A Visit to Lake Maninjau and Bukittingi, West Sumatra.
I never really took to West Sumatra for reasons I will soon explain. The highlight, geographically, is Lake Maninjau. Like Lake Toba it is a large crater lake and is quite stunning.
It is a great place to practice your photography, relax, and do a bit of hiking.
Related: Why you should visit beautiful Lake Toba, Sumatra
Photos of Lake Maninjau. Isn’t it a beautiful spot?
The lake was created approximately 52,000 years ago when a volcano erupted. Like Lake Toba what was left was a lake – this one being 16 km long and 7 km wide. It is within a caldera, ringed by the slopes of the remnants on the ancient volcano.
We spent two nights along the shore of Lake Maninjau and met a few travellers below, including a couple of Germans (the guy in the white shirt below with his girlfriend in the blue shirt). They would be my partners the next day when we hiked up the lip of the crater.
I mention the hike because when we reached the top of the lip (a few minutes after the above photo of me was taken) we happened upon a little village where some kind of festival was going on. I don’t know what was going on but the village was bustling with people and especially bustling with little kids with pellet guns.
It would have been nice to know what was going on but we didn’t have a chance because a couple of kids started to shoot their pellet guns at us which seemed like a goddamn funny thing to these villagers. I didn’t get hit but the German guy did and he wasn’t happy one bit. His face got red and he started yelling and made like he wanted to go after one of the kids. I was worried we’d have a lynching on our hands. Instead we beat it to the main road where we took a bus back down to the bottom of the crater.
On the bus I saw a little boy, couldn’t have been more than 5, sitting with his grandmother. In his hands was another one of those bloody pellet guns. Jeez, I don’t get it – didn’t they learn that you can lose an eye? I still don’t know what was going on, although they could have been celebrating the end of Ramadan (which had been going on during our visit to Sumatra).
The next day I decided to take a little sun on the beach next to our bungalow.
I took off my shirt, laid down, and started reading. There was nobody in sight, Lake Maninjau is really quiet. About 10 minutes later a family; 2 men, a woman, and a couple of kids, came and laid down a picnic about 30 feet away. I could feel them staring.
The men yelled over a few questions “Hello! Where you from?”. I smiled and responded “Canada” and went back to reading.
A couple more questions which I didn’t hear from that distance, I just waved back, going back to my book.
It wasn’t more than 2 minutes later that the two guys came over, signalling that they wanted to have their picture taken with me. I relented. They took turns lying next to me, snapping away while I got increasingly more uncomfortable. What the hell? They finally went back to their family.
I decided to put my shirt back on. But would they leave me alone? Nope, they kept on looking and smiling over, one guy yelling over another question I ignored. I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I packed up my stuff and went back to the room.
My mom; “I though you were going to read at the beach?”.
I, red-faced, told her the story: “This place is deserted and I can’t get a minute of peace. I feel like I’m some kind of circus animal.”
Looking back I should have had a thicker skin. I had travelled through Asia but this was the most “off the beaten path” kind of place I had been and I was just getting turned off by the people. In addition to the two stories above, I also saw a dog getting run over right in front of my eyes. That marked me. I know Muslims don’t like dogs, but the car made no effort to either avoid or slow down, either before or after hitting the dog.
I actually saw quite a lot of dead dogs in the street. I think it was kind of a sport. As a dog lover it hardened my attitude towards the people. One last story; one morning, over breakfast, I saw the kid of the owner of our guesthouse torturing a little puppy. I lost it – I went over and said “NO!” to the boy and took away the dog. If he was my son I would have kicked his ass. Again, I guess I should have been thick-skinned and more forgiving of local culture, but it went against all my sensibilities. All these things happened during 2 days in Lake Maninjau. One more day and I would have gone Rambo on them.
Bukittingi and the Minangkabau
We also spent a couple of days in Bukittingi, a pleasant town close to Lake Maninjau. The highlights here is the volcano in the background and the calling to prayer from the local mosque. I found the wailing chant of the azan (as they call the chant) mystical and beautiful and we enjoyed watching the sun set to the sounds from the minaret (we enjoyed it less when it re-started at 6 in the morning..). We went to the local market and did some souvenir shopping, seeing some of the most interesting artifacts that I’ve ever come across on my travels (I bought a sword and scabbard decorated in buffalo teeth. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere).
A recommended cultural attraction in the Bukittingi area is a visit to the Palaces of the Minangkabau people. They are incredibly adorned buildings with roofs extending out like buffalo horns (see photos below).
