Balikpapan, on the east coast of Borneo, is considered to be Indonesia’s “most liveable city”. An oil boom early in the 20th century led to an influx of European businessmen, who brought with them the money to transform Balikpapan into the only real cosmopolitan centre in the East Kalimantan province. Still today, it is much cleaner than your average Indonesian city, and generally easier on the eye. It boasts some incredible, picturesque beaches, azure blue skies, and a convivial atmosphere that has attracted many expat families to settle here.
For those more accustomed to the frenetic pace of life in some of Indonesia’s ever-expanding roster of megacities, Balikpapan may come as something as a shock: the climate is tolerable all year round and things seem to happen more slowly. The city is still vibrant – a haven for local commerce – but less daunting. Nestled in a remote corner of Borneo – the world’s third largest island – Balikpapan has its fair share of green spaces and natural attractions a short drive away.
Balikpapan provides the perfect base for tourists to discover the wealth of beauty found elsewhere in the Kalimantan region. The city is home to the only truly international airport in this part of Borneo, so most regional excursions start here. A three-day trip down the “mighty” Mahakam River on a houseboat, for instance, will set you back around US$1,000, but stopping off at traditional settlements along the way will give you a snapshot of the rural life millions of Bornean people live every day. There are plenty of organised treks and diving trips too, to take you away from the metropolis, into the beautiful wilderness.
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