Balikpapan is the most advanced city compared to other cities in East Borneo, including Samarinda, the capital city of East Borneo. This perhaps because the international airport of East Borneo, Sepinggan airport, is in Balikpapan. The airport practically speaking is the only entry point of East Borneo. The other thing is because Balikpapan has 2 oil refinery complexes. Therefore, there are lots of domestic and foreigner workers come to this city.
In the past, Balikpapan was a gulf. There are many stories related to the name
'Balikpapan'. Some people believed that it was named after the native tribe that lived there in the past. The native tribe that lived there known as 'Pasir Balik' tribe. This tribe was the ancestors of the 'Kayun Kulen' and "Papan Ayun' tribes. Then the gulf area was known as 'Kulen Papan' (in Pasir (local) language: 'Kulen means behind' and 'Papan means wood') - transformed into 'Balik (in Indonesian) means behind' and 'Papan (in Indonesian) means wood'.
Balikpapan became the entry point of East Borneo since Balikpapan was colonized and ruled by Dutch. The first oil exploration was carried out by Mathilda Company in 1897. The Mathilda monument as the tribute to Balikpapan history can be found in Yos Sudarso Street inside the refinery area.
There are some places of interests in Balikpapan. There are some monuments built in the city. Japanese cemetry memorial in Lamaru Village, near Manggar beach, and Australian memorial monument in a park in Jendral Sudirman street, were built to honour the both countries' army who died in the 2nd WW in Balikpapan. There is also a Japanese cannon from WW 2 in Margo Mulyo village, 30 minutes drive from the city.
Manggar beach was my wife's favourite place when she was a small kid. She told me the beach was clean with the white sands at that time and she loved to swim in the beach. However, when she visited the beach 4 or 5 years ago, everything has changed. The beach was dirty and there were lots of disorganized hawker stalls in the beach area. It was not comfortable anymore to visit the beach. She has never gone to the beach since then.
Not far from the beach, there is a crocodile farm. It was launched in the year 2000 and there are around 2000 crocodiles there, consist of 3 species: Crocodile Porosus, Crocodile Scheilles and Crocodile Siamlisus.
Kariangau Ulin bridge is located 11 km from Balikpapan. The bridge is in the Kariangau village and Ulin in English means 'iron wood'. This bridge is 800 metres long and was claimed as the 'longest iron wood bridge in the world. From the bridge, you can see the local fishermen activities - fishing, netting..
Bukit Bangkirai ecotourism is located in Km 38 on the way to Samarinda. You can find the canopy bridge here. The bridge hooks up between five Bangkirai trees. The length of the bridge is 64 metres and the height is 30 metres above the ground. From the bridge, you can view the Bangkirai forest. There is cottage for visitors who want to spend a night in the jungle. There is also deer raising area. You also can see the jungle orchid species, like black orchid, orchid tebu, orchid sisik naga, orchid joget, etc. You also can do jungle track and on the way along the path, you can see and find Enggang Bird, Surga Bird, deer, squirrel etc.
As like most of the cities in Indonesia, travelling and exploring this country are a bit challenging. It is advised to hire a local tourist guide as it is a bit difficult to have an accurate map of the cities, most of the people here cannot speak English and the sign boards is in Indonesian. If you plan to go around Balikpapan, for your own convenience, perhaps it is better to rent a car with the driver, because the weather here is too hot (in case if you think you can walk around the city) and all the places I mentioned above are not within walking distance.