Sumatra is the 6th largest island on earth, yet still very little travelled. And South Sumatra along with Lampung are its least visited regions. Poor accessibility and infrastructure make them be the ultimate off the beaten trail destinations. Thrilling encounters, however, offer themselves in the forgotten territories; it is right here where to meet the last surviving wild Sumatran elephants and rhinos as well as the king of the Sumatran rainforest – tiger.
Indeed, it is wildlife, but also breathtaking coastal sceneries, staggering landscapes, wicked surf and some splendid underwater world what greets the adventure seekers.
The capital city of South Sumatra, Palembang, is one of the oldest towns and the getaway to any point of interest in the region.
During the colonial era, the Dutch nicknamed it ‘The Venice of the East’; for its countless canals and waterways that once was the only means of transport.
As time went by, the canals were replaced by roads and today, the highlight of the city is the Ampera Bridge, built over the Musi River.
Other historic sites are the Great Mosque of Palembang and the Benteng Kuto Besak – a nearby fort and a popular riverfront promenade with lovely floating taverns.
Kemaro Island is known for a beautiful Chinese temple. There are several interesting museums in the town and various river cruises to choose from for those who like it more ‘comfy’.
Nevertheless, most of the independent travellers will want to set out on a journey along the path less trodden to discover the ‘Unknown’. At the end of the day, that is where South Sumatra`s strength lies.
The striking distance of Anak Krakatau and its surrounding volcanic islands makes this city somehow mysterious, treated with respect.
Bandar Lampung is a good starting point for the surfers seeking to catch a wave in Krui and beach bums who are after sun and peace in the Lampung Bay.
Also, all nature lovers chasing Sumatra`s wildlife in the Way Kambas and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Parks will need to begin their expedition in Bandar Lampung. And whoever is heading to Java by ferry will need to pass through the town, too.
Bandar Lampung is a typical Indonesian city with busy streets and vibrant life. Visitors who would like to stay for a couple of days, the town offers good sightseeing, e.g. the Krakatau Monument, Thay Hin Bio Temple, Museum of Lampung, Gita Persada Butterfly Garden and Pesar Seni Art Market.
Once the city has been toured every visitor should take a tour to the Pasir Putih Beach and hop on a traditional boat around the Lampung Bay.
Scuba diving, snorkelling, swimming and dolphin watching are ideal activities in this area. There are marvellous offshore islands and islets, all boosting corals and tropical fish.
Kiluan Island is often visited for its idyllic natural lagoon and Pulau Tabuhan for impressive coral gardens.
WAY KAMBAS NATIONAL PARK
The 1,300 sq km of swamp forest, marshes, mangroves and lowland jungles are home to the critically endangered Sumatran rhino, Sumatran elephant and close to extinct Sumatran tiger. Many other species can be spotted in the reserve, such as tapirs, various kinds of primates, Sambar deer, sun bear and exotic birdlife.
Sadly, poachers are still fairly active in Sumatra, and even though there were established several sanctuaries and protected zones within the park, illegal poaching is inevitable. These days, the Way Kambas Reserve is open to the public, and it is easily accessible (3 hr drive from Bandar Lampung).
The most visited part of the national park is the Sumatran Elephant Conservation and Training Centre that has been operating since 1985. Based on the royal tradition, the elephants are trained so they can be used for heavy work, ceremonies and recently also eco-tourism.
The centre has the largest elephant hospital in Asia. Besides, the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary was built in 1995 as a breeding station to prevent the species from extinction.
There are numerous eco-lodges and eco-tour operators in Way Kambas National Park which offer various packages, including jungle trekking, elephant riding, rhino and tiger tracking, endemic fauna and flora tours – all guided by an experienced local ranger.
BUKIT BARISAN SELATAN NATIONAL PARK
Larger and even more compelling, less accessible, though, is the Bukit Barisan Selatan Reserve. The park is part of the World Heritage and the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra.
This protected territory is set in the southern slopes of the volcanic Bukit Barisan Mountain Range which is extending along the Indian Ocean coast, and across the entire Sumatra.
The highest point of Bukit Barisan Selatan is Gunung Pulung (1964 m), covered with montane forest, coastal rainforest and mangroves. Most significantly, this is the place to look for the critically endangered Sumatran rhino, Sumatran elephant and close to extinct Sumatran tiger.
