West Sumatera is the homeland of the Minangkabau and its Adat Perpatih and Adat Temenggung. Its cultural heritage transcends many parts of Nusantara (Malay Archipelago), stretching from the island of Java in Indonesia to neighbouring countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei through its distinctive lifestyle, accents and savoury dishes. Even at the far southern Indonesian provinces like East Nusa Tenggara, the influences of West Sumatera are evident such as the Manggarai houses in Flores and the dialects spoken in Sumba and Sumbawa. Padang-themed restaurants can be found in almost in all provinces and islands across Indonesia.
West Sumatera is a land blessed with natural wonders ranging from its mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, as well as islands and beaches. Its compelling natural landscapes are preserved through time and remain steadfast despite the strong wave of modernisation.
The rich culture and enduring landscapes of West Sumatera inspired literature works throughout the ages, even before the independence of Indonesia. Hamka – an Indonesian ulama (Islamic scholar), novelist, philosopher and political activist – is renowned for his masterpieces Tenggelamnya Kapal van der Wijck (The Sinking of Van Der Wijck) and Di Bawah Lindungan Ka’bah (Under the Protection of Ka’bah) both used West Sumatra as its background, physically and culturally.
West Sumatera is also the homeland of Rumah Gadang, the unique Minangkabau houses characterised mainly by its buffalo hornlike roof structure, believed to help the building withstand earthquakes and strong winds. The traditional principle of Minangkabau architecture prevails until today and remains strong.
Situated in the Minangkabau Highlands and about three-hour drive from Minangkabau International Airport; Bukittinggi is located about 900 metres above sea level and receives rainfall almost every day, making the climate cooler compared to the other parts of West Sumatera. The drive to Bukittinggi via Padangpanjang passes by majestic mountains like Mount Singgalang and Mount Marapi. Not to be confused with the one on Java island, Mount Marapi in West Sumatera is an active volcano that is still very much unknown to many tourists.
The highlight of any trip to Bukittinggi is the visit to Panorama Park, where travellers can witness the beauty of Sianok Canyon and to experience walking into the historical and intriguing Japanese Caves. Alternatively, Sianok Canyon can also be accessed by walking down along the Janjang Saribu (One Thousand Steps) at The Great Wall of Koto Gadang.
Other than that, travellers can visit the historical Fort de Kock, The House of Bung Hatta, The Palace of Bung Hatta, Jam Gadang, Bukittinggi Zoo and the famous Limpapeh Bridge that connects Fort de Kock and Bukittinggi Zoo. Bukittinggi is also famous for tapioca chips and crackers. A visit to Sanjai Ummi Aufa Hakim, which is one of the shops that produces a great number of flavoured chips and crackers, offering travellers the chance to learn and see how tapioca chips are produced, turning the visit into something educational.
Another item that travellers should not miss when being in Bukittinggi is nasi kapau, which is the fattier and spicier version of a Minangkabau meal. The rice can be accompanied by succulent dishes like dendeng balado (thinly sliced dried, fried and spiced meat), dendeng batokok (thinly sliced crispy meat), beef or chicken rendang, gulai tunjang (cattle feet tendons cooked in rich, spicy, coconut milk gravy), gulai tambusu (cattle intestines cooked in rich, spicy, coconut milk gravy), gulai banak (bovine brains cooked in rich, spicy, coconut milk gravy), or ikan batalua (gestating Java barb fish cooked in coconut milk gravy). However, the main dish that should come together with nasi kapau is gulai kapau (the mixture of coconut gravy from various dishes).
Batusangkar is known for the Great Palace of Pagaruyung, once served as the residence of past rulers of ancient Pagaruyung kingdom. The architecture of the palace sports traditional Minangkabau Rumah Gadang vernacular, but incorporates a number of uncommon elements such as the creation of the structure to be three storeys high and larger halls compared to the typical rumah gadang. Although the kingdom of Pagaruyung no longer exists and there is no more royal family residing the palace, this palace serves as an important homage to the great kingdom that once ruled West Sumatera until the time when every member of the royal family were murdered during Padri War in 1815. Today, the palace is preserved as a reminder and has now become one of the most important tourism attractions in West Sumatra that tells the story of the perished kingdom.
About two kilometres away from the Palace is Silinduang Bulan Palace, a smaller palace that stores antiques, old furniture, artefacts and heirlooms of Pagaruyung kingdom. Although smaller, it is worth visiting for travellers to admire the intricate artistic detailing of the palace.
Rumah Makan Sawah Laman is situated not far from Silinduang Bulan Palace, along the road back to Padang as it crosses through vast paddy fields. Other than its great hospitality, this restaurant offers full Minangkabau experiences from the way the Minang people invite their guests to the house for meals, to the pantun (poetry recitation) and seloka (humour) before savouring the meal. This is the place where travellers can experience dining like a true Minang: using hands while sitting on the floorboard covered with mengkuang (woven screwpine leaf) mats. This restaurant also serves up interesting local delicacy, lemang tapai (sticky rice taken with cold fermented black rice).
At the foot of Mount Marapi in Batusangkar lies one of the oldest Minangkabau settlements, considered as one of world’s 15 most beautiful villages. Quaint and charming, this old village named Pariangan located between in a valley between mountains is where Minangkabau culture began. A river of hot spring water from under the volcanic mountain flows through the village. Amongst the new brick-and-zinc houses inside the village are several archaeological sites, a beautiful old mosque and a number of rumah gadang in their original form. From the peak of Puncak Kawa – where the heritage trail begins – the view is picturesque and unforgettable.
