Kalabakan-Serudong road: Gamechangers that could be for better or worse

IF one were to attempt driving from Kalabakan to Serudong, both in Sabah, it would take 82 hours non-stop to circle around Borneo Island, passing through Brunei, Sarawak, west and south Kalimantan before heading north to east Kalimantan and Sabah – a distance of 4,164 kilometres!   

But with the construction of a road linking Kalabakan directly to Serudong, future trips would take less than an hour as the distance will only be 39 kilometres.  

Kalabakan is just 90 kilometres away from Tawau, the second or third largest city in Sabah, with about the same population as Sandakan. 

Interestingly, the distance between Serudong to Samarinda in southeast Kalimantan is 961 kilometres and the journey would take almost 24 hours non-stop.  

Another 100 kilometres further is Balikpapan; the proposed new capital in Indonesia would be built between Samarinda and Balikpapan.  

Samarinda is the largest city in Borneo Island, with Kuching third and Balikpapan fourth.  

The new Indonesian capital is certain to bring massive development to southeast Kalimantan and the impact could reverberate as far north as Tawau, which is the seventh largest city in Borneo.  

Recently, Deputy Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin said Serudong will be connected by road to Simanggaris in Kalimantan, and the ingress will be a game changer for the local population, as their incomes would be raised from economic and tourism activities. 

In times to come, the lives of Malaysians and Indonesians living or working in Serudong and Simanggaris are bound to undergo drastic changes.  

But whether they will be for the better or worse will depend largely on politicians, authorities and enforcement agencies. 

Without proper planning, implementation and execution, Serudong and Simanggaris could easily descend into typical border towns plagued with corruption, prostitution, narcotics and contraband goods, with safety and security compromised by the gathering of seedy characters. 

The local authorities here should learn from the mistakes and challenges facing border towns at the Malaysia-Thailand border and take preventative measures including contingency plans to nip problems at the bud should they arise and not allow them to take root and fester. 

A well-managed Immigration, Customs and Quarantine (ICQ) complex staffed by officers with highest integrity could go a long way in promoting and growing healthy trade and tourism, not just between Sabah and Kalimantan, but also benefitting far off Brunei and Sarawak. 

The 4,164-kilometre road trip circling Borneo Island, the third largest in the world, could easily be marketed globally as one of the epic journeys one could make in a lifetime and be included in the bucket list of many adventurers. 

For a start, groups of superbikers on touring motorcycles could be the trailblazers for circling Borneo Island in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction.  

These pioneers could identify the suitable stops for meals and accommodation along the way and share their videos online. 

Where there are no suitable hotels, wooden chalets could be swiftly erected, or container cabins converted for lodging.  

Villagers could be roped in to set up stalls to sell local produce or handicrafts or offer services such as nature guides and community-based tourism activities. 

Car rental companies in Sabah, Sarawak and Kalimantan could pool their resources together and offer self-drive vehicles for motoring holidays along this epic route that passes through their states and Brunei.  

Local partners could provide service to tourists in need of assistance. 

With more infrastructure and amenities in place, bus tours along this route would become increasingly popular.  

Passengers would have the option of completing the entire circuit over two weeks or more or could just fly off or join in from one of the cities enroute. 

All these would be made possible and sooner if we start the first step right, which is the 39-kilometre road now under construction linking Kalabakan to Serudong.  

If no social impact assessment (SIA) had been carried out previously, it is imperative that it must be done now without delay. 

Likewise, problems at the Thai border should not be replicated at the Kalimantan border between Serudong and Simanggaris.  

One sticky issue would be commercial vehicles such as tour buses and taxis crossing borders which are often seen as encroachment by jealous locals. – Jan 14, 2022 


YS Chan is Asean Tourism Master Trainer for travel agencies, master trainer for Travel & Tours Enhancement Course and Mesra Malaysia. He is also a tourism and transport industry consultant and writer. 

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia. 


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