Often known as the Oil City of Indonesia, Balikpapan - located on the east coast of Borneo island in the Indonesian province of Kalimantan - is richly endowed in oil, natural gas and coal. Being home to a treasure trove of natural resources has its downside, though: Balikpapan was much fought over by various parties in the past, and was the site of many historic battles during World War II between invading Japanese forces and the Dutch colonial powers.
Fly into this beautiful cosmopolitan city via Sultan Aji Muhammad Sulaiman Airport - sometimes still referred to as Sepinggan Airport - located on the far eastern shores of Balikpapan. Considered the busiest airport in Borneo, Sultan Aji Muahammad Sulaiman Airport handles more than 7 million passengers annually and offers direct flights from numerous cities in Indonesia as well as international destinations like Singapore and Malaysia.
Sultan Aji Muhammad Sulaiman Airport is located only about 8-10 kilometres from the heart of Balikpapan, making the transit from airport to city very easy for tourists. You can book a taxi di-rect from the airport - its possible to hail one off the street, but if none are around grab a pay-phone and call the taxi hotline - but do note that payment must be made in cash only (some driv-ers accept US dollars, though.) For a cheaper and more exciting ride into town, you can also grab an ‘angkot’ , Indonesia’s version of a minibus.
What to see and do
As previously mentioned, the city of Balikpapan - blessed as it is with natural resources - was a gem oft-fought over in the past by various peoples (most notably the Japanese, Australians and colonial Dutch powers). Don’t leave the city without getting a sense of its history and heritage - visit the Balikpapan War Cemetery, where you’d truly feel the violence of the past weigh on your shoulders as you gaze upon row after row of graves filled with the bodies of ancient soldiers who had lost their lives during World War 2.
For a more lighthearted experience, though, head to Kemala Beach, one of Balikpapan’s hot favourites when it comes to a day lying in the sun by the sea. Marked by clean, white sands, blue seawaters, swaying palm trees and beach restaurants a-plenty, Kemala Beach is a great place to loll the heat of Southeast Asia away with a coconut in hand. Be sure to hang around till evening falls for some magnificent views of the sun setting over the Makassar Strait.
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