Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by indohoyindohoy on 2 November 2009 • Itinerary
Ok, this is gonna sound like I’m following the destinations that Vira went to, but what can I say? I had to attend a friends’ wedding the West Sumatra province. So many have recommended it as a must see destination, so it was on my to-do list. The trip was a gamble being that it was with co-workers that aren’t my cup of tea for traveling but they are great company at the office, so I’m betting they’re good company on this trip. Moudy and hubby, Vina, and Mrs. Marni, are the gang.
Now weddings aren’t usually my type of occasion to sacrifice such time and money. But! My new good friend Muthi, a geologist I work with, happened to marry a special girl. Who wouldn’t? I know, but this lady apparently is a close descendant of the Pagaruyung royalty. A huge festival was to be held, and here is my catch… it will be commenced in the Pagaruyung palace, at Batu Sangkar. Muthi promised us that he will ‘take care’ of some of our expenses. Now really, would you turn down an offer like that?
Our deepest condolences to those suffering lost after the Padang earthquake Sept 30th, 2009. We pray that acceptance, wisdom, and faith is with you through these difficult times.
We arrived on a Friday night, took the flight after work from the office, and woke up the next morning in Padang. After a yummy breakfast consisting of local dishes, the group got their things together and headed out. Before making a trip to the wedding town, we first had to do some shopping. I was a bit bummed out trying to figure out why people still need to shop for the wedding when they could have prepared it in Jakarta. I just tagged along, since I was outnumbered. But fortunately, since we were so early, we couldn’t head out to the mall, thus to the traditional market instead, which changed my mood back to happy. Strolling around in the small dark isles, and hearing people shouting in a different language and Malay accent, really welcomes you to Sumatra.
We went to Pasar Raya Padang. The ‘clean’ market sells textile, clothes, accessories, etc. Mrs Marni needed to buy a veil that would match her outfit. Since Padang is highly influenced by the Moslems, there are countless vendors selling trendy veils and mukena (praying veil). Not to mention the Koran, and all other necessities for worshiping. There are other stuff of course, from baby clothes to rice cookers, but religious items were very distinct. There is also the ‘wet’ market that sells your unlimited type of groceries and tropical delights. I was surprised to see how clean these markets were. Usually they’re all muddy and wet.
Getting there… Bukittinggi
Finally on the road… Muthi had rented a car for us to travel from Padang to Batu Sangkar. We decided to kidnap the car a bit and travel around Bukittinggi and surroundings for a day. The drive was about 2-3 hours since Mrs Marni doesn’t like speeding. Hey… sight seeing is always an advantage here!
I thought trains only existed in Java and in Lampung – Palembang. Turns out, there is a train in Padang that heads to Padang Panjang. This railway is from the colonial days which they still use on certain days only. I soooo wanted to take this train but I just didn’t have the opportunity. The road to Bukittinggi follows these tracks, flat terrains with cliffs along the way. Once entering the high lands, the rail and road then follows a river and comes in to a valley. I thought, it would be some ride if it were in the train?… ah day dream. But the car ride wasn’t bad at all. We also passed the Lembah Anai water fall which you could swim in and is located exactly beside the road. Along river, the locals also provide small humble gazebos for you to enjoy the view and probably dip you feet in the cool river.
Arriving in Padang Panjang, we decided to see the famous Maninjau lake first. It was a beauty, and the water happened to be sooo still, reflecting all of the mountains surrounding it. Sadly there was a fire the night before, so some people were gathering around just to collect remains that they can save. Some houses were burnt to the ground. And I apologize to anyone for not stopping and helping them out since we were selfish enough not to have time 🙁 But we donated, at least that was what we can do.
We just chose some random homestay which was called the Maransy Beach (guessing they have a branch on the coast). We then caught a long bite, not a quick one, a long one! We waited for ages to get our local dish but it was worth it. Even Mrs Marni who has a local tongue admits it.
Once entering the city, it was already about 4 o’clock. First things first, PRAY! I’m not much of a religious person being muslim, I try to be one I guess J. But, in a city that is very strongly influenced by religion, I was curious to see the main mosque and the people in it. That’s the purpose of traveling, right?
The main mosque is located just behind the market. Interestingly, Bukittinggi and Padang had a town layout similar to Java, but not completely the same having the market and main mosque near the center of the city as oppose to having in the center like Javanese towns. As predicted, the mosque was packed with people. A sight you don’t see in Jakarta hehehehe… . To pray we had to cleanse ourselves with water. The ladies bathroom was full even though it was huge! They also designed their own squatting toilet.
As linear conclusion, the praying area was also quite full. Mosques usually have spare mukenas for those that did not bring their own. In this mosque you really have to wait beside someone to finish up praying because they won’t be lying around. After reapplying their powder, the girls will wear veils and step out.
This mosque is located behind the Pasa Bawah (Lower market). Here you will get the local food, snacks and treats. From various specific dried fish, spicy chips, to pressed grilled banana with sweet shredded coconut. There was so much more, too bad I only have one stomach and one mouth to eat once at a time hehehehe…
From the Jam Gadang, you can get a great small park to view the Ngarai Sianok which is called Pemandangan Ngarai Sianok (translated as Ngarai Sianok scenary). This is a venue where you can see the most of the valley from a distance. Now I’m not sure which way you have to walk because I basically just strolled away following directions from locals. But they got me there and it is within walking distance. You will have to pay a retribution of Rp 5,000 to enter the area.
