Top 12 things to do in West Sumatra

There is more to Indonesia than just Jakarta, Bali and Komodo! There are islands and islands and there are diverse cultures but united by a country, Indonesia. West Sumatra, third largest of the ten provinces of Sumatra, the largest Island of Indonesia is also known as the land of Minangkabau.

In ancient times Sumatra (Sumatera) was called Swarna Dwipa, Sanskrit for Island of Gold and sometimes Swarna Bhumi (Land of Gold), owing to the fact that there were a lot of gold deposits in this region. Later it was called Samudra Pasai, a kingdom in North of the Island. Again, a Sanskrit word where Samudra means Sea.

Sumatra is probably the corrupted version of Samudra. Another name was Sumatra Bhoomi. Whew! It is not clear if there are still a lot of gold here but I grabbed this golden opportunity to know what West Sumatra or (Sumatera Barat) had to offer. 🙂

Padang, Minangkabau region
Padang Airport based on Minangkabau architecture

I landed at Padang Airport, which is fondly called BIM (Bandar Udara Internasional Minangkabau) which had a distinct influence of Minangkabau architecture. Padang is the capital of West Sumatra and the entry point for travellers to this region. Later I drove down to Bukittinggi, the second largest city of W Sumatra and is often the base for several day journeys in and around here.
This list is curated from my awesome travel to West Sumatra.

Adityawarman Museum at Padang

Adityawarman Museum is housed in a Rumah Gadang (Big House) with its typical Minangkabau architecture. I am not a die-hard fan of museums, but I found this quite interesting with its collection of historical artefacts which gives an insight into the ways of Minangkabau.

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
School Group with their teacher learning about Minangkabau culture at Adityawarman Museum

Lembah Anai is a waterfall on the way to Bukittinggi. While it may not be the highest or the biggest, it gave us respite from the travel tiredness. There are steps that lead to the pool under the waterfalls. While people were found dipping their tired feet in the water, I am not sure if bathing is allowed. The air was cooler as we had gained some height and were at a very green part of the region. This was the foothills of Mt. Singgalang, an extinct Volcano.

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Lembah Anai waterfall on way to Bukittinggi

Padang Panjang: While we ascended further on way to Bukittinggi, we reached the Long Field or Padang Panjang. We were now at the flat area formed between Mt Singgalang and Mt Marapi, the most active volcano in Sumatra, which last erupted in 2001! The Rumah Gandang here has seven horns and four rice barns. This house is also a museum of sorts and is home to Minangkabau Cultural Documentation and Information Centre.

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Padang Pajamg Model Minangkabau Rumah Gadang

If you are a smoker you better do your smoking before entering Padang Pajang, because this is almost a No Smoking City, the only one in Indonesia.

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Weaver at work at Pandai Sikek

Pandai Sikek is about 10KM North of Padang Pajang on way to Bukittinggi. The hand-woven cloth called Songket has its origins here. When I asked one of the weavers about where he learnt the skill, with a combination of English and gestures, 🙂 he said this skill, involving shining gold and silver threads, have been passed generations to generations. There are a few stores collecting these clothes from the weavers and selling them to the locals for special occasions or to the tourists.

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Weaver in a pensive mood!
Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Exquisite embroidery at Pandai Sikek

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Intricate carving at Pandai Sikek


Pandai Sikek is also
known for its intricate wood carving skills and we saw them making grills and other carvings in local designs and as per needs and customs of the Minangkabau people.

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Carver at work, Pandai Sikek

Jam Gadang: Jam means hour or time and we already know that Gadang means big. 🙂 Jam Gadang is a tall clock Tower in the main square of Bukittinggi. How simple it is to translate! This is almost 100 years old and the square around is the venue for a lot of public functions too.

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Jam Gadang or Big clock tower at Bukittinggi

It is said that the internal mechanisms of this clock are similar to that of Clock on Elizabeth Tower. Yes, I am talking about the clock whose bell is called the Big Ben!

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Jam Gadang, Bukittinggi

It is interesting to stroll around the Pasar Ateh market and street market which come to life during evenings.
On a Sunday morning, I saw a lot of Citizens congregated here for a free mass Zumba session! For me this was a very surprising moment, to learn that the modern Minangkabaus place as much, if not more, importance on their health as preserving their culture.

Great wall of Koto Gadang was built a few years back to provide pedestrian connection between Koto Gadang and the main city of Bukittinggi. It is fun going down the multitude of steps but not at all coming up. 🙂 However we did not have the time to go the whole way.

