Onboard a klotok in Indonesian Borneo

Visiting the orangutan camps in the Indonesian part of Borneo is an unforgettable experience. Here are some tips on how to get there by boat.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


An Indonesian Klotok

Proboscis monkeys sit in the trees, high above us, and look down nonchalantly. They’re probably wondering what is this strange contraption floating along the river beneath them.

It’s not an unusual sight – dozens would pass the monkeys every day – but it does have a strange noise. It’s not like the chatter of the monkeys nor the squawks of the birds nor buzz of the insects.

Hire Klotok to Visit Orangutans, Kumai Boats, Indonesia

“Klok tok tok tok,” goes the boat as it cuts its way through the murky waters of this Borneo river.

The engine putters along and we glide around a bend to find what the tall trees of the jungle have hidden from us on the other side of the curve.

“Klok tok tok tok.”

Hire Klotok to Visit Orangutans, Kumai Boats, Indonesia

Birds fly between the trees and let out a call. “Waaaark.” It’s loud enough to hear over the engine.

You see, it’s not the volume of the engine which is important – it’s the sound. From this noise came the Indonesian name of this type of boat, the klotok.

This wooden klotok is about 15 metres long and has two levels. I’m above deck with my travel companions while below a flurry of local women are preparing a feast for lunch.

This boat is our home for two days and we will eat our meals on board and sleep on the deck this evening. We’re on our way deep into the jungle here on the Indonesian part of Borneo (called Kalimantan) to visit some camps that are caring for wild orangutans.

Hire Klotok to Visit Orangutans, Kumai Boats, Indonesia
Hire Klotok to Visit Orangutans, Kumai Boats, Indonesia

Visiting orangutan camps in Kalimantan

I’ve written previously about the camps and I would recommend reading this article about the orangutans of Borneo if you would like to find out more.

But since I talked about the incredible work being done by conservationists in this part of the world, quite a few people have asked about the logistics of visiting. This is why I wanted to talk today about the klotok.

Hire Klotok to Visit Orangutans, Kumai Boats, Indonesia

Travelling by boat is the only way to access Camp Leakey and the other orangutan camps in this part of Kalimantan. But don’t worry, the journey is a pleasure in itself. (Click here to book a tour.)

The surroundings are exotic as you would expect with ferns leaning over the river at the water’s edge, trees creating a dense wall of forest on either side, the humidity falling down on you like a blanket and the water catching the sun as if it were a mirror.

Sometimes the river is wide and you can feel a slight breeze. The further you go in, though, the narrower it becomes and you could easily reach out and touch the breathing wilderness.

Hire Klotok to Visit Orangutans, Kumai Boats, Indonesia
Hire Klotok to Visit Orangutans, Kumai Boats, Indonesia

As I mentioned, the klotoks have two levels.

On the lower level is a small bathroom with a western-style toilet but no running water, there are a few rooms which are used by the cooks and the other staff on board, and there’s a small deck at the front.

The upper level is one large deck with seats and tables and a covering overheard. This is where we spend our whole journey.

Hire Klotok to Visit Orangutans, Kumai Boats, Indonesia

Meals are prepared below deck and other than the occasional waft of cooking, you wouldn’t know until the food arrives at the table. The meals are some of the best I ate in Indonesia, with large fresh prawns, chicken satay, fried bananas and stir-fries.

The upper deck is also where you sleep. The chairs and tables are cleared away, mattresses are laid down and mosquito nets put up to cover them.

The cool breeze at night makes for a pleasant temperature and the loud and constant buzz of insects and other animals is surprisingly soothing.

Hire Klotok to Visit Orangutans, Kumai Boats, Indonesia

Hiring a klotok

The boats leave from a town called Kumai, about ten kilometres from Iskander Airport. The easiest way to arrange a trip is to book online before you go.

You’ll find lots of tour operators if you search the web – I would recommend going with this one.

Hire Klotok to Visit Orangutans, Kumai Boats, Indonesia

If you just arrive in Kumai and try to hire a boat, you probably won’t have any problems… but it won’t necessarily be much cheaper. If you’re doing it this way to save money, you’ll need to find another group you can join or have a group already organised.

Although there is some haggling involved, the prices generally don’t change too much for these trips because of an agreement between the boat owners.

Hire Klotok to Visit Orangutans, Kumai Boats, Indonesia

As a broad price guide, a 3 day/2 night trip will cost about US$250 per person (the prices will change slightly depending on how many of you there are and whether you do a private or shared tour). That often includes everything – a taxi from the airport, the boat hire, a guide, meals, permits, camera charges, and staff.

