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Tanjung Punting National Park: A Superb Planning Guide

How to travel there; where to stay; what to expect; and is it safe for children

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What do you think about when you hear the word Borneo? Before I visited, I imagined hot and humid temperatures, and lush jungle so thick you would need a machete to walk through it. Wild orangutans and dangerous animals would roam freely. Bugs would be the largest and scariest in the world – basically what nightmares are made of. Mosquitos would eat you alive all day and all night. Indigenous tribes would live on the land farming and hunting, much like they would have done for hundreds of years. Were my perceptions correct? What would our search for orangutans and other wildlife uncover in Tanjung Punting National Park? I couldn’t wait to find out.

 

Tanjung Punting National Park
An orangutan from in Tanjung Punting National Park.

 

 

Borneo

Borneo is the third largest island in the world and the largest in Asia. The island itself is divided up and ruled by three countries: Malaysia and Brunei in the north, and Indonesia to the south. The Indonesian part of Borneo is called Kalimantan.

I took my four kids (13, 14, 16 and 20 years old) on a 4 day Borneo ecotour of Kalimantan as part of our three week Indonesian adventure. More specifically, we focused our time on Tanjung Punting National Park and the rivers around it.

 

Tanjung Punting National Park
Proboscis monkey and her baby on the shores of the Sekonyer River

 

Tanjung Punting National Park 

Tanjung Punting National Park is the largest and most diverse protected example of coastal tropical heath and peat swamp forest in the world. It contains 3,040 km² (or 1,174 square miles) of low lying swampy terrain and rivers which flow into the Java Sea. Its phenomenal eco-diversity creates multiple zones of different plant life providing microhabitats for plants and animals. The net effect is that many species exist and live in close proximity to one another in Tanjung Punting National Park which is not possible anywhere else in the world.

 

Animal life in Tanjung Punting National Park in Borneo

Tanjung Punting National Park also has remarkable animal life. There are:

  • hundreds of bird species,
  • 9 primates, including the bizarre looking proboscis monkey and the endangered orangutan
  • two species of crocodiles;
  • dozens of snakes, butterflies and moths; and
  • other animals, such as clouded leopards, civets, and multiple species of deer.

In 1935, the area was declared a game reserve and in 1982, a national park.

Tanjung Punting National Park
One of the beautiful birds found in Tanjung Punting National Park

 

Tanjung Punting National Park
Thankfully our naturalist guide could easily spot animal life in Tanjung Punting National Park. We could not without a lot of help!

 

Tanjung Punting National Park
Even the smallest creatures in Tanjung Punting National park were beautiful.

 

Tanjung Punting National Park
One of my favourite animals of all time – the Proboscis monkey. Love that nose!

 

Flying To Tanjung Punting National Park In Borneo

The great news about Indonesia is there are a lot of local airlines offering ridiculously inexpensive flights all over Indonesia. That’s a relief when you realize that Indonesia is made up of 15,000 islands (or more). The bad news is twofold.

 

Questionable safety record

First, except for Garuda, Indonesia’s national airline, Indonesia’s aviation industry does not have a stellar safety record. In fact, many Indonesian airlines have some of the worst safety records in the world.

 

Difficult to fly direct

Second, it seems to be difficult to get anywhere directly. Case in point, we were in Ende on Flores Island (after hiking up Kelimutu Volcano to watch the sunrise) and needed to get to Pangkalan Bun on Borneo to transfer to Tanjung Punting National Park. Consequently, we had to fly 1 1/2 hours from Ende to Labuan Bajo on Flores, then, 2 hours from Labuan Bajo to Bali. The next morning, we flew 1 hour from Bali to Surbaya on Java Island, changed planes, and then flew another 1 1/2 hours to Pangkalan Bun. There was no way to get from Ende to Pangkalan Bun in one day.  So, in essence, it took us 24 hours to get someplace where, had there been a direct flight, it would have taken around 3 hours!

Anyways, I would do it all again…no question.

 

 

 

Travelling To Tanjung Punting National Park

We were collected at the airport by employees of Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge, the lodge where we were staying. We drove around 20 minutes from the airport to Port of Kumai. This was a very ugly town on the Java Sea whose main purpose was to produce “bird’s nest“, an extremely expensive ingredient/delicacy used mostly by the Chinese. Bird’s nest is the hardened saliva of the Swiftlet bird. It is used most famously in bird’s nest soup, but is also an active ingredient in several Chinese medicines.

On the edge of the water, there were multiple concrete buildings, some 10 stories high, with hundreds of holes cut into the sides. Thousands of birds flew in and out of these holes all day long. We were told that the rooms inside were dark and set up to encourage the birds to spend time so that the saliva could be produced and then, collected. In town, the sound of chirping birds was almost deafening, but not because of the birds themselves. The town amplified recordings of the birds in order to attract them. The whole thing was both bizarre and a little gross.

