Most foreign travellers to West Sumatra do not linger in the city of Padang, preferring instead to head directly to the region’s main tourist spots such as the Mentawai Islands (popular with Aussie surfers) or the scenic countryside around Lake Maninjau. Even so, Padang is not without its charms and visitors with time to spare could happily spend a day or two here.
The city has a pleasant setting facing the Indian ocean and surrounded by a range of hills. Its a sprawling metropolis with a population fast approaching a million but the main sights are concentrated within a fairly small area and I managed to cover most of them on foot. There is a beach in the town. The sand is black colour due, I imagine, to a combination of volcanic activity and the discharge of the grubby Batang Arau river which flows into the sea nearby. There’s a much better, yellow sand beach just south of the town (Pantai Air Manis).
In my last post, I wrote about the Dutch-era buildings in town. Here are a few other places of interest.
The Adityawarman Museum is worth a look, more for the building itself than its contents. It showcases the culture of the Minangkabau people, a matrilineal society whose property passes down the female line and who originate from West Sumatra. Some of their descendants have settled in Malaysia, particularly Negeri Sembilan state, and I have written about them before, especially their distinctive buildings with their ‘buffalo horn’ rooflines.
Padang’s people are mainly conservative Muslims but there are a number of Catholic churches and schools clustered near the museum, including Frater Huis (above left) and St. Leo’s Chapel (right) which looks sparkling new as it was extensively rebuilt after the 2009 earthquake. Opposite the this chapel is St. Theresia Cathedral. Frater Huis was the site of a Japanese prisoner of war camp for Dutch and other allied civilian internees during WWII. You can read about the harsh treatment of prisoners in the Padang camp on this Dutch website which also has an interesting old map of Padang more detailed than any modern map I have been able to find.
Talking of earthquakes, these tsunami evacuation route signs can be seen all over town. The 2009 earthquake killed over 1,000 people in Padang and cause widespread destruction including many heritage buildings. There have been eight earthquakes resulting in deaths in Sumatra over the past decade including of course, the dreadful Boxing Day 2004 tsunami which killed 227,000 people in Bandar Aceh, about 800km up the coast from here. The next big temblor here is not a matter of if but when.
At the southern end of town is a hill guarding the mouth of the Batang Arau River and sea approaches to town. Here there are some WWII concrete pillboxes, ammunition stores and gun emplacements, one of which is complete with a Japanese artillery piece. There is also an older Dutch built fortification with the initials BOW above the door – I have not been able to find out what those initials stand for. I walked all the way up to the top of the hill where there are more gun emplacements and a fine view over the city.
In the Chinese area of town, Kampung Cina, there is a fine new temple, a number of clan houses, a market and shophouses. I was invited into a workshop where they were carving coffins (top right) in both the Christian and traditional Chinese styles.
Around the corner, on Jalan Pulau Air, is a former railway station. Most of the old rails have disappeared but it is surprising to see a few that have not been ripped up for scrap. A railway godown is still in use for storing spices and one of the staff showed me piles of fragrant nutmeg, betel, cacao, coffee, cinnamon and other delicacies.
Masjid Raya Ganting is the oldest mosque in Padang and was built in 1815. It is a hybrid design with an Indonesian style multi-tiered roof while the external walls and doors are of European type. In 1900 the floor of the mosque was renovated with tiles imported from the Netherlands.
People are very friendly in Padang and nearly everybody greeted me with a smile or a ‘Hello Mister’. This group of children at the mosque asked me to take a photo of them and they had a good laugh when they saw the image. In their excitable mood the boys started playing football inside the mosque, for which they received a major telling off from the mosque caretaker. I made a hasty departure.
Another notable mosque is the Masjid Muhammadan, built in 1923 by Muslim Indian traders. Originally made of wood, it has been renovated and modified several times over the years and is now of concrete construction. The building is highly influenced by Indian architectural styles.
Horse drawn ‘taxis’ called bendi can still be found in Padang and provide a more relaxing method of transport than the motorized versions.
I thought Padang was a nice place but I probably don’t need to go there again. By the way I stayed at the Mercure Hotel which was very comfortable though a long walk from all the places mentioned here.