Joko MacKenna

Travels in Kalbar

Somewhere on the road less traveled

Let's face it. Most expats aren't teaching English in Asia because we feel a calling.

A travel opportunity

We don't feel some pull towards spreading our wonderful, beautiful language to the rest of the world with any kind of missionary zeal. We're not here because we love our jobs or our profession. Of course, many of us do love our profession, or at least like it. Some of us take it very seriously and make a career out of it, dedicating ourselves to professional development and participating in the broader ESL discussion. That said, I've yet to meet an English teacher abroad who's said, "I'm here because I've always wanted to teach English."

Now, I have heard teachers say that they're here because they've always wanted to work in such-and-such place. More often than not, it's not because we want to TEACH in Asia; instead, we want to teach in ASIA. Why? Well, lots of reasons, but today I want to talk about one in particular: the opportunity for travel.

Thailand, specifically, is a hub, within a short flight of all kinds of fascinating places. The charming mess of India. The colorful chaos of China. The warmth and humor of the Philippines. The cultural antiquities of Cambodia. This is just to name a few.

So where to go?

I've had the good fortune of having been able to visit many of these places over the last few years (I'm next door in Myanmar), and as I recently contemplated where to spend my month off for the water festival, I wanted to go someplace different. Someplace off the beaten tourist path where I could explore and not just follow another leg of the 'banana pancake road'.

I decided on what I hoped might be a Shangri La. I feared it might just be a complete dump. It was hard to anticipate what to expect because there's little to no information online about tourism in this region. Just across the South China Sea from Singapore, there's a place called Kalimantan Barat (KalBar). That's Indonesian for West Borneo, well off that route of yellow fruit.

Some of you may have caught some of my videos from my recent motorcycle tour around Myanmar. I wanted to do something like that again. Just get two wheels under me and go. Personally, the biggest reason I work is to do just that.

Hidden quantity

Like I said, I wasn't sure what to expect when I flew into Pontianak, KalBar's principal city. I at least expected to be able to rent a motorcycle to begin the journey. There's 5 million people in the greater Pontianak area. I figured that even though I hadn't been able to find anything online in regards to motorcycle rental (lots of places rented cars), once I got my feet on the ground there and got to talking to people (I happen to speak Indonesian), I'd find something.

No. Motorcycle rental is mostly a tourist thing, and when you go to a place that's unvisited by tourists, there is no tourist infrastructure. After a great deal of searching and enlisting help in the search, the solution came it me in a dream... Well, in that half-waking stage somewhere between sleep and consciousness. Why was I searching online in ENGLISH for a motorcycle to rent where people don't speak English? Duh! When I entered the Indonesian terms for what I wanted into Google, boom, I found a place.

The open road

Off I went. As for the cycling part of the trip, I couldn't have been happier. Every day when I got out onto the road, I had a mile wide smile on my face. The roads were good. The weather wasn't bad. Each new part of KalBar I entered had it's unique charms. Most of all, the people were extremely friendly (being able to speak the local language helped a lot in this).

Then, when I reached my destination, I ran into that lack of infrastructure thing again. No Wifi at the hotels. I paid extra on a few occasions so I could get a room with a western style toilet (I'm too old and fat to squat properly). Even something as simple as beer was hard to come by. The population of KalBar is mixed between Muslim Malays, Chinese and the mostly Catholic indigenous Dayak people, but since the Malays pretty much run things, very few stores or hotels offer beer. Usually when on vacation, I like to live it up a bit, so this was a bit annoying.

In each town, there was at least one interesting thing to see or do, but all in all, I enjoyed the getting there more than the being there. To put it bluntly, sometimes there's a reason why a region doesn't get a lot of tourism, i.e., it's not all that compelling. Seeing it all on a motorcycle, that was my favorite part.

One of the most common questions I got from the locals was why I was doing this on my own. By myself. As an avid videographer, I don't see it that way. I had my GoPro taped to my helmet. I was bringing you all along with me.

I invite you to check out the videos of the trip.

I also have a YouTube page with lots more stuff about the teaching lifestyle in Myanmar


Nice one Joko. You always make me feel like I should give up my desk job in England and just go and teach English somewhere seeing as I don't have any partner or kids. Once I pay off the credit cards I think that is what I will do....

By Sean, Ingerlund (13th May 2016)

Post your comment

Comments are moderated and will not appear instantly.

Featured Jobs

Fun Native English Teachers for October Start

฿44,000+ / month


Full-time NES Teachers

฿47,500+ / month


Corporate Teachers

฿660+ / hour

Samut Sakhon

Simple Script Readers (Native English Speakers)

฿900+ / hour


Chemistry Teacher for English Program

฿71,000+ / month


Math / Science Teachers and English Camp Instructors

฿30,000+ / month


Featured Teachers

  • Jeryll

    Filipino, 27 years old. Currently living in Philippines

  • Ivy

    Filipino, 25 years old. Currently living in Thailand

  • Kanny

    Filipino, 31 years old. Currently living in Philippines

  • Allan

    Filipino, 41 years old. Currently living in Philippines

  • Mae

    Filipino, 23 years old. Currently living in Philippines

  • Janna

    Filipino, 24 years old. Currently living in Philippines

The Hot Spot

The cost of living

The cost of living

How much money does a teacher need to earn in order to survive in Thailand? We analyze the facts.

Will I find work in Thailand?

Will I find work in Thailand?

It's one of the most common questions we get e-mailed to us. So find out exactly where you stand.

Contributions welcome

Contributions welcome

If you like visiting and reading the content, why not get involved yourself and keep us up to date?

Air your views

Air your views

Got something to say on the topic of teaching, working or living in Thailand? The Ajarn Postbox is the place. Send us your letters!

Need Thailand insurance?

Need Thailand insurance?

Have a question about health or travel insurance in Thailand? Ricky Batten from Pacific Prime is Ajarn's resident expert.

The dreaded demo

The dreaded demo

Many schools ask for demo lessons before they hire. What should you the teacher be aware of?

Teacher mistakes

Teacher mistakes

What are the most common mistakes that teachers make when they are about to embark on a teaching career in Thailand? We've got them all covered.

The Region Guides

The Region Guides

Fancy working in Thailand but not in Bangkok? Our region guides are written by teachers who actually live and work in the provinces.