West Sumatra is very wild and very rugged. Much of it resembles a nature reserve. There are high mountains, jungle-coverd volcanos. rain forests and lakes in the hinterlands and coconut groves and houses with horn-shaped roofs in the populated areas. West Sumatra is dominated by the Padang Highlands, which contains some peaks over 3,000 meters and several active volcanos. Mountain lakes provide irrigation water for wet rice farming in the flat areas of the highlands. West Sumatra is the traditional homeland of the Minangkaban. They make of 95 percent of the province’s population

Much of its highland is formed by the Bukit Barisan Mountain range; virgin jungles inhabited by elephants, tigers, leopards and rhinos. The Minang people enjoy spicy-hot dishes and follow ancient matriarchal customs. The women own property and the men leave home to seek their fame and fortune. Traveling is considered a mark of success, Padang restaurants are found in all major towns across the nation. The people are hospitable and eloquent. They primarily speak Bahasa Minang, with poetic style of speech.

West Sumatra days are filled with colorful ceremonies and festivals. According to one legend the Minangkabau are descendants of King Maharjo Dirajo, said to be the youngest son of Alexander the Great. During the early 19th century, the area was disrupted by wars between the followers of the traditional Islam or Padris, and those adhering to the traditional law (adat) of the Minangkabau.

West Sumatran dishes tend to be spicy. Specialties include dendeng (a kind of beef jerky made with coconut water), kampiun porridge and black sticky rice Fresh fruit, especially marquisa or passion fruit are abundant, affordable, and very are sweet. Bilih fish from Lake Singkarak have a unique and delicious taste. It is served in variety of ways including fried, flavored with chili, or boiled. Beef Rendang is cubed beef has been marinated and cooked in many kinds of ingredients, resulting in the soft unforgettable meat dish which tastes heavenly eaten with steaming hot rice. Rendang balado is the same dish made with dried beef. Another spicy favorite dessert is the Pisang kapik, or the barbequed banana, that comes in sweet, sour or salty tastes added with ground coconut meat and brown sugar. Other tidbits to take home or munch on the road are the many kinds of crackers made of casssava, potatoes or sweet potatoes, covered in cheese or chilli sauce.

Getting There : Padang's Tabing Airport is the main gateway to West Sumatra and is serviced by Merpati Nusantara Airlines. PELNI's ship "Kerinci" sails every two weeks for Jakarta from Teluk Bayur Harbour. Smaller vessels from Muara Harbour sail to small towns along the entire west coast of Sumtra. Regular bus services run between Padang, Bukittinggi and other major cities of Sumatra, as well as via the trans-Sumatra Highway to Jakarta. Tourism Office West Sumatra : Jl. Khatib Sulaiman 7 Padang, Phone. (62-751) 7055711, 446282, Fax. 7055183, Mentawai Island : Jl. Raya Tuapejat kilometers 4, Phone. (62-759) 320042. minangkabautourism.info


The Minangkabau live in West Sumatra. Also known as the Menangkabau or the Minang for short, they are a Muslim people and regarded as culturally similar to their neighbors, the Malays, except that they mark descent through the female line and are really into water buffalo. They are also known as being hospitable and clever, and celebrate colorful festivals. Minangkabau means “water buffalo victory.” [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993) ~]

The Minangkabau are the largest matrilineal culture in the world and the fourth largest ethnic group in Indonesia. Tribe, clan (or suku) titles, properties and names are all handed down through the female line. The grandmother is the ultimate matriarch and a power figure. Although the Minangkabau are Muslim, their customs are unique and unusual in a state with a predominantly Muslim culture. Most such matriarchal customs are justified by tradition, although they are sometimes supported by examples from the sira of the Prophet Muhammad, especially stories revolving around the centrality of Muhammad's first employer and subsequent wife, Khadija. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Minangkabau make up 2.7 percent of the population of Indonesia. They are the predominate group in West Sumatra, which has traditionally had the highest education and literacy rates in Indonesia, in part because of the Minangkabau’s strong family support system and emphasis on education. The Minangkabau have produced many prominent Indonesian figures in politics, literature and religious leadership. There are about 9 million Minangkabau, with about half of them in West Sumatra. They are well represented in Indonesian cities and several hundred thousand of them live in Malaysia. ~

The Minangkabau sometimes describe West Sumatra as the land of the V. The name V means triumphant buffalo. Their traditional homes are called V houses. The V name is said to have resulted from a fight between a Minangkabau bull and a massive Javanese bull. Realizing his people could never find a bull as large as the Javanese, one clever Minangkabau fielded a baby bull with V-shaped knives attached to its horns. When the fight started the baby bull perceived its opponent as its mother and rushed to suckle the Javanese bull, in the process ripping out the bull’s belly. ~

