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Luxurious/upscale orangutan tourism in Borneo

On my way back from the visit to the Katingan peat swamp in Central Kalimantan, I stayed a night at the “Eco Village” that is part of the Rungan Sari complex outside Palangkaraya. The “Eco Village”, which is separate from the nearby Rungan Sari resort, is surrounded by an area of kerangas forest that survived and recolonized areas burned during the epic 1997-1998 fires that affected much of Indonesian Borneo. The “Eco Village” has electricity, running water, and runs about $30 a night for a basic room ($40 for a room with air conditioning). While I only had a brief time to explore the forest, it seemed to have an abundance of insects and small reptiles, as well as macaques and hornbills.

Most people who come to Rungan Sari are there for orangutans. They typically visit Nyaru Menteng, an area of protected forest that includes a rehabilitation center run by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.

Orangutan on the Pulau Pallas release islands

I didn’t go to Nyaru Menteng this trip, but visited a chain of oxbow lakes and checked out a surprising deluxe boat operated by Kalimantan Tour Destinations. The boat, named the Rahai’i Pangun and modeled after a traditional Kalimantan river boat known as a rangkan, does various overnight trips on the local rivers, passing by the islands that serve as temporary “housing” for rehabilitated orangutans until they can be reintroduced into the wild. (It is extremely difficult to find forest to release orangutans due to proliferating oil palm plantations and mining concessions. Rehabilitated orangutans also can’t be released into areas where there is an existing orangutan population.) Kalimantan Tour Destinations also arranges trips to Camp Leaky, the famous field site for orangutan conservationist Birute Galdikas.

Rahai’i Pangun

In a departure from many operators in Indonesian Borneo, Kalimantan Tour Destinations offers high-end tours that cater to mostly Western tourists. I can see how these would be attractive to visitors unaccustomed to travel in forest areas — the boat offers comfort, good food, and a relaxing environment. And because it is on the river, I’d expect it to be cooler (without AC), with fewer insects than staying in a typical forest lodge. Shore excursions, birdwatching, and exploration of backwater areas are done via a small boat.

Peat forest along the Rungan River

While my visit to the Rahai’i Pangun was limited to lunch and a short afternoon jaunt, the boat seems like a comfortable way to experience the wonders of Indonesian Borneo, including orangutans, the rainforest, and peatlands.

Palangkaraya is accessible via a daily flight from Jakarta. Garuda Indonesia is the most reliable airline in terms of sticking to a schedule, but there are also budget carriers that fly to Palangkaraya. Nyaru Menteng and the Rungan Sari complex are less than an hour from the airport.

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