to Asmat (Saham Longhouse), Mimi of Vitual Tourist (Mahakam River and Lamin House), Ieke Vierdag – www.dayak.nl (Tanjung Isuy), Williewonker (Melak) – see his photos at www.flickr.com/photos/87791108@N00, Alain Secretan “asitrac” (Black Orchid), and Indonesia-Tourism.com (cover photo)
Much of the Information on this page has been derived from various Indonesian Embassy links, Information about Kersik Luway from Radio Republic Indonesia and Frank B. Yuwono of Jakarta Post