The Minangkabau predominate in the coastal areas of Sumatera Utara Province, Sumatera Barat Province, the interior of Riau Province, and northern Bengkulu Province. Like the Batak, they have large corporate descent groups, but unlike the Batak, the Minangkabau traditionally reckon descent matrilineally. Minangkabau were prominent among the intellectual figures in the Indonesian independence movement. Not only were they strongly Islamic, they spoke a language closely related to Bahasa Indonesia, which was considerably freer of hierarchical connotations than Javanese. Partly because of their tradition of merantau, Minangkabau developed a cosmopolitan bourgeoisie that readily adopted and promoted the ideas of an emerging nation- state. [Source: Library of Congress]

Minangkabau History

The Minangkabau have a strong cultural link to the Malays and are believed to have arrived in Sumatra from the Malaysian peninsula around1000 B.C.. In the Minangkabau creation myth the first two people were two Malays who emerged from the volcanic peak Marapi. The ancestors of one followed a paternal line of descent and they became Malays. The ancestors of the other followed a maternal line of descent and became Minangkabau. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993) ~]

The Minangkabau have traditionally been a coastal people, who dominated trade on the west coast of Sumatra along with the Acehnese and Batak. The Malays dominated trade in the Malacca Straits on the eastern side of Sumatra. Minangkabau culture was influenced by a series of 5th to 15th century Malay and Javanese kingdoms (the Melayu, Sri Vijaya, Majapahit and Malacca). ~

Minangkabau culture reached its zenith in the 15th century under the Pagarruyong-based Minangkabau king. According to legend, the first king was a descendant of Alexander the Great but historical evidence seems to suggests that he was a Javanese prince or aristocrat that arrived in the area in 15th century. ~

Islam arrived in the form of cults on the coast in the mid 16th century, mostly from the Acehnese, but did not really take hold in the interior until later. The Paderi Wars in the early 19th century began as conflict between traditionalists and Wahabi-influenced Islamic fundamentalists and expanded into an anti — Dutch war, which in turn lead to the emplacement of stronger colonial administration in the area and the development of coffee plantations in the highlands. ~

The Minangkabau were involved in a brief rebellion in the 1950s over the unfair distribution of wealth and development under the Sukarno government. The event left them traumatized and generally they have gone out of their way to avoid conflict with the government. ~

Minangkabau Matriarchal Society

The Minangkabau represent one of the last remaining matrilineal societies in the world. Property is inherited down the female line and women pick their marriage partners and do the proposing. The only thing that a man can ask of his wife is that she remain faithful to him. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993) ~]

Because women own all the property, men travel the far corners of Indonesia and try to make their fortunes. The Minangkabau are sometimes called the Gypsies of Indonesia. Men are known for their wanderlust. Traveling is considered a mark of success. The Minangkabau are known throughout Southeast Asia as active traders and are among the most economically successful groups in Indonesia. Many Minangkabau villages in West Sumatra are dominated by women and the elderly while those in their communities elsewhere in Indonesia are dominated by young men and men in general. ~

A young boy has his primary responsibility to his mother’s and sisters’ clans. It is considered “customary” and ideal for married sisters to remain in their parental home, with their husbands having a sort of visiting status. Not everyone lives up to this ideal, however. In the 1990s, anthropologist Evelyn Blackwood studied a relatively conservative village in Sumatera Barat where only about 22 percent of the households were “matrihouses,” consisting of a mother and a married daughter or daughters. Nonetheless, there is a shared ideal among Minangkabau in which sisters and unmarried lineage members try to live close to one another or even in the same house. [Library of Congress]

The Minangkabau are organized in accordance with a unique administrative system called nagari that was established along village lines and follows a set of traditional customs and rules ( adat bsandi syarak, syarak bsandi Kitabullah) that are in turn are based on the Koran and Islamic law. Each nagari has a mayor elected by the village council and an approved government-pointed official for a year. In recent years there has been a movement to strengthen the nagari system, and make it more independent from Jakarta. ~


Padang (21 hours by bus from Medan, at the western extreme of Sumatra) is the capital of West Sumatra and is home to around 830,000 people. It sprawls over a large area and is hot and hunid and often rainy. Padang means “flat.” Padang is home to an old town and a university. Worth seeing are the Padang museum and Bungus Bay which has a beach where one can watch the fishing boats pass by. Small boats can be hired at Bungas Bay to visit the smaller islands offshore. There are dozens of food stalls in Taman Ria Pantai Padang at the southern end of Jl. Samudera.

