Getting Around, Sumatra Travel, Transport and Car Rental
If you are planning to travel somewhere on Sumatra, be sure to leave plenty of time and them some. Public transportation on this Indonesian island is well known for being crowded and is often quite slow, generally due to poorly maintained roads.
The usual modes of transport on Sumatra comprise small minibuses (angkot / bemo / opelet) as well as bicycle rickshaws (becak) and people-drawn carts (bendi). In West Sumatra, around the Danau Maninjau lake, travel choices include various rental options, such as motorbikes, mountain bikes and even canoes.
Airports / Arriving by Air
There are a large number of regional airports spread around the island of Sumatra, although the principal air facility is without question the Polonia International Airport (MES) at Medan, the biggest city. Polonia is in fact particularly historic and dates back to the late 1920s. Today, this airport is modern and heavily used, and is currently Indonesia's fourth largest in terms of overall passenger volume. From Medan, airlines fly between destinations such as:
- Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Penang (Malaysia)
- Jakarta and Subang (West Java)
- Batam (Riau Islands)
- Banda Aceh (Sumatra)
- Banda Aceh, Gunungsitoli, Sibolga and Subang (North Sumatra)
- Pekanbaru (North / Central Sumatra)
The complete list of airports on Sumatra is as follows:
- Buluh Tumbang / HAS Hanandjoeddin Airport (TJQ) - Tanjung Pandan, Bangka Belitung
- Hang Nadim Airport (BTH) - Batam, Riau Islands
- Kijang Airport (TNJ) - Tanjung Pinang, Riau Islands
- Minangkabau International Airport (PDG) - Kepating / Padang, West Sumatra
- Padang Kemiling / Fatmawati Soekarno Airport (BKS) - Bengkulu, Bengkulu, West / South Sumatra
- Pangkal Pinang / Depati Amir Airport (PGK) - Pangkal Pinang, Bangka Belitung, Palau Bangka
- Polonia International Airport (MES) - Medan, North Sumatra
- Radin Inten II / Branti Airport (TKG) - Bandar Lampung, Lampung
- Sultan Iskandarmuda / Blang Bintang Airport (BTJ) - Banda Aceh, Aceh
- Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II Airport (PLM) - Palembang, South Sumatra
- Sultan Syarif Kasim II / Simpang Tiga Airport (PKU) - Pekanbaru, Riau, Central Sumatra
- Sultan Thaha Airport (DJB) - Jambi City, Jambi, Central Sumatra
In North Sumatra, car rental is available, with most vehicles coming with their very own chauffeur. Having your own driver is not as expensive as you might first think and offers complete freedom, without the hassle of trying to navigate the roads and signposts. Car rental can be arranged at most hotels, while in Medan, self-drive cars are available at the Deli Raya Hotel on the Jalan Balai Kota. On the island of Pulau Bintan, rental cars are perhaps the best way to hop between the beaches, being considerably cheaper in Tanjung Pinang, rather than at the hotel resorts of Lagoi.
Buses and Coaches
Most travellers tend to use bus transport to get around North Sumatra, before catching a plane to Java and therefore avoid the poor road network in the south. Many parts of Sumatra are well connected by buses, while other regions can be quite mountainous, with dense jungles, badly maintained roads and a few bus connections. Always popular are the small minibuses (bemos / opelets), which are often quite crowded and very inexpensive. Some minibuses offer a convenient door-to-door service. In the busy city of Medan, the bus terminals include Amplas (on the Jalan SM Raja and serving the south), and Pinang Baris (on the Jalan Gatot Subroto and serving the north).
There really is only one notable railway service on the island for holiday makers, with trains travelling between Bandarlampung and Lubuklinggau, via Palembang. Further trains travel from Medan to places such as Pematangsiantar, Rantauparapat and also Tanjung Balai, although this service is less useful for tourists and used more heavily by locals.
Taxi transport is to be found at the biggest airports on Sumatra, although most are a little on the pricey side. At the Sultan Iskandarmuda Airport, taxis regularly travel the 16-km / 10-mile journey into Banda Aceh. There are also taxis on hand at the Padang Kemiling Airport to travel into Bengkulu, as well as plenty of taxis between Sultan Thaha Airport and nearby Jambi City (8 km / 5 miles), Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II Airport and Palembang (18 km / 11 miles), and Pangkal Pinang / Depati Amir Airport (PGK) and central Pangkal Pinang (7 km / 4 miles).
Boats and Ferries
Although the airfares into Sumatra are very competitively priced, many holiday makers still choose to travel to the island by passenger boat or high-speed ferry, often arriving from nearby Malaysia. However, in general, most outlying destinations and islands are simpler and cheaper to reach by air. There are two main ports operating on Sumatra, being located in Dumai - with connections to Melaka (Malaysia), and also Belawan - with ferries to Penang (Malaysia). The port at Belawan is generally the most popular option, since it is close to Medan and best placed for sightseeing. Ferries from Singapore are available and regularly travel to and from both Palau Batam and also Palau Bintam.