Balikpapan Travel Information
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Geography || History || Economy || Transportation || How to Get in || What to Do || Map of Balikpapan


balikpapan viewbalikpapan pier

Balikpapan is a major headquarters for international oil companies operating out of eastern Kalimantan. Surprisingly, it's a relatively clean, small city, with clear blue skies, not much nightlife, and not too much traffic. The people there are a mix, with lots of Javanese due to transmigration, lots of people from Sulawesi, and of course, the locals. The people are quiet and polite, and the pace is slow and relaxed. But be warned: Balikpapan suffers from frequent blackouts, averaging two or three times a week for four to eight hours each time. Unless you like sweltering in tropical heat in utter darkness, make sure your accommodation has a generator.

The topography of the municipality of Balikpapan is generally hilly (85%), with only small areas of flatland (15%), particularly along the coast and surrounding the hilly areas. The hills are less than 100 meters higher than the adjacent valleys. The altitude of Balikpapan ranges from 0 to 80 meters above sea level. Most of the soil in Balikpapan contains yellow-reddish podsolic soil and alluvial and quartz sand, making it extremely prone to erosion.

During the Suharto administration, Indonesia faced unprecedented growth of economic expansion by promoting foreign investments, particularly in the exploitation of natural and mineral resources. Although the policy was heavily criticized for uncontrolled environmental damages and corrupted bureaucrats and politicians, it significantly boosted urban development in resource-rich cities. In 1970s, Balikpapan experienced 7% population growth annually when exports of timber and petroleum increased dramatically.

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Prior to the oil boom, Balikpapan was an isolated Bugis fishing village. The etymology of Balikpapan's name (lit. balik is behind and papan is a plank) came from a folk story where a local king threw his newborn daughter into the sea to protect her against his enemies. The baby was tied beneath some planks, which were discovered by a fisherman.

indigenousIn 1897, the first drilling of oil began by a small refinery company. Construction of roads, wharves, warehouses, offices, barracks and bungalows started when a Dutch oil company arrived in the area. On January 24, 1942, Balikpapan became a war theatre between Japanese army and the Allied Forces in which the oil refinery and other facilities were heavily damaged. Several campaigns followed until the 1945 Battle of Balikpapan which concluded the Allied Forces' Borneo campaign after which they took control of the Borneo island.

Extensive wartime damage curtailed almost all oil production in the area until major repairs were performed by the Royal Dutch Shell company. Shell continued operating in the area until Indonesian state-owned Pertamina took it over in 1965. Having a lack of technology, skilled manpower and capital to explore the petroleum region, Pertamina sublet petroleum concession contracts to multinational companies in the 1970s.

Being the only oil refinery site in the region, Balikpapan emerged as a revitalized center of petroleum production. Pertamina opened its regional headquarter in the city, followed by branch offices established by international oil companies. Hundreds of labourers from other part of Indonesia, along with skilled expatriates who served as managers and engineers, flocked into the city.

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Some multinational corporations have commercial activities in this city such as Pertamina (Indonesia), Total S.A. (France), Chevron (US), Schlumberger, and Halliburton (US). Government public services also attract many people to work in this area, with presence of Bank Indonesia, Finance Department, Port of Semayang, and several others.

Balikpapan oil refinery is located on the shore of Balikpapan Bay and covers an area of 2.5 km². Established in 1922, it is the oldest refinery in the area. It was destroyed in World War II by the Allies of World War II and re-built in 1950. The refinery has two subunits, Balikpapan I and Balikpapan II.

Balikpapan I consists of two raw oil refinery units that produce naphtha, kerosene, gasoline, diesel fuel, and residue and one high-vacuum unit that produces 100 tonnes (approx 98 tons) of paraffin oil distillate (POD), used as raw material for wax factories. The wax itself has various grades and is sold domestically and internationally. Opened on November 1, 1983, Balikpapan II has a hydro-skimming and hydro-cracking refinery and produces petrol, LPG, naphtha, kerosene, and diesel fuel.

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Balikpapan's airport is the Sepinggan International Airport. This is the busiest airport in Kalimantan and permits large aircraft. Airlines currently using the airport are Lion Air, Merpati Nusantara Airlines, Batavia Air, Trigana Air, Kartika Airlines, Sriwijaya Air (domestic routes), and Garuda Indonesia, AirAsia, and Silk Air (International routes).

The airport is one of the five principal sites in Indonesia where Muslims begin the pilgrimage to Mecca, the "Hajj". Between 1996 and 1997, the airport served over 4,500 East Kalimantan pilgrims, and from 1997 to 1998, it served pilgrims from East Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, Central Sulawesi, and North Sulawesi.

Other than the airport, Balikpapan also has a seaport called "Semayang" which has many destinations to Surabaya, Makassar, Jakarta, Pare Pare, and Manado. In 1990s, transportation using ships was very popular. But after the booming of so many new airlines with very cheap price, people now prefer travelling using airplanes to the ships. The ferry is also another alternative for travelling to other places within coastal areas in East Kalimantan, such as Penajam.

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How to Get in


viewBy Plane

Most people arrive by air. Balikpapan's Sepinggan Airport (IATA: BPN) has frequent flights from Jakarta, as well as commercial services from Surabaya, Banjarmasin and Makassar. There is also an international flight from Singapore operated by SilkAir a few times a week. The airport is located on the coast just outside of the city. Airport taxis operate from the terminal; there is a fixed fare depending on the destination.

By Car

Balikpapan can be accessed from Samarinda, Bontang And Banjarmasin by land trough 2 bus terminal From Samarinda, Bontang by Terminal Batu Ampar, and From Banjarmasin from the other terminal in the Batu Ampar District.

By Ferry

Semayang's seaport that serves cruises from Makassar, Pare Pare, Tarakan, Surabaya, and other eastern parts of Indonesia. This port is one of the busiest ports in Indonesia and the main gateway to Borneo, serving cargo ships not only from Indonesia and South East Asia.

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What to Do


On Merdeka(Independent) square you can play soccer and do other sports. Check out the beach in balikpapan. See one of the nice local markets, and local tour operators arrange river safaris on the Mahakam River and Orangutan tours.

(BOS) Orangutan Sancuary and Eco lodge : Go see rescued orangutans and sun bears in there natural habitat just roaming around for the day or stay at the eco lodge for a few nights and experience the wildlife in the jungle. You can also do a 2 week or 4week voulanteering course, where you can help out with the animals.

It is about a 1 hour journey by car from the city centre and if you stay the night or voilanteer you will need out door equitment such as walking boats, spare clothes, insect repellent ect.

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Map of Balikpapan

Map of Balikpapan

balikpapan map

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