Padang is the gateway to the Minang highlands. With the largest port on Sumatra’s West Coast, this is a merchant town attracting ships trading in goods such as rubber, cinnamon, coffee, tee, cement and coal. If you take a stroll down to the old colonial waterfront you’ll see century old warehouses stocked with fragrant cinnamon and other spices waiting to be shipped to Jakarta and Singapore. The Batang Arau River flows through the city and it is quite a sight to see the collection of small boats and hand paddled ferries that line the riverside. You can do some scuba diving activities in the Padang area.

While you in Padang Take a pleasant walk around the older parts of Padang like Kampung Cina (China town) where turn-of the-century houses line the streets. Around here you’ll see a collection of Chinese herbalists doing business as well as coffee shops that can provide a refreshing cool drink to escape the heat of the day. The Provinicial Museum in downtown Padang is home to a collection of prehistoric artifacts, stamps, imported ceramics, modern art and displays about the Minang and Mentawai culture.

Padang is a major link between Sumatra and the rest of Indonesia. Many travelers finish their trip in Sumatra here and either fly home or on to Java. Flights can be taken to destinations all over the country and there is a fortnightly passenger ship to Jakarta which takes 30 hours. There is plenty of great scenery south of Padang. On the way to Bukittinggo there are lovely Minangkabau villages with traditional houses set among terraced rice fields.

Hotels, Restaurants and Transport in Padang

There is a range of accommodation options in Padang from budget losmen to delux ehotels. The Buminang Hotel is a four star establishment, fully equipped with karaoke rooms. The Inna Muara Hotel is a mid range centrally located hotel with rooms with air conditioning.

Most attractions in Padang are within walking distance but if you need a break, there are metered taxis available. The city is also serviced by mini buses and buses. For A slower, more romantic option try a bendi — a horse drawn cart.

Padang is half-way up Sumatra’s west coast and is served by a good network of land, air and sea routes. Padang’s new airport is the Bandara Internasional Minangkabau (off Jl Adinegoro), 20 kilometers north of the center of town. Domestic flights go daily between Padang and Jakarta, Medan and Palembang. Airlines operating flights to Padang include Garuda, Air Asia and Lion Air. Padang’s Bengkuang bus terminal is located 12 kilometers from town.

If you like a little spice in your food then Padang is the place for you. Famous throughout Indonesia for its distinctive cuisine, Padang is the place to go to sample the famous spicy nasi padang food that has spread throughout the country and the world. Padang food includes such delicacies as the spicy coconut curry rendang and soto padang. Experience the unique way Padang food is served. Watch how waiters expertly carry more than ten plates with all kinds of delicacies on both arms. These dishes will then be spread out on the table for diners to pick and choose. You will be charged only for those dishes you have tasted.

Beaches Near Air Manis

Air Manis (15 kilometers from Padang city center) is Padang’s most popular beach. Located about one hours walk along the coast (or a quick trip in a minibus) from the edge of Padang, this beach is a favorite for locals and tourists because it has low waves and beautiful views of Mount Padang. Near the beach, there are restaurants selling grilled fish, Kapau rice and other snacks. There is also a small island called Pisang Kecil (literally means “small banana” ) on its right side. At low tide you can walk to this one hectare island through shallow water. During high tide you have to take a boat. On its right, there is another island called Pisang Besar (literally means “big banana” ). Local inhabitants on this island are mostly farmers and fishermen.

The legend of Air Manis says that once a young man named Malin Kundang went out to sea to become a rich merchant. When he returned home, his mother was so excited she dressed in her best clothes, made him a meal and went out to his ship to meet him. But Malin Kudang felt ashamed and pretended not to know her. His mother’s heart broke and as he sailed away she cursed him. As the ship he was on left, thunder and lightening broke out and the ship sank. Everyone aboard perished and were turned to stone. Aa coral outcropping at the beach is said to be their remains.

At Bungus, a small village about 25 kilometers south of Padang there is a pleasant swimming beach sheltered in a bay. From here you can hire an outrigger to visit the nearby coral islands which lie about an hour off shore. Bungus is situated in a sheltered bay. There are two good beaches: Carolina and Karang Tinta.

Raya Bung Hatta Botanical Gardens

Raya Bung Hatta Botanical Gardens (15 kilometers from Padang. on the road to Solok) is a botanical garden covering 70,000 hectares. Many kinds of flora and fauna are found here and it is a popular spot to see monkeys. It is located at about 300-1000 meters above sea level so it is cool.