 

Our River Boat To Tanjung Punting National Park

From the port, we boarded a traditional Indonesian river boat called a Klotok. This was our own private boat for our 4 day Borneo ecotour in Tanjung Punting National Park. On top, we had a large dining room table at the back and six wicker chairs stationed towards the front. Most of the upper deck had a roof to protect us from the sun. However, apart from this roof, the boat was wide open with fantastic views. We had our own naturalist guide and another 6-8 staff that remained with us on the boat for our whole Borneo ecotour. They made meals, provided snacks, helped spot wildlife, and carried extra water and other supplies when we hiked in the jungle. They were amazing.

 

Tanjung Punting National Park.
Examples of traditional Indonesian Klotoks in Tanjung Punting National Park.

 

Tanjung Punting National Park.
Perched on our wicker chairs trying to spot wildlife.

 

 

Download my personally crafted 17 day Indonesia travel guide with my hotel and restaurant recommendations, tours and activities that I enjoyed.

The River Journey Into Tanjung Punting National Park 

We boated about 30 minutes on the Java Sea from the port. Then, we reached the mouth of the Sekonyer River. This river was very narrow, especially compared to the Java Sea, and we could easily see the shores and the jungle.

 

Entrance to Tanjung Punting National Park
The entrance to Tanjung Puting National Park.

 

We boated for another 1 1/2 hours before we reached our lodge, barely seeing another boat or person. It seemed uninhabited, but we later learned that small villages were sometimes nestled behind the shores and the jungle on the opposite side to Tanjung Punting National Park. I did not see any signs of modern life.

 

A local on Borneo ecotour
A local on the river fishing.

 

Our naturalist guide immediately started spotting animals. Over the course of our short trip to Rimba  Orangutan Ecolodge, we saw three different kinds of monkeys playing in the jungle by the river – silver langurs, prosbiscus and long tail macaques. It was a fun ride.

 

Tanjung Punting National Park.
Our naturalist guide trying to spot wildlife from our Klotok.

 

 

Accommodation Near Tanjung Punting National Park

Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge was very cool and sat at the edge of Tanjung Punting National Park. It was built in a series of adjoining elevated pavilions, with boardwalks connecting all the buildings and access to the river. It was one level, solely made out of timber and run by solar energy. Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge was surrounded by jungle and wildlife.

 

Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge
The elevated boardwalk around the lodge.

 

The facilities at Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge

The facilities at Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge were simple but comfortable. The bedrooms were large and clean. Our rooms had air conditioning, fans and lots of hot water. We dined in a separate building that was divided into a dining hall and a large recreation room with ping pong, pool, couches and a movie screen. Wifi was very spotty.

Each night, we fell asleep to the chatter of monkeys in the jungle. Each morning, we woke up to the thumping of monkeys jumping on our roof, a startling but pretty cool way to start the day.

 

Tanjung Punting National Park.
Possibly one of the culprits from our morning alarm.

 

Food and Cost at Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge

We either ate at Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge or on the boat, depending on the day’s schedule. The food was simple, healthy and plentiful, although like our stay at the Ecolodge in Kelimutu, we had little say in the menu. We sat down for a meal and food was served to us family style without any consultation.

Our stay at the Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge was all inclusive. We paid one fee per person and everything was included – our accommodation, meals, transportation, tours, and guiding services. One caution… no alcohol was offered. You were welcome to bring your own, but it was illegal for the lodge to serve us any.

 

What To Expect In Tanjung Punting National Park

Tanjung Punting National Park was very hot and humid. Ginormous bugs and insects were everywhere and they looked terrifying. However, I think they were pretty harmless (ha ha). The jungle was  pristine, untouched and everywhere. In many places, it was impenetrable. When we walked deep into the jungles, the mosquitos were bad. We basically bathed in mosquito repellant every morning and thankfully, that did the trick.

We encountered friendly locals and visited one village near Rimba Orangutan Ecologe. They did not farm or hunt, but fished and lived off the river. It looked like a hard life.

Wildlife was everywhere and it was extraordinary. Most importantly (the primary reason why we travelled so far), we saw countless orangutans in the jungle. Many times, we were just steps away from them, including one time when an alpha male crept up behind us. He simply took over – stood with authority until we scurried away – an unsettling and awe-inspiring experience to say the least.

 

More about Tanjung Punting National Park

In two other blogs – Trekking For Orangutans in Indonesia and Indonesia: The Magic of Lightning Bugs In The Rainforest – I discuss in more detail what we did in Tanjung Punting National Park during the four days that we were there – how we trekked to find orangutans; stumbled upon crocodiles and endangered birds; hiked in the jungle; discovered and learnt about plants and trees that provide fundamental ingredients for modern medicine; and planted new trees in an area devastated by a forest fire about a decade ago.

It was a magnificent experience and one that I can’t wait to share more with you.

 

Recommendations

  • We wore short sleeve shirts and shorts for most of our time in Tanjung Punting National Park. It was very hot and humid. You may choose to wear long sleeve shirts and pants to help with the mosquitos. However, we used lots of mosquito repellant and that worked.
  • You should wear closed toe shoes that are appropriate for walking in the jungle. We all wore running shoes and these worked well.
  • Bring lots of mosquito repellant. We brought both a cream and a spray which worked out very well. We used the cream in the morning before we dressed and then, sprayed ourselves after we dressed.
  • At Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge, you can choose to book a room and sleep at the Lodge or on the boat. We chose to sleep at the hotel and were thrilled with that choice. I loved spending the day on our boat exploring Tanjung Punting National Park. However, it offered very basic living accommodations. In fact, at night, the crew simply laid out mattresses on top level of the boat. Accordingly, there was limited privacy, no relief from the heat and mosquitos, and no break from the crew.

