Traveling from Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province in Indonesia to Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, or vice-versa, in a day can be easily done by flying, driving, or by catching buses. Of course, the level of comfort, and how much you end up spending, will depend on what mode you choose.
Getting from Pontianak to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, can be seen as one leg of the "Extended Borneo Overland Trail" which can be covered continuously between Tawau at the southeastern tip of Sabah, and Pontianak at the western end of Borneo. Sabah and Sarawak are both part of Malaysian Borneo, while West Kalimantan is an Indonesian province, but the trail also requires you to pass through the expensive sultanate of Brunei which lies more or less in between the two states of Malaysia.
The stretch covered by this leg can be both challenging and fascinating: challenging because it involves travelling through some of the more remote corners of West Kalimantan and Sarawak where the roads may not be at their best and fascinating because you will get to see the contrasts between the Indonesian and Malaysian sides of Borneo.
This itinerary shows you the way to get from Pontianak to Kuching and does not leave you much time for any diversions.
There isn't really that much to prepare for as the route goes through many small towns where you will be able to get food and drinks -- and accommodation if you get stranded -- without any problems, although the accommodation in the Indonesian side (except in Pontianak where 3-4 stars hotels and international chain restaurants such as Pizza Hut and KFC are available) of the travel tends to be very basic. If you are driving, just make sure that your car is in good condition as there are many stretches where you'll have to wait for a while before you can thumb a lift to the nearest mechanic.
As the route brings you across state and international borders, make sure you satisfy the necessary immigration requirements.
- 1 Pontianak: This is the start of the itinerary and you can get here by air or by sea from Jakarta and Semarang in Java and Ketapang in Kalimantan, by air from Yogyakarta and Surabaya on the island of Java, Pekanbaru and Batam in Sumatra, Balikpapan, Banjarmasin, Pangkalanbun and Sampit in Kalimantan, Indonesia, as well as from Singapore.
There are several ways to make the journey between Pontianak and Kuching.
The fastest and most comfortable, but also the most expensive is through Batavia Airlines which operates four flights weekly and Kalstar Aviation which operates daily flight between Pontianak and Kuching. AirAsia has flights costing as little as US$45 round trip. The flight takes about 40 minutes.
Even with your own car, the journey from Pontianak to Kuching by road is taxing, taking between eight and ten hours. The road condition is partly sealed, with much of it in extremely poor condition, requiring you to slow down to a crawl or complete stop to navigate potholes.
The journey is described in stages from Pontianak to Kuching. If you are traveling the other direction, just take the stages in reverse:
- Pontianak to Sei. (Sungai) Pinyuh (50 km): The drive out of Pontianak is quite straightforward. Road conditions are fair and the road heading north from the city is a two-lane road, passing the busy coastal town of Jungkat.
- Sei. (Sungai) Pinyuh to Ngabang (127 km): At Sei. Pinyuh, the road is split in two directions with a round-about in the middle of town. Turning left will lead to the north shore towns of Mempawah, Singkawang, Pemangkat, Sambas and Bengkayang. (Border checkpoints with Sarawak in Sambas and Bengkayang are planned by Indonesian government.) Turning right will lead to the hinterland (and Sarawak) towns of Ngabang, Sosok, Tayan, Sanggau, Sekadau, Nanga Pinoh, Sintang and Putussibau. The road from Sei. Pinyuh to Ngabang is a two-lane road, and drivers are cautioned to drive carefully as parts of the roads are damaged by heavy traffic and poor maintenance by the local authorities.
- Ngabang to Sosok (38 km): Ngabang is a major stopping point for food and accommodation before the border checkpoint.
- Sosok to Balai Karangan (80 km): Sosok has the potential to become an important transit town in West Kalimantan as it lies in the intersections of roads leading to border checkpoints to the north, Sanggau, Sekadau, Nanga Pinoh, Sintang and Putussibau to the east, Sei. Pinyuh, Pontianak, Singkawang to the west, Tayan to the south (a road linking Tayan to Pontianak is under construction, and once completed it will cut short the travel distance between Pontianak and Sosok by at least 2 hours. Another road is being scheduled linking Tayan to Sandai and Ketapang in the southern hinterland and south coast of West Kalimantan).
- Balai Karangan to Entikong Border Checkpoint (19 km): Balai Karangan is the last town in the Indonesian side before the checkpoint. The Indonesian side of the border checkpoint is called Entikong, while the Malaysian side is called Tebedu.
- Entikong and Tebedu Checkpoints: Once in the Entikong checkpoint area, there are two clearances needed. Travelers are required to get out of their vehicle and clear immigration by lining up for immigration stamps. After clearing immigration, passengers can return to the vehicle while drivers are required to report vehicles exiting the country to the local police station at the border. Once paperwork is done, the vehicle can be driven out of the country towards Sarawak's border which is 50 m away. Once in the Tebedu checkpoint area, all travelers are again required to get out of their vehicles and line up for immigration stamps. Drivers will report vehicles entering Malaysia and pay for a one-month vehicle entry permit. Customs will then check for baggage and vehicles. Note that foreign vehicles are prohibited from having tinted windows when entering Malaysia.
- Tebedu Checkpoints to Serian (50 km): From the Tebedu checkpoints to Serian is about 40 minutes of mixed roads between two-lane roads and dual carriageways. Serian is a transit town for most Indonesians who wish to come to Kuching and vice versa.
- Serian to Kuching (56 km): From Serian to Kuching is about 30 minutes of 56-km-long dual carriageways. It is a good paved road (which can be considered a highway). Before reaching Kuching, there are several suburban towns along the way, such as Tarat, Tapah and Siburan. After Mile 15, the dual-lane roads will shrink at a signalized intersection (near Sedap Food Industries factory). On the left is a road leading to Mambong, while on the right is a road leading to Kota Samarahan. The road to Kuching is just straight ahead. The road is undeniably busy as it is a bottleneck between two highways. The split to the dual carriageway begins again at Padawan town (just around 10 km from the Mambong junction). Then you will pass several satellite towns, such as Penrissen, Kota Sentosa (locally known as Pasar Batu 7), Batu 4 and Batu 3. After going through a busy road at Kota Sentosa, there will be two junctions to Kuching International Airport. Straight ahead is a road leading to Kuching.
For your information, Kuching city lacks vital signboards, especially the ones leading to Petra Jaya, Santubong, and other suburban areas. Always have your maps handy to avoid being lost in the city, as Kuching is large and complex.
Kuching to Tebedu costs RM15 direct
There are several bus companies operating between Pontianak and Kuching. Several bus companies' offices, including Malaysian company SJS (☏ , ☏ , ☏ ), are at Jl. Sisingamangaraja No.155-159. Reputable company DAMRI is on Jl Pahlawan near the junction with Jl Tanjung Pura, just south of city center. Also you may check for info at Biaramas (other major Malaysian company).
A comfortable Super Executive class seat (20-25 seats per bus) is Rp260,000.
Buses depart from their company offices. DAMRI services depart from the ALBN terminal a few kilometers east of city center, with a shuttle departing from its city center office 1 hour prior.
Journey time is approximately 7 hours, including rest stops and border crossing. There are buses in the morning (DAMRI's departs 06:00 from its office) and in the evening (departures around 21:00, reaching the border at 04:00-06:00 after one or two rest stops). The journey onwards to Kuching is another 2 hours.
Buses from Kuching regional bus terminal to Pontianak similarly leave on two schedules, Economy class leaves at 07:00 and 13:00 Malaysian Standard Time, while Super Executive class leaves at 11:00 Malaysian Standard Time.