MARTAPURA – At the private jetty of a hotel-by-the river in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, a klotok or wooden motorboat awaited passengers to take them on a tour of the bustling Lok Baintan floating market in the province’s district of Banjar. The boat, with a low roof enabling people to sit atop it, could accommodate 30 passengers.
Once all the passengers hopped onto the boat, the skipper, Rudi, moved his boat slowly toward the Lok Baintan floating market, which would take a distance of 1.5 hours to reach. There is also a shorter route, about an hour long, from the Soto Bang Amat, a chicken soup eatery on Banua Anyar Street.
Rudi reminded his passengers to be ready latest by 5.30 a.m. as the traders usually leave the market by around 8 a.m. because the water current makes it difficult for them to stay on at the location.
“But don’t worry, we still have time. You won’t be late,” he assured them
Along the way to the market, visitors caught a glimpse of the daily lives of people living on the Martapura river bank, with its stilt houses, fish cages, women doing their laundry, and children bathing in the river, as the sun rose in the background. Some rickety floating houses could also be spotted along the river.
Rudi slowed his boat as he approached the market. Some traders, most of them female, rowed their jukung or canoes hurriedly toward the boat.
Within seconds, Rudi’s boat was surrounded by traders selling various goods, from local fruits, traditional cake and yellow rice wrapped in banana leaves to coffee, sarongs, t-shirt, and dried fish displayed in woven baskets.
Apart from experiencing shopping while floating on the water, tourists also have the option to hop onto the rowboats of the traders for free and experience canoeing along with them.
“It is cool. I did not know about the floating market here in Banjarmasin. It is different from the one in Thailand; it is unique,” a Malaysian tourist, Datuk Zakaria Wahab, said.
Some traders sold their goods using rhymes to entertain passengers and lure them into buying their wares. It worked with Wahab and his friend.
While he bought some fruits and sarongs, his Malaysian friend, Sabarudin Sabri, grabbed a cup of coffee and traditional cakes.
Life on the river
The Lok Baintan floating market depicts the daily river-based life of Banjarmasin, a city nicknamed the thousand-river city.
There are two floating markets in Banjarmasin. Another floating market is situated in the Kuin River in Banjarmasin City. However, this market has almost been abandoned by traders as they prefer to sell their goods on land.
The floating market in Banjarmasin has been in existence since the 14th century, and was developed further during the Banjar Sultanate in the early 16th century.
In the past, the river was the artery of transportation in Banjarmasin. Situated at the meeting point of the Martapura watercourses, the floating market allowed people to barter their daily requirements such as vegetables, eggs, rice, and many other goods.
But the barter system was already abandoned as people nowadays need money.
“We need cash to pay our electricity bills, and our kids need to go to school,” a trader, Rubiah, who sells traditional cakes and coffee in the market, said.
And this cash from the vendors was collected using the tip of the paddle in the past, a practice, which Rubiah said, has now been abandoned.
In a bid to preserve the iconic floating market experience, the government of Banjarmasin has established another floating market at Siring in the city center of Banjarmasin.
Here, traders will tie their canoes at the dock and buyers do not have to board a boat to reach them and buy the goods.
The trading will simply be conducted at the dock with the traders sitting on the canoe. This market will only open on Saturdays and Sunday mornings.
Another floating market has also opened in Kuin Alalak since January 2020 to revive the original Muara Kuin floating market.