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West Sumatra's Twin Lakes is one of the lesser-known tourism locations in Indonesia. Those who think that Indonesian vacations mean hot, steamy weather will find the Twin Lakes a cool and refreshing treat. The two lakes, formally named Lake Diatas and Lake Dibawah, are located at a high enough elevation to assure much cooler temperatures and a more pleasing environment for Westerners unaccustomed to humid jungle conditions. Both lakes were naturally formed from ancient geological upheaval and are located approximately 5,000 feet above sea level. The names are usually translated as Upper Lake and Lake Below to describe their elevations, but those familiar with the area point out that the route to Upper Lake appears to go downhill, while the Lake Below route seems to travel uphill. The names are correct, however, as Lake Diatas is located at 5,023 feet elevation and Lake Dibawah at 4,797 feet. The two lakes are only about 1,000 feet apart and are 144 feet and 1,014 feet deep respectively.
The Twin Lakes are located in the Highlands east of the West Sumatra capital city of Padang. The chief economic activity around the two lakes is coffee plantations, while the cooler climate is ideal for growing potatoes, peppers, cabbages, passion fruit, flowers and other organic offerings. The village of Simpang Market is located along the shore of Lake Dibawah. Several small 'homestays' and guest accommodations have sprung up around the lakes to offer lodging to an increasing number of visitors. The West Sumatran government is attempting to promote the area as a resort location, a move that will likely lead to better transportation systems to accommodate travel in the near future.
Currently, roads in the area are rough and unimproved. Public transportation buses are unreliable, so a rental or hired car is the best option for getting around. Although only 65 miles away, an automobile trip from the City of Padang to Twin Lakes takes about three hours, due to the curves and somewhat tricky driving conditions. For now, the area is still quaint and quiet, with the native population living much as they have for generations. Fishing is available on the two lakes, but there is no information as to what species are caught. Both lakes also offer a number of boat tours, usually operated by local residents. The lakes are often shrouded in mist rising to meet the surrounding green hillsides and providing nature's air conditioning. Those uncomfortable in the humid lowland areas will find welcome respite at the lakes. Lunch at one of the several coffee shops lakeside provides an enjoyable view.
Located in the Solok district, Twin Lakes offer a variety of interesting activities within short distance by car. Mount Talang is an active volcano located nearby and can be seen from the Twin Lakes. The volcano last erupted in 2005, spewing several inches of ash over the villages nearby. Mount Talang is of interest to botanists as it is the home of a rare species of pitcher plant, the Nepenthes talangensis. Photographers travel to Mount Talang hoping to get a picture of the unusual plant in flower. The Solok district contains several spectacular waterfalls which are at their tumultuous best during the rainy season. The small city of Solok is known to have several local restaurants that are prized for their unique cuisine and will excite the gourmet's taste buds.
The City of Padang is on the coast and known for deep sea fishing, beaches, water sports and international trade. Visitors arriving at the airport can hire a car to take them to Twin Lakes. There are several five-star hotels and resorts in Padang, with plenty of restaurants and entertainment venues to keep visitors busy round the clock. The third-largest city in Sumatra, Padang has nearly a million inhabitants. Due to extensive trade with China, Padang has a thriving Chinatown with many small restaurants and spice shops. Cruise tours to the islands off the coast are popular as are trips to Bungus Bay. Snorkeling fans can catch a minibus to Bungus Bay from Padang, then enjoy a short boat trip to nearby islands with excellent coral reefs. There are a few hotels and guest cottages located at Bungus Bay. Just north along the coast, Air Manis Beach is considered an excellent place to learn to surf as there is less coral and more sand to cushion the inevitable wipe-outs for the beginning surfer. Surfing instructors are available. Pasir Jambak Beach is a few miles north of Padong along the road to Bukittinggi, everyone's favorite cultural stop.
The City of Bukittinggi is a mixture of cultures, with much evidence of Sumatra as a former Dutch colony. The native Minangkabau culture has overwritten part of the original Dutch architecture with their own particular soaring roof peaks and symbolic buffalo horn crowns. The Clock Tower presented by the Queen of Holland still stands, its original domed tower now replaced after independence with the buffalo horn style. Excellent views of the city can be seen from the site of the 1820's Fort De Kock, with some relics of the Dutch force still on site.
Bukittinggi also holds a couple of small museums, and Panorama Park anchors its southern edge. The Park overlooks Sianok Canyon, an awe-inspiring natural landscape consisting of a 325-foot deep canyon between steep walls 650 feet apart and stretching over nine miles. Here, too, is the entrance to the series of underground fortifications built during WWII by the Japanese using slave labor-a complex never put into use due to the surrender of the Japanese. Nearby, a military museum holds relics from the Sumatran war for independence against the Dutch, the attempted coup by Communists in 1965, and Indonesia's war against the guerrillas in East Timor. The Cultural Center offers performances of Minangkabau traditional music and dancing every evening.
A flair for traditional crafts and spectacular artisan products is the trademark of Sikek, about ten miles from Bukittinggi. No trip to Twin Lakes would be complete without a trip to Sikek to look over the wares. Known for wood carvings and woven textiles, the town also produces paintings and wood furniture. A number of natural destinations will please nature lovers, from Anai Valley Nature Reserve to the Bung Hatta Forest Reserve. The Anai Valley Nature Reserve holds a protected section of dense tropical forest with three waterfalls and diverse flora and fauna. Bung Hatta Forest Reserve was formerly the Setya Mulya Botanic Gardens and holds examples of Rafflesia arnoldi, the largest flower on earth. The flower is commonly known as the corpse flower due to its strong odor of decaying flesh. Both of these natural havens are located between Padang and Bukittinggi.
Hiking, camping and river kayaking are also available in West Sumatra. Those not staying at Twin Lakes will find multiple small hotels and 'homestays' in nearly every small city or larger town. Experienced travelers warn that luxuries such as hot showers and western standards of cleanliness are not necessarily to be expected at every location. The wise traveler books accommodations and travel arrangements with an experienced travel agent who knows the territory. West Sumatra is one of the few undeveloped places on earth and deserving of a place on every world traveler's bucket list.
*Statistics listed are for Lake Diatas only.
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