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Asia Fantasia! Part 2 – Sumatra, Indonesia.

Even Winnie The Pooh likes Indonesia!

Our flight from KL to Padang, Indonesia was short and simple; in just less than an hour and we touched down in another new country.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Indonesia’s immigration service which was slow and boring! We filled out the obligatory entry card and parted with $25.00 each for the stamp on our passports before queuing patiently at passport control.
It seemed odd, in a good way, to be the only westerners in the airport, but I did wonder why. I exchanged a few Dollars for Indonesian Rupiah in the terminal and inquired as to the simplest way into town before running the gauntlet outside the airport doors; where we were met with the usual throng of taxi and minibus drivers, not as manic or insistent as some parts of Asia though which was nice. And as we had already taken the advice of the nice lady inside it was just a matter of locating which bus to board for Padang  Town Centre (40,000IR each, about £3.30). They don’t like travelling with a half full bus though and we waited a little over an hour for another incoming flight before getting underway. It’s no big deal though, you get used to the easier pace of life in Asia and just go with the flow. A few minutes after sitting on the bus we were approached by a couple of giggling girls and fielded all the usual questions about where we were from, where we were going and where we had been, before they asked if we would mind having our photographs taken with them. “Sure, why not!” we laughed; and posed away while they snapped away! I wondered if they thought we were footballers or something? Or perhaps they had been reading my blog! Hahaha.

This photographing thing became a bit of a theme during our time in Indonesia but we embraced it like good tourists and are probably on Facebook pages all across Sumatra by now! 😀 Daniel was particularly popular with all the attractive young girls, the lucky sausage, all I got was old women; makes you wish you were nineteen again, Hahaha.
We were also approached on a regular basis by small groups of school kids wanting to practice their English and we guessed that their teachers had instructed them to go out do this; we had fun chatting with them even if it was a little difficult at times.
We alighted central Padang and with a little help from the friendly locals we were soon heading off to find the Spice Homestay. We had a little trouble locating it at first; the street it was supposed to be on was wrong, we discovered, which is unusual because the Lonely Planet is normally pretty accurate. However an enterprising local chap fixed us up with a couple of moped riders and for the princely sum of a dollar each we were dropped a few minutes around the corner right outside the door. The Spice Homestay turned out to be a real oasis and even had a lovely little Balinese Garden in which to relax. It was a bit out of our normal budget but at £24 per night (£12 each; you almost always pay per room and not per person in Asia) for a twin/air-con/en-suite including breakfast it was well worth it. Putri, the owner, was a lovely lady and very welcoming, and all the staff/family turned out to be just the same.

The lovely Spice Homestay, an oasis.

We jettisoned our packs in the room and went off out to explore the town; we were obviously a bit of a novelty and it seemed that everybody wanted to say hello to us, have a chat, or take a picture with us. I was beginning to feel like a celebrity.
Surprisingly the beach wasn’t the most tropical we have encountered, a right shithole if I’m honest! But then the whole city is struggling to recover from the tsunami in 2005 and a major earthquake in 2009 so I suppose the beach is the least of their worries. Many of the buildings are badly damaged and the block paved pavements have deep holes in them; with many of the sewer drain covers damaged too. It looks like it’s slow progress towards recovery. What it really needs are tourist Dollars but unfortunately that is unlikely to happen any time soon given the current economic climate. It’s a real shame because the people are very smiley and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.
We ate at a roadside cafe, had our regular staple of Chicken and Rice, and were welcomed enthusiastically by the lovely family who ran it. The chicken was a bit scrawny and looked like it had been deep fried a few times, which was slightly unnerving, but we were starving and took the risk anyway.
On our adventure around town we spotted a nice looking hotel which had a digital sign advertising all of it’s benefits; as it scrolled across the screen one of them declared “Free Wife” which made us laugh out loud. I love the “Lost in Translation” moments you get when travelling and we guessed they meant free WiFi; unless of course the owner had a really rubbish wife that he wanted to get rid of and was offering her in a package with a nice en-suite double! Dan videoed it on his phone for good measure.

