Exploring Siberut Island, Sumatra

Stranded off the western Sumatran coast on Siberut Island for several days, what else is there to do but explore…

Why not read my previous posts on Siberut Island before this post?

Where is Siberut Island?

Siberut Island, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia

Isolated Siberut is an island in the Mentawai Islands Regency group – a chain of around seventy islands and islets.

The Mentawai islands are in the narrow Mentawai Strait and around 81NM (150-kilometres) from the West Sumatran coast.

My travel journal of 1998 holds one of the only available maps during that time as Siberut Island was almost unheard of unless travelling in Sumatra.

map of Siberut Island, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia
Rough map of Siberut Island – 1998 travel journal

Several days in the jungle living mostly on boiled eggs and plain noodles, absorbing the fascinating but tragic forgotten Mentawai people of Indonesia, finally arrive back to Muara Siberut – after the 3-hour canoe trip through the spectacular jungle.

Muara Siberut

On reaching Muara Siberut, we discover that the boat for Padang isn’t leaving tonight. Needing to spend another night on Siberut, reluctantly, we check into the same crude and noisy losmen as before. The only accommodation on the island in 1998.

The unwillingness comes from the previous stay’s incident. The losmen’s timber-panelled walls with inch-wide gaping joins, lend itself to voyeuristic eyes. Let’s just say that during an amorous interlude, briefly looking up, a set of deep brown eyes peered down at me! Screaming loudly, the ogler fled the scene with my husband chasing after him through the losmen. Unfortunately, with a head start, the peeper escaped. Of course, on learning of the pervert, the losmen owner only smirks – we’re foreigners.

Mentawai, Siberut Island, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia Siberut Island, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia
Helping to re-launch a boat

A tour from Bukittinggi returned yesterday and is also staying at the losmen. These people seem only to drink until all hours in the morning, make loads of noise, then sleep all day long.

Mentawai, Siberut Island, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia Siberut Island, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia
Siberut scenes

We’re stuck here again with hardly any food – only eggs, noodles, plain rice, and pancakes. Not much to do as it’s pouring with rain, down to our last few dollars, we’re advised the boat is delayed again. And isn’t arriving tomorrow night but the following night – hopefully.

Exploring Muara Siberut

Henry takes us to meet his family. Better-dressed and a little more affluent than most locals, Henry’s entrepreneurial skills are helping – he owns a better house than most. At least when you book a trek with Henry, the money stays with locals.

Mentawai, Siberut Island, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia Siberut Island, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia
The perpetually smiling Henry and family

Wandering around Muara Siberut during the receding tide reveals garbage strewn around, and firmly wedged in the remaining mud – an open cesspit.

Muara Siberut, Siberut Island, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia

Everything is thrown out of the huts and into the sea without any regard for the environment. Or, the concern that all of this waste washes back in with the relentless tide.

Food on the island

Plenty of fish is caught every day, although this goes to Padang for on-forwarding to Jakarta and elsewhere, so doesn’t remain on the island – ludicrous.

The only restaurant on the island doesn’t serve any fish and is lacking the basic staples. Regardless of the menu’s list, the restaurant serves only boiled eggs and noodles, not even rice. Surprisingly, after asking for fish for the fourth time this week, it’s on today’s menu at barely a higher price than the cost of pancakes. I guess only tourists can afford to eat at this restaurant, so the owner is not too bothered about catering or charging.

Muara Siberut, Siberut Island, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia
Several families live together in one open hut

Work on Siberut is almost non-existent so, it’s not uncommon to see locals sit all day together and chat in huts.

After a week on the island living mostly on boiled eggs and noodles, we hang around the restaurant for the last time to board the boat to Padang, which finally arrives at midnight.

Muara Siberut, Siberut Island, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia
Muara Siberut

It seems that through boredom, everyone but us is on an all-day and into the night drinking binge. It’s embarrassing. Quite intoxicated, the Indonesian’s worry that tourists will fall from the sampan into the depths of the blackened sea while trying to board the boat.

