Exotic Sumatra is one of the world’s last frontiers an island of lush tropical rainforests, extraordinary flora and fauna, and active volcanoes. Home to the Sumatran tiger and a host of diverse and dynamic ethnic groups, it is the third largest island in Indonesia and the fifth largest in the world (roughly the size of Spain). Vastly rich in natural resources, over half of the country’s exports come from the treasure trove of Sumatra’s bounty of oil, natural gas, hardwoods, rubber, palm oil, coffee and sugar.
The extraordinary wealth of natural resources on this large island helps fill the national coofers.
The people maintain their strong cultural identity while embracing the future. On the east coast, oil companies work some of the world’s most productive oil fields, and the small islands of the Riau archipelago are building world-class luxury resorts as part of a so-called “golden triangle” – a three-way venture with Singapore and Malaysia. In spite of this evolution, Sumatra still maintains strong and well-established traditions that are rooted in their colourful past.
Situated at the western rim in the archipelago along the Strait of Malacca, for centuries the region was the gateway for maritime trade through Southeast Asia, receiving merchants from China, India, the Middle East and Europe. The early coastal seaport kingdoms were the entry points for the influx of foreign influence that has left a lasting imprint on the very fibre of Indonesia’s culture. The first wave started in the 2nd century with the Hindu-Buddhist Indian civilization; later in the 13th century, Islam entered by peaceful means.
Sumatra is a tapestry of ethnic groups mostly living in rural communities: in the north are the independent and devount Muslim people of Aceh; in the northern highlands, the proud Christian Batak; and in the west, the business-savvy Minangkabau, a matrilineal society. The Kubu in the south live as did their nomadic stone-age ancestors while the Orang Laut (sea people) live aboard boats and ply the seas among the hundreds of islands off the east coast.
Sumatra is a travel haven for nature-lovers, with its pristine environment, white water rafting, unspoiled beaches, elephants and orangutan. Add the memorable sights of Danau Toba, Asia’s largest lake, along with impressive architecture, graceful mosques and Stone Age cultures. Allowing yourself enough time is the challenge; most people are overwhelmed by the sheer size, and nothing less than two weeks would do justice to the rugged terrain. The best time to visit is the dry season in the months of June and July. For the intrepid traveler, the rewards are worthwhile while and added bonus is the warmth and friendliness of the Sumatran people.