Sumatra (also Sumatera) is a region of Indonesia and the 6th largest island in the world. Wild and rugged, it has a great natural wealth.
Sumatra is divided into ten provinces.
The westernmost province of Indonesia with greater autonomy, and the only province to implement Sharia law. It was where the spread of Islam in Indonesia began, making it home to many beautiful mosques.
|North Sumatra (Sumatera Utara) |
|Riau province |
|Riau Islands (Kepulauan Riau) |
Comprised of many islands east of Riau province, some of which are popular short-trips from Singapore.
|South Sumatra (Sumatera Selatan) |
|West Sumatra (Sumatera Barat) |
- 1 Banda Aceh — the major city in the far north
- 2 Bandar Lampung — boats to Java and access to Krakatoa
- 3 Bukittinggi — a pleasant mountain town
- 4 Bengkulu — the land of rafflesia and have great beaches on the west coast and access to Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park
- 5 Jambi — important archaeological sites and gateway to rainforests
- 6 Medan — big, chaotic city in the north, gateway to Lake Toba
- 7 Padang — gateway to Kerinci Seblat National Park and offshore surfing islands
- 8 Palembang — large city in the south, and former capital of the Srivijaya Kingdom
- 9 Pekanbaru — big oil city
- 1 Gunung Leuser National Park — orangutans at Bukit Lawang and much else; a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- 2 Harau Valley — a nature area which is located halfway between Pekan Baru and Bukit Tinggi. Rice fields are dwarfed by cliffs.
- 3 Kerinci Seblat National Park — site of Mount Kerinci, Sumatra's highest peak and the highest volcano in Indonesia
- 4 Krakatoa— site of the most famous Indonesian volcanic eruption
- 5 Lake Toba — beautiful highland lake very much on the back-packer circuit
- 6 Lhoknga — beaches and surf in the far north
- 7 Mentawai Islands — surfing heaven
- 8 Pulau Nias — surfing second heaven
- 9 Tesso Nilo National Park — important national park in the central east
People who spoke Austronesian languages first arrived in Sumatra around 500 BC, as part of the Austronesian expansion from Taiwan to Southeast Asia. With its location in the India-China sea trade route, several trading towns flourished, especially in the eastern coast, and were influenced by Indian religions and the Srivijaya Buddhist monarchy in particular.
The Srivijayan influence waned in the 11th century and Sumatra was then subject to conquests from Javanese kingdoms. At the same time Islam made its way to Sumatra through Arabs and Indian traders in the 6th and 7th centuries. Marco Polo visited the island in 1292. The powerful Aceh Sultanate ruled from this time into the 20th century. With the coming of the Dutch, the many Sumatran princely states gradually fell under their control. Aceh, in the north, was the major obstacle, as the Dutch were involved in the long and costly Aceh War (1873–1903).
Sumatra came under the control of the Dutch East Indies and became a major producer of pepper, rubber, and oil. In the early and mid-twentieth century, Sumatran academics and leaders were important figures in Indonesia's independence movements before full independence was gained in 1945.
The 2004 Tsunami
The Great Sumatran fault runs the entire length of the island along its west coast. On 26 December 2004, the western coast and islands of Sumatra, particularly Aceh province, were struck by a tsunami following the Indian Ocean earthquake. More than 170,000 Indonesians were killed, primarily in Aceh. Major earthquakes involving fatalities struck Sumatra in 2002 and 2007 and 2009.
Medan, as the largest city on the island, has the most flights including many international services to Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. Silangit International Airport near Lake Toba, Batam, Palembang, Pekanbaru, Padang and Banda Aceh also have international services. Other airports such as Bengkulu, Bandar Lampung, Tanjung Pinang, Pangkal Pinang, Jambi, Tanjung Pandan are served by domestic flights from Jakarta.
There are bus services from Java to various parts of Sumatra. Whilst most originate from Jakarta, there are services from Bandung, Semarang, Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Malang.