Inside this venue there is also the underground Japanese cave. This cave is probably where the Japanese hid, and did all their activities. I didn’t feel like having a guide so I passed the offers provided. I should warn those that are claustrophobic! Some areas of the cave can make you feel cooped up and bring you the creeps. It would take some effort to get you out of there if you happen to panic. Strolling along the isle kinda made me regret a tad bit not taking that guidance service because it was a bit scary remembering a lot of people probably died here, there was no one inside except … me. And especially this is a historical area. I can tell you for sure… the Japanese invaders were sick! Just imagining how the locals had to dig their skinny hands to make such a hole just breaks my heart. Not to mention the all the quarters … I can’t imagine living in such cramped situation with so many people.
From here, you can also hike through the valley. Many services can provide guidance to see the many wonders of the valley. They also offer services to take you hiking up the surrounding mountains.
Bung Hatta Museum
The first vice president came from this rich land. It was Mohammad Hatta or known as Bung (kinda like a call for ‘mate’) Hatta. I respect him for his forward thoughts at that time, and his belief in the country beside our first president. I had to see where he was born and raised, just to see where great men of the country come from.
Coming in to Aur Tajungkang market. Walking a bit to Sukarno Hatta street (obviously), you will find his house amongst the busy market. When entering you will be greeted by the official guide to help you look around. I didn’t wanna make the same mistake as before, so I accepted the invite of a guide there.
Bung Hatta came from a more wealthier family. He had a very nice wooden house and I can assume to be luxurious and furniture that was not cheap at the time. He had 2 lumbung that stored rice, and he had horses. Definitely blue blood! Fortunately he was smart and had the heart to fight for Indonesia’s Independence. It would have been nice to grow up in such a house, I bet.
The Royal Wedding
Ok back to the main event. From Bukittinggi, it’s about another 2 hours to Batu Sangkar. We got there by night and stayed at the Pagaruyung Hotel 2.
That Sunday morning was the fourth day of the ceremony. Muthi said that the most festive party was the night before, where all the family and friends gathered. The Sunday morning was kinda just the cherry on top ceremony to close the deal. Muthi and his bride were paraded all through town. In a good way I mean, because it is tradition. The town needs to know that one of their royals is getting married… you know, like Lady Di and Prince Charles, but not as glamorous. Anyways… we waited at the Pagaruyung palace, munching down some of the most delicious Padang dishes I’ve ever tasted, especially the Padang satay and gulai.
The ceremony then started with a welcoming dance to the couple and the family. The couple was wearing traditional clothes, which I learned later on from Muthi, which was very ancient and is originally what the kings use to use. Different from Javanese weddings, there are no jasmines used. Here the bride uses layers of hair accessories shaped as flowers made of gold, again very ancient from back in the days. According to tradition, the higher your rank in society is, the more layers of flowers you have to use. The highest grade is the closest to the King which has to wear 7 layers. Lucky Puti, the bride, had to wear all 7. But since her poor neck cannot bear it, she only wore 5 layers instead. I think these days, there isn’t any neck that can hold such burden, not to mention all the other attributes, called the Sunting, that adds a head ache for the bride.
Still in line, the family stood in a long line behind the couple baring gifts. Because it is a matrilineal ethnicity, the women are the ones making a stand. Do notice all the woven cloths they use. The line is then welcomed by a few more women of the palace. A small exchange of poem, which is tradition, was done. And then the couple was invited in. The palace was small but amazing. The details of the woodcarvings on the walls were quite preserved. The inside was decorated from top to bottom. And everyone took a table to sit and prepare for a feast. The food, as any Padang restaurant, was brought to you in small plates by the relatives of the bride and groom. We could order more if we wanted to and believe me we did! Everyone sat on the floor. The family sat at the special table on a platform a bit higher than the rest of the guest. And this is what an Indonesian party is all about, eating together.
In the back, the family cooks for the guests. Caterings are not a choice especially in very traditional settings. And I praise that, it just tastes different when cooked by our mothers all together. Now don’t mind the kitchen because the taste is totally on a French restaurant scale!
After munching happily, we then took some pictures of course, and headed home. But before home we stopped by Singkarak lake just to take a peak. After this trip I heart lakes, especially these Sumatera ones. They are huge and magnificent. It felt so ancient and mysterious to look at the vast amount of inland water just trapped there since God knows when… And I yearn to see Toba in North Sumatera, the biggest lake in Indonesia.
I agree with Vira, there is a lot to see in West Sumatera. Surrounding areas and towns provide so many venues that seems tempting both from brochures and from local information. Not to mention Sikuai that is said to be the equivalent of the Cayman Island… well gotta save more money and leaves from the office then.
