The land of the Minangkabau, West Sumatra has a distinct culture which distinguishes it from the rest of the island. A land of scenic beauty with blue green lakes and mountains, West Sumatra's Centre of culture and tourism is Bukittinggi in the highlands, north of the provincial capital of Padang.
Most prominent in the landscape is the horn-shaped roofs of the houses nestled in the coconut groves.
The name Minangkabau means triumphant buffalo. It leads a community and family life based on a matrilineal system which clusters around mosques and the traditional adat houses. As it is the women who own the properties, the men are known for their wanderlust and entrepreneurship. Traveling is considered a mark of success and therefore many of them are found "merantau" (emigrated) to other parts of the country. Proof of this is the many Minang or Padang restaurants, serving very spicy food, found in all major towns in the nation. The people are hospitable and eloquent in a poetic style of speech and ceremonies. Festivals are colorful occasions.
West Sumatra has a coast line where the capital is situated. The hinterland is a range of high mountains which dip into picturesque valleys and lakes. Amongst them are the remnants of the old Minangkabau kingdom of Pagaruyung, (the art centers for silver, hand-weaving, embroidery and woodcarving).
Padang's Tabing Airport is the main gateway to West Sumatra. Garuda Indonesia has three daily flights to Jakarta, one daily flight to Palembang and Medan. Three flights weekly to Pekanbaru, three direct flights to Singapore and two flights to Batam.
Merpati Nusantara Airlines has daily flight to Jakarta and one flight every Tuesday to Pekanbaru and Rokot (Mentawai Islands). Mandala Airlines has dally flight to Jakarta. There is a fortnightly ship service to Jakarta by MV. Kerinci from Teluk Bayur harbor.
The voyage takes some 30 hours. There are also some small vessels from Muara harbor to some small towns along the west coast of Sumatra.
There are regular bus services between Padang and Bukittinggi and other major cities of Sumatra, and via the trans-Sumatera Highway to Jakarta, and onward to Denpasar.
The capital of West Sumatera, Padang has several houses built in traditional architecture, including the Padang Museum which houses objects of cultural and historical interest.
Its beach on the bay of Bungus with its white sands is good for swimming, boating or just watching the fishing boats going out to sea in the afternoon. Small boats can be hired from here to some small islands nearby: Sirandah, Sikoai, Pagang, Parsumpahan.
The heart of the highlands, Bukittinggi is a two-hours drive through beautiful countryside of the Anai valley and up to the Agam Plateau. A center of attraction is the town's clock-tower, topped with a horn- shaped roof and referred to by the people as Jam Gadang. It overlooks the market square and the city's magnificent surroundings.
Located 930 meters above sea level, Bukittinggi, formerly named Fort De Cock by the Dutch, has a cool climate and is surrounded by three volcanoes: Tandikat, Singgalang and Merapi. In the outskirts of the town is the Ngarai Sianok, a canyon separating Bukittinggi from Kota Gadang, 12 km away overland.
Kota Gadang is renowned for its fine silver filigree and hand embroidery.
Also worth visiting is the Museum which is a Rumah Gadang, a traditional extended family house built in the 19th century. There are dance performances at the museum's open stage every Sunday and on public holidays. Night dance performances are at Sliguri. It is also worth seeing the bullfights at Padang Lawas (6 km south of Bukittinggi) every Tuesday at 5.00 p.m.
Taman Hutan Raya Bung Hatta
It is a botanical garden covering 70,000 ha, with a rare collection of flora and fauna, situated on the way to Solok, about 300 - 1,000 m above sea level.
The cool mountain air and panoramic views make this area a popular resort for both the young and old.
Monkeys and other animals can be seen here, and are protected by the Park Warden. Transportation to Taman Hutan Raya Bung Hatta is easy.
The village of Pandai Sikat is 10 km from Bukittinggi with its hand weaving and carving industry. The village has 1000 looms and turns out richly interwoven cloth. Carved wooden ornaments and furniture are also made here.
A winding road with 44 sharp turns descends to Lake Maninjau, 36 km from Bukittinggi. A crater lake, it abounds with fish. There are also facilities for swimming and water skiing. The village of Matur, overlooking lakes, arranges dance performances on request.
Another ideal place for recreation and water sport is Singkarak Lake, 36 km from Bukittinggi. There are several motels and restaurants in the area.
A picturesque village and market place. Fine basketry is available here. It is 35 km from Bukittinggi and a little further up is the most dramatic view on the Harau Valley.
