Images of a memorable day on the Rungan River

At the very beginning of 2017, we had an idyllic cruise downstream on the Rungan River, the heat and languid stillness of the day as it waned combined to give these memorable images.




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The Rungan Forests – Exploring the Natural Heritage of Ancient Borneo close to Palangka Raya

At ground level, a green and brown humid world of fallen leaves, mosses and lichens, and decaying tree trunks shelters under the towering canopy of a lowland dipterocarp forest where all living things strain for light and space. Weak sunlight mottles the trunks of the dipterocarps, the reddish bark of the galam tikus, balanced on its slender buttress roots, orchids, nepenthes or the carnivorous pitcher plants, and the local resin damar trees, to name but a few species in this richly diverse forest. 
This gem lies in a secret location, close to Palangka Raya. A primary forest long nurtured by its traditional owners, this place was protected also by its inaccessibility. Now much surrounding it has been logged and mined, and access is easier, but the forest quietly persists due to this strong traditional ownership being joined by multi stakeholder group of researchers, business, and local government. It aims to build a foundation for forest and biodiversity conservation in an area under-studied and highly-threatened which was, until recently, a conservation afterthought even though this is probably the largest relatively-intact lowland forest in Borneo having no formal conservation program.

Within an area of low hills, the original dry trails developed by villagers looking for forest resins and other natural bounty have been further developed by researchers for mapping forest types and bio-diversity. Small rivulets and soaks are damp arteries which rise and fall with the rain, quickly turning into mud baths.
I accepted an invitation – who wouldn’t – to visit this remarkable forest a couple of months ago. Reaching the location by bus, boat, canoe, mining truck and finally on foot, it was a journey of about 3.5 hours from Palangka Raya. Accessing the site firstly along the course of a small river trashed by gold miners, we entered the forest. From the bleached, white sand, radiating heat, we entered the cooler world of the forest.
Our campsite, the research station, in the centre of the forest, was made of saplings with tarpaulins and rice sacks (for beds) stretched across. Basic, and all above ground to escape flooding, it included male and female dorms, a mess and meeting area. The nearby creek provided water for bathing in the temporary bathrooms.  This was built in partnership with a Palangkaraya University. Now, a community forest management unit has been established and programs of environmental education and sustainable development are being implemented. 

This is all in support of the local village’s quest to create a protected community forest. 

After a comfortable sleep, we set off on walks. These forest transects give researchers a grid to identify sites and to orientate themselves within this undisturbed forest. There are plans to open the area for some visits, during times which would not disturb ongoing research. 

If you are interested to go, ask us.
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August and September dry season cruising

Last year, we experienced an El Nino long dry season marked by smoke from land clearance fires. This year, with the promised La Nina weather effect, a few dry weeks in August may be giving way to an early onset of the rains. Today, as I write this, heavy rains are falling in Palangka Raya. A few days ago, I joined a cruise on board the Rahai’i Pangun and experienced the lower water levels and baking heat of the end of the dry. The clear skies and rich morning and evening light were the perfect conditions for photographs.

A special treat, in the slow, grinding heat of the afternoon, was glimpsing a family of otters on a nearby sandbank, come out of the forest for a spot of sunbathing, before skipping off in the direction of a fisherman’s net. Goodluck little fellas!
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Spectacular and little known Gagu Longhouse

Tumbang Gagu Longhouse was founded in 1870 using the traditional Dayak method of releasing a chicken and seeing where it roosts. In an isolated area, on a rising by a pretty rivulet, the longhouse was built by traditional owners, mainly village head Singa Raja Antang bin Lambang Dandu, after a grant from the Dutch and Antang’s own personal wealth made it possible. Close to the sources of his wealth in the abundant forests nearby, strategically placed on his export routes to the port at Sampit, the longhouse became home for his 3 wives, each in her own apartment, with the other families.

55 meters long, it is built in the traditional style atop huge ulin ironwood tree trunks and other supporting poles numbering well over 200. Roughly hewn by adzes and towering 5 meters over the sloping ground, the longhouse provides protection and shelter for the families living in the midst of the forest. The niched poles leaning against the longhouse give slippery access, but may be quickly raised if trouble looms.

The longhouse remains in the hands of descendants of the original owners, though currently only two families live there. In the central apartment live Antang’s grandson, Pak Labuang and his wife, Ibu Leri, now old but determined to keep the tradition and majesty of the longhouse alive.

A village has grown up nearby and natural resources are still being mined from the abundant natural environment. Gold mining is a dirty and inescapable feature of the waterways, most large trees have now gone, traditional slash and burn agriculture is penetrating the re-growth forests, and banana plantations are springing up in their wake.

