First impressions of Banjarmasin are mixed. From the air, it looks watery but not so unlike many other SE Asian cities. The faded Dutch colonial era buildings in the downtown area…interesting. The pumping central market and swarming becaks…curiosity rising. The ‘wow’ moment comes when you take to the water.
This so-called “City of a Thousand Rivers” or “Venice of the East” is located on a delta island near the junction of the Barito and Martapura rivers, both mighty rivers. It’s laced with an extensive network of flood-prone natural and man-made waterways. The daily lives of the Banjarese are intrinsically linked to the waterways on which they live, work and play. Thousands of homes, businesses and warehouses are built stilts over the water or traditional floating homes called lanting and vessels of all shapes and sizes ply the waterways.
The best way to see Banjarmasin is to charter a small longboat and spend a few fascinating hours touring the waterways, starting with the canals. The ramshackle, rather dilapidated iron-clad suburbs are jaw dropping but it’s the smiling, waving residents, surely the friendliest people ever that make this trip unforgettable. For this reason, its best to start your canal tour late in the afternoon when folks are home from work and the kids are out to play.
Your hotel should be able to help you arrange longboat hire. Otherwise, head down to the river near the Jalan Hasanuddin Bridge where the longboats usually tie up between jobs or you can hail one from the shore. Expect to pay 150.000Rp for a 3 hour canal tour. Afterwards, if you’re happy with your boatman, line him up for a trip to the floating markets the following morning.