INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL - Although you can easily connect through Jakarta for world-wide destinations, Balikpapan (BPN) only offers two direct options for international travel.
Singapore - Two airlines offers direct flights to Singapore - Silk Air and Garuda (also booked and run by Silk Air). Silk Air has the more expensive fiights, whereas the Garuda codeshare is cheaper. However, they have cut back and are only offered a few time a week. Singapore is the go-to place for shopping and healthcare! Singapore has easy public transportation and you can easily get a taxi or take the MRT.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Air Asia often offers promo one way trips from Rp700,000 (sometimes as low as Rp450,000!). Even "regular" fare prices are decent, around Rp1.2M. The flight arrives in KLIA2 which is the budget terminal but you can take the train for MYR 2.50 to the other terminal for transfer (about 15 minutes) or MYR 35 to city center (takes a good hour). Otherwise, you can take a cab (about MYR 150) or bus (MYR 12) to the city. Kuala Lumpur has a lot to offer! Check out the many malls and restaurants!! And don't forget to try the street food!
Updated in 2014, Balikpapan now has a larger terminal with enclosed gangways! No more getting soaked in the equatorial rainstorms!
DOMESTIC TRAVEL - There are several domestic airlines and you can travel virtually anywhere in Indonesia from Balikpapan. Balikpapan is the second busiest airport in Indonesia, so you can easily find different destinations to visit. Here are some of the expats most favorite destinations:
Bali - A popular tourist destination for travelers from all over the world, Bali offers a different Indonesian experience. Primarily Hindu, you can experience beautiful temples and local offerings different from other islands. This is an inexpensive getaway for expats in Balikpapan although the carriers often change schedules (try Citilink, Garuda, and Lion Air/Batik Air). Flights can be as low as Rp500,000 on special but normally price around Rp 980,000 and higher for long weekends. There is great surfing and beaches in additional to world-class amenities, shopping, and food.
Derawan & Surrounding Islands - A popular destination for expats of Balikpapan is Derawan, Kakaban, Sangalaki, and Maratua Islands. A short, 45 minute flight from BPN to Berau, then you can either arrange for direct speedboat travel to one of the islands or take a 2 hour car ride to Tajung Batu, then a speedboat. Two popular resorts are Derawan Dive Resort or Maratua Paradise Resort located on two different islands, although there are a few less expensive places to stay as well. Derawan Dive Resort has an office near the Le Granduer Hotel (JL Sudirman Blok G-1/No 34), although they only handle full dive packages. If you wish to book non-dive trips, you must go through a local travel agent. Maratua has special rates for KITAS holders, so be sure to mention that if you choose to book with them. Derawan is the largest of the islands and is the hub of activitiy. The other three islands are more remote and have fewer tourists, particularly Maratua. Kakaban Island is known for the jellyfish lake (stingless jellyfish) and Sangalaki Island is known for the manta rays, so all are worth a visit!
Manado - Located in North Sulawesi, this is a popular dive destination for travelers from all over the world. Many fly into Manado but travel to Bunaken National Park, a popular island off Manado. Dua Saudara Nature Reserve on the other side of the Sulawesi island is also worth a visit as it is home to birds and other wildlife unique to Sulawesi, such as the Tarsier (the smallest monkey), cus cus, and giant hornbill. Popular places to stay (according to seasoned BPNers is Tasik Ria Resort www.tasikria.com for diving and Bahowo Lodge www.bahowolodge.com for more of a homestay experience. It's difficult to stay on Bunaken island itself as flights back to BPN are extremely early in the morning.
Yogyakarta - About 40 minutes north of Yogyakarta is the famous Borobudur Buddhist temple. Absolutely stunning and worth a visit. In the city of Yogyakarta, there are other temples as well as museums and offers plentiful shopping of batik, traditional wayang puppets, sculptures, ceramics and other art. There are also modern malls and dining to round out your holiday.
Jakarta - Although many expats have business meetings in Jakarta, it can often be worth a trip for specialty shopping and fine dining. There are several high end malls with premium name-brand shopping. It is also a cheap way to make connecting flights to other destinations as there are often very discounted airfares.