The name Sumatra often brings to mind images of exotic wildlife as well as gourmet coffee beans. As the largest island that entirely belongs to Indonesia, it’s also one of the less commonly explored – especially when you consider the myriad of attractions found there. The Western Sumatran capital of Padang for instance, does not receive many overseas visitors. The trickle who come would take the quickest boat to the Mentawai Islands rather than spend a couple of days in Padang. The fact that Padang is not a buzzing or up-and-coming destination certainly adds to its charms. For the most part, you’ll find yourself to be the only foreigner in a town that Indonesians have long been in-the-know about – and for good reason, too. Here are the things you can do when you visit Padang, Indonesia.
Table of Contents
Marvel at the colonial architecture at the old town of Padang
Padang is one of the older colonial settlements in the island of Sumatra and in its old town, you can still find some fine examples of Dutch architecture – many which have survived the countless earthquakes that have wreaked havoc on the city. The old town of Padang is generally recognized as that area north of the Muaro river along Jalan Kelenteng II, Jalan Ps. Borong III and Jalan Batang Arau. It seems that gentrification has not caught on that much in Padang yet. In other cities, such charming old buildings could have easily been turned into cafes, art galleries or independent shops. In Padang, most of these buildings are abandoned save for the likes of Weekend Cafe (Jalan Kelenteng II, #1, open daily 11:30AM to 11PM), a “safe” brunch place that many travelers in town go to for its chic interiors and milder versions of local dishes.
Gedung Padangsche Spaarbank
One such heritage building is the Gedung Padangsche Spaarbank. As suggested by its name, the building used to be a bank during the Dutch occupation of Indonesia. This particular structure dates back from 1908 and at various times, have also been used for a different bank and also as a hotel. Its most recent use was as Hotel Batang Araw which existed in the early 2000s until 2009 when the great earthquake struck.
Address: 5 Jl Batang Arau, Padang, Sumatera Barat 25134, Indonesia
Gedung Geo Wehry & Co
This building is hard to miss especially if you are walking towards Sitting Nurbaya bridge. The structure used to house the local office of Geo Wehry and Co. The company used to be active in trading various commodities during the period of the Dutch East Indies. For the longest time, it is being used as a warehouse for an Indonesian company. Entrance is forbidden without permission but the real highlight is the frontage. If you look closely beneath all the stains, you can still make out the logo of the Geo Wehry & Co.
Address: Jl Batang Arau, Padang, Sumatera Barat 25134, Indonesia
Sitti Nurbaya Bridge
The 156 meter long Sitti Nurbaya bridge is often touted as one of the most romantic spots in Padang. It is a bit of a stretch however. Sure, the view towards the river and the hillside houses provide for a bit of atmosphere but the unsightly garbage being dumped on the river quickly dissipated any mood build up, in my view.
Still, locals who are dating commonly visit this place, owing to its supposed origins in Indonesia’s own Romeo & Juliet story. You will find hawkers lining the sidewalk and locals parking their cars on the side to get out and take photos, especially during sunset.
See Hin Kiong Temple
Originally dating back to 1841, the See Hin Kiong Temple is Padang’s old town serves as the oldest temple in Padang. The structure itself has had 3 different incarnations. The original one burned down in 1861 and was rebuilt. The second version was destroyed during the great 2009 earthquake. The structure that stands now, with its elaborate carvings, was built recently and was designed by architects from China.
Address: Kampung Pondok, Padang, Sumatera Barat 25134, Indonesia
You can see this place from afar, especially if you are situated in a high building. Padang’s own version of the “Hollywood” sign is displayed blatantly on a hill on a cape. Those who climb up the hill are rewarded with a view of Padang’s coastal areas. This is also said to the be place where Sitti Nurabaya’s (the lady involved in Indonesia’s own Romeo & Juliet story) tomb is situated.
Go cafe-hopping for Sumatra coffee
What’s a trip to Sumatra without a taste of the local coffee? As Padang is located in an island that serves as one of the world’s top coffee producers, there is no shortage of cafes in Padang. These hipster cafes provide for a great place to relax especially after one explores Padang’s often grubby streets. Great options include Pavilon Coffee (Jl Hayam Wuruk 20A, open daily 2pm to 10:30pm) and KiosK (Jl Tepi Pasak, 40-42, open daily 11am to 10pm). If you go to the latter, make sure to try their delicious fried noodles as well.
If you are looking for traditional Minangkabau architecture without heading out of Padang’s city limits, then Adityawarman Museum is your best bet. You will find plenty of exhibits there about local culture, and even local wildlife. If you’re feeling all touristy, you can also rent local Minangkabau attire for a photoshoot. But what I found most fascinating is the showcase/miniatures of various Minangkabau architectural styles found throughout the island and even the influence it has had on Malaysia’s Negeri Sembilan state.
Opening Hours: 8AM to 4PM Sunday, 8AM to 3PM Tuesday to Saturday
Address: Jalan Diponegro 10, Belakang Tangsi, Padang, Sumatera Barat 25114, Indonesia
Grand Mosque of Western Sumatra
Featuring a contemporary take on Minangkabau architecture, The Grand Mosque of Western Sumatra opened in 2014 to great fanfare. It is the second largest mosque in Sumatra and the largest in the region. The main prayer hall inside, which can accommodate 20,000 people, is an instagrammer’s dream with its Moorish patterns.
Address: Jalan Khatib Sulaiman, Padang, Sumatera Barat 25173, Indonesia
Daytrips & Excursions to Batusangkar and Bukittinggi
- Bukittinggi – This hill is a popular holiday spot for locals due to its cooler climate. Activities here are more kids-oriented though you can also spot some heritage structures in the form of Jam Padang (colonial clock tower) and the Sianok Canyon.
- Padangpanjang – An easy day trip for Padang, Padangpanjang houses one of the finest Minangkabau buildings in my view. I had a bit of difficulty locating it but the Minangkabau Information and Documentation Centre is highly recommended if you still haven’t had enough of the local architecture. While here, also check out the Asasi Nagari Gunung Mosque with its ornate wall carvings.
- Batusangkar – The town of Batusangkar is the former Minangkabau royal capital and is a good 3.5 hour journey from Padang. While here, check out the massive Pagaruyung Palace and visit local villages.
You won’t have problems getting around town with a ride-sharing app such as Grab. This allows you to pay local prices. I found most rides within town to cost roughly US$1 to US$2. Even rides out to/from the Minangkabau International Airport to Padang’s city center roughly cost around US$6 to US$8 by Grab. For trips farther afield, I found my ride by asking one of my Grab drivers if they wanted to do customized trips. Many are happy to do so!
Where to Stay in Padang
In choosing where to stay in Padang, my main criterion was that it had to be earthquake-proof. During the great 2009 earthquake, many buildings in the city were destroyed including some notable hotels. The Ibis Padang proudly displays its earthquake-proof technology, with the usage of rubber shock absorbers in case one hits. Incidentally, it is also the tallest building in Padang. Rooms are similar with Ibis hotels one finds elsewhere. The restaurant at the top floor has great views of the city.