Before leaving Batusangkar, travellers should not miss the opportunity to enjoy Kawa Daun, a traditional drink produced from coffee leaves, and Kiniko Café was recommended to us due to its classic setting and picture perfect surroundings. The beverage is made from dried coffee leaves boiled in hot water and poured into sections of bamboo and taken with a cup made of dried coconut shell. Famous in Tabek Patah area, Kiniko Café has now expanded into food and other types of beverages.
Padangpanjang is a small town between Bukittinggi and Padang. Most parts of this small town are on an elevation of almost 800 metres above sea level. Dubbed as the Verandah of Mecca in West Sumatra, Padangpanjang has been known as a hub for Islamic education and missionary. In the days of old, children were sent to Padangpanjang to learn and equip themselves with knowledge of both Islam and civic studies. Today, Padangpanjang has the largest number of schools, universities and information centres.
Padangpanjang is also home to the Minangkabau Culture Documentation and Information Centre (formerly Museum Bustanil Arifin) founded by Bustanil Arifin, where travellers can learn more about the Minangkabau people through documents, photographs, books, custom dresses, artefacts belonging to the ancient kingdom of Pagaruyung, Minangkabau ancient texts, replicas of traditional musical instruments and interior architecture of Minangkabau houses. The main building of this centre pays homage to the splendid and grandiose Minangkabau style.
When in Padangpanjang, we recommend Rumah Makan & Restoran Pak Datuk Cadang Dumai to savour delicious Padang dishes. Besides, travellers who are taken in by Minangkabau literature and poetry should visit Taufik Ismail Poetry House. Travellers can check out Aie Angek Cottage if they wish to stay here.
Also located in Padangpanjang is Pandai Sikek Village, renowned for the production of the exquisite West Sumatran hand-woven local fabric using gold and silver threads called songket. Traditionally, Pandai Sikek is one of the seven villages in West Sumatra where weaving skills have been handed down for generations; the other villages are Pitalah and Sungayang (Tanah Datar), Silungkang (Sawahlunto), Kotagadang (Agam), Koto Nan Ampek, and Kubang (Limapuluh Kota). However these days, only Silungkang, Kubang and Pandai Sikek still retain this craft. Pandai Sikek is ahead of those three villages in continuing the tradition by spreading the skills to the larger community. As a result, the craftmanship from Pandai Sikek are finer and more diversified yet authentic, similar to those created centuries ago. There are many galleries and houses that display and sell songket but we recommend for travellers to head to Satu Karya Gallery.
Along the road in Padangpanjang, whether you are travelling from Bukittinggi or Padang, you are bound to stumble upon Anai Valley Waterfall. Travellers should make a rest stop here to refresh and enjoy the tall waterfall during long journey between the two cities.
Only about two hours away off-coast Padang, travellers can find a group of islands resembling the mini version of Raja Ampat, also known as the Raja Ampat of the West. A group comprising nine islands in total called Mandeh Islands is an archipelago nestled in the Carocok Tarusan Bay, south west of West Sumatra province overlooking the Indian Ocean. This archipelago is not yet famous among local tourists but now quickly become an off-the-beaten-path destination among foreign travellers due to its tranquillity and peaceful ambience.
When I say peaceful, it does not mean lacking in activities. All of the islands, some uninhabited, offer many attractions for both solo travellers and family outings. One of the islands that offer fun-filled beach experience is Setan (Sutan) Island that is blessed with white sandy beach with hints of pink sand, making it suitable for family picnic, strolling, beach bumming and leisure swimming. Other activities include snorkelling, fishing, banana boat- and speedboat-riding.
Across the Mandeh Islands is Sironjong Gadang island that has clear water with rocky beaches that is perfect for snorkelling. Next to it is a smaller one called Sironjong Ketek, famous for cliff jumping. There are two platforms of different heights for cliff jumping here: 5 metres and 15 metres respectively.
Travellers can then rinse off the salt water at Gemuruh River in Kapo-kapo Island. The journey to Gemuruh River is enthralling because travellers will cruise along the green and healthy mangrove forest that seems like a great fortress protecting to what lies within Kapo-Kapo Island rainforest. the mangrove river that leads to the waterfall seems like a pathway to an enchantingly magical land with such breathtaking view.
In Padang city centre, travellers should check out the newly developed Masjid Raya Sumatera Barat (Grand Mosque of West Sumatra), the largest mosque in West Sumatra, and the second largest mosque in Sumatra. The most distinctive feature of the mosque is the form of its highly pointed four-corner roof and structure, which is a contemporary interpretation of rumah gadang.
According to minangtourism.com, the whole architecture of the mosque, designed by local architect Rizal Muslimin, is inspired by three elements: the spring waters, the crescent moon, and Minangkabau’s rumah gadang. Its design symbolises the integration of Islamic values into Padang’s authentic lifestyle. The frame of the roof is constructed using steel pipes, supported by four curving concrete columns. The design of the mosque does not compromise safety and takes into account the mosque’s geographical location of West Sumatera, hence able to withstand earthquakes.
In Padang, we recommend Rumah Makan Lamun Ombak for travellers to savour great Padang dishes.
Gaya Travel Magazine team expresses our heartfelt gratitude to the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Malaysia and the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia for making the writer’s trip to West Sumatra possible. For more information about West Sumatra, please browse www.indonesia.travel.