Pontianak: City on the Equator

Pontianak, Indonesia’s City on the Equator lies on the banks of the Kapuas, the country’s longest and largest river, and one of the longest rivers in the world. The Kapuas River has its source at Gunung Lawit, deep in the Mueller mountain range in Central Borneo where it rushes down, meandering 1,143 kilometers west, passing 9 of West Kalimantan’s 14 districts, until it finally reaches the South China Sea, forming a wide delta upon which Pontianak is built.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the Kapuas River serves as the livelihood of the region, a major waterway to reach interior towns and its major water supply. Boats with a 3 meter draft can navigate upriver to the town of Sintang, some 465 km. inland from the mouth Kapuas. This is the gateway to the interior, home of the Dayaks. While boats with 2 meter draft can reach Putussibau, 902 km from Pontianak.

Long known as a busy trading port facing the South China Sea, Pontianak is a cosmopolitan city where various races and ethnic groups live peacefully side by side. Malays and Dayaks are the major ethnic groups here with Bugis, Bataks, Minangkabaus, Javanese, Chinese and Arabs making up the city’s population.  Until today, Bugis Phinisi schooners can be seen tied at Pontianak’s docks, their crew busy loading and unloading goods.

In the mid 1700’s a gold rush attracted Chinese miners, who came and settled around the gold fields of Mandor, Montrado, and Singkawang, north of Pontianak. At the time, the West Borneo (now Kalimantan) gold fields were rich, producing 18 to 21 carat gold. Soon, however, yields diminished. Nonetheless, until today, gold panning is still rampant, covering an area of more than 6,600 hectares. As in those early days the Chinese Emperor forbade women from leaving the country, the Chinese men in West Borneo married the local Dayak girls, thus creating inter-marriages between the two groups.

The town of Pontianak was built by Syarif Abdurrahkan Alkadrie in 1771 who established the Pontianak Sultanate here. Today Pontianak is the seat of the provincial government of West Kalimantan.

A monument marking the exact location of the Equator was built here by a Dutch geographer and explorer, while upriver along the Kapuas, Dayak tribes live in harmony with migrants, staging wonderful events each year, including the sun’s culmination celebrations during the spring and autumnal equinox.  Here, in Pontianak, you can find yourself standing on your own shadow, twice a year.

There are limitless sensational sceneries along the precious Kapuas River as you sit at the bow of the roaring speedboat. Floating empty canoes, stilt houses along the riversides, bathing mothers and their kids, hardworking fishermen, and colorful floating markets with old women sitting at the stern of noisy dinghies, are some of the picture-perfect visuals found along the bronzed-color water.

Chinese and Arabs are two of the migrant groups who developed this region. Shop houses are silent proof that Chinese traders have been there since centuries. The town of Singkawang, a city two-hours drive away from Pontianak, still has a large Chinese population. Singkawang is known for its excellent Chinese ceramics, which until today still produces “antique” style ceramics. Singkawang is also famous for its annual Cap Goh Meh celebrations, drawing descendents from around Indonesia.

Back in the city’s vicinity, at the edge of Kapuas River lies the Kadariah Sultanate with adjacent Masjid Jamie, the mosque that radiates the Islamic way of life. The magnificent history of the sultanate is an open book to welcome any traveler wishing to find out the stories of the city.

There are several points of interest in Pontianak and its vicinity. One of the city’s icons is the Equator Monument at Sintang. The monument was built in 1928 to mark the spot at zero degree on the Equator. Considering the technology available in that year, the effort was a remarkable feat. The Dutch explorer indicated the site with a simple pole and an arrow. Several renovations and improvements have taken place including the development of a dome in 1990 to protect the initial site. The monument today is five times larger than the original. Historical facts are presented within the monument and in the small museum.

