West Sumatra report…Part 1: Bukittingi written by Emma from Australia on Lonely Planet Thorn Tree.
I have cut and pasted here so it will become a permanent report for all potential travellers to West Sumatra.
Pamela currently in Bukittinggi right now. typing this from a great internet cafe at Pt. Multi Mitra Mandiri at Jalan Permuda no. 16. Only 5,000/hr and very fast.
A bit of a way from the main drag, but far supeior to the Internet cafe there at 12,000/hr and very SLOW !
Just returned from three months lazing away in West Sumatra. I stayed in three places (yes…only three places in three months. I wasn’t kidding when I said I was ‘lazing’). I spent a few nights in Padang, and about 6 weeks divided between Bukittingi and Danau Maninjau.
I thought a report on accommodation etc might be useful for people travelling to this area. This is part 1, about Bukittingi, and I’ll write about Lake Maninjau and Padang in the next part.
First of all, if you are considering a trip to this area all I can say is GO!! Luscious scenery, low prices, fascinating culture and not too many other tourists. The other plus is that it’s so easy to get to from Singapore or S/E Asia. Padang, the capital of the region, is just 1 hours flight from Singapore and you can get super-cheap tickets from Tiger Air. Thanks to people from this Thorn Tree forum who gave me lots of advice before I left...huge thanks to pPamela, who was really, really helpful!
I sampled quite a few hotels in Bukittingi looking for the right place for me, and ended up back in the hotel I started with…only this time I had industrial strength ear-plugs so I could cope with the noise from the mosque at 5am. This hotel was called Hotel Kartini, and, if you can put up with the noise from the mosque (right across the road) then I think this hotel is the best value in Bukittingi.
It’s on Jalan Teuku Umar, which a fairly quiet road so there isn’t much noise during the day.
The rooms are clean and have their own bathrooms, shower, and hot water, and the managers, Din and Ema, could not be more friendly. (Although, they don’t speak ANY English, which is a bit of a challenge!).
The rooms range from 50,000rp to 80,000rp per night.
The best room is the one right at the top of the building. It has a little balcony, is light, and has a non-musty smelling bathroom. You get a decent breakfast (egg, toast, fruit salad), with the room price. The good thing about this hotel is that it has a few different sitting areas, including a nice balcony on the first floor which looks out over the rusty roofs of Bukittingi.
Also, it’s not really a backpackers place, more of a hotel for Indonesians, so it’s a good place to practice your Bahasa.
There are several other hotels along Jalan Teuku Umar, all a bit further away from the mosque. They are, Hotel Orchid and Hotel Asia. Hotel Orchid is the main backpacker hotel. It lacks charm but has decent, basic rooms, a little bit cheaper than Hotel Kartini. Hotel Asia reminded me of a correctional facility…horrible! I only stayed one night there and maybe I over-reacted but I really didn’t like the ‘vibe’ of the place. It had small, musty, windowless rooms, separate bathroom, and a spring bed whose springs had lost their spring! And, there was no sheet on the bed just this old blanket with holes in it. For 80,000rp per night this was not good value.
Around the corner from Hotel Asia is the Hotel Benting where I spent one hilarious night in “4 star” accommodation.
It costs around 150,000rp per night, although you can bargain them down because the place seems to be pretty much empty. The rooms are fairly decent, the best feature being the view from the balcony over the town of Bukittingi. There are also baths in the bathroom, which was a luxury.
But, don’t believe the staff when they say they have no bath-plugs. I had to get quite stroppy and act like someone out of ‘To the Manor Born’, asking “Well, how am I supposed to have my baaarth,” when the manager said she didn’t have any bathplugs. After my I had a little aristocratic fit she produced a bathplug from behind the counter.
Down the road from Hotel Benting is Merdeka. This is a lovely old Dutch building but is a bit run down. The rooms are large, but bathrooms very basic. It’s also not quite as close to the main town of Bukittingi as the other hotels I’ve listed. It’s 50,000rp per night.
I haven’t travelled to other parts of Indonesia so it’s hard for me to compare Bukittingi to other towns, but, travellers I met said that it was one of the most laid-back places they’d been too. They commented on the lack of touts, especially compared to the Danau Toba area, where many of them had come from.