Later we had a shower back at The Spice and surfed the net to catch up on life; then hit the town again early in the evening for dinner. Dan turned his nose up at most places and I turned mine up at few! We ended up at Dan’s choice, a Texas Chicken joint, which proved to be a mistake. It cost about £10 (130000IR) and was greasy shite! The deep fried chicken seemed to be ubiquitous across Sumatra and not really my favourite of the Asian culinary delights.
We hung around the lounge at The Spice later in the evening; I wrote blog notes and read, and I introduced Dan to the delights of Karl Pilkington (An Idiot Abroad) on the internet. He had headphones on and was laughing out loud, which made everyone else laugh out loud too! Jet-lag still had a slight grip on us and we crawled into bed, knackered, at 11.30pm.

Saturday 1st October. Padang/Bukitinggi.

After a decent, and much needed, nights sleep I awoke about 08.45 feeling much more refreshed but with a touch of stomach ache (there’s a surprise, bloody deep fried chicken!). I managed to drag Dan out of bed about 10.00am just in time for breakfast; and it was good! Melon, Watermelon, Mango, Orange and Pineapple; fried eggs, toast, cereal, fruit juice and coffee! After that lot I had to have a good poo which in turn eased my stomach ache considerably, bonus 🙂
I asked Putri if she could organise our minibus transfer to Bukitinggi, about 2 hours away, and she did. Unfortunately the convenient 1.00pm bus was full which was a bit of a bummer, be we managed to get on the 3.00pm one. We hung around the lounge all morning taking it easy, we both showered and then I ambled out for an hour to explore the harbour area and the Chinese temple alone. Somehow I didn’t find either; but I had fun wandering the back streets and taking photographs before getting back to The Spice just in time for the minibus to collect us, at 2.30pm, for the short trip to the office.

Not all of the buildings in Padang are under repair.

We payed our fares (30000IR/£2.30) and grabbed a couple of drinks before the bus left for Bukitinggi at 3.00pm. Luckily I was sat in the middle seat on the back row and had a bar right up my bum crack for the whole journey, which was fun. I was in danger of losing the use of my legs or developing DVT before we arrived in the clock tower area  in the middle of town about 6.15pm.
Unsure of our exact location, and with darkness fast approaching, we looked around for clues on the shop fronts, we were on Jalan A Karim (Jalan means street), and we then headed downhill in a northerly direction. After only a short distance we came upon a junction and asked for directions to the Orchid Hotel and the guy sent us further down the road which confused me a little as the map seemed to indicate turning left. In Indonesia they don’t seem to worry too much about erecting street signs. We went a short distance to an elaborate foot bridge, that spanned high over the road, before deciding to backtrack.

Now that’s a proper footbridge!

We spotted the Orchid Hotel up the road we thought it was supposed to be on and grabbed ourselves an economy room for 100000IR (£7.70) per night including a basic breakfast but no hot water (not really a problem in most of Asia because cool showers are a much needed relief to us Westerners!).
It’s a common theme in Asia when asking a local for directions that they often make matters worse. This is not a deliberate action, I hasten to add, but a cultural phenomenon; It is apparently all about status and the “loss of face”, they don’t like to say “no” or “I don’t know” and so they say “yes” and send you off in the wrong direction! Hahaha You’ve got to love it! 😀

We were accosted almost immediately by the hotel tour guide, Andre from Ronis Tours (Lonely Planet did say they were pretty good), and we discussed a number of trip options. We settled on a motorbike tour of the Harau Valley the following day, at 175000IR/£13 each, and agreed to meet Andre in reception at 09.00am. 
I really wanted to do the hike up to the summit of the Merapi volcano but we were told it was off limits at the moment due to safety fears, that’s a first in Asia! We then wandered into town for some food and drink. After a bit of deliberating we settled on The Bedudal Cafe, a nice couple (Craig from Guildford & his wife from Oz) were sat there drinking and they said it was a decent place. We were greeted by a local guy, Tom, who asked us if we’d like to join him so we did; he spoke very good English. He was pretty good company and turned out to be a tour guide. (They all hang around the bars looking for potential customers). The food was very good; we had Chicken and Beef Satay with Rice, cheap and tasty but not quite enough and after having a few Bir Bintang we had the munchies and went hunting for something else. We had more Chicken Satay from one of the Warungs (street vendors) at the side of the main street. Nobody spoke English and we had a laugh trying to explain that we wanted four each, we ended up with seven in total, even after showing him eight using our fingers several times. “Eight” we said showing him our fingers “Yes eight” he would smile and nod before continuing to cook seven of them, we gave up in the end, laughed, and shared the seven. Still not quite satisfied we found a shop and bought some biscuits before heading for bed. Bloody Beer!

