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Samarinda: New Indonesian Super Modern City

Untuk kedelapan kalinya Kantor Pariwisata menggelar Festival Mahakam. Kegiatan yang digelar disepanjang tepian Mahakam dan terpusat di Dermaga Tepian Mahakam depan kantor Gubernur Kaltim akan berlangsung 3-4 November.

"Karena bersamaan dengan pelaksanaan event Pospenas, mudah-mudahan bisa menjadi suguhan menarik bagi kontinget se Indonesia. Tentunya panitia harus bisa bekerja kerja, dan para peserta juga harus bertanding secara sportif," ujar walikota Samarinda Drs H Achmad Amins MM terkait pelaksanaan Festival Mahakam yang rutin diselenggarakan tiap tahun ini.

The 3 great city of East Kalimantan

The town itself is very safe and quiet and relatively clean with a mix of Indonesians from all over the archipelago and a large number of expatriates mainly from US, France and Australia. However many other nationalities are also represented. Expatriates work mainly in the oil and mining industries and associated service companies. Unocal and Total have a big presence with their own housing compounds.

Balikpapan is at its heart a timber/mining town, and has the characteristics of it. It has a good mall, great seafood, and great outdoors activities (because there aren't many indoor activities), and a new giant stadium.

The weather is hot and humid around 78°F - 90°F.


Most expatriates live on compounds, either company or independent. This is recommended, as there can be problems with the supply of electricity and water. Those on compounds do not generally experience difficulties however. There is a good supply of good quality Western-style housing, on and off compounds but rents are very expensive - average rents are $1350-1800 per month with service charges on top. However cheaper houses can be found off compounds.

One popular residential area is Vilabeta housing which one resident says ... “is as good as it gets anywhere in the world. Even the bar and restaurant in the complex are decent by international standards. Golf course is next door and the shopping centers are down the road.?”

Other comments from residents:

In Balikpapan Baru Housing Complex you can get homes from US$800 – US$1,500/month. These are fairly reasonable houses, meaning reasonable to good dependant on your taste (and if you haven’t been spoilt by expat living in Jakarta).

Lots of expats live in Balikpapan Baru as it's safe and inexpensive. There is another complex called Wika complex, which is quite big and has a mixture of expats and Indonesians, another one down the road called Bukit Damai which offers expat housing and reasonable prices. At all of these places you do not need your own security guards.

Palm Court in Batakan (on the beach) has just built some new houses which are are $1800 to $1350, three and two bedroom with electricity included. It is as safe as it can get, security is fine. This is a good complex, has tennis courts, restaurant, squash courts and 22.5 meter swimming pool.

You can rent houses in town that are fantastic …..but you have to be lucky to find them.

Balikpapan is not really that expensive, unless your package comes with the housing…..then you go for the likes of Villa Beta and KBC II and III complexes where the houses are expensive, even compared to Jakarta.

Another advantage to living in a complex is that PLN, the national electric company, only works part time in Balikpapan, never full time….so complexes are mostly run on backup generators.

As stated, power and water outages are common and if there is a prolonged period of dry weather, the water company will turn off the water so that residents have to rely on tanker water. It is essential that expatriates that live off compounds ensure they have a water storage tank for these periods.

There is generally no problem with telecommunications and there are a number of Internet service providers who provide varying levels of dial-up service. It is important to note that it is difficult to access the Internet during the peak hours of Mon-Fri 8am-6pm. Most houses rented out to expatriates will already be connected to the phone.

Indovision, the satellite TV service, is available in Balikpapan and the reception is generally good.

Broadband Internet is supplied by a company called SatNetCom, a small but great local ISP. Contact them at


Available 3 shopping gallery like Balikpapan Centre Plaza, Mall Fantasy and Muara Rapak Plaza.

Imported food items are available through a number of outlets. There is a branch of Hero supermarket, which has a regular supply of cheeses and yogurts. CV Sentral generally have a reasonable selection of dry goods and the manager is open to suggestions as to what he needs to bring in. There is a commissary at Wisma Patra which stocks items not found elsewhere and has a selection of wines & spirits. Toko Susana also stocks a limited range of imported goods and is cheaper then the above. They also stock a wider range of wines and spirits.

Most electrical, hardware and household items can be found in Balikpapan (one store is called Ace Hardware Store in Balikpapan Permai Plaza).

Hard to find brands and other items are usually brought in from Singapore, Jakarta or companies such as Caswell's Moms will deliver to Balikpapan.


