Some palaces are taken from fairy tales. They can lead you to another world, in another epoch. One of them is located on the exotic island of Sumatra, Indonesia. It is a real masterpiece of the Minangkabau people, the local ethnic group that lives in this part of the world. This masterpiece is Pagaruyung Palace, full of art, tradition, history, and beauty. Let’s go to visit this gem and explore its secrets!
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Pagaruyung Palace is located in the Minangkabau Highlands, in the core of the Minangkabau cultural area. It is one of the most essential places to visit if you go to explore the province of West Sumatra. In particular, this site is one of the places that best represents the culture and history of the Minangkabau people.
Pagaruyung Palace, called Istano Basa Pagaruyung in Indonesian is located near the town of Batusangkar, southeast of Mt Marapi, one of the volcanoes in this part of the Barisan Mountains. Today, it is a popular tourist attraction and presents the seat of the monarchs of Pagaruyung Kingdom that once ruled this part of Sumatra, as well as the history and culture of the area.
The people who live in this area are called Minangkabau. They have a long history, but the most important turning point was in the 13th and 14th centuries. This is the time when they got their name “Minangkabau” which means “victorious buffalo”, coming from a famous legend where a baby buffalo killed an enemy’s big buffalo and saved the local people. A bit later, a foreign king called Adityawarman came and created a powerful kingdom called Pagaruyung, uniting the people under his reign.
This happened here, in the Minangkabau Highlands of the Barisan Mountains. The kings after Adityawarman reigned from this land, but it was unclear where exactly was their palace until the 17th century. This is the earliest known date when the Pagaruyung Palace was built. However, it looked quite different than today.
The Palace of the Pagaruyung kings flourished until the 19th century. But later, it had to experience some difficult times:
- 1804. Pagaruyung Palace was destroyed by fire and then restored.
- 1833. It was the end of the Pagaruyung Kingdom. Probably, only some nobles from the former royal court managed it.
- 1837. Pagaruyung Palace was destroyed again, this time by war between the locals and the Dutch. From that moment, it remained in ruins for almost one century.
- 1930. Pagaruyung Palace was partially rebuilt.
- 1958. The Palace was fully restored after the suppression of the PRRI rioters in West Sumatra.
- 1966. Only 8 years later, it was devastated by fire.
- 1968 to 1976. Pagaruyung Palace was slowly rebuilt again as a replica of the original palace, but south of the original location. From that moment, it was opened as a museum.
- 2007. Pagaruyung Palace was struck by lightning and devastated by fire again. However, it was rebuilt quickly within the same year. Now, you can see its last version as a splendid museum and masterpiece of the Minangkabau architecture.
Rumah Gadang- the iconic architecture of the Minangkabau people
Let’s back to the legend about the buffalo from the 13th century. In honor of the baby buffalo that saved the local people, they gradually created a distinct architectural style. Its most emblematic element is the roof made like the horns of a buffalo. This style became a tradition in the whole of West Sumatra, and now you can see Minangkabau traditional houses, called Rumah Gadang everywhere in this part of the world.
Some of them are governmental buildings or banks, and others- just resident’s houses. But the most beautiful Rumah Gadang are the history and ethnographic museums in the land of Minangkabau, such as the Adityawarman Museum in Padang, the History Museum in Bukittinggi, and more. And the most significant, splendid, and spectacular of them is Pagaruyung Palace.
So, let’s explore Pagaruyung Palace in detail.
Pagaruyung Palace in detail
Pagaruyung Palace is located about 5 km southeast of Batusangkar, on the left side of the curving road from the town. Today, it is a whole well-developed tourist site. It includes the main building of the Palace, a tall rankiang (rice barn), several additional smaller Rumah Gadang beside the Palace, and a tourist center with a small museum.
All of this is well-arranged in a beautiful park with a pool behind the Palace.
The tourist site of Pagaruyung Palace has one entrance and two exits.
Working hours: From 8:00 to 18:00
Entrance fee: IDR 25,000.000
The main building of the Palace
When you pass through the entrance, you enter the square-like park in front of the main building of the Palace. Here you can see some women wearing mascots, expecting photos with them for money. Of course, you are not obliged to accept, but if you don’t mind some additional memory and “donation” to them, you can do it.
Then, you reach the front gate of the Palace. Here, you have to take off your shoes. They will give you a number, and with this number, you can collect your shoes again at the exit gate (they will transport your shoes there). So, you enter inside barefoot.
Architecture of Pagaruyung Palace
The main building of Pagaruyung Palace is a Rumah Gadang, in the aristocratic Koto Piliang substyle- with raised floors called “anjuang”. It is a three-story building. Its complex “buffalo”-roof consists of two “axis” horns in the middle, one over the front gate, and one over the third floor. Then, there are eight “horns”- four on the left, and four on the right side of the “axis”.
