Banjarmasin is a city with a rich history. Even before the city was officially founded at the beginning of the 16th century and was given the name Bandar Masih (Malaysian port), the rivers in that part of the island were a favourite location for the Malaysian population. Later, the name was changed to “Banjarmasin”. In the dialect of the area, masin means ‘salty’. This refers to the salty taste of the water in the dry season as the sea water mixes more with the fresh water of the many rivers. Until the division of Kalimantan into the current four provinces (Middle, South, East, West) the city was the capital of the Indonesian part of Borneo.
What to see and do
Unfortunately, there are few remains of its rich history. There are still old mosques, including the 300-year-old Masjid Sultan Suriansyah. There are also old houses in typical Banjarese style to admire. There is also an interesting museum, the ‘Waja Sampai Ka Puting’ which is definitely worth a visit. In Banjarmasin, life mainly takes place on and near the water. One of the things you absolutely must go to visit when you are in the city is the floating market. However, we also found the boat trip through the many canals an impressive experience.
The floating market of Banjarmasin
The main tourist attraction of the city is the floating market. You have to get up early because the market is held from sunrise until 9 am. Most hotels organise tours or they know someone who can organise a tour to the market. Make use of this because you get to hear and see much more than when you try to arrange something yourself. At the market, you can mainly get fruit and vegetables (cheaply), but also cookies and even clothes. A visit to the market is a nice way to “mingle” with the locals.
Boat trip through the many canals
What we definitely found a highlight of the city is a boat trip with a long, narrow boat on the many canals that the city is rich in. You will sail past thousands of houses on stilts and get an impression of the inhabitants’ life on the water. Everyone washes themselves in the water, brushes their teeth with the same water, does the dishes, washes their clothes, poops and pees in the water and swims in it. It is actually too dirty for words but still the trip was fantastic. Maybe also because the people came across as friendly and cheerful.
Wat wij zonder meer een highlight van de stad vonden is een boottocht met een lange, smalle sloep over de vele kanalen die de stad rijk is. Je vaart dan langs duizenden huizen op palen en krijg je een indruk van het leven van de bewoners aan het water. Iedereen wast zich in het water, poetst zijn tanden met datzelfde water, doet er de vaat, wast er de kleding, poept en plast in het water en zwemt er in. Het is eigenlijk te smerig voor woorden, maar toch was de tocht fantastisch. Misschien ook wel omdat de bevolking zo vriendelijk en vrolijk overkwam.
In most cases, a taxi is the best option for getting around in the big city. Ask the driver to switch on the meter! Another option if you have little or no luggage is to use an over-the-water transport.
Banjarmasin is clearly much less responsive to tourism than most cities and villages in Bali, for example. We find most accommodation to have less ‘charm’. Most hotels are nice and clean but very basic. Exceptions may be the Summer Bed & Breakfast, super close to the floating market and the centre and the more expensive Swiss-Belhotel located at a reasonable distance from the centre, where they also offer (free) tours of the floating market. Search for accommodation in Banjarmasin.