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Sumatra - The Internet Travel Guide (FAQ) (part 2/2)

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                          The Internet Travel Guide

                              Peter M. Geiser


Last change 25 December 1997


 Copyright (c) 1995, 1996, 1997

 1. General Overview
 1.1 Geographical Information
 1.2 Climate
 1.3 People
 1.4 Visa
 1.5 Embassies
 1.6 Border Crossing
 1.7 Customs
 1.8 Money
 1.9 Telephone
 1.10 Accommodation
 1.11 Food
 1.12 Health

 2. Transportation
 2.1 Flying
 2.2 Train
 2.3 Bus
 2.4 Car
 2.5 Becak and Taxi
 2.6 Trekking

 3. Places
     Banda Aceh
     Lake Toba
     Samosir Island
     Nias Island
      - Gunungsitoli
      - Telukdalam
     Jungle Train

 4. Literature
 4.1 Guidebooks
 4.2 Historical/Political
 4.3 Internet

 A. Contributors


The Internet Travel Guide
Copyright (c) 1995, 1996, 1997 Peter M. Geiser

Currently available in the series of the Internet Travel Guides:
Myanmar (Burma)



The main objective of this FAQ is to provide the reader with the newest
travel information available, like what is the current situation on visa,
where to stay and what prices are reasonable, etc. It is not a guide to
the Sumatras culture or history (although I started to include some
information about those subjects as well), for these non-changing facts
are much more pleasantly presented in many good books (see the list in
section 4 in this FAQ). It is also not intended to be a political pamphlet
since politics is often a very opinionated subject. However, I started to
include some political facts where I felt it was appropriate.

Remember: Things change very fast, so by the time you get to Sumatra the
information in this FAQ may be outdated. If you encounter this, please
bear with me. Instead of being upset, rather share your experiences with
other people on the net. The next tourist will thank you if he or she can
rely on your new information. Also, if you find time during your travels
to write a postcard or a letter to me, I would greatly appreciate it.

Some paragraphs are led by the name of the author in brackets. This
doesn't mean that these are their only contributions, but rather that in
that case I chose to leave the words as the author wrote them, adding a
more personal note to the FAQ.

Answering questions

There are many people who send mail to ask me some questions. As much as
I like to answer as many questions as possible, my time is limited. I do
this work in my spare time, so I frequently answer the questions only
after a couple of days (or even weeks if I'm away for a while.) It also
happens that I cannot return an e-mail due to an invalid e-mail address.
Please be careful to include a valid e-mail address, or then ask me to
post the answer in

This guide lives by being up-to-date. Since I cannot travel all the time,
I am glad to receive suggestions, contributions and comments. Any addition
is useful, regardless of the size.



In accordance with the Bern convention, this document is copyrighted
worldwide. The information provided within this document is the property
of the original authors. The author especially reserves the right to the
exclusive use of the term "The Internet Travel Guide".

This document or parts thereof may NOT be sold for profit or included in
any commercial documents (e. g. books, esp. guide books, magazines,
CD-ROMs, WWW-pages, the Microsoft Network or any other form) without the
prior written permission of the copyright holder. However, following the
common practice of the Internet, this document may be freely
redistributed without any modification whatsoever, including this
copyright notice.

If you as the reader has paid to get this document, please let me know. As
much as I would like I cannot give you back your money, but I can try to
put an end to the illegal stealing of other people's work.


The Internet Travel Guide
Copyright (c) 1995, 1996, 1997

Peter M. Geiser
Seeblickstr. 10
9010 St.Gallen




Flying is cheap and easy. Flights may, however, not be readily available
at exactly the time you want them. Booking ahead is recommended.

Some fares:

Padang        Batam           IDR 153300
Padang        Denpasar        IDR 575000
Padang        Jakarta         IDR 299600
Padang        Jogyakarta      IDR 461700
Padang        Medan           IDR 174200
Padang        Surabaya        IDR 528800


In Sumatra, there are several lines of railway that are not connected.

The train from Lake Toba to Medan takes some 7 hours.

2.3 BUS

Busses are the main means of transportation. They are cheap and reliable.
However, it's worth to pay a bit more to get the tourist bus or minibus.