Along the road to Harau Valley is a lovely countryside. Steep granite walls shelter the fertile valley. A waterfall, 150 meters high falls into a basin. The Harau Valley is a nature and wildlife reserve, where tapir, siamangs, boars, wild goats and tigers still roam. The Harau Valley is 15 km from Payakumbuh.
Rimba Panti Nature Reserve
Fauna and flora of the Rima Panti Nature Reserve are protected. It is situated 103 km from Bukittinggi. Stop at Batang Palupuh, 16 km from Bukittinggi.
There, in a small reserve is the Rafflesia Arnoldi, the biggest flower in existence, which blooms only once a year. Sixty km from Bukittinggi on this road is a small monument defining the equator at the village of Bonjol.
The reserve's inhabitants include several species of monkeys, honey bears, tigers, flying squirrels, birds, butterflies, etc. A guide can be obtained from the office at the reserve. The provincial office of the Directorate of Nature Conservation (BKSAA) at Padang can give you complete information.
Pantai Arta and Kata
Both these places are popular beach resorts for the local people. Arta beach is located about 23 km from the center of Pariaman. It is known for its beautiful pine trees along the sea shore. The sandy beaches, clean water and bright sunshine are perfect for swimming and sunbathing. The pine trees can protect you from the direct sun rays. Kata beach is about 2 km south of Pariaman.
Four islands make up the Mentawai cluster off the West Sumatra coast: Siberut, Sipora, Pagai Utara and Pagai Selatan. The people of these islands still live in comparative isolation, maintaining their age-old ways. Siberut is well known for its untouched forests, a part of a nature reserve inhabited by a number of animal species not found anywhere else, among them some rare monkey species. Beautiful coral reefs are found offshore.
The surroundings of the Anai Valley are magnificent. The dense tropical forest all around is most impressive and is a nature reserve.
Below runs the river Anai with its crystal clear water. Just on the side of the road is a 40 m high waterfall.
Ngalau Indah Caves
On the road from Bukittinggi to Payakumbuh these caves extend deep into the mountainside. The domain of thousands of bats which you won't see but only hear and sense as they fly close over your head.
At the main entrance is a stone with an outline of an elephant visible on its face. The coolness and damp air is refreshing after the tropical heat outside. The path through these caves leads out to the top of the mountain from where it is quite panoramic. The drive up to the hillside is itself worth making because of the variety of the exquisite views along way.
An old small town, 50 km southeast of Bukit-tinggi, it is a centre of the ancient Minangkabau culture. Pagaruyung is the historical site of a Minangkabau kingdom in the 14th century. Nearby is where some archaeological vestiges, such as the Written Stone, the Stabbed Stone and some other relics can be found.
It is said that this little village came into being at the time of the big deluge. It is situated on the slopes of Mt. Merapi, thought to be the cradle of the Minangkabau culture. This historical village still reflects the pure social structure of the Minangkabau conception of a village. A mosque, a council house and traditional house with rice-barns form the nucleus of the village.
The conservatory of Padangpanjang is a national institute specializing in the Minangkabau music and dances.
Solok, Diatas and Dibawah Lakes
Solok lies on the Trans-Sumatra Highway, 64 km from Padang and 76 km from Bukittinggi. The town has some fine examples of Minangkabau architecture with horn-shaped roofs and outer walls of wood, completely carved and painted in brilliant colors. Sixty km from Solok are the Twin Lakes (Danau Diatas and Danau Dibawah) which are becoming popular as a holiday resort.
Cool mountain air and beautiful landscapes seen from the hill between the two lakes have made this spot extraordinary.
Set only about 1 km apart, one of the lakes is on a slightly higher elevation than the other.
The spot offers an impressive panorama of the surrounding countryside and offers itself excellently to hiking or camping.
Hand-woven silk sarongs, embroidered garments and house-linen, richly woven cloth, gold and silver threads jewelry, wood carving, ornaments of coconut shell and seashells. There are also traditional copper-ware and miniature models of Minangkabau houses.
West Sumatra has several small comfortable hotels, though none of the deluxe class. Three and two- star hotels all have air-conditioning in Padang, with attached bathrooms, telephones and TV sets. A few are such as Muara, Pangeran, Marianis International and Machudum. In Bukittinggi, Benteng and Minang hotels have a homely atmosphere and Denai Hotel has cottages.