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.
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 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 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. To visit Sumatra, you can use both air and sea lines to reach the capital. As for reaching small villages or remote islands such as the Mentawai Islands, you have to travel overland from the capital before boarding a boat with a local guide inside.
Airports in Sumatra serve frequent flights to these cities outside Sumatra :
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).