Known in the past as the Setya Mulya Botanic Garden and Taman Hutan Raya Bung Hatta, this botanical garden is home to rare plants and exotic flowers and a variety of unique tropical plants and animal species endemic to Sumatra. Take a walk around here and you will see plants that you might not find anywhere else on earth.

The main attraction of the reserve is the giant flower, the Rafflesia Arnolldi, the biggest flower in the world. It is named after the Bencoolen and Bengkulu Lieutenant Governor of the British Administration, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, and the botanist Joseph Arnold who first discovered the flower on the Bukit Barisan mountain slope. This flower is a rare wonder. It takes up to 10 months to mature but only stays in bloom for about 15 days. When it’s in full bloom, it has a diameter of one meter. The plant has no roots, stems but consist of thread like growths on the vines that hosts it. These flowers normally bloom between July and September. The flower is famous not just for it’s enormous size, but for it’s putrid perfume.

Kerinci Selbat National Park

Kerinci Selbat National Park (south of Padang on the border of West Sumatra and Jambi Provinces) ) is one of the largest park in Indonesia. Covering 15,000 square kilometers, it contains some of the last remaining Sumatran tigers and rhinoceros and embraces 3805-meter-high Gunung Kerinci, an active volcano and the highest mountain in Indonesia, outside West Papua, as wells large tracts of highland and lowland rain forest. There have been a number of sightings here of a Big-Foot-like create called “orang pendok.”

Kerinci Seblat National Park (TNKS) is a natural conservation area Covering one and half million hectare, is located in four provinces: West Sumatra, Jambi, Bengkulu and South Sumatra. In West Sumatra, it covers some 260,000 hectares and is located in Pesisir Selatan and Solok districts. Types of flora protected in TNKS include Kantung Semar (Nephents Ampularia), orchids, and tropical trees among others. Types of fauna protected include Sumatran Tigers, bears, deer, various primates and birds among others. Types of endemic primates protected in TNKS include Simpai, Ungkou, Siamang (Symphanlangus Syndactylus), monkeys, and long tail monkeys among others. Types of birds protected include Rangkong, Tohtor and Kuau birds and eagles among others. Most of these fauna are endangered species.

Greg McCann told mongabay.com; “Something like 150 tigers still prowl the depths of that jungle, in addition to several species of gibbon and even the orang pendak (Sumatran yeti).” But like many rain forest parks “Kercini is under threat. Developers want to put several roads through the center of the park, a project that would open up previously inaccessible terrain to poachers and loggers. We live in a time when almost every natural place is under severe threat, and if you want to see some of last wild places, you had better run very, very fast. In fact, many of the wild places of Southeast Asia are already gone.” [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com, May 3, 2012]

Getting There: The easiest access to TNKS in West Sumatra is from Painan, Pesisir Selatan district, or Solok Selatan. From Minangkabau international airport, visitors must go to Padang first and continue their journey to Painan by rented car or arranged travel by an agent for about Rp 40,000 to Rp50,000. In Painan, visitors must first report at the Office of Lumpo Resort, which is located behind Painan bus station and the market, and bring along the Entry permit to a Conservation Area (SIMAKSI) from the Central Office of the Management of National Park II (PTN II) in Padang.

Trekking in Kerinci Selbat National Park

Kerinci Selbat National Park is very difficult to get to, has few facilities and restricts trekking to a few areas. Permits are needed. The main access point is Sungaipenuh, a town in Jambi Province. Hikes to the top of Gunung Kerinci can be arranged from the village of Kersik Tuaa, 43 kilometers from Sungaipenuh. Much of the top of the mountain is covered by lose scree. It generally takes two days to reach the crater and one day to get back. There is small greenish lake in the crater. The volcano last erupted in 1934.

Trekkers must be accompanied by rangers assigned to the resort station you check in at. If you like to stay overnight, visitors can also be accompanied by at least one local inhabitant assigned to carry tents and cooking tools.TNKS is a difficult area due to its nearly 90 degree slopes, mud and small rivers with stones. Near The Lumpo Resort is a waterfall called Air Terjun Lumpo which consists of three levels with the highest level of about 80 meters high. From Limau Gadang village border, it will take four to five hours to travel the seven kilometers to the waterfall. Bukit Bontak and Mount Kerinci are located in Solok Selatan. Besides trekking, this protected forest area can also be used for camping.

The main visitor center for the park is the Lumpo Resort. If you do not wish to stay overnight in the forest, TNKS provides inn facility for visitors. On the border between Limau Gadang village and the access point to TNKS, there are several local food stalls where you could enjoy coffee or tea and snacks. If you like to stay in the forest, please bring food supplies from the village, or better yet stock with stuff in a major town or city.