 

Children

  • There would be two areas of concern for bringing young children. My first concern would be that the majority of your time is spent on or near the water. The boat is large and very stable. However, on our boat, there were lots of spots where small children could have easily fallen overboard.
  • The second concern is whether they would be mature and calm enough to be near orangutans in the jungle. There is absolutely nothing between yourself and the orangutans in Tanjung Punting National Park. As our experience with the alpha male creeping up on us from behind, there is lots of opportunity for there to be unpredictable and scary moments. Whether you experience any of those, or you simply get to stare at these beautiful creatures going about their own life from a safe distance away, everyone needs to stay quiet and still. You need to figure out whether your children would be capable of this.

 

Conclusion

We loved our time in Tanjung Punting National Park. It was not easy to get to, but it was absolutely worth the effort. Borneo, its jungle, the amazing wildlife, in particular the orangutans, were all extraordinary. I feel very privileged to have seen and explored this untouched part of the world.

 

If you are interested in reading more about our adventures during our three week trip to Indonesia, here is a list of all the articles that I have written:

Padar Island, Pink Beaches and Komodo Dragons: An Epic Experience;

Kelimutu: An Epic Guide To A Breathtaking Indonesia Volcano;

Yogyakarta: Exploring Food And The Stunning Phoenix Hotel

A Mind Blowing 17 Day Indonesian Adventure With Teens

Trekking For Orangutans in Indonesia

Indonesia: The Magic of Lightning Bugs In the Rainforest

The Unbelievable Wonders of Komodo National Park In Indonesia;

Exploring the Untouched Beauty of Kelimutu Indonesia.

 

Download my personally crafted 17 day Indonesia travel guide with my hotel and restaurant recommendations, tours and activities that I enjoyed.

If you would like to save this article for future use, please click on the “Save” button on one of the photos below. If you think someone else might find this article useful, please feel free to share it on your social media channels.  Thanks!

 

We went deep into the jungles of Indonesia on a four day Borneo ecotour. We explored rivers, hiked into the rainforest and discovered unbelievable wildlife, including the endangered orangutan. It was extraordinary. #Indonesia #Borneo #travel #familytravel| Asia, Java Sea, Kalimantan, klotok, monkey, Pangkalan Bun, proboscis, Rimba Orangutan Ecolodge, Tanjung Puting

17 Comments

  • What a fantastic trip. Beautiful wildlife and great photos. Definitely one to add to everyone’s bucket list.

  • Wow! This seems like an awesome adventure, and something we’d love to do. Pinning for later. Thanks for sharing on #WeekendWanderlust!

  • It looks amazing. I have been to the island of Borneo, but we went to Brunei instead and did a river boat tour and cloud forest tour- much of the same things (except I think the part you went to had more orangutans!). Your kids are really lucky they got to do that!

    • I am fascinated with the idea of Brunei – this tiny country on this enormous island that is divided up into 3 countries. It must have been a really interesting experience.

  • Your eco-tour sounds amazing and very personalized. The crew to passenger ratio on the boat is impressive. It sounds like you were in the middle of all the wildlife with the monkeys jumping on your roof in the morning.

    • It was lovely. Even though we were in the middle of the jungle and surrounded by locals who had very difficult living conditions, the crew gave us amazing service and lots of great food.

  • A good advice to travel in the jungle
    . Such an informative post you share that give me a plenty of courage to make my travel immediately. Here I am Get a full guideline to avoid anxiety. Thanks a lot, Ted for sharing amazing information

  • Orangutans are fascinating and I love that one if them snuck up behind you. I have only been to Malaysian Borneo and saw them at the Lok Kawi wildlife park in Sabah. Your adventure through the jungles sounds amazing, but I’m glad you had a guide with you.

    • Yes, you are right. I can’t imagine doing any of this without guides. However, I don’t think that there is anyway you could do what we did without a guide. Tanjung Punting is completely remote – the only way to access it is by boat.

  • I have always been fascinated by the jungles and their different life. I feel as urban dwellers, we move farther away from sense-provoking habitat that a jungle provides. Just imagine waking up to various sounds in the morning that would make a beautiful day ahead! In a similar vein, Indonesian jungles provide an alluring habitat! Thank you a descriptive post!

  • Borneo is so full of lush nature – I am Malaysian myself so I have been to Eastern Malaysia and I guess its very similar. I would very much like to do the river boat. I used it once in the Dominican Republic and it was awesome to spot wildlife from it. I too love the monkeys and especially the Orangutan. Thanks for sharing.

    • I was very tempted to go see the orangtuans in Malaysia but in the end, it made more sense to see them in Indonesia. I agree – I love exploring nature on a boat. You get to see so much without interfering too much in the natural surroundings.

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