More details on the Minangkabau
West Sumatra was a culture shock. But I always say that we learn from our experiences. Indonesia is a place that I definitely want to go back to, there are so many islands, cultures, and incredible geography on this archipelago. Next time I’ll be better prepared and thicker-skinned.
Related: Medan to Lake Toba…and impressions of Sumatra
Related: 10 Temples you have to see in Angkor Archaeological Park
Related: Why you should visit Singapore at least once in your life
Ever been somewhere where you felt overwhelmed by culture shock?
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As a West Sumatran, I feel so sorry with what you experienced during your journey. It sounds so bad they tortured dogs like what you’ve told here, not all Muslim or West Sumatran hate the dogs, they take care of dogs at home too, it’s not consider devil but the problem is only its saliva. I disagree with the way the kids tortured pets, they really need to be educated how to treat animal . In West Sumatra, even though the majority of Muslim, especially in remote areas or village, they still keep the dogs. Owing to lack of tourists in West Sumatra compared to Java or Bali, these people aren’t just ready to accept tourist, especially Western Tourist, calling you mister, asking anything whilst you need privacy or me time, it’s something they don’t really understand, for them, they are just trying to be friendly.
Thank you Ra for your insights. On the one hand we want unique experiences, but that usually means going to places that (like you say) don’t receive many tourists and are just not very accustomed to our values. I understand that and appreciate your explanation. Sometimes you wonder if they are mocking you, laughing at you – or being friendly. So I’m happy you commented 🙂
That story about the dogs is horrible! I would have cried and been furious all at the same time. I don’t understand how people can be so cruel to animals.
Thanks Rhonda. I agree but I’m also trying not to see it with Western sensibilities, just the same way as people on a farm will view their relationships with animals differently then city people. I try to understand and adjust for that – but at the same time I’m a dog lover and I find myself getting upset as well. That’s why I say it was one of my toughest experiences with culture shock.
I can understand a cultural hatred/distaste for dogs, not that I condone it it actually saddens & sickens me. The pellet guns on the other hand make no sense, I mean you know they’ve had to have shot each other with them, although come to think of it my friends & I had rock fights as kids, sooo yeah, stupid kids. I can definitely get what you mean by feeling like you’re part of a circus, with the staring & what not. One of the prices we pay for traveling the world I guess.
Didn’t we have pellet guns about 50 years ago? It was like stepping back in time and wondering how parents are stupid enough to buy them for their kids. I guess we can all look back and think the same things about our parents or ourselves when we were younger.
Travelling is always full of ups and downs – despite your stories, the area looks beautiful.
Yes, it was – thanks Cheryl!
Stunning. You’d have to drag me outta there. 😀
Nice post! I was about to go to Maninjau but my flight got cancelled. It looks pretty similar to lake Toba. I agree with all the locals wanting to take photos, it does get a little annoying but I guess they are just trying to be friendly.
Traveling Mariza (
Hi Frank, wow such a horrible experience you had. But trust me, don’t assume that every Indonesians are like that. Kids are kids, just that i guess the kids wasn’t educated that well about how harmful the toy guns are. If you were there during mid November 2012, they were celebrating Tahun Baru Hijriah, just like a regular holiday, Indonesians family would do a picnic or go out to celebrate.
I travel a lot with my non-asians travel mates, i can imagine of what happens to you. Yeah, you definitely can’t avoid the attention. The more you travel to places where not a lot of Caucasian around, you will be the center of attention. When you can’t handle it anymore, just say a firm NO! If they don’t stop, well i have nothing to say to you other than just take a deep breath, smile and enjoy the moment. That’s what my friends would do. Well, actually some of them enjoy the attention.
Ps: when i was in Sulawesi, some of the local people want to take picture with me too. Weird but yeah, they don’t see visitors a lot over there. So i guess it’s all because of curiosity!
@iamMariza – an Indonesian who currently still haven’t finished exploring Indonesia.
Thank you for the feedback Mariza! As a traveler sometimes you just don’t know if it’s curiosity or if locals are making fun of you. Nobody wants to be a circus animal :). But I’ll be prepared next time and will have a thicker skin – other parts of Indonesia are on my list of places to see and I’ll make sure to check out your site for info. Thanks again!
No, that definitely doesn’t sound like a fun situation. Sorry yo hear you had bad experiences in Sumatra. Particularly seeing how the dogs are treated would completely turn me off.
Sorry to read that you had the experience you had. Not sure if it had to do with timing or if the planets were misaligned or what, but it does sound less than ideal. Anyway, I hope you had better experiences in other parts of Indonesia if you went elsewhere…