Wednesday, February 10, 2016


I've been solo backpacking for 3 years now. From my travels, I've encountered many others travelling by themselves. It is the norm for westerners to take a gap year and explore more of the world - even lone females. 

When I recount my experiences to my friends here at home, I am often met with a plethora of responses ; surprise, intrigue, criticism, curiosity, etc. 

Maybe it's just not an Asian (or Malaysian) thing. That being said, many who are considering doing the same have implored me to write about my numerous experiences so they will have a guideline of some sorts of what to expect. I'll be writing about my travels in parts.

This is the first ever solo backpacking trip I took to Padang, Sumatera, in January 2014.

Many people hold the view that travelling is expensive, but that is not always the case. You can do it incredibly cheaply (and I have also met people who did it for free) if you have the right know-how and smarts.

Read on to know more about how I spent a week in Indonesia on less than Rm300 (excluding flights - this covers, accommodation, food, transfers, scooter rental, and miscellaneous).

I'd been thinking about backpacking travel. At that time, the concept of travelling alone was scary to me so I tried to get others to join me, but no one could commit to an actual plan. Frustrated and fed up of waiting, I decided to jump the gun and do this myself.

I decided that I would go somewhere completely off the beaten path. I logged in to the AirAsia website and booked two flights to uncommon destinations ; Padang, Indonesia and Vientiane, Laos (I'll write more about Laos in another entry).

My KL-Padang two-way flight cost Rm180 (however, I've noted that it's possible to get it for cheaper, in the range of Rm100 - 120) I decided I would stay there for 6 days, plan nothing, see what would come up, and figure it out along the way. Padang is a state in the region of Sunatera in Indonesia.

At that time, I didn't have much money so I was bent on doing this as cheaply as possible. I couchsurfed, stayed with locals, took public buses, and walked everywhere. 


Day 1

I departed from the old LCCT airport at 0800hrs and landed in Padang around 0930hrs. From there, I took a shuttle bus to the immigration centre to meet my couchsurfing host, DeeDee. 

She was in her early 20s and had come to the town of Padang to work. Her rented room was spartan and bare, with a mattress and rotating fan on the floor. In one corner of the room sat an electric kettle to boil water, but there were no kitchen facilities besides. Her washroom had a water-filled bucket with a dipper floating on top and a squat toilet.

She insisted that at night, she would be giving up her mattress for me while she slept on a thin blanket on the floor. This experience touched me deeply and humbled me ; it taught me that no matter how little you have there is always a way of giving onto others.

We then went to a lookout point at the beach. It was a rocky shoreline and was unsuitable for swimming, but had a great view to watch the sunset. 

The main mode of transportation in Padang is via 'Angkot', minibuses which run several different routes. It's possible to get virtually to any conceivable corner of the town by plying Angkots and switching between routes. Tickets cost 2000IDR (about Rm 0.60).

One interesting thing I found was that no two Angkots are alike. Each attempt to outdo each other with the wackiest, loudest, brightest designs possible. However, one point they have in common is that EVERY SINGLE ANGKOT blasts loud repetitive headbanging music all day errday. This, I disliked immensely.

As Padang is quite a conservative Muslim town, I got a lot of looks by walking around with my uncovered head, tank tops, and shorts. I suppose it was insensitive on my part not to be aware of the area's norms and pay respect to that.

Day 2

When I woke up, DeeDee's housemate, Dewi, told me she was going to visit her aunt in Sawah Lunto, then her mother in Sijunjung for a couple of days (Where and where? I was completely clueless) and asked if I wanted to come along. 

I said yes.

After a short gander and a bite at the local market, we headed to catch the bus (which departed from the market).

Beef noodles.

Our departing trip from Padang started at 1030hrs. Sawah Lunto is a quiet village in the highlands, about 3.5hours away. We took a public minibus crammed with locals which cost me 30000IDR (RM 10). The bus was crammed, had no airconditioning, and stuffy. On top of that, the driver seemed intent on blasting loud noisy music for the whole trip, which made me absolutely cranky the entire journey.  

A scene I snapped along the way ; children playing with stones outdoors as their mother looks on from the doorway, half hidden in the shadows.

Nearing the village.

We arrived in town around 1230hrs, were dropped off at the bus station, and had to walk a distance to her aunt's house.

The outside of her aunt's house.

Kitchen area.

After we'd eaten a meal the aunt had prepared for us, Dewi decided to show me around.

Our mode of transportation, a classic Yamaha motorbike.

Dewi's little niece came along as well. I rode pillion, and yes throughout the whole journey I was afraid I would tumble off.

Along the way, I learned that back in the 1920s, it was discovered that Sawah Lunto was incredibly rich in coal deposits and the town was a hive of activity and trade. However, the coal was all mined up and now the town is a quiet quaint remnant of its glory days.

Our first stop was to a coal museum, which originally served as accommodation quarters for the laborers working in the coal mines.

Outside the museum.

Museum grounds.

Horse carts were used as a means for coal transportation.

Our second stop was a tour through the underground tunnels which were used to transport coal. We had to wear hard hats and heavy duty boots. 

Our guide and Dewi's niece. 

The tunnels supposedly ran all the way through beneath the town, but were mostly shut down after all the coal supply had been depleted. 

Prisoners were made to work the mines and kept shackled by night.

Monument depicting the laborers and a Dutch slavemaster watching over them.

Once all the processed coal had been collected at a central location, it would be then sent out by railway.

After we left the railway, we rode around some more and visited two other interesting places : a former coal processing plant which was now shut down and also came across a climbing wall!

The climbing wall was some 20 metres high and had regular bouldering holds, belay ropes - properly legit! Lots of kids / youths were hanging out and climbing like monkeys with the usual harnesses and chalk (just like you'd see in any usual climbing gym) and were well excited to see foreign me come and give the wall a go. They don't get many visitors in this part of Indonesia, which accounted for their enthusiasm. It makes me sad that I don't have any pictures of this as I changed my phone from that time and did not do a backup.

We got back to the aunt's house late in the evening, then Dewi and I took the scooter for an hour's ride to get to Sijunjung where her mum had a meal waiting for us and room ready for me.

And that marks the end of my second day in Padang.


As this looks like it will be a long post, I will be blogging about the remaining days separately.

That's all for now!

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