The bus between Medan and Prapat is IDR 3000. The minibus is more
expensive (IDR 10000) and takes about 4 hours. Do not take the evening bus
from Prapat to Medan, there are numerous accidents, and it may as well hit
the tourist minibus.

The bus from Bukittinggi to Lake Toba costs IDR 27000 and takes the whole
day. It leaves between 7:30 and 8:30 and arrives after dark in Prapat
(around 8 or 9 pm). It arrives too late for the last boat, so you'll have
to stay one night in Prapat.

2.4 CAR

In Indonesia, cars are driven on the left lane!


Becaks are the main form of transportiation within cities. A ride should
cost about IDR 1000, but you will have to bargain.

There are two types of becaks, one with a bike and the other motorized,
having exchanged the bike by a motorcycle.

A ride in a taxi is IDR 1200 local price.

Often, you will be bothered by a lot of becak or taxi drivers where you
want to go. Just keep on walking, smile, and answer back "jalan, jalan"
(meaning somehing like "just walking" or "catching the wind".)


[Yet to be filled.]




Situated at the north tip of Sumatra, this city of 75000 is the capital of
the Special Region of Aceh. This is the center of Islamic activity, with
an active group of rebels, Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh).

Mesjid Raya Baiturrahman (Great Mosque)
Built by the Dutch in 1879 to replace the old one they had destroyed
during the Aceh Wars in 1873, the black-domed and white-walled mosque is a
center of peace and quite. It is open to non-Muslims on Monday to Sunday
from 7:00 to 10:00 and 13:30 to 16:00.

In the southern part of the city is this small palace with a lovely
enclosed pleasure garden. Legend has it that in the 17th century Sultan
Iskandar Mudah built it for one of his queens who wanted to take a stroll
from time to time.

Aceh Museum
South-east of the Great Mosque is a small museum with a lot of local
artefacts but little information. It is open on Tuesday to Thursday from
8:30 to 13:30 and 14:30 to 18:00 and Friday and Saturday from 8:30 to

Pasar Ikan (Fish Market)
In the morning, this market is bristling with activity.


The cheapest place to stay is the Losmen Rasasayang at Jalan Cut Mutia 26


This city of more than 2 million is located on the north-east coast of
Sumatra. It is the main gateway to and from Sumatra.

Mesjid Raya (Grand Mosque)
Designed by a Dutch architect, the stately building was built in 1906 by
the Sultan Makmun Al-Rasyid. It is truly international, with 'Marocco'
style, the marble from Italy, the stained-glass windows from China and the
chandelier from Amsterdam. There is no admission, but a donation is


To get into town from the airport, there are taxis with a fixed price of
USD 2.50.


Wisma Yuli, near the big mosque has rooms for IDR 12500.

Irama, Jalan Palang Merah 112-S, is a friendly palce with lots of good

Sarah Guesthouse, Jl Pertama 10, is friendly and has a lot of information.


Lake Toba is the biggest lake in South-East-Asia. It is on 600 m and has a
depth of 523 m. There was a waterfall at one end, but it has been turned
into a power staion.

The water is excellent for swimming, with a constant 25 C.


Samosir Island, an island in Lake Toba, is a good place to get a rest. The
main place for tourists is Tuk-Tuk peninsula.


There are more hotels than tourists on Tuk-Tuk peninsula. Many are
directly at the shore and the boats will drop you directly at the door
step of the hotel.

Starting from south to north, the ones directly at the shore are:
Linda, Duma Sari Hotel, Elsina, Carolina, Sidita, Silintong Hotel, Rumba,
Mata Hari, Hisar's, Marroan, Romlan, Rodeo, Ambaroba, Toledo Inn, Anju
Cottages, Samosir, Toledo Inn II, Reggae, Abadi, Sony's, Tony,
Christina's, Hogi's, Sony, Nina, Mas.

Excellent value for money is Mas, with rooms from IDR 4000 to IDR 12000.
They also have a restaurant with very good foor and a laundry service.

Carolina's Cottages is a group of very fancy, but real Batak cottages.
They have a real flush toilet, stellite TV, and there is a good resturant.
It is directly on the beack and has a diving board. They cost IDR 17500
for a cottage.


