Around Bukittinggi, Panorama Park, and Lake Maninjau

Alright, I’ve been in Bukittinggi for five days now, about time I got some photos up! This time I remembered Aunt Peg’s comment on a previous post and tried to get a few more shots of the normal everyday life stuff that I’ve started to take for granted. Keep those comments coming, I aim to please.


Typical street in Bukittinggi.


Orchid Hotel, the big beige building on the right.

I’ve been taking it nice and easy around here; that just seems to be the pace of things in Bukittinggi. In the Apache Cafe, where I started eating often because of the wi-fi, the guy who always seems to be there says he’s a volunteer and only gets paid when business is good. Business does not look good. He told me that back in the 1990s, Bukittinggi was very popular travel destination for Europeans. He pointed out the door of the cafe and said “Back then, you look outside and all you see is white faces”. We look but all we see now is asphalt and the occasional scooter passing by. It’s not clear why popularity slumped. I speculate that it’s just out of the way and there’s nothing spectacular to bring people way out here, but it’s a nice spot with plenty to see and western tourist infrastructure already in place. I think it will probably become popular again someday, maybe once Sumatra gets a few more tourist-friendly spots to break up the 17 hour bumpy bus rides that currently wait those who try to travel between them by land.

On Sunday, I did make it out to Panorama Park, just a half mile from the Orchid Hotel. The panoramic view holds a nice river valley with stunning vertical cliffs below a nice mountain. It was a bit cloudy when I visited so I couldn’t see the mountain. There was a lot of trash strewn around the viewing area and that may have prejudiced my opinion of the view itself. It was certainly nice but I wasn’t overwhelmed.


The view at panorama park. Maybe I'm jaded, but I found it mediocre.

There was a contingent of monkeys living at Panorama Park.  I don’t know what kind they are, but since I saw the same kind traveling in Bali last year I now think of them as the ‘normal’  kind.  If any readers know, let me know in the comments.


Only a monkey could look comfortable in this position.

Like the monkeys in the Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali, these monkeys were a little sad, living on the scraps and trash of the human visitors to the park.  In Bali, I did my best to avoid showing all the trash and nastiness and managed to get some photos that made it seem as though I’d trekked deep into the jungle and spotted some wild monkeys living free and easy.  So if you saw those photos, it was a sham; this is how monkeys really live at these parks.


Monkey drinking nasty rainwater.


Monkey eating litter.

The Japanese built some caves during World War II when they occupied Indonesia.  One set happens to be right underneath Panorama Park.  I thought they were surprisingly spacious, plenty of head room even for a tall westerner.  There was a kitchen, dining room, and jail, all probably 200 meters under the surface.

I happened to be entering the caves at the same time as a tour group of Muslim schoolgirls, so I was featured in what seemed like hundreds of their photos of the caves.  Our communication was pretty good considering their broken English, my bad Indonesian, and their fits of giggling.


Entrance to the Japanese Caves in Panorama Park.


These tunnels were DEEP.


My impromptu tour group for the Japanese tunnels.

I played futsal for three hours straight on Sunday evening, so Monday I was ready for a relatively sedentary day sitting on my motorbike all the way to and around Lake Maninjau.

Maninjau is about a hour’s drive from Bukittinggi.  The lake sits in the giant caldera of an ancient volcano, so I loved it for that reason alone.  It was also visually stunning.  The road to the lake has a section of switchbacks leading from the top edge of the caldera to the lake level known locally and by tour groups as the ’44 turns’.  Each switchback is numbered with a sign and the views all along are great.


Awesome views of the lake from the middle of the 44 switchbacks.


Rice sprouts above Lake Maninjau.


Is this place even real?


The 44 switchbacks were pretty fun for a motorcycle. I have no idea how the giant buses made it through some of those turns, but they did.


Stopped at a shop at switchback 37 or so, I was mobbed by another school group.


First person view, getting my picture taken with the students (surrounding me on each side, not pictured). I really do feel like a celebrity with all the stares sometimes.

Once down at the lake level, I drove about halfway around to a park on the other side.  These next photos are from the park and along the road there and back.


