The Road from Kuching to Pontianak – West Kalimantan Part 1

To the border

Rolling on a bus from Kuching Sentral, we approached Entikong, the border between Malaysia and Indonesia. Not surprisingly, there is a dearth of helpful information on the internet about New Zealanders crossing by land in Borneo. It was clear that a visa was needed, but the Malaysian Embassy website, Wikipedia and a few various blogs had conflicting stories about whether or not I could get a visa on arrival by land.

Now, after phoning the Indonesian Embassy in Kuching (and actually crossing the border), I can confidently say that yes, at the Entikong border a foreigner can get a 30-day extendable visa. This is the only land border on Borneo that allows it, otherwise you have to fly in. The cost is 35 USD (up until recently it was 25 USD), but you can pay in several currencies. I paid in Indonesian Rupiah, and since I was the only person on the bus who wasn’t Malaysian or Indonesian, my queue was rather short. (Malaysians can get a 30-day exemption on arrival).

There was a short stroll from Malaysia to Indonesia and we received the obligatory stamps. After placing the visa sticker in my passport the two young customs officers accidentally gave me an ‘exit’ stamp, then looked worried, then gave me an ‘entry’ stamp, then looked worried, then slapped two ‘cancel’ stamps on it, then looked worried, then slapped another ‘entry’ stamp on making a complete mess of my passport. And so began our adventures in Kalimantan.

Botched passport stamps

A meal in Sosok

After the border and past smattering of village houses, our bus pulled over in Sosok. Groups of young men stood around, and didn’t appear to be doing anything useful apart from squatting, smoking, and staring. Buying Indonesian sim cards seemed to be popular here, and many people who were on our bus lined up at a ramshackle kiosk to purchase them. A teenager approached me with a fistful of cards – and I probably gave him the impression that I was interested – but someone else distracted him and I shuffled away.

We went into a large canteen where a man was quickly attempting to build a pyramid with plates of rice, while the stream of hungry passengers worked to sabotage his efforts. We piled our plates with greens, curry, village chicken, and egg. It was our first taste of Kalimantan cuisine, and It did not disappoint (us, or the fifty lingering flies). Our bill read 65, which we eventually figured out was actually 65,000.00 Rupiah.

Trying to use Indonesian currency was a bit mind-boggling for me, especially when the price was told to me in Bahasa Indonesian (which was 100% of the time). The notes start at 1000 (about one cent) and go up 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 (about 10 dollars). The coins are ridiculous – people tape coins together to equal thousands, simply because the lightweight hunks of aluminium are practically worth nothing on their own. For a rough conversion, you move the decimal point four places to the right to get the New Zealand Dollar price. When I did that I started to realise just how inexpensive things were there; our large meal for two with drinks was $6.50 (actually quite expensive by Indonesian standards. Subsequent meals were more like $3 for two people). A tube of Sensodyne toothpaste cost $2.30. A non-stick wok started at $8.00. A Snickers bar was 67 cents. A brand new, reasonably high-quality sleeping bag was $12.00.

Indonesian cash money

All this money equals about $5

Sketchy driving

The drivers changed after Sosok. The first, who had looked like a Malaysian Tommy Lee Jones, was something of a speed freak. While we were still on the Malaysian side of the border we stopped next to a police car at the peak of a secluded hill. An officer sauntered over to the passenger door and the co-driver gave him 50 ringgit folded up inside a passenger manifold. “We can’t buy durian now!” laughed the co-driver in Malay as the cop walked away with the cash.

Five minutes after the drivers changed, we hit a motorcycle being ridden by three people. There were a few murmured gasps and the bus slowed down a little bit. The driver looked a little concerned, but the concern slowly melted and was replaced with indifference as the bus sped up and drove on. An ambulance was phoned for, and that’s the last we heard of it.

Eventually, we reached a fork in the road. The options were ‘Pontianak 145 KM’ or ‘Pontianak 215 KM’. The shorter, more rugged route is closed when the rain is too heavy. The alternative is paved, but takes an extra three hours. Happily for us, there hadn’t been heavy rain, and so we spent the next three hours being violently shaken and slipping forward on the worn, faux-leather seats as the driver applied the brakes liberally. He steered the bus through pot holes, cigarette hanging from his mouth while he sat under at least three non-smoking signs, window open. This allowed plumes of dust kicked from the tyres of palm seed trucks to course through the bus, mixing with the sketchy air-conditioning and causing at the same time – somehow – humidity and aridity.

The bus ride to Pontianak from Kuching

The dusty highway

The bus ride to Pontianak from Kuching

A house by the side of the road, typical of the endless string of rural homes along the journey

The bus ride to Pontianak f

A secondary school

The bus ride to Pontianak f

Another typical view from inside the bus

Entering Pontianak

We endured until arriving, and were set upon by taxi drivers as we disembarked. They ran at the bus as it pulled in, like rabid photographers seeking a scandalous shot, waving cheerily as if assuming we were happy to see them. I was the only white person on the bus, and that must have given them a feeling like that of zombies coming across a dead-end street full of fat children. Hounding us paid off for one man, Ishwandi, who ‘charmed’ us with a barrage of moustached smiling and a never-say-die attitude. With the help of the friendly women at the information counter we talked him down from 200,000 to 150,000 Rupiah. An expensive ride by Indonesian standards, but that was the only way to get from the bus terminal to the city (without knowing anybody).

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Just an ordinary train

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