Sunrise on Pontianak canal, West Kalimantan


Named rather unfortunately after a mythical ghost of a woman who died during childbirth, Pontianak is the capital of West Kalimantan. In Indonesian animist beliefs, pontianaks disguise themselves as beautiful women and go around murdering unwary men, pregnant women and eating babies. Legend has it that when the first sultan of Pontianak arrived in the eerie uninhabited swamp where the city now stands, he and his men were haunted by scary pontianak voices in the night. To scare the ghosts away, the Sultan ordered his men to fire their cannons into the surrounding forest after which the pontianaks were never heard from again.

Despite these dubious beginnings, Pontianak thrived to become the sprawling port city that it is today. Populated by ethnic Chinese, Dayak, Malay and a significant number of minorities such as Bugis and Javanese, it is an interesting fusion of exotic cultures against a lingering backdrop of Dutch colonial architecture. Throw in the interesting fact the city straddles the equator, is the gateway to the Kapuas River Dayak communities, Danau Sentarum National Park or the last port of call before heading across the border into Malaysia, Pontianak is an obvious inclusion in any West Kalimantan travel itinerary.

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Capital of West Kalimantan.  Access to river communities and national parks
West Kalimantan
1 day plus travel
Get there
Fly, road or cross country by river and trekking
Need to know
Don’t really need to know but Pontianak straddles the Equator