Pasir Ridge International School is run for Unocal ( now called Chevron ) on their compound. It follows the American system and takes in children from kindergarten until age 13. Non Unocal children are admitted if there is space.

Total has a French International School on their compound, which follows the French syllabus and takes children from kindergarten age until age 15. Again non-Total children are admitted if there is space.

Balikpapan Independent Personal School (BIPS) is an international school that is situated on the secure Vilabeta expatriate housing estate. It uses the Australian (Victorian) curriculum and accepts children from Kindergarten through grade 6.

Raffles International School (RIS) is situated near Balikpapan Baru. It utilizes the IBO curriculum and follows the Australian school calendar. The school accepts children from 4 years old through grade 4 and is growing rapidly due to the affordable pricing structure.

For high school, some expats send their children to Penang or Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia as there are really good international schools there. Another option is to find a family to board with and go to one of the international schools in Jakarta.

For addresses of schools, see our International Schools listing

Health Care

This is very limited in Balikpapan. There are two expatriate doctors working for Unocal and Total who can be consulted for a price by other expatriates. For routine appointments, it can take a while as Unocal and Total employees take priority but they are very good in emergencies. There are no international standard hospitals although people do get sent to the Pertamina hospital in emergencies. However, major emergencies and any specialist treatment require a trip to Singapore, Medivac or otherwise. It is essential to have medical evacuation insurance. However, the medical facilities in Singapore are probably the best in the world. ( but now available Side wing Rooms in Pertamina Hospital with international standard medical facilities like singapore hospital and Balikpapan International Hospital....opening in 2007)

The Unocal doctor can recommend a local dentist for check ups and minor repairs.

International SOS, Balikpapan
PKT Office
Jl. Pupuk Raya 54, Balikpapan
Tel: (62-542) 765 966
Fax: (62-542) 764 237

Transport Links

From the international airport (Sepinggan), there are several flights a day to Jakarta and direct flights of varying regularity to Surabaya, Palu (Central Sulawesi), Ujung Pandang (Sulawesi), Banjarmasin, Pontianak, Jogjakarta, Bali, and Surabaya.

There is a direct flight to Singapore on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays by Silkair.

Taxis - Mawar, and Kalung Mas to name two. I used Mawar a lot - they can be called from your address and they give you a number corresponding to the taxi which will appear on your doorstep in the time-slot specified.
Noteworthy Trips

Interesting trips from Balikpapan include a trip up the Mahakam River in a houseboat to visit Dayak villages. Also, the island of Derawan has spectacular diving.

Restaurants & Hotels

There are a number of hotels. The Dusit ( now called Le Graundier ) is the most up-market and international but business travelers also stay in the Blue Sky (Bahana Surya), Gran Senyiur (the first and only 5 star Hotel in Kalimantan) and Benakutai. The hotel bars are where most of the expats hang out.

International Style restaurants include:

* The Palm Court Coffee Shop, Dusit
* Maharaja, Indian restaurant, Benakutai
* Tenggarong Grill, French, Benakutai
* Bondy, Seafood
* Chinese restaurant at the Blue Sky
* Tepinyaki at the Pertamina Golf Club
Lamaru Pub & Cafe at the Gran Senyiur

There are many other Indonesian, Chinese and seafood style restaurants.
Nightlife and Bars

Bars that are popular with the expatriate community in Balikpapan include:
1) Petrosea Bar,
2) Sid's Bar behind,
3) Joys Bar which is next door to,
4) Marthas Bar and just up the road from the Petrosea Bar.
At Batakan there is a new bar called the 5) Batakan Cafe which is conveniently close to the beach and has many attractions similar to Blok M (as does Martha's & Joy's Bars)! Down the road a bit and hidden away behind a small housing complex is Lisa's Bar. At the Hotel Dusit there is the Borneo Bar which is downstairs but has lots of bencongs and is over the top when drink prices are compared with other local bars. There is also a myriad of karaoke bars in Balikpapan. Current ratings in Balikpapan for expats would be Sids Bar (cheap beer and on the beach front) followed by a feed at the Petrosea Bar and a few beers then onto Marthas, Joys Bar for more eyeball exercises, pool, and if you haven't got a takeaway by then, finish off the night at the Borneo Bar (live music but watch the bill and the billy boys) or the Luai Lounge at the Benacutai (live music also).

Jack's Place

Other popular hangouts for expats in Balikpapan is the Shanghai restaurant in the Markoni Area of Balikpapan.

