Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sketches of Minangkabau, the travel log book

For the whole trip, we hired a car from a guy called Andre (082170551155). He’s got quite a good rate so you can check  him out. We were given IDR 400K per day, with a driver (this time Cip wanted to fully enjoy the view so he decided he’d get lazy and hire a driver!), not including gasoline which you have to pay by yourself along the way. And you have to pay for the driver’s accommodation + meals accordingly. 

A note on gasoline. Outside Padang it’s not so easy to find sometimes, and you may have to face a long queue. So make sure you fill up your tank at the main cities so you don’t get stranded anywhere without it. 

We set off to Bukittinggi right after we landed in Padang. On the way, we stopped by Padang Panjang for lunch, then at Pandai Sikek – the center of songket Minangkabau. If you’ve got enough money in your pocket, I suggest you buy at least one. The tradition of weaving is slowly dying because the materials are so expensive these days. So if you fancy some songket here, just buy. You'll get the best prices here - more expensive in Bukittinggi.

We also passed Koto Gadang – a center of silver craft. Quite pricey if you ask me, but design wise they’re quite different from what you find in Java or Bali so worth to check it out. 

Arriving at Bukittinggi, we realised one thing: don’t go there in holidays or weekends. We were there from Friday to Sunday. It was quite a nightmare for me because my image of this town was quite peaceful. Turned out it was very noisy and crowded, and not as clean as what I remembered it to be (but well, that was in about an old memory). 

If you want to walk around, then the best time to do so is either very early in the morning like at 630am (remember that you don’t see the sun that soon in this western part of Indonesia so 6am is still quite dark), or after 6pm when there is less traffic. Between 10 to 5, is quite horrible especially around Jam Gadang (or Indonesia’s Big Ben). And if you really have to be there during the holidays or weekends, make sure you don’t have a room facing the road because at 10pm to around 1 or 2am, there may be people doing motor bike racing. As illegal as it may sound, nobody seems to be bothered to stop them. So just take a note of this. 

From Bukittinggi you can go to several places. Of course there’s Ngarai Sianok to enjoy (and there’s a famous place to have Itiak Lado Mudo right in the center of the canyon. Must try!. Just bring your medicines just in case your tummy can’t cope with it). For breakfast, try Lontong Pical, Bubur Kampiun, and lots of other delicious local delicacies at Pical Ayang. You’ll be so sorry you miss this for a boring breakfast at the hotel!.

You can explore Pasar Ateh – a part of Bukittinggi’s market where you’ll find lots of beautiful fabrics and other handicrafts. You have to go several steps, and the market itself is built like it’s climbing up the stairs. We didn’t go there this time, not with two kids.

One thing you shouldn’t miss: babendi-bendi (or riding the horse carriage), just for the fun of it. It’ll take you around the main attractions of Bukittinggi. And horse carriages in Minangkabau are usually well decorated. And their horses are amazing!. 

They are very serious about their horses. And I remember my mother told me that my grandfather used to have a carriage and some horses too. So I guess that seriousness about horse is rooted from the fact that it has always been a part of the tradition to have a horse in families, that it may have also been an asset since the olden days together with buffaloes, much like cars in modern times.

A carriage driver told us that many horses are cross bred with Australian horses. Such process can cost around IDR 3,000K (which is about US 315). 

They also have weekend races at certain places, and every year there’s a big horse race. Unfortunately we were at one of the places where that weekend race is usually held, which is Payakumbuh, in a wrong time. Otherwise it would have been quite interesting to watch!. So you may want to check out the schedules of these races before you set off to Padang. 

Fine horses, with well decorated carriages too!

a decoration on the carriage

Outside Bukittinggi, there’s Maninjau Lake. What I love about going there is the road – Kelok 44: there are 44 sharp bends, which can either be a joy to behold since the view is spectacular, or can make your stomach feels like it wants to throw everything out instantly. Whichever you’ll experience, it’s one you will have to go through. 

Though Maninjau itself offers a lovely view and nice cool air, unfortunately you can’t really swim in it. The reason is simple: the lake sides, aren’t clean so you can’t just step inside the lake without stepping on garbage. There are local food operators who don’t seem to care about how they get rid of their garbage. As the result, it’s quite appaling to see that beautiful lake being polluted. A shame, a real shame.

Our next destination is Harau Valley, via Batusangkar and Payakumbuh. Paid a visit to Istana Basa of Pagaruyung. If you haven’t seen a Rumah Gadang in all its grandeur, then go there. Unfortunately it is not open for public so you can only see the exterior. But even that, is quite amazing to imagine that in the past, there was really a building like this!. 

Then, Harau Valley. I am lost for words to describe this place. There are stone walls surrounding you. And if you come in the wet season, you can actually see lots of water falls at many points of Harau.

