Picking Balikpapan and Samarinda as my birthday spot was an easy choice since I met Dragono Halim
through Twitter. Yes, it's fun to go to new places where you don't know anybody - and, even better if English doesn't valid there. But, exploring new territory and friendship at the same time is also a good idea.
That, until Puppy
fell sick.Samarinda Sky was heavenly, and the impression was made stronger with the elegant Islamic Center and its minarets by the Mahakam River.
We spent almost half of the time in Balikpapan and Samarinda not feeling well. Surely, it didn't stop us to enjoy Kepiting Kenari in Jalan Pasar Pagi, Samarinda. Halim convinced us that cracking and sucking the giant arthropode will make us at least 30% Samarindan. I'm not a big fan of hassle dining. Cracking those tweezers is as hard as hammering a nail on to the wall. Yet, the crab was really good, bathed thoroughly in sweet and sour sauce.
The next morning, we cross the Mahakam River, and reached Samarinda Seberang. Strolling Jalan Pangeran, not far from the busy pier, we found wooden houses functioning as small shops, and sarong "factory". Old housewives tending the shops while weaving the threads in a traditional manner. The sarong they produce would then be sold in the town, priced at Rp 500,000 - Rp 1,000,000.
We went to Pampang, the designated Dayak village for tourists, and stopped by at the zoo to have our first encounter with orangutans. They were all quick visits that made us officially check-list tourists - God knows I actually hate that, but the unfit condition gave me no choice.The East Borneo Experience will typically include eating fried mantou, crossing Mahakam River, and cracking the giant crab, Kepiting Kenari.
Our favorite discovery in Samarinda was a small and promising coffee shop by the Mahakam River, called Kopirenk. Serving French-pressed Arabicas from Toraja and Sumatera, the coffee shop had a cool open air rooftop terrace upstair, where we sip hot - but, too watery - java while gazing at the stars.
Leaving the town to Balikpapan, we stopped by to take some snapshots of the city's Islamic Center under an angry sun. The sky was heavenly blue, with soft cotton-like clouds blessing the day.
The overland trip to Balikpapan took almost three hours. We had our dinner just across Aston Balikpapan, our condotel. Then, we had the overview of the city's modern lifestyle in the new mall; Starbucks, Pizza Hut, and all that. The young people of Balikpapan seemed to ready to spend for heightened lifestyle. Thriving indeed.
Most impressive place we went to Balikpapan as The Beach House in Manggar area, around 30 minutes driving from the heart of the city. It's the playground for the haves and the expats. The beach itself was narrow, but the view gave no border between heaven and ocean.
We crossed the city to the other end, only to try the fried mantou - that small bun you have in almost every Chinese restaurant - served with slices of grilled deer meat in black pepper sauce. Apparently, it made us like 90% native Balikpapans.Balikpapan Beach promises an enchanting evening for the whole family. Pray this place won't be too commercialized.
Overall, Samarinda was a nice town, filled with nice people, and great food. There's a sense of familiarity in almost every corner. There seemed to be no rush, and no ambition. With a little push and a bigger vision, the city could be a cool destination. Balikpapan, on the other hand, needs some control in developing. The mall was nice, yet alarming. The little promenade and waterfront area should be the focus of development to welcome travelers, and serve locals with good, authentic, well-anchored lifestyle.