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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.