Beyond Bali

    The Gems Of Sawahlunto


    The Gems Of Sawahlunto

    Pen Sin Kek House

    The Gems Of Sawahlunto

    Soero Tunnel, the mining hole.

    The Gems Of Sawahlunto

    Mak Itam at the train museum.

    The Gems Of Sawahlunto

    Goedang Ransoem Tunnel used to be a storange for the Dutch to keep food for the miners.
    The Gems Of Sawahlunto
    Pen Sin Kek House

    The Gems Of Sawahlunto
    Soero Tunnel, the mining hole.

    The Gems Of Sawahlunto
    Mak Itam at the train museum.

    The Gems Of Sawahlunto
    Goedang Ransoem Tunnel used to be a storange for the Dutch to keep food for the miners.

    Revealing the history of what used to be a popular mining town...

    Located 95 kilometers away and taking a two-hour drive from Padang, the capital city of West Sumatra, Sawahlunto offers sights like no other for the history enthusiast. According to the local people, this area used to be covered by a vast rice field (sawah) through which a river named Batang Lunto ran – and the name “Sawahlunto” was born. But today, it is the centuryold buildings in the city that have become the main attraction.

    Sawahlunto is filled with numerous Dutch-colonial buildings dating back to the early 20th century. This town has been known as Indonesia’s largest coal producer since the time of Dutch colonization, where a reserve of 205 million tons of coal was first indicated during the RDM Verbeek’s expedition in 1875 – the mine also covered the surrounding area of the town such as the Durian River, Sigakut, Tanah Hitam and Perambahan.

    However, the coal mining operation was closed in 1998 and the city’s economy consequently collapsed, causing many of the residents to leave town to try their luck elsewhere. But Sawahlunto got back on its feet after the local government renovated the decades- old mining facilities, turning them into fascinating tourist attractions. So Sawahlunto has now moved from a former industrial mining town to an attractive tourist destination.

    Visitors will find a lot of fascinating places in the city, and these four are only a sample of them.

    Pek Sin Kek House
    Built in 1906, this building first belonged to a successful Chinese businessman named Pek Sin Kek, who ran his business in the city center. Over the years it had been used as a theatre, the office of the Malay Society Association and more. After being rejuvenated in 2005 and 2006, the Pek Sin Kek House has been transformed into a gift shop where tourists can find souvenirs while admiring the unique architecture.

    The house is not far from the town’s traditional market and is really easy to spot due to its distinctive design. After visiting the Pek Sin Kek House, visitors can go to the market and the Gluck Auf, also known as Gedung Pusat Kebudayaan Sawahlunto (The Cultural Center of Sawahlunto), to enjoy the town’s culinary delights. The Gluck Auf was built in 1910 as a place where Dutch officials sang and danced, but on December 1, 2006, the building was renovated and turned into the city’s cultural center. Now it serves as a meeting hall with a café that offers local specialties.

    Soero Tunnel
    From 1898 to 1930, the Soero Tunnel was a noted mining hole. The name “Soero” is derived from a respected miner at the time when the tunnel was still in operation. The tunnel is believed to be tens of kilometers long but only 186 meters are open for tourists, and it has turned into tourist-friendly attraction with lights, iron handrails, ventilation, and stairs. However, there is nothing “friendly” about the history of this tunnel as the coal miners used to be known as chained man (orang rantai) because their legs and necks were chained all the time.

    In 1947, the gallery was a labor hall where various activities were held ranging from employees meetings to shadow puppet shows and movie screenings after payday. Today the building serves as the information center for the Soero Tunnel.

    The Soero Tunnel has welcomed tourists since 2007, and visitors can also see some historical photos and watch a movie about the history of the mine at the gallery that are equally interesting. At the end of the visit, each tourist will receive a certificate. Visitors will need to register and purchase tickets in the Info Box gallery in order to enter the tunnel.

    Train Museum
    This is Indonesia’s second train museum after the one in Ambarawa in Central Java. This museum was a train station built by the Dutch in 1918 and a silent witness to the black pearl exploitation during that era. At that time these locomotives were transporting coal to Padang’s Teluk Bayur harbor, which was then known as Emmahaven. Here, visitors can find a lot of literature, photographs and the relics of railroad tools used in the past, which are now over 100 years old.

    One of the most famous coal- powered trains of this route is the legendary Mak Itam, which means “black uncle” – it is currently being kept in a hanger for a complete and better repair before it is fully operated again this year to fulfill the people’s demand. However, maintaining Mak Itam is a challenging task since spare parts are no longer available and therefore the town needs to find a way to rejuvenate this train. Recently, some retired technicians of the state-owned train operator PT Kereta Api Indonesia (KAI) were assisted by a number of experts as they are struggling to take care of this old locomotive. Let’s just hope their plan will work because the comeback of Mak Itam could really boost tourist arrivals.

    Goedang Ransoem Museum
    “Goedang ransoem” means a food storehouse, and this building used to be a gigantic kitchen built by the Dutch in 1918 to supply food to the miners and to the patients at the local hospital. Huge pans, pots and coal-fired stoves are on display with sizes that would make one’s jaw drop – and a pang in the heart after knowing that the kitchen exploited underage children as part of its labor force. According to the locals, there were often fights over how little the portions were for the kitchen workers and coal miners.

    Here, visitors can also view a short video about the complex as well as some photographs and relics with very informative description. The museum is neat, clean and worth visiting.

    From Bali, you can get to Padang via Jakarta. Daily fl ights from Jakarta to Padang are available on Garuda Indonesia, Citilink and Lion Air. Cars are available for rent in Sawahlunto at Rp 500,000, inclusive of a driver and fuel for a day trip. You can also book airport pickups beforehand.

    Parai Hotel Sawahlunto
    Jalan Bagindo Aziz Chan, Sawahlunto
    (0754) 628-88

    Ombilin Hotel Sawahlunto
    Jalan M. Yamin, Kel Pasar, Kec Lembah Segar, Sawahlunto
    (0754) 611-84

    Laura Hotel Sawahlunto
    Jalan Ahmad Yani No. 210, Sawahlunto
    (0754) 612-14

    Wisma KKSO Sawahlunto
    (0754) 410-632

    Wisma BDTBT Sawahlunto
    Jalan Sungai Durian, Kec Barangin, Sawahlunto
    (0754) 616-04

    Wisma Mutiara Sawahlunto
    Jalan Prof. M. Yamin, Talawi, Sawahlunto
    (0754) 410-061

    By Donny Syofyan

    Donny Syofyan

       Contributor : Donny Syofyan

      Magazine issue > Beyond Bali
  •    RelatedArticle