Before visiting TNKS, visitors must first obtain a SIMAKSI permit from the Central Office of the Management of National Park II (PTN II) at Khatib Sulaiman street no.46 Padang, Phone/Fax: 0751-447668. Lumpo Resort office is located right behind Painan market.

If you like to travel around TNKS off Lumpo Resort, it is best to save time by staying in the forest so that you can enjoy the beautiful nature, flora and fauna. It is necessary for visitors to bring extra clothes, supplies, tents, torchlights, salts for prevention against snakes, tobacco to avoid leech bites and anti-mosquito lotion. Despite the difficult environment, it is possible for you to visit Lumpo waterfall and return on the same day. You can come in the morning and return in late afternoon.

Tropical Rainforest Parks of Sumatra

Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra is UNESCO World Heritage Site According to UNESCO: “The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (TRHS), Indonesia comprises three widely separated National Parks; Gunung Leuser (GLNP), Kerinci Seblat (KSNP) and Bukit Barisan Selatan (BBSNP), and covers a total area of 2,595,124hectares, constituting one of the biggest conservation areas in Southeast Asia. The site is located on Bukit Barisan range and holds the greatest potential for long-term conservation of the diverse biota of Sumatra, including many endangered species. The protected area is home to an estimated 10,000 plant species, including 17 endemic genera; more than 200 mammal species; and some 580 bird species of which 465 are resident and 21 are endemic. Of the mammal species, 22 are Asian, not found elsewhere in the archipelago and 15 are confined to the Indonesian region, including the endemic Sumatran orang-utan. The site also provides biogeographic evidence of the evolution of the island. [Source: UNESCO]

“This serial World Heritage site comprises three widely separated nationally protected areas along the Bukit Barisan mountain range, which runs along the western side of the island of Sumatra. The sites are Gunung Leuser National Park in the northern provinces of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam and Sumatra Utara; Kerinci Sablat National Park in the south-central provinces of Sumatra Barat, Jambi, Sumatra Selatan and Benkulu; and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in the far southern provinces of Sumatra Selatan, Bengkulu and Lampung, partly bordering the south-west coast. The composite site, straddles the equator along the Bukit Barisan mountain range. This runs 1,650 kilometers down the western side of the island studded with active volcanoes. The eastern side of Sumatra is predominantly lowland and in the past has periodically been linked to the Asian mainland.

The TRHS includes the highest volcano in Indonesia, Gunung Kerinci (3,805 meters) along with many other physical features of exceptional natural beauty, including; Lake Gunung Tujuh the highest lake in Southeast Asia, numerous other volcanic and glacial high-altitude lakes, fumaroles, waterfalls, cave systems and steep rocky backdrops. Both Gunung Leuser National Park and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park contain frontages to the Indian Ocean, making the altitudinal range of the TRHS extend from the highest mountains on Sumatra to sea level. All three protected areas in the TRHS exhibit wide altitudinal zonation of vegetation, from lowland rainforest to montane forest, extending to sub-alpine low forest, scrub and shrub thickets and covering an astounding diversity of ecosystems.

“Gunung Leuser National Park in the north is 150 kilometers long, over 100 kilometers wide and is predominantly mountainous. It covers most of the West Barisan, West Alas and East Barisan ranges and is almost divided by the Alas valley graben. Kerinci Sablat National Park in the center extends 350 kilometers down the spine of the Bukit Barisan. Three-quarters of the park is steep. Its highest point is the magnificent Gunung Kerinci - at 3,805 meters, the highest peak in Sumatra and highest volcano in Indonesia. It is active. Nearby Gunung Tujuh is an outstandingly beautiful crater lake at 1,996 meters. Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park is also 350 kilometers long but only 45 kilometers wide on average. The northern two-thirds are mountainous, averaging 1,500 meters with a high point at Gunung Pulung of 1,964 meters.The southern half is lower; 90 kilometers of it is a peninsula and the park borders the sea for half its length. Dozens of rivers originate in the park and there are several lakes and hot springs.

“The Indonesian archipelago contains 10 percent of the world's flowering plants and Sumatra, the third largest island, is the location of the Sumatran Islands Lowland and Montane Forests Ecoregion and part of the WWF's Sundaland hotspot. Its forests are among the largest tropical rainforests in South-East Asia, comparable with those of Borneo and Papua New Guinea...The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra represent the most important blocks of forest on the island of Sumatra for the conservation of the biodiversity of both lowland and mountain forests. This once vast island of tropical rainforest, in the space of only 50 years, has been reduced to isolated remnants including those centered on the three components of the property. The Leuser Ecosystem, including the Gunung Leuser National Park, is by far the largest and most significant forest remnant remaining in Sumatra. All three parks would undoubtedly have been important climatic refuge for species over evolutionary time and have now become critically important refuge for future evolutionary processes.

