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West Kalimantan

The vast province of West-Kalimantan is mainly shaped by the catchment area of the Kapuas, the longest river of Indonesia. West Kalimantan (Kalimantan Barat) has a surface of 146.807 and counts only a few million inhabitants. Traveling in this area is demanding, adaption to local problems and delays is required. Tourism in this province, almost unknown to the main public, is not encouraged as well.

City with a spooky past

Pontianak is a flourishing center of trade with about half a million inhabitants, of which 30 per cent is from Chinese origin. The city is located several kilometer from sea, outside the mangrove forests along the coast, on the split of the Kapuas and Landak. Towards the south, the 5400 wide Kapuas delta. Pontianak got it's good position because of it's strategical location, the rival sultanates and a non-superstitious Arab.

In 1770 Syarif Abdul Rahman al-Gadri, Arab with a disputable reputation because of his little friendly actions on open seas changed his mind: he decided to improve his life and to settle himself. He choose an empty stretch of land which no one wanted to have because it would be the place of the bad spirits (Malay: Pontianak). The Arab was a man with common sense. He scared away the Pontianak in the same way he usually did with his earthy enemies: with a large amount of cannons. The spirits fled, but the name was kept.

Rahman's new home was located in the middle of several sultanates, which tried to get their rule over the area. One of them was Sukadana, south of Pontianak, but this diamond center and at that time the most powerful sultanate on Borneo had already started it's retreat. Sambas, a sultanate north of Pontianak proved to be a good rival. The same with Mempawah, located along the coast, which was founded shortly before by a Buginese aristocrat, which was banned from the Riau archipelago by the Dutch. But Rahman maintained, also because of some help from the Dutch which still had to deal with the local sultans because they turned down Dutch 'protection'.
Pontianak got any strategical meaning for the Dutch during the gold rush in the 18th century, when the British in Sarawak showed interest in the area as well. The city grew from a small outpost into a regional center of power, like it is today.

The original settlement of Abdul Rahman was originally located on the crossing of the Landak and the Kapuas. A century later, a big Malay village had emerged behind the mosque and the palace of the sultan. The Dutch, Chinese and a handful of Malay settled south of the mosque on the other river bank. However the city was not located near the coast, it still flooded every time when the high tide came up. Flood channels only partially solved the problem, mudd still was an important thing in the small city.

The quarters of Pontianak

The separate quarters of Pontianak were separate settlements (kampung)in the past. The original city is the area around the Mesjid Jami (Great or Friday Mosque) and the palace of the sultan (kraton). Nearby is Kampung Dalam, which used to be a small, closed kampung for the friends and servants of the sultan. The name Kampung Saigon points to the old relations with Vietnam. The named kampung have become one nowadays, together with the area which stretches towards the east, named as Kampung Bugis. This quarter is connected to the western and northern parts of the city by several bridges.

The quarter Siantan, north of Kampung Bugis, across the Landak, is the southern tip of the provincial road system. The most important part of the city and center of trade stretches along the southwestern bank of the Kapuas, around a big market district, the old Chinese quarter and Jalan Tanjungpura. The last decades a new quarter (Kota Baru) is constructed southwest of the old city center, it was used for civil servants.

Seeing Pontianak

You can see entire Pontianak in about two days on foot. Most places of interest are located relatively close to each other. Seen from the market district the Mosque and the Palace are located on the other side of the river. You can reach them by boat of by the Kapuas Bridge. The Mesjid Jami, built at the end of the 18th century has maintained it's original shape, but it has been renovated over time. The mosque, in that time one of the biggest in the world, has special windows and a roof which is constructed from three parts. The minbar (pulpit) has nice woodcarvings.

The palace of the sultan, an imposing wooden building, is located 100 meters ahead and was built under Abdul Rahman, just like the mosque. The Arab text on the istana holds the name of the founder, Al-Gadri. The descendants of the sultans show the main room on demand, they hold two wood-carved thrones, several old pictures, Chinese ceramics and western statues. A donation is appreciated.

