This post was last updated on May 27th, 2020 at 09:42 am
Padang is the provincial capital of West Sumatra. It also has the largest port on the west coast. There is a lot to do in Padang, you can get acquainted with the culture of the Minangkabau, see ancient architecture, visit one of the beautiful beaches or enjoy nature in the Kerinci Seblat National Park.
About 750,000 people live in Padang. The majority belong to the Minangkabau, an originally Malay tribe that is called the Minang for short. Their architecture is unique and can be recognized by the arcuate, pointed roofs. The Minang are predominantly Muslim. The city is quite conservative so the ladies are asked to cover shoulders and knees to avoid unwanted attention.
A typical sight is the Angkots, the minibuses that drive back and forth on the prominent streets. In Padang they are decorated in the most diverse ways. Reach out to them, they stop, you get in and you indicate when you want to get out. You can do this for approximately 5,000 IDR (converted approximately US$0.40). Note that during rush hour the traffic on the roads increases enormously, leading to hectic traffic situations and crowded minivans. They don’t know the meaning of “full” in Indonesia. There is always room for one extra person.
Padang is located at the foot of the Minangkabau highlands. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, pepper was mainly grown in the surrounding region of Padang. Traders from India, Portugal, England, and the Netherlands came to this area. When the Dutch arrived in the region early in the seventeenth century, they had little to fear from the Muslim empires.
The Dutch acquired Padang in 1663. In 1680, the Dutch built a trading post in the city. During the wars of Napoleon from 1781 to 1819, Padang was owned by the British.
Until about 1780, gold from the gold mines was the main commercial product of the city. After the mines were exhausted, the emphasis shifted to other products such as coffee, salt, and textiles. At the end of the nineteenth century, trading in and around Padang would increase further.
Fun Things to Do in Padang
In the Provincial Museum of Padang you can get acquainted with the West Sumatran Minangkabau culture. The museum is located in a park in the center of Padang. The museum building is built in a traditional Minangkabau style. In front of the museum are two traditional teardrop-shaped sheds.
In the museum you will find all kinds of prehistoric objects, stamps, imported ceramics, manuscripts, modern art, and ethnographic information about the Minangkabau and the tribes of the Mentawai Islands. There is a section where you will find objects used in traditional ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.
Admire the Architecture
In Padang you can still find old city architecture from the turn of the century in a number of places. Kampung Cina, Padang’s Chinatown, has a number of fine examples. The houses are owned by Chinese spice sellers and coffee shop owners. Chinatown also houses the See Hien Kiong Temple. It will probably not be the first temple you encounter during your trip through Asia. This temple is of Chinese origin.
In the interior you can see beautiful tiles, wooden floors, and furniture made of jati wood. The harbor still houses the Dutch department stores and warehouses that date from the colonial period. The newer buildings in Padang have the distinctive Minangkabau roofs.
Visit Malin Kundang
At Pantai Air Manis beach near Padang harbor you will find a group of rocks, where the legend about Malin Kundang circulates. Malin Kundang lived with his poor mother. When he grew up, he traveled as a skipper. After returning as a successful wealthy captain, he refused to acknowledge his mother and she shouted that he will feel the wrath of God. When Malin Kundang’s ship set sail, it got into a storm. The ship was wrecked and Malin Kundang was thrown against the beach along with some wreckage. The wreckage and his body turned into a mass of stone rocks.
Try a Local Dish
The kitchen of Padang (masakan Padang) is special and has now spread throughout the country. You sit down and are served various small dishes. You pay for what you eat. The rest is taken. All dishes have fixed elements: gulai (curry), lado (chili pepper) and bareh (rice). With influences from India and the Middle East, it makes a unique cuisine.
Relax on the Beaches
Padang has some beautiful beaches. The most popular beaches are located south of the city. You can swim well, sail with a boat, or watch fishing boats sailing out in the afternoon. On Sundays the beaches are often full of local tourists, on other days it is a lot quieter. One of the most beautiful beaches is Bungus Beach. This beach is located about 25 kilometers south of Padang, with the bemo it takes about 45 minutes.
Have Some Underwater Fun
In a beautiful bay with quiet waters you will find the beautiful beach that partly belongs to a recreational facility. Because a plywood factory is located on the bay, some parts of the beach are, unfortunately, polluted.
From Bungus Beach you can also rent a small ship and visit the coral islands off the coast. The islands have beautiful white beaches and coral reefs where you can enjoy underwater fun with the many colorful fish that swim around here.
Mandeh Marine Park Near Padang
Off the coast of Padang (between Padang and Painan), the Mandeh Marine Park was opened in 2015. Here you can, for example, end your trip through Sumatra. There are beautiful white bounty islands surrounded by coral and swaying palm trees. Many of these islands are mountainous. From the beaches you can see green steeply rising mountains of the mainland. This area presents itself with rugged nature and many opportunities for snorkeling and boat trips.
You can choose from a number of islands or beach locations on the mainland where you want to stay. For example, Sophira Guesthouse or Project Rimba on the mainland, or on the island of Pulau Pagang and Pulau Pasumpahan. You can snorkel on Pulau Paging; there is a shipwreck where you can swim/snorkel where you can see plenty of fishes.
There are several islands in the area that are worth taking day trips to. Pulau Pemutusan for example. Actually this is a peninsula but because at high tide part of it is flooded, it becomes a real island. Pulau Marak is one of the most beautiful islands with an amazingly beautiful beach. It is also nice and quiet here because there are no accommodations and it is also somewhat further away. A day trip here is actually a “must”. Lovely to have a picnic after snorkeling and enjoy the phenomenal view.
At the end of your overland tour your guide in Sumatra wants to offer you the opportunity to stay on one of the paradise islands for a few days. The guide will take care of you completely. This means to cook for you, arrange fresh fish, arrange boat trips to other islands, transport, etc. You can even go shopping with your guide and get food, drinks, and ingredients you like. This is then prepared for you in the kitchen on one of the islands.
This area has one luxury resort and several simple accommodations with a beautiful environment where you can relax after a long journey but also fully explore. A unique experience.
It is true that the accommodations in this area are simple. Electricity is generated with a generator and is only available at certain times. The bathrooms are also simple. Fortunately, there’s fresh water in a mandibak that you can wash with. If this is not quite your thing, you can also stay in a luxury hotel in Padang and take a day tour with a boat or book a stay at the Paradiso Village Resort on Cubadak island.
- Relax on a Paradise Island
- Visit several islands in the vicinity such as Pagang, Sikui, Cubadak, Marak, and Pasumpahan
- Visit nearby fishing villages
- Try a fresh fish barbecue
- Day trips to, for example, Sungai Pinang, Painan for the Root Bridge, or Bukit Langkisau
Where to Stay in Padang
There are excellent homestays and guest houses for 6 to 8 USD. It is advisable to book in advance. Although Padang is less touristy, the accommodations are also smaller and fill up quickly. When booking, make sure not to confuse Padang with Padang Padang and Padang Bai. Those destinations are in Bali. On Booking.com you will find the largest offer of accommodations and you can easily book a room or bed.
How to Get There
You can fly to Padang from Jakarta or Medan. Domestic flights are affordable. Check out our tips on booking the cheapest airline tickets to Indonesia.
You can take the bus from Medan or from Lake Toba. We do not recommend this long-distance on not too fine roads, the airplane is often the better option.
From Padang to the Mentawai Islands
The Mentawai Islands is one of the most beautiful destinations in Sumatra. The fine atmosphere, authenticity, and beautiful landscape make this a great destination. Many travelers visit Padang because you can travel to these islands from here, located just off the coast. We definitely recommend doing this if it fits your schedule.