Eating Out and Shopping in Padang

Simpang Raya restaurant in Bukittinggi

While in Bukittinggi I tried eating in a hidang (serve) style Padang restaurant called Simpang Raya. In this type of eatery, there is no need to order. Dishes of pre-cooked food just arrive on the table and you pay for any you consume.

Hidang style Padang cuisineHidang style Padang cuisine

Hidang style Padang cuisine

This system is handy if you don’t know much of the local language or are not familiar with the names of dishes.

The downside is that it is not great from a food hygiene point of view as those dishes you don’t consume are just just presented to the next customer. 

Still, by avoiding that dodgy looking salad I escaped without a dose of tummy trouble on this occasion, which I have suffered from on previous visits to Indonesia.

Sumatra is quite famous for its coffee, usually served thick and black. One type which has gained notoriety in recent years among coffee connoisseurs is luwak coffee, made from coffee beans which have been eaten and excreted by the cute and cuddly civet cat. Not sure who first had the idea to pick up civet poo, wash the semi digested coffee beans and make coffee out of them but it has proved to be quite lucrative. The journey through the innards of a civet is supposed to improve the flavour of the beans to the extent that a single cup of Kopi Luwak can set you back up to $90 in some places.

The cost used to be justified by the rarity factor. People had to search in the forest for the droppings of coffee consuming civets. Nowadays though, unscrupulous businessman have started to keep civets in captivity, often in cruel battery conditions, to produce a farmed version of luwak.

Luwak Coffee prices, PadangLuwak Coffee, Padang

I tried a cup for a much more reasonable Rp66,000 (just $6 –though still a small fortune by Padang standards). It was OK but I’ve tasted better in Vietnam, where the local equivalent is sometimes called weasel coffee.

When I go on one of these overseas trips I usually try to bring back a few small items which are representative of the place as gifts for my family. Padang is not really a tourist destination and there is little by way of souvenirs. So this time I bought coffee (luwak and ordinary) and a couple of Minangkabau United t-shirts (in the style of Man. Utd).

Padang and Bukittinggi Souvenirs

Bukittinggi – Sumatra

Bukittinggi skyline

Bukittinggi is a hill station town about 90km from Padang (two and a half hours drive). It lies just south of the equator at an altitude of less than 4,000 feet making the day time temperature comfortable and the nights cool. I hired a car and driver to take me there.

Observation tower at Fort de Kock, BukittinggiOld Dutch cannon at Fort de Kock, Bukittinggi

The town was established by the Dutch around a fortress, Fort de Kock, built in 1825 to withstand attacks from local rebels. A modern concrete observation tower occupies the hilltop where the fort once stood. The earthen ramparts and a few old cannons are still in evidence.

Fort de Kock in 1826
Fort de Kock in 1826 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are nice views of the surrounding area from the hill top and on a clear day two nearby volcanoes, Mt. Marapi and Mt. Singgalang can be seen (unfortunately obscured by clouds during my quick trip).

View of Bukittinggi from Fort de Kock

An unusually designed bridge (Jambatan Limpapen) takes pedestrians from Fort de Kock to the Bukittinggi Zoo, which I’ll write about in a future post.

Jambatan Limpapen, Bukittinggi

The town’s most famous landmark is Jam Gadang, a rather attractive clock tower which was built by the Dutch in 1926 but remodelled after Independence by the addition of a Minangkabau style roof.

Jam Gadang, Bukittinggi

Just a few minutes walk from here is an impressive natural feature, the Sianok Canyon, which is part of a rift valley running the entire length of Sumatra, marking the fault line which is the cause of much of the seismic activity on the island.

Sianok Canyon, Bukittinggi

The path on the right of the photo is bordered by a crenelated wall known as the Great Wall of Bukittinggi and visitors can trek down to the floor of the canyon.

Japanese Caves at Taman Panorama, BukittinggiJapanese Caves at Taman Panorama, Bukittinggi

During WWII Bukittinggi was the headquarters of the Japanese 25th Army. They built an extensive network of tunnels and underground stores which are now open to the public and known as Lobang Jepang.

Creepy Japanese Caves at Taman Panorama, BukittinggiMap Showing Network of Tunnels at Japanese Caves at Taman Panorama, Bukittinggi

Bukittinggi is an interesting town and it was a worthwhile trip with pleasant scenery along the way.