Satay sticks. Eight please… No seven!
Sunday 2nd October – Bukitinggi/Harau Valley
We got up about 07.45am, well I did as Dan always needs at least 15 minutes more to actually wake up and get up, and went down for breakfast. It turned out to be very basic; Black Coffee or Tea and two slices of very lightly fried bread with jam. Tasty enough, I suppose, but not really filling; not complaining though at £7.70 per night!
Andre met us right on time at 9.00am with another guide called Putra; they both turned out to be nice guys and were good company for the day. We climbed on the back of their motorbikes, which can be a worry in Asia considering the standard of driving, and whizzed off through town to run the gauntlet.

The mayors office at Bukitinggi.

Dan and me posing with the smoking volcano.

Our first stop was high on a hill at the mayor’s office. A beautiful building, with an elaborate curved and pointed roof, overlooking the town. We had seen a lot of buildings in the same style and our guides explained that it is the traditional way for the Minang Kabau people and represents the horns of the buffalo. (This is because of an old tale of a buffalo fight arranged between the people of Java and the people of Western Sumatra). In the distance we could see a plume of smoke rising through the haze from the top of the volcano; perhaps they were right after all! (And there was me being the cynic and thinking that perhaps they had preferred an easier payday).
We hit the road again and stopped a while later at the side of the road to see local farmers harvesting the rice crops. We walked down to see them and Dan managed to stick his bright shiny new trainers into the mud! He was really pissed about this, so I laughed.
At the Blacksmiths forge.
We then called in to a blacksmiths forge to see how the tools for harvesting the rice are made, I did some blacksmith training as an apprentice engineer and so I explained it to Dan and Putra in more detail; I should have charged him for that! We walked a short distance down the road to another typically decrepit looking building; outside on the ground were many sheets covered in a bright red layer of waxy looking slithers of, what we learnt was, tapioca. We were shown around and the whole process was explained to us; from the harvesting and milling of the grain in to flour, then the mixing of the flour with water and dye, to the steaming process that produced large waxy blocks. These are then shaved in to the slithers we had seen on the mats outside before being dried in the sun and packed in to bags for selling. They are deep fried and are very similar to Chinese prawn crackers in texture, they are very nice too. It was a family affair and everyone pitches in with the manufacturing process, including the older children. Everyone was happy and they were chatting and laughing the whole time we were there.
Laying out the Tapioca to dry.

Shaving the Tapioca blocks in to sheets.
We rode on through stunning highland countryside for a good while before pulling off the road in a small town to pick up some lunch, all delicious looking Indonesian food. We picked out a few things and it was wrapped up for us before the short journey to a homestay in the Harau valley. We ate lunch and relaxed for a while at a beautiful bamboo built hut with a waterfall spraying in the backdrop and ponds, rice paddies and mountains to the front.

Dan relaxing after lunch.