Prapat is a nice, touristy town at the shore of Lake Toba. It is also the
gateway to Samosir Island.



Located 110 km east of Sumatra, the island has a length of 125 km and is
40 km wide. Some 500'000 people live on that island, divided into three
different regions with differences in language and culture. The most
interesting villages are found in the south.

The other reason to visit Nias is its excellent surf on Lagundi Bay in the

Lately, Nias Island has made itself a name as a place for tricksters and
thiefs. Be careful with your belongings.


The capital of the island lies on the east coast. The town itself doestn't
offer much to see, but there are nice walks in the surrounding area, where
the typical northern style houses can be seen.


Ketilang is the cheapest place in town.

Wisma Soliga is cheap as well, very clean and friendly with helpful
people. It has also a Chinese restaurant.


The second biggest town on Nias, it is the center of the south. It is an
excellent base to visit the traditional South Nias villages.


Bukittinggi is one of the most beautiful places in Sumatra. Located in the
heartland of the formerly maternalistic Minangkabao people and surrounded
by several volcanoes, there are numerous possibilities for excursions to
surrounding sights.

Central Market
If you look for something, it most likely will be sold at some stall or
other, you just have to find it in this huge market. The more interesting
days are Wednesday and Saturday when a lot Minangkabau people from
surrounding villages come to town to sell their goods. Of course, these
are also the days when prices are a bit higher than usual.

Clock Tower
Just south of the market is a strange clock tower built by the Dutch in

Fort de Kock
In the northern part on top of the hill is Fort Kock. It was built in 1825
by the Dutch during the Padri Wars. There is little to see, except a moat
and a couple of rusty cannons, but it is a peaceful place to get away from
the rahter noisy town. Entrance is for both, Fort de Kock and the Zoo.

On the other hill, accross the main street of Fort de Kock is the Zoo. It
is not in excellent condition, but there are some interesting species of
animals to see. There is also a traditional Minangkabao house in the style
of the King's palace which includes a museum. Recommended. Entrance is for
both, the zoo and Fort de Kock.

Getting around

There are motorbikes to rent for IDR 15000 and for IDR 20000 per day.

It is also possible to rent mountainbikes.

Within Bukittinggi, the best way to get around is to either walk (it's so
small) or to take one of the shared minibusses (called Bemos).


The best way to explore the surroundings of Bukittinggi is to go on one of
the tours provided by the many travel agencies. There is every imaginable
tour possible, so following is only a list of the most commonly done ones.

A one day tour to the center of the Minangkabaus, the Harau Valley or to
Lake Minanjau costs IDR 22500.

Trekking costs USD 20 per day. Typical destinations are Lake Maninjao
(3 days), Harau Valley (4 days), Equator Trek (3 days), Kubu (5 days), or
one of the surrounding volcanoes.

A back-to-nature trip (where the Muslim guides enjoy photographing Western
women wearing only a woven mini skirt) to Siberut island takes either
6 day (USD 120) or 10 days (USD 150). Note that it takes about one to two
days to get there and the same time to get back.


The Tropic Hotel is not directly at the main road and thus very quiet.
They have rooms from IDR 7000 to IDR 12000. The manager, Eddie, speaks
very good English and is very friendly.


Valentine, just next door of the Tropic Hotel has good, cheap food. The
woman running the cafe also does cheap laundry service.

At the main road (Jalan Jend A. Yani), there are many small restaurants.
Not recommended are the Coffee House and the Three Tables Coffee House.
Good food and friendly service is available at the Under The Bridge Coffee
House. There you also have the possibility to eat without beeing hasseled
all the time.

On 58, Jalan Jend A. Yani is an excellent, but crowded Chinese, the Mona
Lisa. It is not exactly cheap, though.

Further up Jalan Jend A. Yani, towards the Clock Tower is a KFC. Very

Just next door to the KFC is a small traditional Indonesian restaurant.
The people there are very freindly, the food is excellent and very cheap.
Absolutely recommended.

Near the market, there are many good foodstalls.

On the other side of the KFC is another Chinese.


