Sumatra Halal Travel Guide
People who spoke Austronesian languages first arrived in Sumatra around 500 BC, as part of the Austronesian expansion from Taiwan to Southeast Asia. With its location in the India-China sea trade route, several trading towns flourished, especially in the eastern coast, and were influenced by Indian religions and the Srivijaya Buddhist monarchy in particular. The Srivijayan influence waned in the 11th century and Sumatra was then subject to conquests from Javanese kingdoms. At the same time Islam made its way to Sumatra through Arabs and Indian traders in the 6th and 7th centuries. Marco Polo visited the island in 1292. The powerful Aceh Sultanate ruled from this time into the 20th century. With the coming of the Dutch, the many Sumatran princely states gradually fell under their control. Aceh, in the north, was the major obstacle, as the Dutch were involved in the long and costly Aceh War (1873–1903).
Sumatra came under the control of the Dutch East Indies and became a major producer of pepper, rubber, and oil. In the early and mid-twentieth century, Sumatran academics and leaders were important figures in Indonesia’s independence movements before full independence was gained in 1945.
Medan, as the largest city on the island, has the most flights including many international services to Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. Silangit International Airport near Lake Toba, Batam, Palembang, Pekanbaru, Padang and Banda Aceh also have international services. Bengkulu, Bandar Lampung, Tanjung Pinang, Pangkal Pinang, Jambi, Tanjung Pandan have domestic flight mostly to Jakarta.
There are bus services from Java to various parts of Sumatra. Whilst most originate from Jakarta, there are services from Bandung, Semarang, Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Malang. Most of the buses are in the good condition and usually are provided with blanket because of more than a day trip and not all the passengers comfort with the air condition. Luxury buses and even with sleeper seats are also available in Banda Aceh – Medan route.
A ferry connection between the port of Merak on the island of Java (100 km west of Jakarta) and Bakauheni in the far south of Sumatra (Lampung province) is available 24 hours. Some passengers and drivers choose to travel by night, because it is not hot.
In addition, there are numerous ferry services connecting Sumatra to Malaysia as well as other Indonesian islands. The main port is Dumai in Riau, which is a visa on arrival point and has direct links to Port Klang (3 hrs), Port Dickson and Malacca (2 hours) in Malaysia, as well as to the Indonesian island of Batam near Singapore. Other ports that have ferry service to Malaysia are Batam, Tanjung Balai Asahan, Bengkalis and Karimun.
There are round-the-clock ferry services from Singapore to Batam, Bintan, and Karimun.
The Trans-Sumatran Highway, a 2,508.5km road, connects the entire island of Sumatra from north to south. It passes through most major cities like Banda Aceh, Medan, Pekanbaru and goes all the way to Bandar Lampung. If not familiar with the routes, use car with driver. Rent a car without driver is dangerous, although the road is good, because some road turns 90 degrees without adequate sign and don’t drive at night.
The only useful railway service runs from Bandar Lampung in the very south of Sumatra to Palembang (400 km) and to Lubuklinggau. From Medan there a few trains a day to Pematangsiantar, Tanjung Balai and Rantauparapat.