Bukittingi has a population of about 80,000, although during the day this rises to around 200,000 with people from surrounding villages coming in to the markets etc. There is a large commercial area near the bus station, which is a few kms out of town. Tourist accommodation and attractions are all centrally located along one strip of the main street. Bukittingi is a lovely town to walk around because it’s quite hilly, and because it used to be a market town, it has lots of alley ways and steps connecting different sections of the markets (lower market and upper market). It’s nice to get onto these alley ways and away from the motor bikes!
Here are some places I really enjoyed visiting:
Markets… There are two market, an upper and a lower. The upper market has lots of clothes, shoes, electrical stuff etc and isn’t so interesting, but I just loved the lower market, which just sells food. It has heaps of atmosphere and the people there are really friendly. I really enjoyed wandering around buying as many different kinds of bananas as I could! You can get a little red bus to the lower market along the main road (Jalan A. Yani).
The Ngari Sianok Canyon… Bukittingi sits right on the edge of this beautiful canyon. It’s about 100 metres deep and probably 5-6 kms long. You can view the canyon two ways, either by going to the Panoramic Park on the edge of town and looking over it, or by going down into it. I wouldn’t go to the park on Sunday though, because there are too many people there (lots of courting teenagers with nowhere else to go!) It’s quieter during school days, and within school hours.
You can go down into the Canyon by foot, or by bus or motorbike. The turn-off to the Canyon can be reached easily by continuing to walk up Jalan Teuku Umar (where Hotel Kartini/Orchid etc are). You will go up hill, then across a road, then downhill. The next intersection you reach is the Canyon cross-road. If you continue straight ahead you are going down into the canyon.
Going into the canyon by bus is a bit difficult because the buses are always full by the time they get to these cross-roads. (If you want to get the bus you would almost have to get on it back at the bus terminal, which is about 3kms away!) The other option is to go on the back of a motorbike.
There are heaps of guys hanging around these cross-roads who will take you. They charge 3000-5000 for a trip. It is much easier to get a bus on the way back, so you could go down on bike and back on bus.
If you are a bit tired and sore, there is a woman in the canyon who gives a very invigorating traditional massage. Her house is almost at the other end of the canyon. You go down into the canyon, across a bridge, then go another 3-4 kms. Just before the next bridge (a large metal one), there is a house on the LH side of the road. This is where the woman who does the massage lives. She charges 20,000 rupees for around a 20 min massage. (It is best to go to her in the morning, before eating, because she prefers to do massage on an empty stomach.)
A lovely spot in the canyon is ‘Pancu’s Place’. It’s about 2kms along the canyon road and has a big sign. It’s a little café with a small place to sit across the road from the café where you can look out over the canyon bed.
Pancu is a really interesting guy to talk to, and he and his wife make a lovely noodle soup.
If you are interested in crafty things ask to look at his wife’s embroidery…it’s exquisite!
If you have a week or more in Bukittingi she can do some embroidery for you.
I bought her some cotton material and she did two small lines of embroidery for me on it… (costs around 50,000 rupees). You can camp at Pancu’s place if you want to, and he also hires out camping equipment.
There are lots of day trips you can do from Bukittingi. I didn’t go on a formal tour, but my father came over to visit me for 10 days he went on one.
His guide was Hendri, and my father said he was excellent – very knowledgeable.
Hendri is a great guy, a very experienced guide with excellent English. He helped me a lot while I was in Bukittingi and I found him to be a very genuine person.
He hangs around at Hotel Orchid and I would really recommend him as a guide.
If anyone wants to contact him before getting to Bukittingi his e-mail address is hen_westsumatra
Food: There are heaps of Padang food restaurants in Bukittingi. I ate at quite a few and never had any stomach trouble (surprising, since the food sits in the windows all day!) Most of the rumah makans are covered in Lonely Planet (etc), but a new place worth mentioning is in Jalan Teuku Umar (just up the road from Hotel Kartini and Hotel Orchid). If you walk up towards the top of the hill it’s on the RH side (called ‘Pizza Inn’…or something like that). Indra, the chef, makes his own bread and it is YUMMY! Crusty, thick slices…heaven!