Bukittinggi, located in West Sumatra is the heart of the Minangkabau, an ethnic group that keep strong their traditions that are easily visible on the traditional architecture of wooden houses with the pointy roofs and by the less visible matriarchal society that is unique in Muslim communities.
The city has a some attractions that are interesting and worth a visit, like the house of Mohammad Hatta were the first vice-president of Indonesia lived, a figure respected in the country and affectively called Bung Hatta; an old-fashion clock tower (Jam Gadang) left by the Dutch that marks the center of the city and you can’t avoid; lively markets especially the Pasar Bawah (lower market) with it’s narrow corridors, crooked stalls and filthy areas, all wrapped in a dim light where we are welcomed with curious smiles; the Panorama Park that is not much more than a viewpoint but that offer an privileged view to the Koto Gadang, a natural huge stone wall as also for Sianok Valley, a canyon where the narrow river that runs now feed fertile rice fields.
The city is dominated by the Mount Merapi, a volcano that is still active and recently had some explosions, altering the usual mild climate of Bukkittinggi to more clouds and rainy days (June 2017).
Sianok Valley, Bukittinggi
But maybe what attract people to Bukittinggi are the surroundings, with the Danau Maninjau on the top of the list. It’s a lake on the caldera of an extinct volcano located 20 kilometers from Bukittinggi that is a much more interesting view from the top and the Puncak Lawang that is a nearby hill that is quickly being transformed into an amusement park.
But the Harau Valley stands up from all attractions the around Bukittinggi, with its flat rice fields surrounded by huge vertical rock walls, with the top crowned by trees and vegetation. From these impressive walls, a few waterfalls create cool and refreshing areas that are a blessing, after the more than 40 kilometers scooter drive along intense traffic. The valley has a perfect image of quietness that is just disturbed by the lively chatting of the kids at the end of the school day.
Things to do in Bukittinggi and around:
- Bung Hatta House (free)
- Pasar Bawah… fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, groceries… and Pasar Atas, more for stuff and uninspired souvenirs
- Second-hand clothes market
- Panorama Park (20.000 Rp) from where you have the best view to Mount Merapi, an active volcano
- Sianok Canyon and Koto Gadang are free, and you just need to walk along the road that goes down to the river and turn left before the bridge, in a small alley between houses… but you can also reach there through the Panorama Park. To reach the closest viewpoint of Koto Gadang you need to cross a footbridge and then climb up a long stone staircase.
- Danau Maninjang and Puncak Lawang viewpoint (10.000 Rp)
- Harau Valley (free but maybe you need to pay to see some waterfalls)… you can find a few guesthouses (as also a camping area) along the only road the runs through the valley and from there make some hiking along the valleys
Where to sleep in Bukittinggi:
Along Jalan Teuku Umar you have several accommodations for different budgets, but the Hello Guest House is the best budget option with different kinds of rooms as also a dorm.
Is located a walking distance from all the attractions in the city, has a friendly staff and is very-very clean! The sheets are pure white, the towels are fresh and the blankets are washed for every new guest (an unusual thing in Sumatra).
It’s a family business and Ling, the manager, is very friendly and useful providing all the information about how to move around, what to visit, where to eat… all without pushing you for expensive options or tours. She also booked my the bus ticket without charging any commission! The atmosphere is simple and friendly.
There are different kinds of rooms for different prices. But the cheapest option for a solo traveller is the dorm, which has a bathroom inside, with hot water!!! It’s 75.000 Rp per bed, including a breakfast (western style) that change almost every day. Free tea and coffee all day…. and free bananas during the breakfast time!
There are quite some mosques at Bukittinggi and Hello Guest House is located nearby one of them… so you can be awake by the first morning calling around 4.30… but is like that all over the city, and is part of the deal if you are traveling in a Muslim country J
Strongly recommend this place that was one the reasons that made me stay longer at Bukittinggi than I had planned.
Where to eat in Bukittinggi:
But for me, the most remarkable memory of Bukittinggi was the food!!! It was during the Ramadan, all pointed for closed restaurants and less interesting options, but Bukkittinggi presented a pleasant and delicious surprise: the Ramadan Food Market with a big choice of Minangkabau cuisine: the Rendang and Nasi Kapau.
After almost three months in Indonesia, this delicious cuisine still surprises me. Simple food but with a wide range of flavours and a spicy twist.
The rendang is basically a stew bit a huge quantity of spices that are cooked for many hours with coconut milk, resulting in a very dark and thick gravy that usually is cooked with meat but can also be found with egg.
The nasi kapau is basically a mix of dishes served with rice, in the same style of the nasi campur that can be found in Java, Bali and Lombok. Traditionally the nasi kapau is served with long spoons made from coconut and small portions of juicy curries are add to the dish that can have a mix of vegetables, egg, meat or fish… but where the unripe jackfruit curry is a must!!!
Out of the Ramadan period you can find the best rending at Rumah Makan Selamat (Jl A Yani). For nasi kapau, you must walk down, behind the Pasar Atas, through a staircase, pass the second-hand cloths market and turn right until you reach a ground with food stalls
See more about Indonesian food at: Masakan Padang… the most popular Indonesian cuisine
The Ramadan food market open from 2 p.m until 6 p.m…. as this is a fasting period is not possible to eat there, and everything is sold for takeaway, locally called “bungkus”… and even if you are starving avoid to eat or drink on the street to respect the other people fasting. This market is located on the top north of Pasar Atas, strategically located in from of a mosque!!!
How to move around in Bukittinggi:
The city is small and easy to walk ad the most interesting things are close by from each other.
To explore the surroundings, like the Danau Maninjau, the Harau Valley or the Kings Palace is better to hire a scooter. Hello Guest House can arrange you a reliable scooter for 60.000 Rp a day.
There is also local public transport to both to Danau Maninjau and Harau Valley.
How to go from Bukittinggi to Lake Toba:
There are many local buses from Bukittinggi to Medan that pass by Parapat, the closest village from Lake Toba, but this are old buses without much comfort to make this 15 hours trip.
The ALS (Antar Lintas Sumatera) bus company has “executive” buses, daily at 5 p.m to Medan that will drop you at Parapat on the next morning around 7 am. The ticket cost 205.000 Rp (the same price as if you go to Medan).
It’s a modern and comfortable but the first part of the trip is along a very steep and winding road that made car-sick quite some people on the bus. The last part of the trip, the last two hours, the road crosses a very beautiful plateau, where the rural area is decorated with the Batak traditional houses. It really worth to be awake so soon!
The ALS buses don’t departure from the Bukittinggi Terminal but from the ALS office/counter at Jalan Soekarno-Hatta.
- To reach ALS office you need to take an angkot (the red small mini-buses) that pass by Jalan Ahmad Karim that will drops you at Simpang Mandiangin (a crossroad on the way out of the city). The ticket is 3.000 Rp.
- From there you can get another mini-bus, this time a blue one that drop you at ALS for more 4.000 Rp… or do it on foot as the distance is around 600 meters.
Watch out that the air-condition inside the bus is very cold, so bring proper clothes like a jacket, socks and a scarf to allow you comfortable sleep.