There are about 50 klotoks and 60 guides in Kumai so there is a fair amount of capacity but the busiest season is between June and October so it would be worth doing some planning in advance if you were thinking of going then.

Hire Klotok to Visit Orangutans, Kumai Boats, Indonesia

This is not an experience to be missed, so don’t let the logistics stand in your way. On my trip, I woke up to a slight commotion after a good night’s sleep on the deck of the klotok.

Everyone was gathering around the jetty we were moored at, so I threw off the blanket and went to find out what was going on.

There, posing just a metre from the boat was an orangutan that had come down to the river to find out more about us. That’s what the klotok does – it connects us.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

32 thoughts on “Onboard a klotok in Indonesian Borneo”

    • I’m not sure how you would get to Camp Leakey without a klotok. There are speedboats (but not many and they’re very expensive). There didn’t seem to be any roads in there at all.

  1. Amazing views. And not a bad price if you are doing a group tour…even if you are just by yourself $250 (roughly) for the days mentioned is pretty affordable for what you get.

    It’s all about connecting. That last orangutan knows what’s up 🙂 Down to the docks for a friendly welcome!

    • Yeah, it’s very easy to judge prices based on what other things cost in Indonesia. But by global tourism standards, it’s an extremely good deal for a special experience that you’ll remember for a long time. I highly recommend it!

    • No, it’s not cramped at all. The downstairs would be but you spend all the time up on deck. Better views, lots of fresh air, and plenty of space to stretch out and roam around.

  2. It must be really fun to ride a klotok in that river. I hope the wildlife there will be protected. Though I’m a bit scared of orangutans… 🙂

    • The orangutans are very gentle. The won’t hurt you… although I wouldn’t recommend walking around holding a bunch of bananas 🙂
      Hopefully they will be able to protect the wildlife there. It’s a tough battle when you’re fighting against money but the people trying to help the orangutans have a lot of support!

  3. The orangutans there are so special. I hope these companies are respectful of the environment and animals’ habitat. This seems like a wonderful experience.

    • The tour companies are definitely respectful. It’s taken a bit of education but the locals are slowly realising that there’s more money to be made from sustainable tourism than from destroying the environment.

  4. Wow, what an amazing experience. While my idea of “roughing it” usually entails not having an iron in the room, I could definitely skip the “necessities” to take part in such a opportunity. Thanks for sharing.

  5. We are planning a trip in July and are looking forward to it. What clothing do you recommend and how do you reserve the flights from Jakarta?

  6. Hi Michael, what do you think about taking children on this trip to Camp Leakey? They are 11 and 12 years old. Thanks. We would love to do it but are a bit nervous about it. Regards

    • Oh, no need to be nervous. It would be an amazing trip for children of that age! All the locals will look after them and there’ll be no problems from the animals. The only issue is that the boats are not up to western safety standards (in regards to railings, etc) so you’ll just need to make sure the kids behave themselves on board – and the same in the jungle. As long as you and the kids are sensible, this will be one of the best things they’ve ever done! Enjoy!

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  8. This looks incredible. The pictures remind me of the last boat tour I took, which was through the rainforest in Costa Rica. It was amazing, but I can’t afford to do something so far from home again. Luckily there are a lot of boat options in this hemisphere.

  9. Me and my girlfriend had the opportunity to go exploring Tanjung Puting last January, an amazing experience that we also described on our blog. It looks like prices increased quite a lot since the time you wrote the article. The entrance permit was brought to 250.000 rp per day, and the government reduced the subsidy for the fuel, so it turned out that prices are almost 50% more expensive now. But we also had a “special agreement” with the company, so we enjoyed the experience not worrying too much about the costs. It would be interesting to know how do you get in touch with official Tourism Departments. Do you maybe have an article about that? Davide

    • Hi Davide. Thanks for the update on the prices. It’s interesting to hear that they’ve gone up so much in just a few years. But I guess tourism is increasing in the area and everyone wants to get a slie of the dollars coming in!
      Great you had a good time, though. It really is a special part of the world.

  10. Thanks for sharing your experience! I just booked my trip as well! I’m looking so much forward to it, even more after reading your post. Do you have any advice on the must things to bring with me on the tour?

  11. Hi
    Thanks for sharing this article. I tried to book for 2 people on the viator link you offered but it won’t allow me to book.
    We would like to do this in the second week of May on a shared basis. Please could you advise us on perhaps another Klotok operator we can use.
    Thank you


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