Kota Bangun is a small city located in the Kutai Kartanegara Regency of East Kalimantan, Indonesia. It is situated about 82 km north of Tenggarong, the capital city of the Kutai Kartanegara Regency. Kota Bangun is our start point to explore the Mahakam River, which is the largest river in East Kalimantan and flows for around 980 kilometers from the highlands of Borneo to its mouth at the Makassar Strait. The river is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including freshwater dolphins. From Kota Bangun, we decide to Taking a 2 days boat tour over the Jempang Lake, Muara Ohong and end our trip in Muara Pahu.

How to get to Kota Bangun?

We decided to start our trip from Samarinda, the capital city of East Kalimantan and one of the bustling urban centers in Kalimantan. Samarinda is not only the nearest major city to Kota Bangun, but it also serves as the primary flight hub for those planning a Mahakam River trip. Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air, and Citilink are the main airlines that operate routes to Samarinda. They offer a variety of options, from budget to premium.

Read Samarinda the exotic gateway to East Kalimantan

From Samarinda, we can take the bus that starts from Sungai Kujang Bus Station to Kota Bangun. It will cost around 50,000 per person. The bus journey takes several hours, so make sure to bring some snacks and entertainment for the ride. Traveling by bus is the cheapest option and a good choice if you’re traveling on a budget.

The other option is to rent a private car. The car rental company will pick you up at your hotel and take you to Kota Bangun. This option is convenient and hassle-free, but it is more expensive than other options, with prices starting at 700,000 per car.

If you’re familiar with shared travel services, a communal bus is another option. With fares at IDR 250,000 per person, these services also include hotel pick-up.

Upon arriving in Kota Bangun, we stayed at a decent hotel by the river named Hotel Mukjizat. Their contact number is +62 821-4828-4319. Rooms with air conditioning and a television are priced at IDR 150,000 per night. Although these rooms have shared bathrooms and breakfast is not included, the hotel provides complimentary coffee-making facilities. Another nearby lodging option is Penginapan Kota Bangun Indah, with nightly rates ranging from IDR 100,000 to IDR 135,000.

Riverlife on the Mahakam

Where to Eat?

The town is dotted with local “warungs” serving a range of basic but delightful Indonesian dishes such as Sate (grilled skewers), Ayam Goreng (fried chicken), and Nasi Goreng (fried rice) are widely available. These warungs offer a deep dive into local flavors without the need for a deep wallet.

Are There Any ATMs Nearby?

Yes, there is a Bank BPD ATM located close to the hotel. Additionally, a BRI ATM can be found within a 23-minute walk from the hotel.

Things to do in Kota Bangun

Many people see Kota Bangun just as a place to stop before going on a Mahakam River trip. But this town has some fun to do on its own. Here are some activities you can try to experience the local culture before you head out on the river.

Riverfront Walk

Taking an easy walk along the river can be a good option. It’s also a great spot for taking photos, especially of the boats that are always coming and going. You can really get a feel for how busy and lively the river is.

Local Market Visit

While you’re in town, don’t miss the chance to experience the hustle and bustle of the local market. It’s not only a great place to pick up some essentials for your river adventure, but also an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the daily lives of the locals.

Where to Rent a Boat in Kota Bangun?

As soon as you get off the bus in Kota Bangun, you’ll probably see some people coming up to you to offer boat rentals. They usually call these boat services “Ces.” But if you’d rather look for a boat yourself, you can go to the harbor, where you’ll find even more options.

We went with a guy named Mr. Udin. He charged us 1 million IDR for one day.  Here’s what our trip looked like:

First Day:

  • We started in Kota Bangun.
  • Then we visited Muara Muntai.
  • After that, we checked out two lakes, Danau Semayang and Danau Melintang.
  • We ended the day by staying overnight at a cool place called Longhouse in Tanjung Isuy.

Second Day:

  • Our boat took us to a place called Muara Ohong.
  • Finally, we wrapped up the trip at Muara Pahu.