In the neighborhood of the market-district and the former Chinese quarter are several Taoist temples (pekong). Taoism is not an officially recognized religion, but the Chinese 'disguised' their temples with Buddhist names (still in use) and succeeded in practicing their religion anyway, even as this was not allowed by the government.
Picture: Chinese vases
A little more downstream from the market district is the Dwikora port, where freighters moor. The more exotic Buginese schooners are located across the palace. From the port it's quite a distance to Museum Negeri, which certainly worth while visiting. It's better to take a mini-bus in the city center. In the museum, you can mainly find the local Malay culture and Dayak - less than Malay - culture. Besides some porcelain there is nothing about the Chinese culture. The front of the museum is decorated with things which represent the life of the Dayak and Malay.

Close to the museum, just past Jl. A. Yani, there is a longhouse, exactly copied, which is opened for public. In the same part of the city is the Jihad Mosque, just past Jl. Sultan Abdul Rahman. It's a new wooden structure with a remarkable shape, which doesn't have much in common with the traditional Islamic style. Who wants to look inside has to take off their shoes.

The Equator Monument

Northeast of Pontianak - right on the equator - is the equator monument. It can be reached by minibus to Tugu Khatulistiwa, the Indonesian - from Arabic lent - word for equator. The curious monument, symbol for Pontianak, looks like an astronomical instrument. Several dark, long pillars carry a mix of iron ring and an arrow. On the monument the Dutch word 'evenaar' is printed, as well as the geographical location (109.2 Eastern longitude). Many shops sell the monument in miniature.

Near the monument a side-road leads to Batu Layang along the Kapuas. Here used to be a small fortress of the sultans, which was occupied by the Dutch and was destroyed by the Japanese during the war. The graveyard with decorated tombs of the sultans partly origins from the time of the founder of the dynasty, Abdul Rahman, which died in 1808.

Northwest KalBar

A system of good, paved roads connects Pontianak with the coastal cities in the north. There are regular bus services. You can rent a taxi in Pontianak as well. The main road runs along coconut plantations along the Kapuas and then follows the coast towards the north. From Sungai Pinyuh (Seipenyu) a road into the hinterlands to Sintang ans Putussibau.

From Sungai Pinyuh a road runs to Mempawah, 67 kilometer from Pontianak. When Rahman founded Pontianak, a Buginese prince founded a sultanate here. Later the former pirate gained rule over Mempawah when he married his son with the daughter of the sultan. The royal tombs of Mempawah, made of woodcarved and painted ironwood, are very nice examples of Islamic art.

Chinese Ceramics and Pottery

Between Mempawah and the Sambas River are several beaches. They are visited by the local population, but are not very special. A visit to the potteries is a better idea. The ceramics-center Saliung is located seven kilometer south of Singkawang, a little off the main road. The turn is not signed yet, so you probably have to ask for it. In Saliung, a 30-meter high oven produces a very high temperature which is needed to made pottery. They make normal objects as well as copies of traditional Chinese pottery, which is used for export.
In the past the several companies supplied a variety of products to buyers all other the inland of Kalimantan. Besides ceramics was traded against salt, which was brought in by boat from, the island of Madura. Nowadays Saliung not only suffers from competition from plastic objects and cheap ceramics from China, but also from a modern factory in Pontianak. Above all the more simple and lucrative brick trade endangers the entire industry. But still there are two ceramics factories in use.


Singkawang, 145 kilometer from Pontianak, is the capital of the district Sambas. The city was founded by Chinese during the gold rush and served as warehouse for the goldfields of Montrado. A Britisch marine-officer described Singkawang around 1830 as a fast-growing city full of Chinese men and Dayak women. On demand of the emperror Chinese women were hardly allowed to leave China. Montrado defended itself strongly against the Dutch for it's independence, but it lasted until 1856. Not too long ago the mining company Montrado Mas started working in the former Chinese gold district.

Further north along the main road is Sebangkou. The city has a colorful Chinese temple, which is mirrored by the water. The road here turns off from the coast and follows the southern side of the Sambas River to the city of Sambas, 225 kilometer from Pontianak. Here the mosque and the palace of the sultan are besides each other.

Sambas is still known for it's weavings. The material contains many silver threats (and sometimes also gold threats) and is remarkably usable. The kain Sambas or kain songket is sold in West-Kalimantan as well as elsewhere in Indonesia. Nice fabrics can also be bought at markets.

Location map of Pontianak

Last revised on December 02, 2009
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