We stayed at Lembah Echo (, contact: M. Kahfi – email: If you like some peace and quiet, then this is a place. It is right in the center of Harau. Not too well kept, and don’t expect luxury, but it  has a very nice ambience. 

A warning: if you are picky about what you eat: bring your own meals. The staff will be quite happy to cook the meals for you (it’ll be an extra money for them too), otherwise you’ll get very basic food like nasi goreng or mie goreng with sunny side up; and bread for breakfast. Especially if like us, you don’t stay over on the weekend which are their only busy time. When we were there, we were the only ones staying!. We loved it though!. It was peaceful, we were greeted by monkeys and lots of other beautiful sounds of nature at the background. And we practically had the whole complex to ourselves. 

You'll be greeted by monkeys, hear various interesting sounds of nature, surrounded by bugs at night. There's no AC in these lodgings (and surprisingly Harau Valley is not that cold, nor too hot), and only local TV channels. And mobile signal is bad here (everywhere actually, except main towns and cities). So if you're looking for luxury, forget it. If you're kids are too used to watching TV, then bring your gadgets. But if you're only on gadgets, don't come here - a pity for this beautiful nature not to be enjoyed

Once you’re in Harau, then it’s quite far to go anywhere else, really. Unless, like me, you know a place called Suliki. Otherwise, you can also just enjoy Harau, do some trekking with the locals. We were actually wondering if there are rock climbers in Harau because the rock formation looks interesting to climb. 

From Harau, we continued to Singkarak lake, then Solok, to then stay over at Sawahlunto.

Unlike Maninjau, I found Singkarak a lot cleaner. We suspected it was due to Tour De Singkarak held every year, forcing the local operators to keep the place clean. 

We went to Solok with one and only purpose: to see various Rumah Bagonjong. And it was a real delight to go inside kampong areas, finding various of these traditional houses, some in good condition some are not. 

Our final destination of the day was Sawahlunto, where we stayed at Ombilin Heritage Hotel Sawahlunto (Jl. M. Yamin, Pasar Remaja, Lembah Segar. Phone/Fax: +62 754 61184, 618). This hotel used to be the place for the mining company’s employees to stay when they visited.

We did not plan to stay in this city but we got there quite late already and we thought we would cancel the trip to Sungai Pinang. If it was planned, we would probably be able to stay in what used to be the house of the Director of the mining company, a beautiful old house. 

Sawahlunto actually has the best coal quality in the world. But given the expensive effort that has to be done to get it, while the price is not high anymore, there is only a little mining activity in this town. What was very amusing for us was to visit the only preserved old mining tunnel. The guide told us there are still efforts to open up more parts of the tunnel for tourism. 

Mbah Suro tunnel - the only preserved old mining tunnel in Indonesia. They've only opened the tunnels to 30m below, still in process to open up the deeper ones

And guess what, though Sawahlunto is a small town, it has a science centre!. Cool, no?!. 

The next day, we finally decided we would go ahead with the plan to stay over at Sungai Pinang. Sungai Pinang is a  fishing village. We found it through

The only reason why we almost canceled this final destination was because our driver said the road to go there was quite rough. Not an asphalt road, with rocky, steep and slippery climbs, complete with deep cliffs on the side. Since we had no idea of the real condition, we had to rely on his rather scary information so we thought we’d not go ahead with it. Luckily, Ricky from Authentic Sumatra told us they could pick us up at a point in Padang, and their driver would take care of the rest. 

And so we went. 

Turned out, it was true that the road was rocky, steep and slippery. Need some getting used to for someone to drive there I guess. But it wasn’t as scary as I thought. Maybe because I was used to roads like that as a kid when my father took us traveling through roads less traveled. And luckily the kids were also fine with that road condition. 

After about an hour of a bumpy ride, we were rewarded with magnificent views of the hills. And, when we reached the beach, we were stunned. 

Beautiful, soft, sandy, beach with clear blue water was right in front of us!. And best yet, all rooms were really right by the beach! (which at night we found out, the sound of the waves was quite strong that it was hard to fall asleep. Plus there was a storm that night so it was very windy hence the waves were crushing to the beach like a madman playing drums!. We should’ve brought ear plugs :D But, it was a wonder how our kids were not bothered at all – both slept well through the night). 

With the rain and wind continued the next day, we couldn’t go to Marak island which is right in front of us. But the waves were just too high for a boat ride, and with two kids nobody would risk anything. Still it was fun to watch the rain, and when it stopped for a while we could still play in the sea since it is anyway quite shallow and calm regardless of the weather.

The sea on your doorstep

The 'dining hall' :) I love this because it's so relaxed, it felt like a family house

And so we’ve come to the end of our short adventure in West Sumatra. 

