If you want to see the real side of Balikpapan, then be sure to engage a local tourHQ guide before you head out to sample the nightlife, fish crackers and cosmo energy of this Kalimantan oil city.
Bustling, well-to-do Balikpapan is hardly what travellers would expect of a city that started life in the early 20th century as just a sleepy fishing town clinging to the coastal stretches of the Makassar Strait. But one oil boom later and the crooked timber huts and makeshift jetties have now been replaced by the mechanised port districts of Semayang and Kariangau, the surrounding jungles play host to the runways of the new Sepinggan Airport, and chic condominiums of oil suits, ex-pats and moneyed locals dot the shores. And with Balikpapan’s newfound wealth so too came energy and cosmopolitanism; inspiring nightlife complete with soaring rooftop bars, beachside barbeque huts and rowdy karaoke dives where Brit pop echoes until the early hours. In the town centre, locals stroll through the walkways of Bekapai Park while munching on crispy amplang fish crackers (the ubiquitous local delicacy), surrounded by sprawling shopping centres buzzing with energy. Further afield, Balikpapan tour guides recommend trips to the swinging bridges of Bukit Bangkirai to the north, or the mangroves of Margomulyo, which sway in the sea breeze as orang-utans glide between the canopies.
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