As explained before, Padang is way famous for its culinary dishes. My boss, Mrs Marni, happens to be from the area so she has an idea on where to munch. Once we hit the ground, the local food was the target. That night, although already around 8-9 pm, we decided straight away to chump down Martabak Kubang. Vina and Moudy have been nagging about this Martabak since a week before we left. Apparently it’s quite famous in Jakarta, so they wanted to taste in its origins. We were taken to Martabak Kubang Hyuda which kinda already had a name for itself amongst the locals. And after tasting the rich Martabak and it’s vinegar sauce, I can see why. I don’t care how ‘usual’ this place tastes like for the locals, it was scrumptious for me. The Martabak also comes in different variants, according to your taste. Extra egg, double crust, etc.
There are other dishes that you can try. The fried rice was totally different, full with everything plus pickled veggies. Looked pretty good, however, I did save my stomach for the Martabak. Two local beverages that you should try is the Teh Telor (Egg tea) and Kopi Telor (Egg coffee)… yep it’s exactly what it says. The mix of tea or coffee with raw egg. As a person that is curious of coffee delights, I had to try it. It tasted like a latte, but thick. You can’t taste the egg at all. A great blend, which is pretty hard considering you have to eliminate the stench of raw egg. I guess only the skilled can achieve this. It’s very filling indeed. Not a drink for after a meal huff.. . but it was good! I was really happy that night, had stars in my eyes and everything.
At Maninjau lake, we chose the local dishes which were ikan Pange, Salalauak, grilled fish, and a bit of sour veggie soup. And as local Indonesians, we dug our fingers in quickly. Man we were hungry that afternoon.
A special dessert at Pasa Bawa is a treat called Ampyang Dadiah. It’s made of special processed rice and goat yogurt, poured with a sugar sauce, coconut milk, and served cold with shredded ice. I must say the taste is interesting. Sour, sweet, and some chewiness in it. It was a culinary experience.
Pagaruyung Hotel 2
This is a very decent hotel for a town as small as Batu Sangkar. It has aircon, private bathroom for each room and everything for your standard room. Each room cost about Rp 350,000/night, and you will also have a moderate breakfast every morning in the dining area.
In Bukittinggi, I happen to find many backpacker hostels. I stayed in Marmy Hostel which had a moderate size room, a private bathroom, aircon and a television with a reception depending whatever they are watching in the lobby. It wasn’t bad… it was blue, but not bad at all. A room here would cost Rp 75,000 / night. Enough to get some sleep.
Another hostel that I happened to find was d’Enam. It’s cheaper being about Rp 50,000 / room /night. I’m not sure what facility they have but I’m sure that they provide you essentials. This hostel is located near the Family restaurant at the Benteng area.
Another choice is the Sumatera Hotel which is located umm.. behind the old theater. It’s very nice, it has a great view, a lot of space and has a 70s kinda look. This hotel cost about Rp 120,000/room/night. I can’t recall the facilities, but really, it has a great lounging room with a great view. Sometimes you don’t need more than that.
Again taking the plane is of course the fastest way to get there. Plane tickets can range from promotional Rp 350,000 to more than a million depending on what season and what airlines you’re taking.
From the airport, there are AC buses to the Padang city which will cost Rp 15,000 per pax.
From Padang, you can get Tranex bus which I would describe as a mini bus. It might look spacious, but even for me that has a small body compared to Caucasians, it’s still a little too small. So beware of where you chose to sit. Just don’t sit in the back row. It’ll kill you for sure.
To and from Padang, this bus will cost Rp 15,000 but if you happen to pick it up along the road, then you could pay less. It will arrive at Bukittinggi area, just pick a spot to stop and take a public transportation or angkot.
From Bukittinggi, you would first have to head to the bus terminal called Aur Kuning. From here you can catch the Tranex once more, back to Padang.
You can even choose to stop at the airport junction. From here, you can take an ojek to the airport which will cost you about Rp 20,000 per pax.
There is also the train to Padang Panjang, which is the town junction between Bukittinggi, Maninjau, and Padang.
These busses are everywhere and can take you anywhere. Batu Sangkar, Singkarak, Padang, Bukittinggi, etc. The network is pretty extensive and the price is more or less Rp 20,000 per pax. Very affordable for backpackers indeed.
Every city has its own public transportation network. Each ride would cost about Rp 2,000-3,000 per pax. Of course there also Ojegs around too.
Pasa Ateh provides traditional cloths with great quality. Sumatera is well known for its Songket of weave cloth. It’s a cloth usually worn as the skirt of the traditional outfit or similar ensembles. The price usually is equal to the amount and difficulty of the pattern woven, and the coverage of the weaving pattern. As a fan of traditional cloths, I had to have one! It costs almost double once it leaves its original land, so I’m getting it for half price. I fell in love with a white semi golden songket. Pay attention to the details, there are about 10 patterns on it, super neat, and the whole cloth is woven. It cost Rp 1,9 million. Worth the money… that I don’t have. It was beautiful… but I let it go for something underneath it after haggling like a penniless kid for chocolate ice cream. It cost me about Rp 1.4 million. A cloth that was as beautiful but has less coverage and does not look too fancy. I was still having stars in my eyes!
There are also moderate price cloths with countless color combination, all for you choosing.