All that my mother’s told me, all that’s been kept in my mind about the beautiful Ranah Minang, are here to stay. Some of the past memories remain, and new ones were made. They all collapse into beautiful sketches of Minangkabau – becoming a part of me, a part of my life. 

(R I R I)
Also read Sketches of Minangkabau part 1 and 2

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sketches of Minangkabau part 2: The challenge to your senses

Having traveled to Minangkabau before, I’m amazed at how little my memory actually keeps of my past travels to this land!. This time, I was awed by so many things. Let me just try to jot down, one by one.

The beauty of nature at every corner. Of course, Indonesia is dangerously beautiful. West Sumatra, offers quite a spectacular view of Bukit Barisan surrounding this beautiful land. Where ever your head turns, you’ll find something that will make your jaw drops a little.

The famous Sianok Canyon and Mt. Singgalang

Sungai Landia - otw to Maninjau Lake

Not sure where this was - imagine going to school here. Cip said, "No distractions, all these kids must all be very focused in their studies!".

Maninjau Lake from one of the bend at Kelok 44 (or literally as 44 Bends - the route going towards the lake)

Inside Sianok Canyon
Harau Valley

The beautiful rock formation in Harau Valley
One of the water falls in Harau Valley. Pity we came in dry season. Otherwise the water is said to be splattered all around you

A point near my mother's home land, Suliki
Sungai Pinang

The beautiful, clean, pristine beach of Sungai Pinang

Food!, wonderful, rich and spicy food of Minangkabau. Who never tasted Minang’s food, hasn’t tasted the taste of heaven. OK I may be exaggerating, but it’s true!. From dendeng batokok, rendang, various versions of balado (or anything cooked with ground chili), various fried fish, various snacks – whatever, you name it!. Each is great. And what’s best is this: no matter how ugly a warung makan (or a small local restaurant) may look, the food will never fail to delight you. Oh of course I should warn you if you can’t stand spicy food, get those medicines ready. Because different from Minang food (or people usually call it masakan Padang) we find in Jakarta, what you’ll find in Minang has that real kick of the chili!.

Oh and if you are not turned off by the smell – eat Durian!. I love this fruit (sometimes I don’t think it’s a fruit, too rich to be called a fruit). And in this trip, WHEREVER WE WENT, we smelled it!. So, why avoiding it?, you can’t anyway!.

  • While in Maninjau, try the local delicacy called Pensi. These are freshwater mussels, taken from somewhere in the lake, cooked with some spices. They are not big so one needs some effort to open it (though when we watched the locals, it appeared to be easy for them to do so!).

    The musels pre-cooked

    The cooked musels. They're not just boiled, they cooked this with spices and stuff. Seriously, this taste really good!
    What other ways to best enjoy a lake's view if not accompanied by fruit from heaven?

    The wonders of Rumah Bagonjong. One of the characteristic of Minangkabau is its houses with the buffalo-horns-shaped roofs. It has its legend too. It is often related with two versions. One version is the Minang people’s victory in a buffalo match with people from Java; and to celebrate that vistory and to honour the buffalo, people use the shape of the horns to shape their houses’ roofs.

    Another version is related with the ancestors of Minang people. The story has it that the shape of the roof resembles the shape of the boats used by the ancestors. Regardless which story is true – that is really the cream on the cake!.

    The house itself is beautiful to look at. What is unique also is that the carved ornaments on the exterior of the house (and sometimes also in the interior if the owner of the house is very rich) – usually it is in the form of tendrils, fruits and flowers. There also geometrical shapes like triangles, squares and trapesium. These ornaments will cover the exteriors – walls, doors, windows and its pillars. A bendi (or horse carriage) driver told us that a wood panel carved with these ornaments, will cost IDR 200K per meter. So those who can still build rumah bagonjong complete with its ornaments, are likely to be rich people

    And the existence of this traditional house also depends on the commitment of the local municipalities. So there are areas of Minangkabau where you won’t see a lot of these houses. The best places to enjoy these houses, is along the route of Padang Panjang to Bukittinggi, around Maninjau, Batusangkar, and Solok. 

  • I love these intricate details...a feast to the eyes...

    There are simple ones too. But still charming to see

Mosques. If you’re in Rome, you must visit churches and cathedrals. When you’re in Minangkabau, try visiting mosques. There are many mosques with a touch of local architecture – which makes them very different from those you’ll find in Java with the boring so-called Arabic domes dominating the buildings.

In Minangkabau, it is very common to find 'surau' - or a place where people learn Quran recitals, and the boys sleep in there too. I found this behind a mosque. This is called Surau Payung because the shape of the tower's roof resembles an umbrella. And this is a part of an old Islamic school or Pesantren

We fell in love this this mosque at Rao Rao - near Maninjau. We love its roof and towers

One thing to see when you visit these mosques is these 'Mimbar', used for the Ulema to give sermons in Friday prayers. Different mosques have different style of these mimbars
A more modern looking mosque, still they adapt local architecture into it

Another mosque in Maninjau

Pillars of faith..

