Banjarmasin the Thousand River City

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Banjarmasin is the capital and the pulsating heart of the province of South Kalimantan. The largest and most beguiling city of Kalimantan – the Indonesian territory on Borneo – it rests gingerly over a labyrinth of canals thus giving it its illustrious nickname as the city of a thousand rivers.  Like any other major city in the country, Banjarmasin is abuzz with business and traffic. However the city has its own distinct charm that makes it the best place to absorb Kalimantan’s urban culture, both on land as on the waters.

The major rivers are Martapura and Nagara. Local people build traditional floating houses called “lanting”, along the rivers. The lanting face the rivers, and are made of wood or bamboo. Rivers have been very important for business and economic activities. This is one reason why there are floating markets everywhere.

Making trips along the mighty Barito and Martapura rivers by “klotok boat” or river bus will provide you with a unique experience. A speedboat can be hired for longer trips.  Banjarmasin has developed into an industrial and tourism city, and provides a number of internationally rated hotels.

Banjarmasin has an abundance of wide and mighty rivers, which have always played a significant role in the  Banjarese’ (the indigenous ethnic group of Banjarmasin) way of life. To this very day, every morning there are floating markets where farmers and merchants ply their goods on boats to trade. This has always been a farmers’ market and it’s interesting to see the genuine river-based way of life. The rivers are also used as main venues for boat races and other festivities. The town’s main attractions are the suburbs that are traversed by canals, where much of the city’s commerce takes place on the water.


The most notable of these river markets is the Muara Kuin Floating Market located on the Barito River, on the estuary of the Kuin River. Starting as early as 04.00 am, the floating market  is the place to see the traffic of all kinds of boats laden with bananas, shrimps, fish, yams, spinach, coconut, incandescent spices and chilies, buckets of fuzzy rambutans, and whatever other fruit are in season. Maneuvering their boats with dexterity and precision, since the boats are constantly wobbled by the river’s waves,  traders exchange goods and money. This unique frenzy is usually over by 09.00 am.

The river environment, however, gives this old town an appeal that is all its own. Rivers surround it and bring life to the town. The busiest trading centers are found in the center of the town, such as at Pasar Baru, Kuripan Market and some modern markets such as the Antasari Shopping Center. The Ramadhan Cake Fair is an event in which cakes are sold during the month Ramadhan. Various cakes, including some for offerings, are sold in the market on Jl. Martadinata.

The Floating Market of Banjarmasin is a traditional market at the estuary of the Kuin river, a tributary of the Barito. From daybreak boats come from villages around the rivers Tabuk, Jelapat, Anjir and Selapat, bringing vegetables, fruits and other daily needs and household utensils. Buyers and sellers come to the market in small boats and close their transactions on the water. All daily needs can be obtained at this market.

As the day proceeds, the atmosphere becomes more cheerful. The number of buyers increase, and more boats gather. At a little past noon, the market quietens down. The now empty boats leave. The number of buyers dwindles, and finally everything is quiet again on the river. The best time to see market in action is in the early morning.

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The Banjarese have a unique way of building their houses and other structures to be in harmony with nature. There are at least 12 types of traditional Banjarese houses, with some still standing handsomely today. In Kampung Kraton are still remnants of the old Banjarmasin Palace which was destroyed by the Dutch colonial government.  There is also the Sultan Suriansyah Mosque which is known as the first mosque built in South Kalimantan where the royal tombs are laid. Another fascinating structure is the Museum Waja Sampai Ka Puting which houses some of the historical collections in the struggle of the people against Dutch colonialism. The building of the Museum itself is an old and genuine Banjarese traditional house in the “Bubungan Tinggi” style (one of the 12 styles and the most representative).

To most Indonesians, Banjarmasin is synonymous with diamonds and precious stones from Martapura. If you are interested in precious stones then Banjarmasin is the city to head to. They also have the cheaper agates that are made into brooches, necklaces, bracelets and other accessories.

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There are daily flights from many Indonesian cities including from Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, Balikpapan, Sampit and Pangkalan Bun to Banjarmasin’s airport of Syamsuddin Noor (BDJ). The airport is 26km from Banjarmasin, or about half an hour ‘s drive from the city.To go to the city, you can take a taxi (with fixed rate) or better yet, tell your hotel to pick you up.

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