Leaving Siberut Island

A smaller boat than before for the overnight trip to Padang, which leaves at 1:30 am, we’re in a slightly cooler 2-berth cabin on this trip. At least the berth isn’t home to armies of relentless ants and toe-ravenous cockroaches.

Leaving Siberut behind in the pitch blackness of the starless night, the rickety, old timber boat groans and creaks with exhaustion on this crossing that it’s endured a thousand times before.

Siberut Island to Padang, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia

Wooden beams and ceiling move around effortlessly, as the boat undulates over small swells.

Luckily, the weather is kind tonight. Otherwise, it’s disconcerting to imagine this boat breaking up and sinking to the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

At around 150-kilometres from Sumatra, I doubt that anyone would come to our rescue.

Below our cabin, the rustic boat’s open and dark hold is rammed, with locals, smelly copra, fish, live chickens, and abundant cargo. Because of the boat’s lateness to Siberut, it’s overflowing and weighed down more than usual. Not sure where all of the chickens came from – maybe they materialised from within the jungle, but don’t remember seeing any in Muara Siberut.


After waiting 3 long days for the boat to arrive in Muara Siberut, finally arrive in Padang’s grotty harbour at midday – a faster journey than the trip to Siberut. Passengers impatiently push and shove to scurry, off the boat.

As we’re skint without much money, head for the bank and not the haggling taxi drivers – before wandering to the Sriwijaya Hotel’s deluxe double room with aircon and no hot water.

Sari Rasso Restaurant, Padang, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia

Taking the first real shower in a week and discarding the rancid jungle clothes to the wash, head out to the Sari Raso Restaurant for a sumptuous meal.

Two starters, two scrumptious prawn mains, rice, a large bottle of beer, juice, and drink for AU$12 – bargain and delicious. No boiled eggs and plain noodles today.

Discovered also that we missed the government-run passenger Pelni boat to Jakarta by one day – need to re-assess the next travel leg.

A local flight for two is too expensive. Especially when long-term travelling, so a long bus journey is the only alternative. Much prefer to island-hop in a rickety old boat than risk travelling on Indonesia’s dangerous pot-holed dirt roads.

The bus leaves tomorrow on the 20-hour journey to Kalianda in Sumatra’s southern region. Although travel in Indonesia during 1998 is intrepid, so who knows how long the trip will take…

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts at Image Earth Travel.

29 responses to “Exploring Siberut Island, Sumatra”

  1. LuLu B - Calabrisella Mia Avatar

    You were definitely immersed in the local life there.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes and it was a real eye-opener but the poverty is what distresses me and the way the government treats the indigenous people.

  2. endean0 Avatar

    I would imagine that the scenery was something else, but as a very timid traveller I think I’d best get the sights sounds and anecdotes vicariously. I think I’d have had a nervous breakdown within an hour! Getting a bus in the UK is not a good experience, but probably better than the conditions you faced, and don’t even start me on the peepholes. Anyway it was a brilliant insight into somewhere so fascinating and well out of most peoples comfort zones. Thanks

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      The scenery was amazing!
      I’d love to return, but reading recent articles on Siberut, think the island has changed a lot and not for the best.
      Ha, ha, I’ve travelled on many buses in the UK and apart from being late occasionally, they’re pretty good service. Some of the work bus trips I’ve been on are in Bolivia.
      Glad you enjoyed the read and thanks for popping by…I still have more posts to publish on Indonesia. 🙂

  3. gillmorris Avatar

    I really admire your sense of adventure Nilla. I would freak if I saw those eyes! Great post as always! 🙂 xx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for the great feedback Gill!