Blue mimbar
Aaaahhh a mosque with that typical roof shape :)

Now this, I really love. Always love stained glasses

This was once an energy converter from coal to electricity in Sawahlunto. Turned into a mosque. That tall tower behind was once a chimney

History. Hatta – who alongside Soekarno declared the independence of Indonesia, was born in Bukittinggi. You can find the home where he was born in this city. And you must visit Sawahlunto – where you can find THE ONLY preserved coal mining tunnel in Indonesia. You’ll also find stories of coal mining by the Dutch in this city. The city itself is nice: you’ll feel like you travel back in time. And in general what I personally enjoy is there are still a lot of colonial houses in most parts of Minangkabau.

The house where Hatta was born

The first level of the house

The second level

A cute house, and authentic Vespa scooter, at Pandai Sikek

An old mushola, or a small mosque at Maninjau

Charming view

An interesting blend of a colonial house and atap bagonjong, Minang's way of adopting the western 'feel'

A lovely old wooden house in Koto Gadang

Charming old house in Maninjau

A corner at Sawahlunto

The Art and Culture centre - feels like an old European town, Sawahlunto

The history of coal mining by the Dutch at Sawahlunto can be found in their museum

The office of Bukit Asam, Sawahlunto

The well preserved tunnels at Sawahlunto  - the only one of its kind in Indonesia

Friendly, charming, people. Of course Indonesians are well-known for being friendly. But what I find most charming about people we’ve met in this trip, is how ready they are to share with one another. 

Everytime I went to buy something in the local markets, and I asked questions of where I could find this and that, they would always scream to the next person. Like when I needed to find a kitchen knife in Payakumbuh market, I asked a lady about it. She immediately screamed, “Oi, dima nan jua pisau dapue?” (hey, where’s the place that sells a kitchen knife?). The next lady, “Toko si Acuang jak nyo ndak?” (at Acung’s store, right?) – to another guy. The guy, “Oi Acuang, jua pisau ndak?” (hey Acung, do you sell knives?) – to someone sitting in front of a store. “Iyo ado, sa nan mancari?” (yes I have, who’s looking for it?). And the lady who I first talked to, “Iko ibuk ko. Nah sanalah buk, ado pisau di sinan” (This lady is looking for it. There you go, there’s knife there) – talking to me. And all that conversation happened about 5-6 meters long, perhaps. So it was like watching a Chinese whispers game, but in the form of a continuous screams. 

And while all that happened, I couldn’t help watching them with a big smile and wide opened eyes. I understood all that but I could not speak Minang very well due to never having to say it at all in my life!. So I very wanted to join the conversation, but did not really know how to jump in.

And that did not only happen once. At every place we went to, if we asked for something, that would happen. They were very eager to help, and not only that, they seem to be open about encouraging other people’s business to thrive!. I love the spirit, and I certainly love the warmth that spirit makes me feel. 

Local boys at Sianok Canyon

A lady we met at Solok, when we went around to take a look at all the beautiful Rumah Bagonjong. She's the 4th generation living in this house. She was very amused when I told her my mom came from Minang, asking us to stay and have a meal, and also, saying her blessings as we welcome the month of Ramadhan

The boys at Solok. They told me which house I should take picture of, and of course, they asked me to take a picture of them, too :) In my broken Minang dialect, I managed to talk to them! :D

A girl selling various kinds of porridge we met at Sungai Pinang. We told Tara, that other kids her age have to work sometimes, so she should be grateful at her life

Rada, a girl who befriended Tara soonest we arrived at Sungai Pinang. She told us of her terrifying moment when the earthquake hit her house. The whole family had to flee, her house was ruined, but luckily nobody was hurt

Bang Madi, one of the staff at Ricky's Beach House, where we stayed at Sungai Pinang. A very friendly, funny guy. Eager to learn English from me but alas time was short. So I guess I should be back one day :)

You probably want to smack my head now since I didn’t jot down a thousand things on that list. And you may also say all that I have told you about, you can find anywhere else in Indonesia. But if you’ve been there, which I hope if you haven't you'll make time to visit this beautiful land one day!, I think (I hope) you’ll know what I meant.

I am grateful that my mother has painted a beautiful picture of her native land to me. To see all her stories came to life, once again after all these years of not visiting Minangkabau, has made me once again realised how wonderful life once was in my mother’s growing up time. A memory that I never had as a child growing up in Jakarta (although, the Jakarta that I knew then was also a lot more beautiful than it is now!).

I am now hoping my impression of Minangkabau has done justice to her stories and history. And that I’ve also done justice to the half part of my blood – as urang awak. 

(R I R I)
Also read Sketches of Minangkabau, part 1: Childhood memories

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