No shortage of Indonesians who love having there picture taken. This group caught my attention from 50 yards away with the universal 'take my picture' sign.


Just a passing truck of strangers happy to see me.


Beautiful fields along the lake. See the kites?


One of my favorite photos of the past few months. Check out this motorcycle social session: the cute little girl digging my camera and the others totally into their conversation, all hanging out in front of the local playstation rental shop.


More stares, this time from some workers riding by on the roof of their truck stuffed full of something. Hard to tell if it's trash, or if someone is moving.

I had heard of a place with a great view of the lake, the top of one of the mountains along the edge of the caldera.  It is accessible by road but a good hour’s drive from lake level.  I was hoping to get there at sunset for a photo, so I wrapped up at the lake around 5pm and headed back up the 44 switchbacks.


Looks like these pumpkin-ish things are a big crop for the farms just above Lake Maninjau. I saw lots of stands like this selling them for a mile or so along the road.


Stopped to ask directions to the viewpoint and the guy with the yellow sleeves insisted I take their picture before leaving.


The viewpoint at Lawang Top was foggy when I first got there and I was afraid I'd miss sunset.

Did I mention that Sunday was my birthday?  I didn’t get to celebrate much here in Bukittinggi, but you won’t hear me complaining, not when I’m in the middle of the biggest vacation ever.  In fact, you could say my birthday celebration this year has lasted months and continues indefinitely.

And my birthday this year was not just another day of traveling.  After the mist cleared, I was treated to a truly excellent birthday sunset over Lake Maninjau.


One of the best I've seen.


11 thoughts on “Around Bukittinggi, Panorama Park, and Lake Maninjau

  1. Mmm, nice sunset! What a beautiful lake.
    A lot of minivans in town. I bet people there who have a vehicle tend to find a way to use it to make money, rather than just to get around like we do.
    I think those might be Rhesus monkeys. I found info saying they are common throughout India, Southeast Asia, and China and the pictures seem to match. They live in large noisy troops and are very adaptable. Also known for being used in scientific research, the “Rh factor” in blood that is represented by the + or – sign after the ABO blood type was discovered using Rhesus monkeys.
    Happy Birthday and Happy Valentine’s Day, Andy!
    Love, Mom

    • Cool mom, thanks for the Rhesus facts. You’re also right that there are fewer sedan style cars here, it’s mostly motorbikes, minivans, and pickup trucks. Individual families usually have motorbikes for personal transportation, and everyone else is making money somehow with their vehicles. Even motorbikes are often used as pickup trucks in the countryside. I see them all the time piled high with firewood, grass, seeds, and just about anything else.

  2. Most Excellent Post Andy. I am enjoying your Birthday visuals on my birthday. Enjoyed all the photos esp. the tunnel with the stairs and the rice sprouts above Lake M. You mentioned Ubud, Bali. I have a friend who owns a “compound” there. she stays there about half the year.
    I wonder where the name “Apache Cafe” came from?
    Carry on…Peg

    • Glad to provide a little entertainment on your birthday. I know of several westerners like your friend who keep semi-permanent houses on Bali. It’s a great place to stay: all the volcanoes and beaches and rice paddies of Indonesia with more western amenities than you can find elsewhere.

  3. Lake Maninjau is beatiful…love that sunset photo, the last one. What is the road like that you traveled around the perimeter? Paved or dirt/gravel? Are there homes along the road as you traveled around the lake? or just forest? What are people doing for work up there?

    • The road around the perimeter is paved but not very wide. Two cars can pass but they have to slow way down. There are rice fields all along the road with houses scattered throughout, plus I passed through a couple of villages. The locals are mostly farmers or fisherman I think.

    • Thanks for dropping by Luke, and for cluing me in about long-tailed macaques. I got to close to one at panorama park and he bared his teeth and sort of hissed at me. I’d hate to think what would happen if one got really mad. Nasty sharp set of teeth they’ve got.

    • Yes, that’s correct, those are longtailed Macaque monkeys ! They are cute and very entertaining, but be warned : They are WILD animals ! Consequwntly potentially dangerous ! A monkey bite needs immedoate medical attention and is poisenous ! It is te bacteria in their mouths that couse the problem. So be warned !

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