WHILE it is a lesser-known tourist destination, West Sumatra is an exciting place to visit and offers plenty to do and see — from whitewater rafting and historical buildings, to its very own Grand Canyon.
After an hour-long flight to Padang, the capital of West Sumatra, and a three-hour drive, I arrived at Bukittinggi (which means “high hill” in Indonesian), a city of over 117,000 people that is known for its beautiful landscapes.
My companions and I wasted no time and embarked on our weekend of non-stop fun and adventure. Here are five things to do in and around the city:
1. Go whitewater rafting
Rafting was the first activity we wanted to cross off our bucket list. We slipped into appropriate attire and set off for the start point along Sungei Batang Anai, a 15-minute drive from our guest house in Bukittinggi.
Our thrilling journey down the foamy rapids began with a steep plunge, leaving us drenched almost immediately.
We paid close attention to our guide’s cues — paddling forward when he shouted “Maju”(“forward” in Indonesian) and crouching low when he yelled “duck” to avoid hanging branches.
The speed of the current, the boulders that sometimes caused the raft to spin 360 degrees and the sustained yelling made it a worthwhile and exhilarating experience.
From the river, we saw villagers — some barely old enough to be left unsupervised — engaging in their daily morning routine of bathing along the banks.
We made it to the end point, about 2km away, in 45 minutes. Waiting for us were fresh coconuts. Back at our guest house, nasi padang dishes were spread across the carpeted floor prepared by the family that runs it. What a welcome!
Info: Lubuk Alung Adventure (www.lubukalungadventure.com/)
2. See the ‘most beautiful village in the world’
As we sat outside a nondescript provision shop at the town of Pariangan Nagari Literisasi in Bukittinggi, we drank in the sight of picturesque rice terraces and observed field workers in knee deep waters.
Despite being engaged in backbreaking work, they smiled for our cameras and even proffered a peace sign, eager to be the subject of our photos.
The improvised billboard behind us proclaimed this as “the most beautiful village in the world”.
Beautiful as the village was, the claim was a long shot.
Nevertheless, the proclamation — albeit unofficial — reflected the pride of the villagers in their home town.
Be sure to try the crispy banana snack sprinkled with cheese and chocolate shavings, sold by the provision shop overlooking the rice terraces.
A combination of sweet and savoury flavours, it is sure to delight your taste buds.
3. Discover the history of the Minangkabau people
The Istana Pagaruyung Palace in Batusangkar town, about an hour’s drive from Bukittinggi, is an architectural marvel.
Boasting a traditional Minangkabau Rumah Gadang architectural style, it has a dramatic curved roof structure with multi-tiered, upswept gables.
Get a tour guide, as we did, so you can learn about the palace’s history and its significance in local culture.
We learnt about the indigenous Minangkabau people, who have lived in West Sumatra since the 16th century. Interestingly, they have the largest matrilineal society in the world — with clan titles, inheritance and property passed from mother to daughter.
The original palace was built in the 17th century with timber masonry instead of concrete, and designed to withstand the impact of earthquakes, which are common in West Sumatra.
Ironically, this made it susceptible to lightning and fire. Indeed, the palace has been destroyed several times — in 1804, 1966 and 2007.
In 2007, a replica of the original palace was built using modern concrete structures. In a bid to ward off the curse believed to have plagued the palace — which caused it to be reconstructed multiple times — it now stands 40m south of its original location.
Today, it is a Minangkabau cultural centre, displaying the 15 per cent of Minang artefacts that were salvaged from the fires.
Fun fact: Singapore’s first president Yusof Ishak and the composer of the national anthem, Zubir Said, were both Minangkabaus.
4. Visit the ‘Grand Canyon of West Sumatra’
On our third day, we arrived at Ngarai Sianok, on the outskirts of Bukittingi, in time to witness the rays of the morning sun filtering through the shroud of mist, gradually revealing the “Grand Canyon of West Sumatra” — a valley of steep, vertical walls with a river meandering through the verdant vegetation below.
After admiring the breathtaking scenery, we followed the signs at the park for the Japanese bunkers.
Built during World War ll, this network of tunnels offers a glimpse into Indonesia’s eerie past. Then, thousands of Indonesians were enslaved by the Japanese, made to exacavate the tunnels with little food and rest until they died from exhaustion.
We made our way carefully through the dimly lit caves, its walls now reinforced with concrete and widened to accommodate tourists, as well as cavities that were once armouries, bunkers and prison cells.
A word of caution: Monkeys greet you at every turn at Ngarai Sianok. While they are relatively harmless, secure your belongings and do not hold any food.
5. Explore Harau Valley
Located 50km from Bukittinggi, the rock walls at this valley tower over the small huts at its base.
Grimy, dark streaks run down the side of the cliffs — where waterfalls form when there is heavy rain.
Small commercial activities have sprung up with the gradual influx of tourists. The villagers have opened stores selling souvenirs and plants, and offer activities such as ziplining and treetop walk.
Opt for a homestay to experience rural life as you trek through paddy fields, take a refreshing dip in waterfalls and get lulled to sleep by the sound of croaking frogs.
Those who are keen to wander off the beaten track will discover that West Sumatra is well worth the trip.
During my stay, some locals whipped out their phones to take pictures of our tour group, and others coyly asked if they could take photos with us.
Unused as many seemed to be to seeing tourists, the people went out of their way to provide us with an enjoyable experience, prodding us to return with, hopefully, friends in tow.
The writer’s trip was sponsored by AirAsia.
On Feb 9, AirAsia launched its daily direct flight from Singapore to Padang. Bukittinggi is a three-hour drive north of Padang.
■ When in Bukittinggi, stay at:
1. Aie Angek Cottage (Jalan Raya Padang Panjang — Bukit Tinggi Km 6, Nagari Aie Angek): This hotel sits on the slope between Mount Singgalang and Mount Merapi, offering breathtaking sunrises and chilly weather all day.
2. Novotel Bukittinggi (Jalan Laras Datuk Bandaro, Bukit Cangang Kayu Ramang, Guguk Panjang, Bukittinggi City): This hotel is perfect for those who want to stay at the heart of the city, just a few minutes away from attractions like Ngarai Sianok and Jam Gadang.
■ Have some Indonesian rupiah (S$1 = 10,400 rupiah) on hand before travelling to Padang, as it is di cult to locate money changers in Bukittinggi.
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