Want to check Borneo off of your Indonesian bucket list? We’d like to suggest that you check out the Cap Go Meh festival in Singkawang. And if you want to do that, you have to know how to get from Pontianak to Singkawang.
It’s always a little intimidating to be a tourist in a place where you don’t speak the language. Especially when it’s in a place where not a lot of people speak fluent English. In Europe and larger places in Asia, you can always find someone to help. That’s not always the case in Pontianak.
That said, we’ve done it and it’s actually fairly easy. Halef speaks Indonesian and I get by, but even if we didn’t, we’re sure you’re not going to have a problem getting from Pontianak to Singkawang.
How to get from Pontianak to Singkawang
Although it’s located off the beaten tourist path, Singkawang isn’t that difficult to get to from anywhere in Indonesia with a decent airport. We flew to Pontianak from Jakarta and it was actually quite routine. You can get to Pontianak from any airport though – just keep in mind that you may have to connect.
First, fly to Pontianak
To get to Singkawang, you need to make your way to Pontianak, Borneo. The flight from Jakarta to Pontianak was about a $150 round-trip on Garuda Indonesia, Indonesia’s national airline (which is also part of the SkyTeam Alliance for those of you hoarding miles).
If you’re more budget-minded, you can probably save $20-$30 by using a budget airline like Lion Air or Sriwijaya. Although we do use them on occasion, we usually prefer to skip the budget airlines in Indonesia as they don’t exactly have a great track record for safety.
We stick with Garuda Indonesia.
Go to Singkawang on the damri bus
If you’re on a super-tight budget, you can go to Singkawang using a service called the Damri Bus. The Damri bus is Indonesia’s national bus service and usually leaves from Pontianak to Singkawang at 9:30, 11:30, noon, 13:00 and 14:00.
The cost of the bus is about Rp. 100,000 per person. You can check the schedule for the Damri bus here.
I’ll be upfront and say we didn’t take the Damri bus to Singkawang. We opted, instead, for a private driver for Rp. 150,000 per person. I can’t tell you 100% that the bus stops along the way. We have to assume that it does though, as the Damri buses we saw certainly didn’t have toilet facilities on-board and that would be a very long time without a toilet!
The damri buses that go from Pontianak to Singkawang are regular coaches – just a little shorter. They are comfortable and they are air-conditioned.
Pontianak to Singkawang in a private car
This is the preferred way to make this trip.
It’s more comfortable and probably a little quicker. Once you get to the Pontianak baggage claim, you’ll find a desk where you can do hire a car or van. The desk is pretty obvious. The ride from Pontianak to Singkawang cost us Rp. 150,000 per person – about $11 US. So expect to pay that amount, give or take a couple of dollars.
If you have a phone number, the attendant will call you when the driver is ready to leave. Of course, if you don’t speak Bahasa Indonesia, that’s not gonna help. We’d recommend just sitting in the waiting area so that the attendant can find you when the van or car is ready to go.
Drop off point in Singkawang: Your driver will drop you off at your hotel or Airbnb, if you have one. If you need accommodations, you can book your Singkawang hotel here.
How long is the drive to Singkawang?
The drive from Pontianak to Singkawang can take anywhere from 2.5 hours to 4.5 hours. If traffic is insane, it might even take 6. You should expect the ride to be about 4 hours.
If you’re a westerner who is used to major highways connecting towns and cities, you’re not going to find that here. The drive from Pontianak to Singkawang actually feels like a local road the entire way. It’s rare that you’ll just be driving through an uninhabited area.
And that’s why the drive takes so long. I dream of the day that Indonesia builds expressways to connect its cities. But that’s probably a long time away.
Will you stop to eat on the way?
Four hours in a car is a very long time – especially if it’s full. You’ll need a break. Don’t worry. You’ll get one. It’s very likely that you will stop at a roadside restaurant (or warung) about halfway to Singkawang.
It’ll give you time to get something to eat, buy a snack, or just get out of the van and stretch your legs.
The restaurant will more than likely have things like noodles and rice dishes. If you see something you like, just point to it and order.
Basic Indonesian food terms
We won’t assume you’ve spent any time in Indonesia here. If you just got to Indonesia and have no idea what that menu says, here are a few terms that might be helpful when you stop at a roadside restaurant:
- Mie: Noodles
- Nasi putih: White rice
- Nasi goreng: Fried rice
- Ayam: chicken
- Sapi: Beef
- Bebek: Duck
- Ikan: Fish
- Daging: Meat (usually beef)
- Krupuk: Those crackers you see everywhere
- Air putih (eye-air poo-tee): drinking water
- Kopi putih: Black coffee
- Kopi susu: Coffee with milk
- Kopi manis: Sweet coffee (usually with sweetened condensed milk)
If you want to know more about Indonesian food, Halef has written a post about it. Learn more about Indonesian food here.
Arriving in Singkawang
When you first booked your ride from Pontianak to Singkawang, you may have told them right where you were going. Keep in mind, they’re just there to sell you the ticket and get you in a vehicle.
They may not tell the driver where you need to get dropped off in Singkawang.
Have no fear, the drivers do this every day and they’ll probably ask you where you’re staying when you arrive in the city. Just tell them the name of your hotel. Chances are, they’ve been there many times. If not, they’ll find it.
It helps if you have the address written down.
If you’re headed to the New Year celebration, you can read my post about the Cap Go Meh Festival in Singkawang here. It’s a very interesting festival. Admittedly, I felt culturally out of place and probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I could have if I’d learned more about it beforehand.
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Michael is originally from Canada but now resides in Atlanta, GA with his husband, Halef, who also writes here. He is a Couchsurfing expert. Michael has traveled to over 50 countries learning how to experience more for less as he travels.