Life Story

The Traveler’s Diary : Derawan Island, Borneo

So, 2014 has been a year of travelling for me. I went to Surabaya, Derawan Island (Borneo), Belitung Island, Bangka Island (Sumatra), Bali (again) and Makassar (Sulawesi). Yes, I went all over the main islands in Indonesia, except Papua (soon baby, soon). Each and every island has its own beauty and ofcourse, wonderful beaches! I love beach, though being in a tropical country means the sunburn effect would be worse than ever.

Lets start the story of 4 days/3 nights at Derawan Island, Borneo.

1-4 May 2014

Day 1

We departed from Soekarno-Hatta International Airports in the morning around 9 am. It’s best to depart as early as possible, since we have to catch the ferry boat before 1 pm. Our flight went for a 45 minutes transit in Balikpapan, then we continue the flight to Tarakan airport.

Derawan can be reached by 2 routes :

1. Road Route : means you have to go to Berau, instead of Tarakan, and continue the trip to Derawan using offroad vehicle. We didin’t choose this, since it will take around 2 hours trip on BUMPY road.

2. Sea Route : means you have to go to Tarakan Island, go straight to the harbour and continue the trip to Derawan using speedboat for 3 hours. We chose this option since it’s the ocean that we’re after, no? However, as we go against the tide, the trip was REALLY bumpy. I knocked by head hear and there. But hey, that’s part of the fun!

derawan at boat

Around 4 pm, we arrived at Mirroliz pelangi cottage. It’s a floating cottage, on the water. No, we didn’t go to the harbour since they actually have no official harbour. Almost every cottage here has their own ‘harbour’. The cottage wasn’t really good. I am a hygiene freak so personally I wouldn’t recommend this if you are somewhat similar to me. But this place is okay, some of the rooms are provided with Air-con, and trust me, you really need Air-con if you don’t want to get soaked at your sleep. There is no wind AT ALL during the night.

Mirroliz Pelangi

We didn’t start our activity today since we need to gather our energy for the second day. There were some warung /restaurants there, but I wouldn’t recommend this since they will cost you a very expensive price (especially if you’re foreigners). Our travel agent arranged all-u-can-eat meal from breakfast to dinner, so we just enjoyed what they have prepared for us.

I am a foodie, and I wasn’t impressed at all with the seafood and food from Derawan. Most of them were tasteless and chewy. The villagers are somewhat living a modern lifestyle so they don’t really have their authenticity anymore. Avoid instant noodle (Indomie) there, we paid IDR 15,000 for an instant noodle there. The price was 3 times more expensive that the one in Jakarta. However, have as many coconut water as you can! The coconut was gigantic and cost for only IDR 10,000!!! We had like 4-5 coconuts per day (much better than having a pocari sweat that costs IDR 10,000 per bottle).

the village derawan


This day was when the actual fun begin! Our trip today consists of Maratua Island and Kakaban Island. My advice for the day : leave your non-waterproof items back in the cottage, bring your underwater camera / go pro / waterproof photography thing, bottles of water, tubes of sunblocks.


Maratua Island is located in the Derawan Archipelago off the north coast of East Kalimantan. It is a large tropical island partially encircling a massive lagoon on one end and fringed with sheer rocky walls and coral reefs along the other end. This island is belong to Indonesian, HOWEVER, due to this corrupted government, there are rumors that this island has been sold to the Malaysian. God knows the truth, but the fact is the only resort here is managed by Malaysian and you have to pay an entrance ticket if you want to visit the island through their resort.

Our speedboat was anchored near the beach there and we jumped on to the water with our snorkeling gear attached. The only word came out from my mouth was : WOW!

I can’t stop to say over and over again about how beautiful is this. The scenery is closer to the image of the famous Maldives.

maratua 1


All around us was white smooth sands brushing our feet and our eyes were spoiled with the crystal clear turquoise water. Trust me, when you land your feet here, there was nothing you want to do except jump into the water as stay there as long as possible.

We stayed here for around 2 hours since the grey clouds were coming and we need to catch the weather to explore Kakaban Island, the Jellyfish island.


It took around only 15 minutes to go from Maratua to Kakaban. The most distinctive feature of this island is the huge brackish water lake in the middle of the island, in the local dialect Kakaban means “hug” as the island hugs the lake from the surrounding seawater. In the middle of this island is a mangrove-fringed lake, slightly above sea level, where thousands of non-stinging jellyfish live making it interesting for diving. The lake is at most 17 metres (56 ft) deep with poor visibility and is 10 minutes walk from the beach. Kakaban was probably uplifted during the Holocene and sea water was trapped turning the area and formed a landlocked marine lake. The water is now a mixture of salt water and sweet water from the rain.