Animals in Sumatran Rain Forest Parks

According to UNESCO: The biodiversity of the rain forest parks in Sumatra “is exceptional in terms of both species numbers and uniqueness. There are an estimated 10,000 species of plants, including 17 endemic genera. Animal diversity in TRHS is also impressive, with 201 mammal species and some 580 species of birds, of which 465 are resident and 21 are endemics. Of the mammal species, 22 are endemic to the Sundaland hotspot and 15 are confined to the Indonesian region, including the endemic Sumatran orang-utan. Key mammal species also include the Sumatran tiger, rhino, elephant and Malayan sun-bear. [Source: UNESCO]

“Sumatra has a high level of endemism, which is well represented in the nominated sites. It is evidence of the land bridge/barrier between the Sumatran biota and that of mainland Asia due to changes in sea level. Some of the animal distributions may also be evidence of the effect of the Mount Toba tuff eruptions 75,000 years ago. The Sumatran orangutan for example, is not found south of Lake Toba nor the Asian tapir north of it. The altitudinal range and connections between the diverse habitats in these areas must have facilitated the ongoing ecological and biological evolution. Key mammals of the parks are the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran rhino, orangutan, Sumatran elephant; also Malayan sun-bear and the endemics Sumatran grizzled langur, Hoogerwerf's rat. Rare birds noted in the site's nomination are Sumatran ground cuckoo, Rueck's blue flycatcher, Storm's stork and white-winged duck.

The species listed below represent a small sample of iconic and/or IUCN Red Listed animals and plants found in the property.
Asarcornis scutulata / White-winged Wood Duck
Carpococcyx viridis / Sumatran Ground-cuckoo
Chelonia mydas / Green Turtle
Ciconia stormi / Storm's Stork
Cynogale bennettii / Sunda Otter Civet
Cyornis ruckii / Rueck's Blue-flycatcher
Dicerhinos sumatrensis / Sumatran Rhinoceros
Elephas maximus sumatranus / Sumatran Elephant
Lutrogale perspicillata / Smooth-coated Otter
Macaca nemestrina / Southern Pig-tailed Macaque

All three parks that comprise the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra are areas of very diverse habitat and exceptional biodiversity. Collectively, the three sites include more than 50 percent of the total plant diversity of Sumatra. At least 92 local endemic species have been identified in Gunung Leuser National Park. The property contains populations of both the world’s largest flower (Rafflesia arnoldi) and the tallest flower (Amorphophallustitanium). The relict lowland forests in the sites are very important for conservation of the plant and animal biodiversity of the rapidly disappearing lowland forests of Southeast Asia. Similarly, the montane forests, although less threatened, are very important for conservation of the distinctive montane vegetation of the property.

Threats to the Rainforest Parks of Sumatra

According to UNESCO: The three Sumtran rainforest parks straddle “the equator and comprises three widely separated nationally protected areas along the Bukit Barisan Mountain Range, running from Aceh in the north-west to Bandar Lampung in the south-east and representing whole or part of the three most significant remnant “islands” of the once vast Sumatran forests. Biological and ecological processes are preserved within the property because it contains a sufficiently large number of ecosystems, forest types, ranges of altitudes and topographies. The exceptionally beautiful features of Sumatra such as Gunung Tujuh and Gunung Kerinci are contained within the site in their entirety. [Source: UNESCO]

“The unique shape and size of the property provide significant habitat for in-situ conservation of thousands of Sumatran species, in particular species that require larger home ranges like Sumatran tiger, Sumatran orang-utan, Sumatran elephant, Sumatran rhino and Sumatran ground cuckoo. The property is a living laboratory for science and contains some of the most distinguished research centres in Indonesia (Way Canguk, Ketambe and Suaq Belimbing) and hosts international high-level collaborations from world renowned institutions.

“Threats to the integrity of the property include road development plans as well as agricultural encroachment. The main fundamental threatening processes are directly linked to the access provided by roads and failure to effectively enforce existing laws. Road access facilitates illegal logging, encroachment and poaching which all pose significant threats to the integrity of the component parks of the property. Collaboration with stakeholders, including Rhino Protection Unit (RPU), WWF Elephant Patrol, FFI Tiger Protection and Conservation, Zoological Society of London — Tiger Conservation has significantly reduced poaching incidents. Joint patrols with related parties including police officers and local government officers, and rangers recruited from local communities, support the Ministry of Forestry to enforce existing laws.