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Great wall of Koto Gadang

After the Great Wall can Grand Canyon be far behind? The beautiful views of the Sianok Canyon apparently come to view if you walk the whole of the Great Wall.

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Swirling clouds on top of Mount Singgalang. A view from Koto Gadang

While at Koto Gadang we visited a silver workshop. It was a fantastic experience the artisans drawing fine silver wires and making exquisite jewellery.

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Silversmith at work , Koto Gadang

Lake Maninjau: There are two ways of experiencing this lake. One is to go the lake level and do fishing and the other is to get to a high vantage point and view the grand lake. This is a crater lake and is about 20km long by 6 km wide.

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Lake Maninjau

The visuals were a treat for our tired eyes and I wished I could sit here forever with a drink in hand. 🙂

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Harau Valley Cliffs

The vertical cliffs of Harau Valley are not to be missed. I am told that sometimes people do rock climbing in the rock formations, but no one was there when we went. The sheer rock face looked quite intimidating to me. Stock up on food and drink before coming here as there may not be too many roadside shops in these parts.

top 12 things to do west sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Kelok Sembilan or Curve 9 . The new bridge

Kelok 9 Bridge, is a modern architectural wonder that shaves a couple of hours when you are on road when getting from Riau province to West Sumatra or the other way around. The almost century old road, Kelok 9, was too narrow for the increasing traffic between the two provinces hence this modern road bridge came into being. It is such a popular place with a lot of photo opportunities that many kiosks have sprung up along the roadside selling drinks and food to the tourists.

Minangkabau Palace, Rumah Gadang
Pagar Ruyung Palace or locally Istano Basa Pagaruyuang . A palace fit for Minangkabau chief built using traditional techniques and materials

Pagaruyung King’s Palace (Istano Basa Pagaruyung). Pagaruyung was once the seat of the Minangkabau king. This building has been rebuilt a few times because of destruction due to fire and ravages of time. Last time it was struck by lightning and almost 85% of all the artifacts were destroyed. Care has been taken to use similar materials like wood, fronds and wooden nails to build this beautiful three-storeyed palace.

Minangkabau Rice Barn
Mark of wealth! Number and size of rice barns such as above.

While on the road if you are thirsty or hungry you could do what we did. The pancakes cooked in terracotta ovens were just out of the world. The spicy tapioca chips were quite to my taste 😉 and I washed it down with a drink brewed with coffee leaves. Kawa Daun is prepared like tea but using coffee leaves. It was so good that I bought a few packets to take home.

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
A type of pancake made from Tapioca flour baked in claypots
Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Kawa Daun, a drink made of coffee leaves

Tour de Singkarak is a bicycle long distance race, fashioned over Tour de France is one of the most important events of West Sumatra. The almost 500KM race takes the racer all over West Sumatra and takes almost a week to finish. Winner gets USD100,000!

Things to do in West Sumatra Bukittinggi Padang
Get Set & Go! Cyclists getting ready for the final stage of Tour de Singarak

TDS, as it is called, will be held in October 2017. Don’t miss it if you are in this part of the world that time. Have you been to Sumatera Barat (West Sumatra)?

While this part of Indonesia is in the west, have you been to Raja Ampat, the east most part of Indonesia?

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31 thoughts on “Top 12 things to do in West Sumatra

  1. Wow!! I’ve always wanted to go to Indonesia, and now I know where I would start!! West Sumatra look beautiful and clearly there is a lot to do there. Those dresses look stunning, and the people so happy 🙂 you’ve captured some great shots. I must say, Lake Maninjau has certainly caught my eye! Great post, thanks for sharing xx

  2. I am so sad we didn’t make it to Sumatra when we were in Indonesia. It seriously has everything we love about Indonesia plus that beautiful and unique architecture! Your photos are amazing and capture West Sumatra really well, it’s making me want to stop what I’m doing and go right now!

  3. Sumatra is beautiful and I do hope to visit someday, and it would actually be wonderful if I can actually join you guys…you are surely an expert on Indonesia and I haven’t even been there! A bit embarrassing 🙁

    p.s. those weaver pics are lovely!