Sports Facilities

Most compounds have pool and tennis courts.

There are two good quality golf courses.

Miniature golf at Dusit Hotel.

Unocal sports facilities are open to general membership and include a pool, tennis courts, gym, squash courts. Members also have use of the Unocal library, bowling alley and restaurant and bar. Currently, there are aerobics classes that are open to everyone.

Total's Club at Batakan, also open to general membership has volleyball, functions, and sailing.

The Dusit has a health club membership which includes use of the gym, pool and tennis courts.

A new health club has opened up in Batakan called the Palm Court which offers a pool, tennis and squash courts, a gym and hopes to offer aerobics classes.

There are various Hashes. a few times a week.

Leisure Activities and Clubs

The Balikpapan Expatriate Women's Club (BEWC) organizes golf, tennis, bowling, craft and bridge activities for members, organizes social functions for the community a few times a year and has a very active charities committee.

There are several expatriate groups of men and women that mountain bike around Balikpapan. One can easily find out about the groups by asking either a Total or Unocal employee. The mountain biking quality in the Balikpapan area is excellent.

Martha's bar is a popular hangout for many expats - good Western restaurant there too.

BBB Balikpapan's Best Bunch - a golfing organization that meets at least once a month at the Balikpapan Sepinggan Golf Course. On the last Saturday of each month they have a competition (the monthly medal), playing 18 holes with prizes going for best scores in an A and B flight (Best Net, Best Gross (first, second and third), Lowest Putts). They have recently started a 9-hole competition for new golfers to encourage them to enjoy the game. This group also organizes a yearly Ryder Cup competition as well as the annual Borneo Bash. There are other competitions throughout the year.

Hash Hound Harriers Contact Denis Bouclin email
There are several Hash groups in Balikpapan:
Monday - Men's Hash
Tuesday - Family Hash
Thursday - Women's Hash (every 2nd week)
Saturday - Mixed Hash (every 2nd week)

There is Karaoke and a bowling alley at the Vilabeta compound.

Alliance Francaise has French classes and occasionally organizes concerts.

There is a bridge group at Unocal and at Batakan.

There is a cinema with 4 screens, which shows a mixture of western and local films.

Interesting activities in nearby areas: Join the world-renowned Wanariset Orangutan Society and visit there amazing facility about 30 minutes north of town. You can even join in a real Orangutan release if you're reasonably healthy. Also, get a ride to Samarinda (provincial capital, but it is a step-child to Balikpapan) and take a boat ride up the Mahakam River for 2-3 days. Or ... drive or fly to Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan and check out the diamond and gem stone mines and shops.

Available: cable-TV, american fast foods, handphones, slow internet, soft lenses, English-speaking drivers (well, E.Kalimantan standard), some English books,Visa & MasterCard, any kinds of truck, jeep or four-wheelers, car stereo systems, pirated DVDs and software, and the full supplies of Jack, Johnny and JB.

Difficult to find: fine dining, fast internet, English-speaking maid/nannies, English magazines, Amex acceptance, original DVDs and software, and Australian wines.

Not available: jazz, ballet, theater, best selling books, and other items that have intellectual properties rights attached.

Our thanks to the great ladies at the Balikpapan Expatriate Women's Club and various contributors to the Expat Forum for their contributions towards this article.


The expat community here is extremely small. There is only about ten of us here on a permanent basis, so we are a pretty tight knit group. As such, the shopping and schooling options are a bit limited. The housing shouldn't be a problem. Most houses run US$2,000 to 3,000 per yearly contract.


A visitor to the Expat Forum shares some information about living in Bontang:

Bontang has progressed considerably over the last two years that I have been here. The main street is quite a feature with lovely flower beds been planted. The streets are kept very clean. New shops arise monthly and the Plaza expands at a staggering rate. The people are very polite and love to say 'Hi'.

However, if anyone is wanting to head north in Kalimantan and wishes to stay in Bontang - well there isn't an abundance of things to do. Climbing the tower which celebrates Bontang's unique global position, on the Equator, takes about a minute and then there isn't much to see from the top. Checking out the two major industrial plants here may not be such a thrill for those working in the industry.

Bontang Kuala, which is a fishing village on the sea, is more interesting when they have their festival held in May. Staying in Bontang is best done at The Hotel Sintuk although take along your own mosquito repellant. Hotel Equator should be prized for its 'Eco' theme - nothing wasted and everything recycled.
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