Most of the buses are in good condition and passengers are provided with blankets as trips take more than a day and the air conditioning can be freezing cold. As domestic low-cost carriers are not as cheap for long-distance trips, some passengers combine flights with a bus trip, such as flying from Jakarta to Pekanbaru, and then taking the bus to Medan. Luxury buses and sleeper buses are also available in the Banda Aceh - Medan route.
A ferry connection between the port of Merak on the island of Java (100 km (62 mi) west of Jakarta) and Bakauheni in the far south of Sumatra (Lampung province) is available 24 hours. Some passengers and drivers choose to travel by night, because it is not hot.
In addition, there are numerous ferry services connecting Sumatra to Malaysia as well as other Indonesian islands. The main port is Dumai in Riau, which is a visa-upon-arrival point and has direct links to Port Klang (3 hr), Port Dickson and Malacca (2 hr) in Malaysia, as well as to the Indonesian island of Batam near Singapore. Other ports that have ferry service to Malaysia are Batam, Tanjung Balai Asahan, Bengkalis and Karimun.
There are round-the-clock ferry services from Singapore to Batam, Bintan, and Karimun.
The Trans-Sumatran Highway (Jalan Trans-Sumatera), a 2,508.5 km (1,558.7 mi) road, connects the entire island of Sumatra from north to south. It passes through most major cities like Banda Aceh, Medan, Pekanbaru and Bandar Lampung. If you are not familiar with the routes, rent one with a driver. Driving yourself is dangerous, although the roads are well-paved, as sharp curves are not signed adequately. Night driving is not advisable.
The only useful railway service runs from Bandar Lampung in the very south of Sumatra to Palembang (400 km) and to Lubuklinggau. From Medan there a few trains a day to Pematangsiantar, Tanjung Balai and Rantauprapat.
Nature is the primary attraction of Sumatra. There are jungles, volcanoes and lakes. The rain-forest of this island is so important that, in 2006, 25,000 km² was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and named The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra. This area comprises three distinct national parks, the Gunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.
Perhaps the most notable specific attraction is the endemic Sumatran Orangutan (smaller and rarer than the only other species of orangutan which is endemic to Borneo). These are restricted to the northern parts of the island and perhaps the easiest place to see them is at Bukit Lawang in the Gunung Leuser National Park.
Rarer still are the tiny populations of critically endangered Sumatran Tiger and Sumatran Rhinoceros. The chances of casual visitor glimpsing one of these are slim, but you never know.
Also in the north, Lake Toba is the world's largest volcanic lake and a popular stop off on the backpacker trail.
In a nation of active volcanoes, Mount Kerinci in Kerinci Seblat National Park, is the highest of them all at some 3,805 metres.
Trekking is an obvious attraction, with countless peaks to scale and real opportunities to get right away from it all.
Furthermore Pulau Weh up north is a paradise for divers.
Sumatra's most famous contribution to Indonesian cuisine is nasi padang white steamed rice served with numerous curries and other toppings. It was created in Padang, but has been assimilated throughout Indonesia.
As well as being a popular and delicious option in nasi padang, rendang is a dry beef curry-type dish. It is prepared by slowly cooking the beef in coconut milk and spices for several hours until almost all the liquid is gone, allowing the meat to absorb the spicy condiments. It is typically served with steamed white rice.
Be careful if you take the Trans-Sumatra road, as there are pirate-style robbers known as Bajing Loncat (lit. jumping squirrels), especially at night. They will jump to your vehicle from the trees or their vehicle to carjack or steal some stuff from your vehicle, even if it means they have to kill you.
- The whole of Sumatra is a malaria zone; talk to a doctor about whether you need to take medication.
- Drink only bottled water, and to be totally safe also use only bottled water when you brush your teeth.
- In the dry season, local farmers often set fire to the forest to clear land for farming, often resulting in a thick haze. This may cause problems for those with respiratory diseases.
- Java can be accessed by ferry from the port of Bakauheni in Lampung.
- Ferries run from Dumai in Riau to Port Klang, Port Dickson and Malacca in Malaysia.