The town of Pangkalan Bun


All my sensory inputs are experiencing firsts. My nose detects a unique mixture of tropical humidity, heat, people, teak wood huts, spices, fried meat, fish, vegetables, sewage and diesel exhaust from boats. The colours are vibrant and rich. Everything is painted in saturated tones, longboats, huts and clothes. Colourful advertisement posters are utilised as decoration. It seems all the colours of the world has gathered to party in this town.

The river is life, the river is where the children swim, where the laundry is done, where the sewage floats, where the longboats’ engine puffs black smoke, where fishing is done; the river is the source of all activity. The river is alive with sounds, children laughing, people talking, cooking food, hanging out, water splashing as longboats pass each other, engines sputtering. The river is home, the teak tree wooden huts sit right on the river, connected by a organic network of intertwined walkways, planks and jetties. I am invigorated by this tropical town bursting with life and energy.

I am in Pangkalan Bun, a town in the Southern part of Indonesian Borneo. I am being driven up and down the river in a longboat with three friends, we are here to shoot a corporate video. Smiles split our faces as we take in and connect to this interesting town. There are no tourists here, we are creating a spectacle whenever we are spotted, had we landed in a spaceship I doubt we would have caused more commotion. We arrived here from Kuala Lumpur and it feels as if we travelled back in time; my friends tells me this is as seeing Bangkok from 100 years ago. The temperature is pushing 40c degrees and the humidity is close to 100%. Later as we walk the streets, somewhat red-faced and sweaty, children laugh, point at us and offer advice in Indonesian. “What are they saying?” I ask my Indonesian speaking friend Georg. He laughs and translates their words: “go to air condition!”.

Borneo and Pangkalan Bun left a massive impression on me, kindling my love for Asia and in retrospect it was a large factor in my decision to sell my home, my belongings and become a nomad photographer. It also marked the first time I became very excited by capturing people, their lives and homes, something that has now turned into my main passion in photography. It has been more than two years since my visit to Pangkalan Bun, and as we were on a tight production schedule shooting corporate videos, we had only one free afternoon for a river trip; an afternoon etched into my mind. These few days on Borneo were special. Of course; most days are not like this, a fact I was blind to at the time. My memories of Pangkalan Bun are possibly warped, I was drunk on karma and a distorted perspective that boomeranged. Life is still just life wherever I live it.

Yet when I close my eyes I believe I can still hear the people by the river, smell and feel the air, inhale the tropical climate and taste the food. Asian life and tropical climate ignites me, breathes life into me and ultimately totally exhausts me forcing me to recharge elsewhere. However I always feel compelled to return. When I close my eyes I dream of the day I will return to Pangkalan Bun. Not to re-live these memories, but to create new memories, to experience and capture more of the people and their everyday life in this tropical river town.

Pangkalan-Bun-2 Pangkalan-Bun-3 Pangkalan-Bun-4 Pangkalan-Bun-5 Pangkalan-Bun-6 Pangkalan-Bun-7 Pangkalan-Bun-8 Pangkalan-Bun-9 Pangkalan-Bun-10 Pangkalan-Bun-11


PANGKALAN BUN IN VIDEO. Below is my video of Pangkalan Bun and the nearby Tanjung Puting National Park. Do watch it in fullscreen (click the symbol with the 4 arrows next to the vimeo logo in the player below).


Thanks to Charlene Winfred for helping with sequencing the images.

12 Comments on “The town of Pangkalan Bun”

  1. I remember this video. Vimeo says it was uploaded 11 months ago, but it seems a lot longer than that. I think reading about your journeys and working with the images and words have made me feel like I was right there with you… especially given how much we’ve worked it these stories.

    Speaking of words…

    1. Yes I feel the same, surely Vimeo has the upload date wrong as it seems a very long time ago I cut this. I have probably lived a decade worth of experiences since September last year. Since Pankalang Bun lost out ot Cambodia Village Life in the book, I felt it would make a nice blog story.

      1. Agreed. Sometime, you should have an “essays” section in your site and put this one and a couple of others in there. They’re different from the usual blog posts.

  2. Great set of pics Flemming, they certainly draw you in and part of you can relate to the simple way they live. What I like is that they always seem so happy that it just makes you smile. We definitely need more of that.

    1. Thank you Peta. Yes, smiles go a long way, I keep trying to tell myself to remember to smile. Pangkalan Bun was all smiles, no doubt also of course as they’re smiling and laughing at the sight of us strange visitors tall and pale 🙂

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