The entrance is at the small town of Kota Agung (7 hrs drive from Bandar Lampung) which has some basic accommodation options, and you can hire a private guide to take you to the rainforest.
Trekking in Bukit Barisan Selatan is fairly limited, as there is no official tourist centre and the park is not generally open to the public. Although, you can hire a guide in Kota Agung the sanctuary is often closed for heavy rains or other reasons, and there were some cases in the past when visitors, including surfers trying to get to the coast, were not permitted to enter the territory, in spite of having paid to a guide.
Therefore, the Way Kambas National Park is generally more recommended to visit.
Krui is a hidden gem of South Sumatra and another coastal paradise. While the spot is well-known amongst American and Australian surfers, not many holidaymakers would pay a visit. Little infrastructure and poor facilities can be discouraging. Besides, it takes some good efforts to get here. However, travellers who make it will be rewarded with some breathtaking sceneries and views.
There are a few surf camps and lodges in Krui that provide all you need. Krui Reefs, Wai Yambu and Ujung Bocur are popular surfing locations with consistent swells.
Pulau Pisang, also called the Banana Island, is a wonderful place for a lazy day. If you feel like being active arrange a trekking tour to the nearby Danau Ranau Lake.
Not many Westerners have heard of this Indonesian archipelago, situated just off the east coast of South Sumatra. Indonesian tourists, however, know this tropical paradise very well; they call it “Little Caribbean”.
Indeed, the islands feature idyllic sceneries of azure, crystal-clear, shallows filled with coral gardens and granite boulders, balmy climate. It is a great vacation destination for those who want to escape from the hustle and bustle of Palembang and Jakarta.
ESSENTIAL EXPERIENCES IN SOUTH SUMATRA & LAMPUNG (BRIEF SUMMARY)
USEFUL TRAVEL TIPS
Religion – Sumatra is strictly a Muslim Realm, and conservative dress is expected at all times, especially women. Female travellers occasionally reported feeling extremely uncomfortable at some places, e.g. tried to be touched by the locals due to their skin colour or bright hair, been subject to loud mockery for their “lack of clothing” and so forth. Be aware of the fact that many residents might have never seen a person of a Caucasian race and are not familiar with the “Western fashion”.
Health – There is a high risk of Malaria in Sumatra, particularly during the rainy season (Dec-Feb). Vaccinations such as Hepatitis A, B and Tetanus are recommended. In some cases, the Yellow Fever Immunisation is required (check with your national health policies).
Transport – The only way how to get around Sumatra is using local public transport/buses (angkot, labi-labi). However, this can often be a gruelling experience – distances are huge, the roads tortuous and the driving hair-raising. On the other hand, it is part of the Sumatran travel adventure. To move around locally, the best way is either to hire an ojek, becak or bendi or rent your own scooter/bicycle (depending on the destination).
WHEN TO TRAVEL
Sumatra is generally recommended to visit between June and September during the dry season.
Especially, scuba diving, snorkelling and eco-tourism are dependent on good weather. In fact, most of the reserves and protected areas are only accessible outside of the rainy season.
Krui has remarkably year-round reliable surfing conditions if travelling exclusively for this reason.
HOW TO GET HERE
Fly to Palembang.
Palembang to Bandar Lampung: via train (10 hours), via bus (15 hours), via car/taxi (5 hours), via plane (2 hours)
Way Kambas National park: 3 hr drive from Bandar Lampung (taxi or hired car)
Bukit Barisan Selatan National park/Kota Agung: 7 hr drive from Bandar Lampung (bus, train or taxi)
Krui: 5 hr drive from Bandar Lampung (hired vehicle, taxi) or 8-10 hr trip by train/bus
To Bangka-Belitung Islands: There are daily flights from Jakarta, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. NOTE You can also get to the Bangka-Belitung Islands by the local Pelni slow boat (10-11 hours) which is super cheap but extremely basic (good for budget travellers). Otherwise, there is a speedboat from Palembang to Mentok for greater comfort (Bahara Express, 3-4 hours).
For all domestic Indonesian flights check out www.garuda-indonesia.com
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