(Marc) It must be one of the most beautiful railway lines in the
world, and yet it is almost unknown. It runs from Padang Panjang to
Padang. En route it will pass waterfalls, high bridges and deep
tunnels, first through the jungle, then between rice paddies. It is a
cogwheel railway and the first time I was walking the rails I
discovered that I was stepping on iron sleepers that had +Krupp 1895+
written on it. Imagine the feeling walking through the jungle on a
railway track that has been there for 100 years! They have now
replaced most of the rails and sleepers but nothing else.

The reason why this train is not known very well is maybe because it
is a cargo train for coal but you can catch a ride on the
locomotive. You will probably anyway want to go to Bukittinggi, about
100 km from Padang. Many travellers describe Bukittinggi as
Indonesia+s most beautiful City. From Bukittinggi walk the road to
Padang Panjang (you may use the old railway track, that is partly
dismantled, party still there and rotting) and catch one of the
passing minibuses (called bemu) to Padang Panjang.

There you walk to the train station (ask for setasiun kereta api).
There are frequent trains departing from Padang Panjang to Padang
(strangely I have never seen one going the other direction). Go to the
station and talk to the station master (or whoever hangs out there).
Explain them that you would like to get a ride to Padang. You wait for
the next train, ask the driver for the lift and hop onto the old Swiss
diesel locomotive. They won+t charge anything, but I had some European
small coins ready as a souvenir. Another great gift are ballpoint
pens, with something foreign written on it, however cheap. I once even
jumped onto one of the carriages of a passing train as I was walking
along the track (remembering Jack London).

If you like +off the beaten track+ you should alight at Kandang Ampat.
Simply tell the driver where you want to get off and he will slow or
even stop the train for you. In Kandang Ampat ask for Uncel Dee Dee's
Homestay. This is an ideal place to know something of the jungle, you
will most likely be the only guests. A must is the waterfall. Ask Ris
(one of uncle Dee Dee's sons) to take you to the waterfall, but make
sure to go to the waterfall in the jungle, not the touristy one on the
road. There will be a turquoise pool and sometimes you can swing over
the water on a liana. If Ris is not there somebody else will be happy
to be your guide (this is one of the very few occasion where I like to
go by guide, it is moreover always fun with Ris).  Best of all you
will not see a single soul there.


Padang is not really much, a busy, dirty town. If you arrive at Padang
airport, the best thing is to get on directly to Bukittinggi.

The taxi from the airport to the town costs IDR 10000, to Bukittinggi they
ask IDR 60000.

If you walk out of the airport and to the right up to the main road (about
200 m), you'll be able to flag down one of the frequent busses. The bus to
Bukittinggi takes 2 h and costs IDR 2000.

There is a possibility to change money at the airport, but sometimes they
run out of money and you'll have to wait for a couple of minutes until
they get new.

There are several cheap restaurants right at the airport. Recommended is
the one in the middle (run by two or three very nice ladies.)




Indonesia, Malaysia & Singapore Handbook. Trade & Travel Handbooks,
ISBN 0-900751-66-5. Passport Books (North America), ISBN 0-8442-8886-1.
Fourth edition, 1996
With more than 1300 pages, it is a very detailed and valuable source of

Indonesia - A Travel Survival Kit. Peter Turner et al. Lonely Planet.
Over 1000 pages.

Indonesia Handbook. Bill Dalton. Moon Publications.
One of the classics, the current edition (6th) is from August 1995 and
has about 1300 pages and 265 maps.


Stahl, Sabine/Ulrich Mihr (Hrsg.) Die Krallen der Tiger und Drachen.
Wirtschaftsboom und Selbstbewusstsein in Asien. Droemer Verlag 1995. An
excellent book about the current political and economical developments
in Asia.


The newest version of this guide is available on WWW at

An archive with many tips and a lot of stories is

Infohub has a list of Indonesia ressources at



I have been able to include a lot of information from other people and
sources. Where it is necessary to do so, I put the author in front of the
paragraph, mostly so when personal experiences/feelings are important.
Whenever possible I tried to contact the author of the information to get
permission and I include his/her e-mail address for reference.

Marc Obrowski    
Tris Swan                  


The homepage of the Internet Travel Guides is at

Please send your comments, suggestions and contributions to the address
below. For questions, please see my note in the introduction.

Peter M. Geiser
Seeblickstr. 10
9010 St. Gallen


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