      I did freak out when I saw those unexpected eyes – it was a horrible feeling. Forgot to mention in my post, after that experience, each time we went into new accommodation in Indonesia, I checked out the room for peepholes. You wouldn’t believe the number of peepholes in some rooms and bathrooms! I’d religiously stop up the peepholes with toilet paper – it was disgusting!

      1. gillmorris Avatar

        Good grief! How creepy x

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Indeed. Sick, I’d say… 😳

  4. 100 Country Trek Avatar

    Now that is a place we haven’t been in Indonesia. Looks like a fabulous area to explore. Unreal that there is no fish available.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      It was an amazing country to explore and so diverse between the islands. I’d love to return but think that it would have changed too much since 1998.
      Travelled the Indonesia for around 4 months and loved it!

      1. 100 Country Trek Avatar

        Yes I know we returned back to other countries we have been 10 years ago and they are very different now. Love to get back to traveling again. 4 months in Indonesia sounds like a great experience.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I remember you mentioning that before. Sometimes it’s a good experience to return and sometimes it’s not – can’t be helped.
        You and me both… 😉
        Four months wasn’t nearly enough time as there’s so much to see and at the time, travelling was slow.

  5. Under Flowery Sky Avatar

    Wow amazing experiences of the local life. I cannot believe they live in the open hut..

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes it was and I’m sure that things have changed on the island decades on.
      The open huts are amazing, especially in the jungle, open to the elements and animals!

  6. judevincyhotmailcom Avatar

    Well presented. i liked the style. Great work. and nice article. 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for the great feedback!

  7. Daniel Avatar

    I live in a small fishing/surfing village in Panama. When I first arrived years ago, fish could be had by going to the docks and buying directly from fishermen. Today all the fish is destined to the big cities and beyond. Demand is so high for fish that the fishermen now only sell exclusively to distributors who pay them for everything they catch. Fish stocks all over the world are on the decline. Pressure from large cities where restaurants will pay high prices for fish is the norm. Love your stories and incredible sense of adventure. I could not survive on eggs and noodles. Food options are too important to me. best!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hey Daniel

      Know exactly what you mean and have seen this change in countries like Thailand over the decades.

      You’re right, fish stocks around the world are declining from either over fishing with disregard for future generations or taking very small fish, which haven’t had time to grow/reproduce. Here in Australia, we’ve always had strict measures and protected areas, and I’m so glad this has been in place for decades. However, our fisherman pay high licence costs, while Japanese fisherman to our shores pay reduced costs – it’s simply criminal!

      Thank you for your great input and stay safe in Panama. Never made it there and only sailed to Venezuela and the ABCs. And yes, food options are important to me also, especially after living in Italy!


  8. wetanddustyroads Avatar

    What an exceptional story 😲 … I’m looking forward to the bus journey (we’ll not really “looking forward” if you know what I mean), but it sure will be another great story!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ha, ha, I wasn’t looking forward to the next bus journey at all!
      It was an exceptional experience all round and as I write more of this 4-month trip from my journals, can’t help but think how much this island has probably changed.

  9. Puzzles of the Soul Avatar

    Oh so brave staying so long on the island with boiled eggs and noodles. I cannot comprehend why the people do not have fish for themselves too. Very boring diet. 20 hour bus journey waiting to read about this.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Not so brave as didn’t have a choice at all Nanette.
      It’s bizarre for such a small island, no fish is kept. I’m sure locals must catch fish for their own table, but couldn’t buy any.
      Ha, ha, in Indonesia, anything can happen with buses… 😉

      1. Puzzles of the Soul Avatar

        Seems ridiculous no fish to buy. Look forward to the bus trip.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Totally agree!

  10. the eternal traveller Avatar

    I’m not sure I’d be looking forward to that bus journey if I was in your situation.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ha, ha always fun on bus trips through Indonesia, but will the bus trip take only 20 hours?
      You’ll have to check back next week for the sequel… 😉

      1. the eternal traveller Avatar

        I have my doubts!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I’m not saying… 😉

      3. the eternal traveller Avatar


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