Tuesday, 8 December 2015

South-East Asian Adventures: Rice paddies, bamboo forests and traditional dance in Bukittinggi, Sumatra, Indonesia

We left Lake Toba and ventured down through the mountains to the coastal town of Sibolga.

En route, we stopped off at the most fabulous pineapple plantation. We saw the plants growing in the fields and then chose our own from the many freshly-picked pineapples - I got a whole pineapple for 25p and it was dayum delish. Yes I ate the whole thing in one go.

With a hotel right on the beach, we had a lovely stroll on the evening we arrived in Sibolga, just as the sun was setting over the Indian Ocean.

The warm waves lapped at our feet and we watched crabs scurrying into the water, their shells glinting in the fading light.

Unfortunately that was all I saw of Sibolga. I did get very well acquainted with the bathroom in my hotel room though.

Yeah, I got sick. I think it must have been food poisoning at dinner that night. And it was not fun.

To be honest I'm kind of impressed I made it three weeks into my trip without getting sick! I have a somewhat sensitive stomach and pretty much every traveller gets sick at some point - the food out here is just so different to what we're used to, and when combined with exhausting long travel days and heat, it's a recipe for disaster. Well mostly fun and deliciousness but with a smidge of disaster maybe.

Anyway after the most horrendous six-hour bus journey of my life we made it to Panyabungan but unfortunately I wasn't well enough to do anything there either.

The next day we journeyed on, stopping off to see how cocoa, rubber and cinnamon grows, which was pretty cool.

Cinnamon bark
Inside a cocoa pod

We also crossed the Equator which meant I was in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time ever!

The Equator was wider than I'd been expecting.

And by the time we got to Bukittinggi, I was feeling better and finally well enough to stomach more than crackers and dry toast. Hoorah! However the prospect of Asian food was not appealing so I was glad the restaurant of choice for dinner on the evening we arrived had some western fare. One veggie burger later and I was feeling much stronger. Isn't it amazing how much you appreciate feeling healthy after you've been sick?

Bukittinggi is quite a big city and I really noticed how it was more developed than places further north in Sumatra - the further south you travel in Indonesia, the more developed it gets. However we as white people were still very much a tourist attraction in Bukittinggi - I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen a white person that wasn't part of our group! Sumatra is still very untouched by tourism, which is great.

The next morning after what seemed like my millionth breakfast of white toast (it's all you seem to get in Sumatran hotels), we set off for a morning of adventures.

First up, we paid a visit to the Japanese tunnels.

These were really interesting.

They were built by the Japanese during WW2 and were totally secret. Did you know the Japanese were on the side of the Nazis during the war? I learned absolutely nothing about what was happening in Asia in WW2 at school so was fascinated to learn more.

After that we had a stroll through a traditional village on the edge of the town before venturing into the countryside.

Into the rice paddies we went!

And here my complete lack of talent for navigating slightly difficult terrain demonstrated itself once again.

For someone with long limbs I am strangely awkward when it comes to climbing, hiking and trekking.

It was super muddy and so hard not to fall in!

But it was also very cool to watch the locals at work - they do everything by hand and I love that everyone really does wear those little cone-shaped hats.

Having successfully crossed the rice paddies we ventured on into the bamboo forest.

We wound our way through, trying not to trip over giant roots and batting away mosquitoes as we went.

Eventually we found our way out to the river, and boy, was it nice to paddle and attempt to clean our muddy trainers and legs - I don't think my trainers will ever be pink again! *sob*

Considering we'd been walking for a good few hours I was jolly pleased to hear we were being picked up from there.

And whaddaya know! It was my new fave mode of transport: a cattle truck. After last time I was a pro at holding on, ducking and squatting to dodge branches. It's really quite a lovely way to see the scenery.

Well, until the heavens open and you get soaked to your skin. (White shorts were not the best choice.)

Thank goodness our hotel actually had hot showers! (I know, I can barely believe what I put up with either.)

I'm not going to lie to you, the afternoon was spent watching Fred Claus from my hotel room and drinking tea. When travelling for months, you really do sometimes need a bit of time to do nothing. If you try and go, go, go all the time, you burn out.

Also, Fred Claus is an awesome film. Have you ever seen it? However it did leave me feeling super confused - I suddenly felt all festive but it was super hot outside and there were palm trees everywhere! So not right.

That evening we went out for dinner (I had a burrito, still didn't feel up to Asian)  followed by a traditional Indonesian pudding of fruit with sugary ice.

I didn't really know what I was in for when I ordered it, but my goodness that was a sugar bomb in a bowl! The sugary ice tasted like the sickliest bubblegum, and you know it's sweet if even I say it's sickly. I'm now understanding why people here don't have the best teeth...

We ended the evening with a traditional Indonesian dance and music performance in the little theatre in Bukittinggi.

I loved it!

The musicians were so talented - I was amazed at their focus playing complex tunes without any music.

And the dancers were absolutely fabulous - their costumes were beautiful and their dancing so different to anything I've ever seen.

A few of us audience members were called up to get involved (I like to think I hit the gong with panache) and I really enjoyed sampling a little more local culture.

The most impressive part of the show, however, came at the end.

You guys, they danced on smashed plates and glass! I have no idea how, it was absolutely mad.

And then the lights dimmed and fire was brought into the performance, just for extra wow I imagine. And wow me it did.

It had been a fantastic evening.

The next morning we hit the road again to set off for the final stop in Sumatra: Padang.

It was just a stopover so we spent our afternoon lying by the pool just off the Indian Ocean and indulging in what was finally a nice hotel after a fortnight practically in the jungle.

And the next morning it was off to the airport to fly to our next Indonesian island: Java!


  1. Loving these travel posts! Welcome to the Southern Hemisphere :P


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