Conservation at the Rainforest Parks of Sumatra

According to UNESCO: “The TRHS is comprised of three national parks, and as such benefits from the highest protected area status under Indonesian law. All three parks are public lands designated as national parks by the Government of Indonesia and are managed by the Directorate General of Forest Protection and Forest Conservation (PHKA) within the Ministry of Forestry. The boundaries of the three component parts of the property require clear demarcation to indicate their location in the field. This is particularly important with regards to effective management of the property and the inclusion of important habitat national resources, but only a limited proportion of the property’s perimeter can be marked per year. For Kerinci Seblat National Park, the inclusion of 14,160 hectares former production forest of the Sipurak Hook area in 2004, delayed the recent boundary demarcation process due to the negative response from the inhabitants of the area.

“The property has strong and clearly explained management plans and each is included in the Indonesian Biodiversity National Strategy and Action Plan. Stakeholder forums have been established in each park and include bi-annual dialogue with local governments, national and international NGOs, local people and private sectors. However, there is variation in the involvement and contribution of these stakeholders in the three parks, which needs to be addressed. Intensive coordination among park management remains a priority with acknowledgement that coherent and coordinated protection measures among the three parks are paramount in the effective protection of flora and fauna, and particularly for threatened species.

“A Presidential decree on illegal logging and saw-mill eradication issued in 2005 was followed-up by an integrated effort from the provincial and district governments, as well as from the Departments of Justice, Police and Forestry. As a result these threats have been virtually eradicated from the property. Mining, which occurs exclusively outside the boundaries of the property, remains a potential threat to the property. Within the property anti-poaching units are active, while site-specific human-wildlife conflict mitigation and anti-encroachment efforts are in place. Encroachment remains the most complex and difficult issue affecting the property and attempts to address it at a national level through the “Kelompok Kerja Penanganan Perambahan”, an Indonesian-wide Anti Encroachment Task Force are required. The threat to the integrity of the property from road development requires effective planning, environmental assessment and regulatory measures to protect the property from damage to its Outstanding Universal Value.

“Routine forest patrols take place in every park, along with site-specific law enforcement actions and encroachment eradication programmes. The State Party has made financial support for the TRHS a priority, with the aim to improve ground level management, particularly concerning building staff capacity to combat illegal wildlife trade and encroachment. The size of the property, while providing a degree of protection, requires adequate and increased patrolling efforts and human resources to adequately cover the property, and establishment of an effective GIS based monitoring system would assist with this. The recruitment of local rangers is also encouraged. Invasive species also provide an additional emerging management issue in certain components of the property.”

Solok, Twin Lakes, Lake Singkarak and Mount Talang

Solok (65 kilometers from Padang) is a town with fine examples of Minangkabau architecture with fine horn-shaped roofs and outer walls of wood, completely carved and painted in brilliant colors. Nearby are the beautiful twin lakes: Diata and Dibawah. The view from between the two lakes is quite extraordinary.

Twin Lakes (45 kilometers from Padang, in Kerinci Selbat National Park) is a highland lakes in Kerinci Selbat National Park that a number of tour operators West Sumatra stop at. The Lakes of Danau Diatas (Lake Above) and Danau Dibawah (Lake Below) are beautiful natural wonders separated by only a few hundred meters. Located over 1000 meters above sea level, the lakes are covered with a thick mist giving them an eerie beauty. The soil surrounding the lakes comes from volcanic ash from eruptions of Mt Talang. The Twin Lakes are located in the Kerinci-Seblat Reserve, around. The easiest way to the the lakes is to drive, leaving the main Padang-Solok road at Lubukselasih and traveling up the flank of Mr Talang.

Mount Talang is 2,572-meter-high volcano with a beautiful view Twin Lakes and Lake Singkarak from the top. It's one of the six active volcanoes in West Sumatra. It is said that the tea grown here tastes wonderful. For a short visit, it is best if you stay in Padang or Solok. Several accommodation are available should you wish to stay. It's advisable to you hire a four-wheel drive vehicle with a skilled driver as the roads can be quite steep and in poor condition.

Lake Singkarak (70 kilometers from Padang, 20 kilometers from Solok and about 36 kilometers from Bukittinggi) is an enormous crater lake set within a dramatic volcanic landscape. Spread over two districts; Solok and Tanah Datar, the lake is a massive 1000 hectares. It is the widest lake in Sumatra and the second biggest lake on the island, after Lake Toba. Locally Lake Singkarak is famous for its Bilih fish which is a species of fish that only lives in this lake. This fish is especially unique as it can’t survive anywhere but Lake Singkarak, not even in an aquarium.

