Balikpapan Shopping & Eating
Shopping centers are sprouting up all over Balikpapan. Still the most popular, located right in the middle of town, is Balikpapan Plaza (confusingly referred to by the acronym B.C., as opposed to B.P.) and another is to be found in the tacky-looking residential/business complex of Balikpapan Baru (New Balikpapan). These malls house supermarkets, clothing stores, restaurants, salons, etc. The area called Klandasan, adjacent to the sea, is home to many standalone shops selling odds and ends, while the adventurous may want to try the Kebun Sayur traditional market.
For imported food products, you may want to try Central store, located right next to the Blue Sky Hotel, on Jalan Suprapto or Deli Cafe on Jalan Sudirman. There is a large Makro cash-and-carry hypermarket on the Jalan Ruhui Rahayu ring road (0542) 707-1920, and the very useful Ace Hardware on Jalan Sudirman (0542) 443-311. To the east of Balikpapan Plaza is a newly built promenade home to several (mainly seafood) restaurants. It's right on the ocean, so you needn't worry about the freshness of the food. It's a pleasant place to dine or have a drink with a cooling sea breeze. There are loads of other restaurants around. These include the popular, hidden-away Bondi's at Jalan Sutoyo No.7, (0542) 411-150 in an immaculate garden setting. Dinasti at Jalan K. S. Tubun XIII/52, (0542) 424-086 is good value. Very popular with expatriates are the Batakan Beach Club at Jalan Mulawarman Batakan Besar No. 19 (0542) 750-750 and Lyla's (also known as Jack's), a bit out of town and perched right on the ocean and, strangely, specializes in Mexican food.
Fitness and leisure
If you are working for a foreign company, chances are you'll have access to their recreational facilities. Total Oil Company has a sports club in the Batakan area, which is also open for membership to the general public. The large hotels all have gyms and swimming pools, which are open to outside members. Some have tennis courts, squash courts and spas. There is a fairly good public pool and tennis courts at Wisma Patra, near the Pertamina complex (0542) 515-652. There are two golf courses, the Karang Joang course 15 minutes from town (0542) 733-142, owned by the Gran Senyiur Hotel. There is also the Sepinggan golf course off Jalan Sudirman near the airport (0542) 766-418 or 763 696. Balikpapan also has its own Women's Club, which is involved in various activities. Its Web site is http://www.bewcbalikpapan.org. There's great diving at the following nearby islands: Derawan, Kakaban, Maratua and Sangalaki. Derawan island has a nice dive resort. It has a Web site at www.divederawan.com (0542) 707-2615. For the energetic drinkers, or as their slogan puts it, "Drinkers with a running problem," there is a popular local chapter of the Hash House Harriers (0542) 733-682.
If you feel like getting out of town a bit, you can visit Manggar Beach, about 15 miles to the north or the nearby crocodile farm. While there, why not try the crocodile satay ('sate') or buy some curative crocodile genital oil? There are some walks and treks to do not far from the city. It's worth visiting the Bukit Bangkirai forest about 35 miles from town, which is home to some great wildlife and has an amazing jungle canopy bridge 90 feet off the ground. There are also places to stay in the forest (0542) 707-2200. There is an improbably located amusement park on Kumala island, in the middle of the Mahakam River, at Tenggarong (a two-hour drive). You can also cross the wide river by cable car while you're there.
For movies, your best bet is the Alliance Francaise if you don't mind subtitles (0542) 533-526. They have regular showings. Also watch out for the Jakarta Film Festival in early December, which usually comes to Balikpapan.
Contributor: Nick Aarons