On from Samarinda, the Mahakam River is broad and slow, with sawmills and villages peppering the banks. Tenggarong is 45km and three hours upstream – or just an hour by road. This small, neat and very prosperous country town was, until 1959, the seat of the Kutai Sultanate, whose territory encompassed the entire Mahakam basin and adjacent coastline. It’s a good place to stay if you want to escape big cities and is a convenient location to start trips up the river.
The former palace, just opposite the ferry dock on Jalan Diponegoro, is now Museum Negeri Mulawarman which includes statuary from Mahakam’s Hindu period (pre-fifteenth century), which replicas of fourth-century conical stone yupa, which are Indonesia’s oldest written records. Dayak pieces include Benuaq weaving, Kenyah beadwork and Bahau hudoq masks.