After about thirty minutes we boarded the mopeds once more and headed in the Harau Valley proper. We called at a village to view a waterfall with a swimming pool at the bottom and we watched local kids top roping on a rock climbing face (with no shoes on!). Next stop was a busy spot so we headed off in to the bush to seek out a much quieter waterfall, about 10 minute’s walk away, with a small plunge pool and we bathed here and enjoyed the showering effect of the cascading water. Eventually we dragged ourselves away and spent a little time at Putra’s aunts’ café at the side of a very popular and shallow kids swimming area.
Dan enjoying the lovely cooling waters.
We had a long ride back to Bukitinggi, about 55kms, and it felt even longer on the uncomfortable motorbike seat. Back at the hotel we said our thanks to Andre and Putra and hit the shower. Refreshing.
The town centre was absolutely rammed with people out enjoying the day off work no doubt and we had an amusing wander around, occasionally getting stopped for photographs again.
For dinner we called again at the Bedudal Café and had a nice evening, we saw Tom again and chatted with him for a while. Once again Dan decided to have some more Satay sticks from a street Vendor and we tried to order 6 of them but the guy put seven on the grill. He eventually took one off and I later realised that seven must be a portion; hence the trouble getting eight from the other guy!
We liked it here, nice food and free wife! 😀
Monday 3rd October – Bukitinggi/Padang
We had decided to have a lazy day around the town exploring it out; we had a late breakfast at the Bedudal and surfed the net for a while on their free Wi-Fi. Dan decided that Sumatra was too sleepy for him and he was craving some excitement so we enquired about transport back to Padang and I looked for flights with Air Asia to Singapore for the next day; unfortunately the Wi-Fi kept crashing and I gave up frustrated.
We got lucky with a minibus that was leaving at 3.00pm so we were collected at 2.30pm from The Orchid and off we went again. The trip was pretty slow again and we finally got dropped off at a very nice looking hotel recommended by lonely Planet. It was very expensive and only had single rooms so we crossed the road and booked in at the very grungy looking Hotel Tiga Tiga. They only had a “first class” room left so we took it and went for a look. What a shit hole, I dreaded to think what the standard rooms were like! The roof was leaking and it smelt damp but the manager offered us a discount and we decided it would do for the one night we planned to stay in Padang. As I passed the kitchen I spotted a rat wandering around on the work surface! We decided to eat out. 
We headed towards the centre of town looking for an Internet café we had been informed about and soon came across it. We ordered some food and took advantage of the free internet once again. The food was lovely but the portions were small so we ordered the same again whilst I secured us a flight to first KL then onto Singapore for the following morning. (Except that I didn’t have Dan’s passport with me so he had trek all the way back to Hovel to fetch it. He missed it too and walked too far before realising! Unlucky).
We retired to the room for a shower in our deluxe suite and then watched The Fast and The Furious on the TV before getting to bed for the early start in the morning. I arranged a taxi with the hotel manager for 6.15am (100000IR which seemed lucky at the time because I only had 102000IR left!).

Tuesday 4th October – Padang to Singapore
We left the Hovel bang on time and the journey to the airport was a quick one with no traffic on the roads; 20 minutes. Check-in was straight forward enough but getting through the airport proved harder. At the immigration counter we were told we had to pay a 100000IR exit fee, which is not unusal. I asked if it was ok to pay in US dollars and the woman behind the glass quoted me $30. I laughed; she didn’t. So I argued my case, it’s not the money that matters; it’s the principle. She quoted an exchange rate of 7500IR to the Dollar which was outrageous. The current rate was at least 8000IR. She advised me to get some changed at one of the money changer’s. Both were closed, but of course I’m sure she knew that. I did a quick calculation and it actually worked out at about $26.50 so I showed her and gave her $27. No change was forthcoming though and she had a face like thunder. I wondered how much she pockets out of tourists on a daily basis. I don’t appreciate dishonesty no matter how little the amount.
We ate noodles in the departure lounge that were pretty tasty and fairly cheap too; not bad considering you wouldn’t get cheap or tasty in a UK airport!

The flight to KL left on time and landed on time. I like Air Asia they operate in a similar way to Ryanair in the UK and are just as efficient. We passed quickly through immigration and back out again with plenty of time for our connecting flight to Singapore, which once again left right on time 🙂
Singapore… to be continued…

More Images below.

Central Padang   
Recovery is a slow process in Padang.
Nice sidecar Madam!
Street vendor in Padang.
Andre and Dan assisting with the rice harvest!
Sumatra is a truly beautiful place.
Young lad at the Tapioca factory.
Beautiful butterfly.
You want to try a pedicure mate!
All the Minang Kabau people are smiley and welcoming 🙂
Even the Teletubbies like Bukitinggi on Sundays!
This cheeky young whippersnapper wanted paying for his photograph!
Some of the Hill Tribe folk were a bit odd looking!
The best way to carry your packed lunch in Sumatra.

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About The Author

Neil Cottam

Neil is the founder of Chase The Rainbow. He has spent a lifetime exploring the outdoors, from a childhood climbing trees and scrambling his bike around old pit heads to hiking in the Himalaya and backpacking around Europe and Asia.

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