To reach the lake, we have to go over hundreds of stairs, through the jungle. Don’t worry, they built wooden stairs so it’s easy to follow and believe me, the lake view and jellyfishes you’re about to meet, is worth to go for. Remember, there is no restaurant or warung here, since nobody is living here, so bring enough of water bottle to keep you hydrated.

This is how the lake looks like.. All you have to do is wear your snorkel gear and jump from that platform.


kakaban 001

kakaban 002

kakaban 2 001

kakaban 2

It’s VERY difficult to take pictures in the water, so I could only managed to ‘catch’ one jellyfish and took it with me for a picture taking. In reality, there are thousands of jellyfish there as you swim around. Don’t worry, they are sting-less. And cute!


We spent 2 hours here and our travel agent had prepared our lunchbox here, so we climbed back the stiars and took a place nearby the welcome gate to have our lunch with beautiful sea view of Kakaban Island. During this time, the sea water level would be very low so the boat cannot pick us up to the beach. So we have to reach the boat by walking through the sea corals which are very sharp. I slipped when I was about to climb the boat ladder so I had my knee terribly injured and bleeding. Add it with the salty sea water, and yes, perfect.

Next destination was to snorkel around the steep wall of Kakaban Island where thousands of  various kind of colorful fishes, nemo, barracuda, etc. I didn’t manage to get pictures here since my underwater camera broke down (note to self, not to bring a cheap camera for a priceless journey). At this point, I was mesmerized by the beauty of this islands, everything was beyond my imagination. I have never seen nature could be this wonderful. Not to spend more time inside the boat, I climbed to the top of the boat and decided to spend the rest of my journey by sitting on the top of the boat. What did I get?  a 360 degree scenery!

Yes it’s scary with the bumpy boat across the tides.



The sunburn was pretty bad!


We spent around 2 more hours snorkeling and went straight back to our cottage immediately. We were extremely exhausted, yet VERY HAPPY!

Due to circumstances, we were moved to another cottage named “PENGINAPAN REZA”. It was actually a good thing since we got a brand new water cottage with air-con and our cottage was located at the very front of the area. During the night, we sat down on the balcony and when we looked up, thousands of sparkling stars were shining. A night scenery that I never got to see when I was in the city.It was priceless, how the dark night could be very peaceful. I would recommend this for you who look for a good budget water cottage.

This is the kind of view we had from our new cottage.


From our balcony


Sunset day 2

sunset day 1


The last fun day of our journey, with destinations : Sangalaki Island and Pulau Gusung.

What did we do here? Right, nothing but snorkeling and taking hundreds of pictures!

Again, as my camera broke down, I didn’t get the underwater pictures. But believe me, the underwater scenery in Sangalaki Island was incredibly awesome!!! We also went to look down for Manta Ray, but unfortunately we could only see its shadow.  There is a turtle reservation in Sangalaki Island, as we all know that turtles are now endangered species. People love to hunt them down for food or decoration.



turtle reservation

My sister with a baby turtle


Pulau Gusung 

Approximately 10 mins from Derawan, you can explore Gusung Island during low tide. This dune is one of the best spot to see the crystal clear sea water and the whitest sands over the islands.

pulau gusung



I didn’t use any filter on any of this pictures. The real scenery were really beautiful with no editing required.

We spent 2 hours here before we head back to Derawan Island. This was considered our last day in Derawan Island since tomorrow early in the morning we have to catch a flight from Tarakan to Jakarta.

The sunset

sunset day 2

the gang 2

The sunrise on Day 4, taken from our cottage balcony

sunrise day 1

sunrise day 2

Note for travelers :

  1. Bring enough cash, there is no ATM there. I brought IDR 2 mio only for street snacks and watersports. All meals, cottage, boat, snorkel gear, flight tickets are included in the tour package I took.
  2. You can contact this person for Derawan Arrangement (boat, snorkel, dive, land arrangement, airport pick up, meals), they are very reliable and I would recommend him : Jeme – 0852 9155 5555 or Pieter 08125516 5555
  3. Bring your own underwater camera. This is a must-have item to record all your journey. Buy a good one.
  4. Do not buy souvenirs from the locals there, they have marked up the price. Do not eat any seafood or lobster or crabs there, they have increased the price at least 3 times higher.
  5. Try the squid satay sold by the street warung there.
  6. Try to have 1 or 2 nights stay at Maratua Paradise Resort
  7. If your flight was depart from Jakarta, avoid Lion Air, they are sucks. Choose Sriwijaya Air, instead.

So, that’s all my journey from Derawan Island. I will definitely go back to this Island and spend more time there. Contact me anytime for questions, I’d be glad to help.