Visit the Kadariah Sultanate in the Dalam Bugis District, East Pontianak. The sultanate appears like a huge house in old Malay style architecture. It has a gate as an entrance to a buffer zone filled with rows of houses prior to entering the main building. The sultan’s palace is an open house that receives everyone anytime in the year. An English speaking interpreter is available, who is a family member of the last Sultan.

Nearby, stands a mosque that was built in the same year as the sultan’s palace. Legend has it that Syarif Abdurrahman Alkadri once fired a cannonball to fight a disturbing female ghost, known here as “pontianak” – hence the name of the city.  The site where the cannonball landed became the location of the palace, with attached mosque for prayers. Today, the mosque still looks grand and beautiful especially when seen from a river cruise on the Kapuas.

The museum of Pontianak is also a good place to get to know the history of Pontianak. As one of the five best museums in Indonesia, the Pontianak Museum presents interesting historical and cultural facts.  Historical and cultural artifacts are well preserved, although interpreters here are limited.

A cruise on the Kapuas River is a must as you visit the waterfront in front of the Mayor’s Office on Taman Alun Kapuas or Jalan Rahadi Usman. Boats are available from here offering you a great cruise on the river. Take the cruise before sunset and it will show you the lively activities along the river. The captain will usually cross the equator line and tell you that you are about to move from the south of the globe to the north. Capture all the activities shown with your cameras.

Souvenirs are found at Pasar Souvenir or you may want to buy local products in local markets such as at Pasar Tengah, Pasar Sudirman, or Pasar Flamboyan. Most of the souvenirs are authentic as you see Dayak handicrafts, Equator Monument key chains or replicas, and Pontianak shirts and accessories.

Also visit:

  1. Gajah Mada Street for a nighttime cullinary adventure.
  2. Rumah Panjang or Rumah Betang, is a traditional Dayak Iban longhouse that displays wonderful architectural features, including the stairs, carvings and ornaments.
  3. Pantai Pasir Panjang on the way to Singkawang is also worth visiting as you may want to see Chinese fishermen and their catch. Other beache are Pantai Kura-kura (Turtle Beach), Pantai Batu Payung, and Pantai Karang Gosong. Many say that these beaches are as beautiful as Kuta or Sanur Beach in Bali. Promotion being the only difference.
  4. Singkawang, a city north of Pontianak, was once filled with Chinese gold miners which at the time contributed a staggering one-seventh of the world’s total gold supply. It has unique Chinese shophouses and delicious food. It is nowbetter known for the  Chinese ceramics it still produces in their workshops. Also stop by the street of food sellers at Mempawah, a clean and quiet town where you will find a peaceful environment, a wonderfully colored Buddhist temple, and friendly people drinking at the street coffee corners especially in the afternoons.


Pontianak is accessible by air, sea, and land. Supadio Airport is the main airport connecting Pontianak with the rest of the cities in and outside Kalimantan. The existing airlines that mostly have direct flights to Jakarta are:

  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Batavia Air
  • Sriwijaya Air
  • Lion Air

The sea port is at Dwikora where PELNI boats and ferries serve commercial and other industries in the city.

For travelers coming overland from Brunei, Malaysian Sarawak and Sabah, the town of Entikong is the entry point. Most travelers leave from Kuching, Malaysia, and terminate at Pontianak. Buses are available each day. Comfortable, 30-seater DAMRI buses regularly ply the Pontianak-Entikong -Kuching – Brunei Darussalam route. Pontianak – Kuching takes around 8 hours, with 2 rest stops on the way, while pushing on to Brunei, the journey takes one day and night.

In Pontianak, transportation is quite convenient to get. Taxis are found everywhere, although the angkot has outnumbered taxis, operated by 8 different companies. Today, many companies offer cars for rent. Usually these come in 7-seater minivans. The price depends on the type of car, ranging from IDR 500,000 to IDR 800,000 for half a day.


Do not get dehydrated when travelling under the glaring Pontianak sun. Bring adequate drinking water with you in your travel gear.

Source: Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy Republic Indonesia, and The Government of Pontianak City

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