Sumatra (also Sumatera) is one of Indonesia's large island and the sixth largest island in the world. Wild and rugged, Sumatra is a blend of Mother Nature extremes, blessed with natural wealth as well as proneness to natural disasters. Volcano eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, and landslides are common headline grabbers for this one of the world's richest ecosystems. But nobody can deny Sumatra's beauty from the top of majestic volcanoes to the lush of the jungles and down at sea level, where idyllic deserted beaches are scattered along the island.
Visiting Sumatra can mean never ending action. It has both unique and adventurous activities, starting from the Orangutan sanctuary in Bukit Lawang], some world-class diving sites in Pulau Weh and surfing in the wild Mentawai islands,. You can also enjoy spicy Padang cuisines, relax on the shore of Lake Toba, bag the top of Mount Kerinci of Jambi, stop by the granite beaches of Belitung, and see dolphins at Kiluan, Lampung. The land is also filled with a humungous variety of unique as well as common rainforest fauna. You can spot not only red-haired orangutans, but also all sorts of monkeys that swing on treetops, in addition to Sumatran tigers, rhinoceroses, and elephants.
With almost 40 million inhabitants on this island, the varieties of cultures in Sumatra will also give you non-stop thrills. From the devout Muslims of Aceh, outspoken and friendly Batak people, matrilineal Minangkabau of Padang, sizable Chinese communities of Bangka-Belitung, to semi-primitive tribesmen of Nias; all of them, with their own distinct cultures and languages, living on one island, united by mutual respect for centuries.
Sumatra is divided into ten provinces.
| Aceh |
The westernmost province of Indonesia which became world-famous overnight after the 2004 boxing-day tsunami. It is the country's most socially and religiously conservative province, and the only one to practice Islamic Sharia laws. SCUBA dive and snorkel on the island Pulau Weh in the north and Singkil on the south, relax for two or three days on the shore of tranquil Lake Laut Tawar in Takengon (Gayo Highlands) and do a trekking trip the wild jungles on the hills of Gunung Leuser National Park through Ketambe and Kutacane.
| North Sumatra |
A dynamic province where sizable shares of Christian and Muslim populations living together in peace for centuries. Pay a visit to orangutan sanctuary in Bukit Lawang, stop at Maimun Palace in Medan, Sumatra's largest city, watch the majestic Sipiso-Piso waterfall in Berastagi, circle the Lake Toba while making a stop at Tele to watch the sunrise above the lake, and meet semi-primitive tribesmen of Nias.
| West Sumatra |
The land of Minangkabau people, very famous for their spicy cuisines. Here you can visit the historical city of Bukittinggi, amazed by magnificent scenery along Harau Valley and architectural marvels of Kelok Sembilan, relax on the shore of Lake Maninjau or cycling on the side of Lake Singkarak, surf through insanely strong waves on Mentawai, stroll around the exotic coal city of Sawahlunto as well as a visit to Pagaruyung Palace of Batusangkar.
| Riau |
Different from the rest of Sumatra that are commonly mountainous, this province is relatively flat. The overflowing oil brings in the wealth and prosperity to the whole province. Visit the largest remains of Srivijaya Empire, Muara Takus, of Kampar, visit the beautiful white-marble palace of Siak Sri Indrapura, and do a trekking trip to Tesso Nilo national park, famous of its Sumatran elephant populations.
| Riau Islands |
Parts of Riau separated from the mainland Sumatra is recognized as a distinct province. Watch the sunset over Barelang Bridge of Batam, enjoy Chinese cuisine at Tanjungpinang, visit the remains of old sultanate in Penyengat Island, while you can also take extra miles to visit the pristine water of Natuna and Anambas where you can tell all of your friends "I was there before it was discovered.".
| Jambi |
The centrally located province of Sumatra is practically unheard as a tourist destination. But do not overlook this sparsely populated province. Here you can hike to the top of Sumatra's highest peak, Mount Kerinci, while paying a visit to Kerinci-Seblat National Park, the last home of Sumatran tigers. Near the capital, lies Muaro Jambi, the largest temple compound in Sumatra, where it is easy to spend the whole day.
