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Samarinda's city center is certainly not one of the most distinguished, or visually arresting - and the small and decent hotels, thousands of thousands of people who are haphazardly sprawl over the surrounding hills. However, there is a good choice of eating options, souvenir shops and points of interest to keep you occupied before the call of the Mahakam River proves irresistible - and you head upstream into Borneo's glorious rainforests.

Samarinda is well-stocked with accommodation for all budgets - from the swish Swiss-Belhotel Borneo and the Earth Senyiur Hotel (with its tastefully hardwood rooms) down to numerous budget options like the Gelora and Gading Kencana. The most popular hotels in the city are clustered around the city center and the next to the river area.

Samarinda is the capital of the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo.

The History and Geography of Samarinda

Samarinda began life as a small Bugis settlement. Ethnic Bugis settlers crossed over to Borneo from Indonesia's neighboring island of Sulawesi in the late 17th century. The city was officially founded on January 21, 1668 - annually by the city's nearly 800,000 residents.

Located some 50 kms of upstream from the mouth of the vast Mahakam River, Samarinda has been a vibrant trading hub for almost three centuries.

The city is surrounded by rivers, and the capacious flow of the Mahakam itself, the Karang Mumus can be found to the east of the town - while the waters of the Karangasem lie to the west. Both waterways empty into Mahakam's sizable estuary downstream of the city. Noisy motorized canoes of the Ply the rivers alongside the 200,000 hectare forests, giving Samarinda a totally unique vibe.

Ever wondered what's in a name? Samarenda means 'equal in height' in the local Bugis language, and describes the traditional rivers that were built on rafts. As all are generally the same height, this is important, visual social symbol to remind people that they are born higher - or lower - than his neighbor.

Exploring the City and Shopping

But before you put on your safari, you will be able to see the city and see what it has to offer. Cita Niaga's first up is the market boasting a wealth of souvenirs and food vendors. This large, commercial area is full and clean - and has definitely gone into its eye catching design.

There are also shows and exhibitions to enjoy at the weekend. Meanwhile, the mall-lovers will be kept happy with the Mesra Indah Mall and the Ramayana Mall.

An aerial view of Samarinda.

Attractions Outside the City

If you're after some authentic textiles, head for Samarinda across the river and check out the sarongs and local songket there. A little further afield, Pampang Cultural Park lies some 25km west of town and is famous for its Dayak, ceremonies, performances and rituals.

There are plenty of opportunities, and you can enjoy dance performances in a traditional Kalimantan long house. Also worth a look at Tanah Merah Indah Lempake, a popular recreational park that lies 16 kms from the center of town. The park features a waterfall and playgrounds as well as camping facilities, swimming and fishing.

Beyond Samarinda

But Samarinda is only beginning, of course - with the ultimate goal being to set sail up to the magnificent Mahakam River on a rainforest tour to remember. If you're already on the ground, your hotel should be able to help arrange a guide. The tours are usually established through the historic town of Tenggarong, as well as the Dayak settlements at Tanjung Issuy and Mancong. If you have a week-to-10 days free, you can head further up to the heart of jungle darkness and follow the Mahakam to Long Iram and Long Bangun - and eventually to some traditional Dayak longhouses.

Tours don't come cheap - but the most offer is intoxicating blend of boating, trekking, wildlife-spotting and local culture. If you're lucky, you might join some Dayaks on a hunting trip. Just make sure that you are well prepared for this amazing experience of money, clothes, wet weather gear, strong footwear and first-aid supplies (including anti-malarial tablets). Along the way, see if you can spot any exotic flora and fauna unique to the area - from black orchids to freshwater dolphins, orangutans and a myriad of bird species.

Samarinda in Photographs

Samarinda street scene
Street-scene in downtown Samarinda.
Mesjid Raya Darussalam
Masjid Raya Darussalam mosque on the riverside.
Backwaters of Samarinda
The quiet backwaters of the city.
Riverside market
Riverside market on the Mahakam River.
Segment market
Fruit and snack sellers line the street in Segiri market.
Samarinda market scene
Busy Samarinda market scene.
Fisherman, Samarinda market
A fisherman rests at a riverside market.
Segment market
A bird's-eye view of busy Segiri market.
Satay seller
A satay seller whips up some tasty street-food in Segiri market.
DVD shop, Samarinda
DVD shop stocked with pirate music and films.
Dayak souvenir stall
Dayak souvenirs for sale in Citra Niaga market.