  4. Thanks for sharing this. I love the distinctive architecture of the roofs here – very eye catching! From this I can gather that there is so much to see outside of the well-known in Indonesia, both in the cities and the countryside. The cliffs looks particularly beautiful, and its fantastic that Indonesia has an answer to Big Ben and the Great Wall too. All in all a fantastic destination 🙂

  5. Wow! You are right in saying. There is more to Indonesia. West Sumatra definitely looks beautiful! The pictures of pancake making, coffee, palace, intricate carving, weaving are superb. The architecture looks different and nice.

  6. Wow… so many things to do and I rarely see anything from this region. Most people who visit Indonesia talk about Bali only. Clouds over Mount Singgalang seems like painted with a brush.

  7. West Sumatra seems fascinating. I love the striking architecture. I also love museums so I’d definitely want to try the Adityawarman Museum. I wouldn’t mind eating the pancakes either.

  8. Wow there really is so much to see in West Sumatra! That waterfall is beyond stunning, and I’ve never heard of the Great Wall there. Looks like a crazy climb! I know I would be all about giving those pancakes a try!

  9. This was awesome and Sumatra looks so intriguing! I have only been to Bali, but I would love to explore more of Indonesia so I will definitely be bookmarking this post!

  10. Lake Maninjau looks like a place out of a dream 🙂 Really enjoyed your post and photos!

  11. Ah, beautiful Indonesia <3. I spent two months working in Jakarta one summer but unfortunately never made it to Sumatra…now I'm sitting here wondering WHY I didn't go because it looks absolutely gorgeous! That waterfall! And all the nature really. Stunning photos.

  12. It’s so refreshing to see someplace different than Bali in Indonesia! Wow, the architecture looks stunning. Can you climb up that clock tower? I also love that there’s an entire smoke free city.

  13. Having just explored Bali, I have been wanting to visit the rest of Indonesia for long now! I knew little about West Sumatra till now. I loved the splendid architecture of the temples! And the stairs to Great wall of Koto Gadang looks great, but I think it definitely would be tough climbing it 🙂 Loved your pictures of Jam Gadang with that backdrop!

  14. An offbeat list, certainly different and unique from the touristy bits of Indonesia. love the roofs of the Minangkabau architecture, it looks fascinating. The coffee leaves drink had milk in it too? the weaver pictures are fabulous! so good to see the cultural side, with its artisans, wood smiths and silver smiths. An amazing read.

  15. Wow, I never knew Sumatra has so many beautiful sights to visit. Thanks for sharing such a detailed list on Sumatra. The embroidery does look very exquisite and beautiful, is it specific only to the island? All the places look so stunning, will definitely add this to Indonesia list. Hope to visit someday soon :).

  16. This is so interesting. I was in Bali as my first introduction to Indonesia about six months ago, and I can’t wait to go back and explore the country. This post only encourages me more. So many interesting and unique places like that bridge and the rice houses. But it is learning about the people and culture that I think will interest me most.

  17. I’m one of those people who knows nearly nothing about Indonesia outside of the ‘big three.’ Thanks for the detailed overview of West Sumatra! I’m particularly interested in the rice barns, which are so beautiful! Plus, those houses/palaces are amazing. I’d go just for those!

  18. I agree. So much to see in Indonesia. With all those islands, a lot havent been explored yet. Havent been to this side of Sumatra but wow that airport looks nice! Thanks for showing the world that there are much to explore here.

  19. I love hearing about lesser known regions, and feel all to often Indonesia is a case of Bali or nothing! West Sumatra looks like such a great place to visit with lots of things to see and do – and one of the best looking information centers (the Rumah Gandang) I have ever seen. Such an incredible building – full of cultural treasures!

  20. Thanks for this article! We’re actually really looking forward to visiting Sumatra at some stage, and want to do a wildlife safari – though we hadn’t looked into things to do past our animal obsession, so you’ve given me much more to think about incorporating into our trip. Thanks for the tips!

  21. Sumatra seems so lovely. I loved the buildings here, especially the palace. Looks so unusual and grand. There seems a lot of do here. Hopefully some day I will get to do it all!

  22. Very nice. You made Sumatra look awesome. I loved the pictures. The pointed tip on all the buildings is an interesting architect feature.

  23. I love how you explore the non-touristy destinations. How’s the people there? I’ve heard the crime rate is a bit high there and that people are not used to having visitors/tourists.

  24. Thanks for this fantastic overview of West Sumatra. Your pictures are excellent, I really like the ones of the weaver from a bottom-up perspective. Love the handicrafts. I missed this part of Indonesia, I would love to go back and visit here now!

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