| South Sumatra |
The bustling and prosperous province with strong blend of Melayu culture. This province was once the central seat for the mighty Srivijayan Empire. Visit Palembang, Sumatra's second largest city, to take the picture of Jembatan Ampera at night while enjoying unique local cuisine, continue to pleasant highlands of Pagaralam and Lahat, mountainous highlands dotted with valleys and waterfalls.
| Bangka Belitung |
Separated from the Sumatra mainland, this province is very famous for the granite beaches. Swim in shallow water of amazing Tanjung Tinggi and Pantai Parai, snorkel across Tanjung Kelayang, sip a coconut, visit the old lighthouse of Lengkuas Island. For culture freaks, Manggar offers you a niche attractions of Laskar Pelangi, a widely celebrated Indonesian novel which has been translated into twenty-six languages.
| Bengkulu |
The province is isolated by Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park mountain range. It offers numerous historical attractions. Visit the Fort Marlborough, British Empire's second greatest fortress in Asia, and exile house of Soekarno, Indonesia's first president. You can also visit Bukit Kaba on the east or just cross to Enggano Island, an unspoiled island in Indian Ocean with beautiful beaches.
| Lampung |
As the southernmost province of Sumatra, people enters Sumatra from Java through this province. Plan a trekking trip to Way Kambas National Park, the home of Sumatran elephants and rhinos, head to the west where you can find unspoiled beaches of Krui. On the south, the Kiluan Bay offers you dolphin sightseeing trip as well as hike the famous Mount Krakatau on Sunda Strait.
- Banda Aceh, a major city in the far north, capital of Aceh.
- Bandar Lampung, a major city in the far south, capital of Lampung.
- Batam, a major city across Singapore.
- Bukittinggi, a pleasant city on the highlands.
- Bengkulu, a quiet major city with great beaches, capital of Bengkulu.
- Dumai, an oil city of Riau.
- Jambi, a major city gateway to rainforests, capital of Jambi.
- Lhokseumawe, another big city on the eastern part of Aceh.
- Medan, Sumatra's largest city, capital of North Sumatra.
- Meulaboh, city on the west coast of Aceh, famous for being the ground zero of tsunami.
- Padang, a major city on the west gateway to Mentawai and Kerinci, capital of West Sumatra.
- Palembang, Sumatra's second largest city, capital of South Sumatra.
- Pagaralam, a pleasant town on the highlands.
- Pangkalpinang, a major city on Bangka Island, capital of Bangka Belitung.
- Payakumbuh, a town on the border of West Sumatra and Riau, gateway to Harau Valley.
- Pekanbaru, a major city and center for oil trading, capital of Riau.
- Pematangsiantar, another town famous for its cuisines.
- Sabang (Indonesia), the westernmost city of Indonesia, on the island of Pulau Weh.
- Sawahlunto, an old coal town, has various remains from colonial era.
- Sibolga, another town, gateway to Nias.
- Solok, another important town in West Sumatra.
- Subulussalam, southernmost city of Aceh, lies on the border of North Sumatra.
- Sungai Penuh, city on the highlands, gateway to Kerinci Seblat National Park.
- Tanjungpandan, an important town on Belitung, gateway to beautiful beaches.
- Tanjungpinang, a major city on Bintan, capital of Riau Islands.
- Pulau Weh, island north of Sumatra with nice beaches and some of Indonesia's finest diving.
- Gayo Highlands, famous for its coffee plantation
- Alas Highlands
- Karo Highlands
- Kerinci Highlands
- Rejang Highlands
- Pasemah Highlands, on the southern part of Sumatra
- Lake Gunung Tujuh, beautiful lake on the top of the mountain.
- Lake Kerinci, next the town of Sungai Penuh.
- Lake Laut Tawar, majestic lake on Gayo Highlands.
- Lake Maninjau, beautiful lake on the west of Sumatra.
- Lake Ranau, tranquil lake on the south of Sumatra.
- Lake Singkarak, famous for its international bicycle race.
- Lake Toba, Indonesia's largest lake.
- Batang Gadis National Park
- Berbak National Park, swampy forest of Jambi.
- Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, very remote area of Sumatra, home of tigers, rhinos, and elephants.
- Bukit Duabelas National Park, inhabited by primitive tribe of Suku Anak Dalam.
- Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park
- Gunung Leuser National Park, orangutans at Bukit Lawang and many others, UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Kerinci Seblat National Park, Sumatra highest peak, home of Sumatran tigers.
- Sembilang National Park
- Siberut National Park, protected rainforest on Mentawai Island.
- Tesso Nilo National Park, featuring Sumatran elephants and few Sumatran tigers.
- Way Kambas National Park, famous for its Sumatran elephants and rhinos.
The words 'Sumatra' is coming from a kingdom named Samudra Pasai, where Samudra itself means ocean. Sultan Alauddin Shah of Aceh, on letters written in 1602 addressed to Queen Elizabeth I of England, referred to himself as "King of Aceh and Samudra". It is believed that it was Marco Polo who corrupted the spellings of Samudra into Sumatra during his visit to this island. While in Indonesian ancient history, this island was known by more poetic name, Swarnadwipa, which means the island of gold.
Arab geographers referred to the island as Lamri (Lamuri, Lambri or Ramni) in the tenth through thirteenth centuries, in reference to a kingdom near modern day Banda Aceh which was the first landfall for traders.
After the introduction of Islam to the archipelago in the 13th century, the island was also called Andalas by Muslim travellers. Sumatra was the farthest east in the Muslim world so its position was in some way similar to Al-Andalus which was the farthest west, hence the name. European writers in the 19th century found that the indigenous inhabitants did not have a name for the island.
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 1949.
The 2004 TsunamiEdit
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 an Indian Ocean earthquake. More than 170,000 Indonesians were killed, primarily in Aceh. Other recent major earthquakes struck Sumatra in 2005 and 2010.
Sumatra major cities are quite well-connected to the rest of Southeast Asia.
Airports in Sumatra serve frequent flights to these cities outside Sumatra :
- Medan : Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Penang, Jeddah.
- Batam : Jakarta, Denpasar, Kuala Lumpur, Pontianak, Surabaya, Bandung, Balikpapan, Semarang, Yogyakarta.
- Pekanbaru : Jakarta, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Bandung, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Singapore
- Palembang : Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Denpasar.
- Padang : Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Bandung
- Banda Aceh : Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Jeddah, Penang
while Bengkulu, Bandar Lampung, Dumai, Sibolga, Silangit, Tanjungpinang, Tanjung Pandan, Pangkalpinang, and Jambi airports can be reached by direct flights from Jakarta.
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 on arrival point and has direct links to Port Klang (3 hrs), Port Dickson and Malacca (2 hrs) in Malaysia, as well as to the Indonesian island of Batam near Singapore.
There are several entry points for travel in Sumatra, though the most likely for most tourists is Medan. From Medan Kualanamu Airport, travelers can either travel to the city for a day, and then begin their circuit; or take a car straight to Bukit Lawang or Lake Toba.
Long distance travel in Sumatra, all across the island, is rough, even by Southeast Asian standards, and travelers may find flights to be preferable (for example, from Palembang to Padang by bus can take as long as two full days, though the flight is just over an hour.)
It's possible to rent or buy motorcycles to travel on the island, and though the quality of most drivers is poor, this can be a thrilling way to see such a beautiful part of the world, particularly along the coastlines.
Nature is the primary attraction of Sumatra. There are jungles, volcanoes and lakes. The importance of the rainforest can be gauged by the fact that, in 2006, 25,000 square km was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and named The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra. This area comprises three distinct national parks.
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 away from it all.
If scuba diving is your thing, Pulau Weh is the place to go. Deep, clear waters attract loads of fish to its protected waters.
Strong blend between Malay and Chinese culture creates unique Sumatran delicacies. Sumatra is an excellent place to taste various local cuisines, where each province has its own characteristics. Taste spicy food at West Sumatra, foot with strong taste from Aceh, and Chinese cuisines in North Sumatra and Bangka-Belitung.
Eating food in foreign land is far easier in Sumatra, thanks to Padang food (masakan Padang). There is no longer need of food-guessing game solely based on their alien names. The whole menu will be served on your table, you pay what you pick (fondling included).
- The whole of Sumatra is a malaria zone and appropriate medication should be taken in advance of any visit.
- Drink only bottled water, and to be totally safe also use only bottled water when you brush your teeth.
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