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Located on the south eastern coast of East Kalimantan facing the deep Makassar Straits, the town of Balikpapan is known as the Oil City of Indonesia. Its anniversary which falls on 10th of February, in fact celebrates the first oil drilling undertaken in the area, known as the “Mathilda” drill.
For this reason, Balikpapan, like its counterpart city of Pekanbaru in Riau on Sumatra, is better known for its oil rather than its tourist attractions. Oil and other mining industries are the reasons why nearly all domestic airlines fly to Balikpapan rather than to the provincial capital of Samarinda. For, it is in Balikpapan where gather the oil and mining related foreign and Indonesian business communities. Exports from Balikpapan are chiefly in oil, natural gas and coal, while agricultural produce take second place.
Balikpapan’s Sepinggan airport is also the main transit point inland to Tanjungredep airport in Berau, the hopping off point to the wonderful Derawan Dive Islands.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Balikpapan has a number of five and four starred hotels catering to top management clientele and their VIP visitors, although more reasonable rate hotels are also available around town.
Because of its large oil output, therefore, Balikpapan became the arena of fierce battles during World War II, waged between the Dutch colonial powers and the invading Japanese forces. A number of Japanese bunkers as well as a Japanese cemetery are remnants of the Japanese occupation of Indonesia between 1942-1945.
Today, besides its oil silos and refineries, which are a must to see, although from a distance, Balikpapan has quite a number of tourist attractions in and around the city.
Three most popular beaches here are the Kemala beach in the city limits, the Manggar beach, situated some 17 km. east of Balikpapan, and the Segara Sari beach, a little further east from here. Manggar beach is equipped with a recreation park, very popular with the whole family.
To see wildlife, there is the Wain River Protected Forest. Covering some 10,000 hectares the reserve is habitat to a number of endangered animals, like the so-called Beruang Madu (honey bear) which are sun bears endemic to the area, orang-utans and proboscis monkeys, called Bekantan. Wain river reserve, moreover, houses a number of endangered plants.
Near Balikpapan is also a crocodile farm called Teritip, which is interesting to visit.
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Balikpapan is easily reached from all major cities in Indonesia. Most airlines have flights to Balikpapan, including from Jakarta, Surabaya, and Makassar. Besides Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air, other domestic low-cost carriers to Balikpapan are Sriwijaya Air, Citilink, Indonesia Air Asia.
Internationally, SilkAir flies direct to Balikpapan from Singapore.