About 7 hours from Palangkaraya by road, and a further hour by speedboat on the Katingan River, the last leg to the longhouse is by foot, just over 2 hours along a hilly forest trail. Long periods of rain made the rivers misty and the trail slippery and flooded.

From the outset, losing all phone signals was a bonus. We had a leisurely time visiting in the village, seeing preparations for the brewing of the local rice wine and chatting with a village elder about his warrior ancestors. The provisions we brought were generously cooked by Ibu Leri, and eaten in her traditional kitchen.

Heavy rains and high water levels made an exciting canoe trip upstream, through dense stands of bamboo into places where you can hear the hornbill call, beyond the muddy mining waters. Skimming across pure black water in a tunnel of brilliant green and stopping for a dip in the clean water was a fitting finale to the trip.

Arrange your trip to this distant and little known longhouse through us at info@wowborneo.com.





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Come join us on a cruise. Wow Borneo!

Kalimantan Tour Destinations is re-branding to Wow Borneo – come and join us on our quality, comfortable, relaxing cruises, accompanied by our English speaking guides, knowledgeable on the local culture and environment, leading you on canoe trips through the black water lakes and on strolls through river side villages. 
We have 2 weekly scheduled departures on Saturdays and Tuesdays with a choice of 6 cabins on board the Rahai’i Pangun. 
Email us for a booking – info@wowborneo.com
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The Rungan River is full!

The rains are filling the rivers and lakes around Palangkaraya. After the storms, the sky clears and the atmosphere is refreshed. This photo was taken by Linda on a recent excursion.

And the sunsets are to rave about too …
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Climbing Tangkiling Hill

Although only 200 meters in height, climbing Tangkiling Hill can be challenging for the unfit as the pathway leads up and up and up stairways and finally over slippery gravel to the pinnacle. A huge boulder perched on top is another short vertical climb. But the view is worth the effort!  Looking directly to the eastern sky, over a vast landscape of lowland peat forests, the top of Tangkiling Hill is a perfect vantage point to do this. A full 360 degrees view is possible if you conquer the top boulder and stand beside the monument, but for most the open grassy patch has the perfect aspect. 

Here’s our guide, Rinni, delighted with her early morning hike

Tangkiling Hill, the most prominent of a small range of seven hills to the north of Palangka Raya, sits behind the little riverside village of Tangkiling, taking around 30 minutes to conquer. An optional descent is using simpler natural pathways directly down to the 
Dayak traditional spiritual site of Batu Banama.

The Rungan River in the early morning mists, curling through the lowland forests

The Dayak elder, guardian of the Batu Banama, is happy to talk about the significance of the huge boulder and the small patahu or spirit houses sheltering beside it.

Join us on a climb to the top of Tangkiling Hill, and learn lots about
Dayak mystical beliefs along the way!

Get in touch by writing to Gaye at info@wowborneo.com or ringing +62 811 520 648
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WOW Borneo is getting rave reviews on Trip Advisor


Check out our Trip Advisor page to see great feedback from past guests – here’s an example –

5 of 5 stars    Reviewed 25 May 2015
In all of my travels in Indonesia this is one of the best experiences I have had. The crew on the boat were simply outstanding and really care for thier clients. The guides are very experienced and well trained, expecially Ferra who has a charming personality and a wealth of knowledge. We visited small Dayak villages and connected with the local people who were always very warm and friendly and proud of their culture. The management support the local communities and this is a great example of responsible tourism and they are clearly respected by the local Dayak community who are seeing the benefits of bringing people from foreign countries up the river and into their villages. The scenery was superb on our trip, and beautiful sunsets as we drifted up the river seemingly away from civilization. and of course there are the Orangutans! This must be one of the best places in the world to see these beautiful creatures, as they are located on two Islands and come down to the waters edge to cool off and feed. We saw about 12 at one time, amazing! The trip to the black water lakes is amazing also and highly recommended. But perhaps the best thing of all of this was the food!! Every day different, healthy, fresh. This trip is great value for money and really an incredible experience I will never forget.
Visited May 2015
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WOW Borneo guests donate money for fire fighting equipment at BOSF Care Centre

Thanks to our guests who donated towards the purchase of fire fighting equipment to protect  orangutans from wild fires endangering the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation’s Care Centre in October. Money donated has purchased proper equipment for fire fighters and will continue to assist with the installation of forest bore wells. Donations for this fund are still welcome and can be made at the BOSF site http://donation.orangutan.or.id. You can also adopt an orangutan here!

The dry season is over now, but these donations will continue to provide protection for the captive orang-utans undergoing rehabilitation and re-introduction for years to come in the uncertain weather conditions we are now experiencing.

The photo is of  Gaye from WOW Borneo handing over equipment purchased with donated funds to the Manager and staff of the BOSF Care Centre.

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