Andrew’s parents came to visit us last week, and as well as showing them all the beauty that Jakarta has to offer (ho, ho), we wanted to do something special with them that would make a quick trip to Indonesia worth their while. After reading about it in my Lonely Planet, I had river cruising in Kalimantan high on my agenda, but unfortunately didn’t have the funds to pursue it. Thanks to the amazing generosity of the in-laws however, we were able to spend last weekend floating down the murky waters of the Kahayan river in our own private houseboat.
It began with an early start, catching the 5:20am flight from JKT to Palang Karaya. The cruise, booked with WOW Borneo, was timed around the Garuda arrival, and we were greeted, bleary eyed after a 3:30am wakeup, by a cheerful tour guide who quickly ushered us into the car. It was then a quick, 20 minute ride to the port, where we first caught a glimpse of our glorious little boat, a small but comfortable two-storey beauty that was to be our home for the next two days.
The Ruhui Rahayu is WOW Borneo’s newest and smallest boat – comprising of one bedroom and a large front-faced seating deck that also doubles as a second sleeping area at night. Like most boats, it makes good use of its space, with benches, tables and lounging areas all doubling up and folding away when necessary. Even the bathroom, although basic, was not bad for Indonesian standards, with a little shower, flushing toilet and sink. It was a good size for four, well-accustomed adults, with plenty of space for napping, reading, eating and drinking the day away as you watch the jungle glide by.
After settling in on board and introducing ourselves to our crew of four, we were promptly served a hearty breakfast of pancakes, fried banana and scrambled eggs as we kicked off our journey. The day was then dedicated to getting to our main destination, the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation in Kahayan, which incidentally is less than 50km away from Palang Karaya if time is of the essence and you’re not in the mood to get nautical. As the sun started to dip, we were picked up by a smaller motorised canoe, which took us off down a smaller side river for some monkey spotting.
Night-time set in, and we were transferred back to the Ruhui Rahayu for dinner, a combination of rice, noodles, vegies, fish and prawns (did I mention I put on 2kg on this trip?). We had bought along some beers – of course – and sat playing cards and listening to the sounds of the jungle around us. After four months living in Jakarta, I can’t tell you what a welcome difference this was. Before tucking in, our bed was constructed by the crew on the bow of the boat, complete with clean sheets and a mosquito net. Basic, but comfy enough.
The next morning dawned bright, early and noisy, as motorised canoes substituted the city traffic by whizzing past at 5am. Breakfast was served and then it was time to transfer back to our canoe, where we navigated to the Orangutan Rehabiliation island. Orangutans here are in phase three of rehabilitation – learning how to live in the wild. While they are on the island, they are substituted with small amounts of food, but also have to learn to forage for themselves. The good news for us is that there is still a designated feeding time, which the small tourism industry has been quick to capitalise on.
From our little canoe, we were but 10 metres away (but protected by a body of water – some of them looked pretty strong) from these gorgeous creatures as they ate, played, swung and showed off. Although solitary creatures in the wild, these Orangutan’s were still enjoying each others company, with about six of different colours, shapes and sizes hanging about. There was no other humans present but obviously had been, with a wooden platform stocked up with maize and bananas. We sat and watched them for about an hour or so before heading to the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, where we learned more about the rehabilitation efforts.
The afternoon was spent back in our little canoe, scouting out more Orangutans who – to our surprise – don’t mind hanging out on the sandy river beaches, playing in the shallows. We then stopped past a little village for some traditional dance which the in-laws absolutely loved. Back on the boat by nightfall, for another ridiculously-sized dinner and an overnight stopover moored at the ramshackle port town of Tangkiling for an early morning airport trip.
Although you could easily save yourself some dough and do this trip without the houseboat, for us it was the perfect way to wind down after three days of non-stop activities in Jakarta. It’s the perfect balance of relaxing and exploring, and I wouldn’t have traded the experience for the Drive-In, Drive-Out substitute. Many thanks to the lovely WOW Borneo staff, who made it such a special trip.