As I've mentioned in an earlier post about my so-called jet-setting lifestyle, I jetted from Jakarta to Balikpapan just this Monday. I've told some friends I'm a budget jet-setter.
We put up in a hotel called Le Grandeur. I'm normally very wary of establishments with pseudo-Frenchy type names but this hotel was actually quite okay. Balikpapan is situated along the Straits of Makassar and the hotel faces the beach. I didn't fancy playing in the water though, the water was a suspicious browny colour and Dear Hubby had said wryly that Balikpapan is quite the industrial town, so I didn't want to take any chances.
The hotel serves an excellent breakfast buffet and I've been happily eating my fair share daily. Two nights ago, we tried the in-house seafood restaurant called The Beach and I thoroughly enjoyed our lemon and garlic flavoured grilled tiger prawns, kangkong belacan and seafood fried rice, all spiced with generous helping of sambal. I suffered the ill effects of too much chilli the next day but it was worth it all.
Otherwise, the food I've had so far wasn't very good. We've had mostly seafood but I guess we've been ordering the wrong stuff because none of it tastes particularly delicious to me. Last night, we gave in to Dear Hubby's craving for meat and went to a seafood-steak placed called Bondy's. While the steaks weren't too bad, they didn't taste like... steak? I don't know how to describe it. It's like they were marinated with the wrong sauce or something. We are now looking forward to going home to Jakarta on Saturday and gorging ourselves at our fave restaurant, Gourmet Garage.
I like the town itself though. I was taken on a tour of Balikpapan by the company driver on Wed. There is a little shopping centre where you can shop for your groceries at the local Hero supermart and clothes at Matahari. Right opposite that is a KFC if you want something else than fishy stuff to eat. Turn right at the traffic lights opposite the shopping centre and the road takes you to Pizza Hut and Bondy's. It ends at the harbour.
If you don't turn at the traffic lights, you'll go past a monument dedicated to the East Kalimantan freedom fighters who gave their lives in the struggle again the Dutch. Sad to say while the monument itself was magnificent, there was rubbish strewn all over the place. Right next to that is an excellent seafood restaurant or so I'm told. Continue down the road and you'll go past the HQ of Pertamina, the state oil company, on your right and the harbour on your left. You can take a ferry to Jakarta from the harbour, it's an 8-hr ride.
Why do I like Balikpapan? Well, since it's right on the coast, there's always a sea breeze blowing and it keeps the air in the town fresh. You can actually see stuff, it's not covered in smog as it usually is in Jakarta and in KL. I like my al fresco mamak dining in KL and I've missed that since moving to Jakarta where you simply can't eat out due to the pollution. So it was pretty nice to be able to sit out under the stars and eat your meal. The only downside is the night sea breeze is so strong, food gets cold real quick!
I'll be going out today to Balikpapan Baru. The driver told me that the area I'm in is the old town and there's a newer bit. Life here moves at a much slower pace here and I'm told most of the activities for expats are either going to the bars (not my thing) or doing the nature bit; they have a world-renowed orangutan conservation society here.
Dear Hubby asked me what "Balikpapan" means. I said I didn't know but literally, it means "behind the plank". Thanks to Wikipedia, I've found out the legend behind the name. A folk story tells of how a local king threw his newborn daughter into the sea to protect her against his enemies. The baby was tied beneath some planks which were discovered by a fisherman. Ta-dah!
Our driver tells me the symbol of his town is the bear. How about that? I've just come back from bear country in Canada and arrived in yet another bear country!