There are many hotels near Lake Singkarak (Danau Singkarak) such as those along Solok-Bukittinggi main road and in the Tanah Datar district. The town of Umbilin is on the shore of the lake, its collection of hotels and restaurants make it a convenient place to stay. Boats can be rented from here and it is a good place for swimming, hiking and relaxing.

Sawahlunto: UNESCO World Heritage Coal Mining Town

Sawahlunto (95 kilometers from Padang, 138 kilometers from Bukittinggi) is known as the town of the ‘black pearl,’ a reference to the time when it was the center of a major coal mining area. Set on the slopes of Muara Bungo’s valleys and set among rainforests, the town is quite small and occupied by deserted railroad cars, stepped rice fields, and Minangkabau rumah gadang upsweeping roofs. But don’t let this fool you. It is a far from ordinary place and has historical significance.

The Ombilin Coal Mining Heritage of Sawahlunto was inscribed as a UNESCO World Site in 2019: According to UNESCO: “Built for the extraction, processing and transport of high-quality coal in an inaccessible region of Sumatra, this industrial site was developed by the Netherlands East Indies’ government in the globally important period of industrialisation from the late 19th to the beginning of the 20th century. The workforce was recruited from the local Minangkabau people and supplemented by Javanese and Chinese contract workers, and convict labourers from Dutch-controlled areas. It comprises the mining site and company town, coal storage facilities at the port of Emmahaven and the railway network linking the mines to the coastal facilities. The Ombilin Coal Mining Heritage was built as an integrated system that enabled the efficient deep-bore extraction, processing, transport and shipment of coal. It is also an outstanding testimony of exchange and fusion between local knowledge and practices and European technology. [Source: UNESCO]

“Ombilin Coal Mining Heritage of Sawahlunto is an outstanding example of a pioneering technological ensemble planned and built by European engineers in their colonies designed to extract strategic coal resources. The technological developments demonstrate both European engineering knowledge and the contribution of local environmental wisdom and traditional practices in the organisation of labour. It also exemplifies the profound and lasting impact of the changes in social relations of production imposed by the European colonial powers in their colonies, which provided both the material and labour inputs that underpinned the world-wide industrialisation of the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century. The many skilled and unskilled workers included local Minangkabau people, Javanese and Chinese contract workers, and convict labourers called ‘chained people’ or orang rantai from Dutch-controlled areas within present-day Indonesia.

“Built to exploit the exceedingly rich Ombilin coal deposits, located in the inaccessible mountains of West Sumatra, the Ombilin Coal Mining Heritage of Sawahlunto is an extensive technological ensemble consisting of twelve components located in three functionally-related areas: Area A, consisting of open pit mines and labyrinthine underground mining tunnels together with on-site coal processing facilities, supported by a full-facility purpose-built mining town nearby at Sawahlunto; Area B, an ingeniously engineered rack mountain railway together with numerous rail bridges and tunnels, linking the mines to the coastal seaport, across 155 kilometers of rugged mountain terrain; and Area C, a dredged harbour and newly-constructed seaport at Emmahaven on Sumatra's Indian Ocean coast from where the coal was shipped throughout the Netherlands East Indies and to Europe.”

There are several hotels in town. Some of them are new and some other are classified as heritage buildings. You can go by bus or a rented car to Sawahlunto from Padang or Bukittinggi. The distance to the quiet town around 2 hours by car from Padang. Follow the road to the town of Solok, and continue the trip on the trans-Sumatra road heading south to Java. After approximately 20 kilometers from Solok, there is a crossroad at Muaro Kalaban. Pay attention to the road sign and direction. Follow the direction to Sawahlunto, and you will pass a winding road with lines of trees that sometimes discourage most travelers to Sawahlunto. Do not worry about the unsettling road as it will eventually take you to the destination.

If you are in Bukittinggi area 138 kilometers from Sawahlunto, take the road to Batusangkar and then follow the same direction as you find the crossroad in Muaro Kalaban. From Batusangkar, the town of Sawahlunto is about 40 kilometers. Taxi from Padang to Sawahlunto is around IDR 200,000 to 250,000 (price is subject to change). A public bus from Padang is IDR 8,000 and a group tour to Sawahlunto in one of the tour operators in Padang is around IDR 20,000 per person. In Sawahlunto, there is daily trip to Muaro Kalaban by an old train as a tourist attraction. It will cost you IDR 75,000. The maximum passenger load is 12 persons chugging along for around 5 kilometers to take one on a nostalgic trip on the old railway lines.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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