The roof is thatched, and the walls are richly decorated.
The interior of the Palace
You enter the first floor. It is the largest of the three floors and its interior is a large hall (divided into Anjuang Rajo Babandiang on the right, and Anjuang Perak on the left) with 72 wooden pillars. Here is the official part of the Palace, where the king and his nobles received their guests and did the important political work for the kingdom.
There are many small “side rooms”, covered behind richly-decorated curtains. Today, you can’t enter inside, but you can see some models of nobles, and you can sit on the special pads on the floor for photos.
Second and Third floors
A wooden stair leads you to the second floor, called Anjuang Pingitan. It is much smaller and consists of a hall and a corner room. This corner room was used by the unmarried royal princesses as their home and as a place for education.
Finally, you ascend by another wooden stair to the third floor, called Anjuang Peranginan. It is the smallest of all and was used by the king and the queen for their rest. Today, there are some weapons exposed in the hall.
Back attached building
From here, you descend back to the first floor but exit through the back attached building. It has one floor and two small halls. In the left hall, you can join a traditional Minangkabau meal sitting on the floor, and in the right hall is the royal kitchen. Here is the exit, and your shoes are waiting for you. This is also the main spot with vendors where you can buy some souvenirs.
Some visitors may feel disappointed because the Palace is too “empty” inside. But the reason for that is the fire in 2007 that destroyed about 85% of the artifacts. Anyway, it is still an architectural masterpiece and can provide enough historical and cultural experience.
The rice barn (rankiang)
The giant rankiang is located on the left front of the Palace (from the Palace’s point of view). Rankiangs are traditional Minangkabau rice storages, usually used by wealthy part of the local population, with typical buffalo-horned roofs, and the rankiang at Pagaruyung Palace is not an exception. You can’t enter inside this one. It is built on high pillars and there is no stair that you can ascend to its interior. But it is a nice spot for photos and relaxation under its shadow.
The additional small Rumah Gadang buildings
There are two Rumah Gadang, located behind and beside the Palace. Currently, they are closed and not so well maintained. But again, they are nice places for relaxation and photos too.
The tourist center
It is located on the left of the Palace (or on the right if you look at the Palace from its front). The center has two floors. On the first floor, you can see a small museum exposition with some traditional Minangkabau artifacts. Here you can get some informational brochures about the main tourist attractions in the Minangkabau Highlands. And on the second floor, you can relax in a café.
All of these buildings are surrounded by a park, and if you feel tired, you can rent a local bike or get on a “train” to explore it more quickly. Finally, you can exit the site through the gate right in front of the Palace. And outside, beside the road, you can eat some fast food or buy some souvenirs like in every famous tourist attraction in the world.
But that’s not all.
Silinduang Bulan Palace
About a kilometer before Pagaruyung Palace (if you come from Batusangkar), you can see another splendid masterpiece. This is Silinduang Bulan Palace. It is considered the first palace of the Pagaruyung kings. It was abandoned in 1550 when the kings moved to a new location. The original Silinduang Bulan remained gradually decaying. It was rebuilt around 1750, but not as a king’s palace.
Since then, it experienced a series of fires (the last one was in 2010), mainly caused by lightning strikes on one of the roof horns.
The Silindiang Bulan Palace that you can see today is just the latest replica of the original one. It is a one-story Rumah Gadang, with two rankiangs (rice barns) on both sides of the building. Today, it is turned into a museum too, but since it is “behind the shadow” of the magnificent Pagaruyung Palace, almost no tourists visit it. There is no entrance fee (however, it has working hours- from 9:30 to 17:30, closed on Friday), you can enter freely inside, or at least you can take beautiful photos of this gem.
How to visit Pagaruyung Palace
Now is the time for some practical information to help you arrange your trip to Pagaruyung Palace.
Transportation: How to reach Pagaruyung Palace
Although Pagaruyung Palace is a famous local destination, there are not too many transport options. In general, you can reach this place by public transport, privately, or by joining a tour.
It is the cheapest, and the most “unclear” option, because it is intended to serve the local people, not the tourists. Therefore, you have to search for transportation to the town of Batusangkar, not the Palace itself. The main starting point is Bukittinggi.
But as I said, it is not for tourists. You have to travel by local van (angkot) from Bukittinggi. They can be found in Aur Kuning Terminal. There is no fixed schedule- just search for angkot. And when the angkot is full (usually, it becomes full quickly), it just leaves.
If you come from Padang, you still have to pass Bukittinggi or at least the town of Padang Panjang, then again search for angkot to Batusangkar as described above.
When you arrive in Batusangkar, just take a taxi (or ojek, motorcycle taxi) to Pagaruyung Palace. It should be cheap, however, prices for foreigners are often higher than for the locals- you can expect something between 20,000 and 50,000 IDR (while in fact it should be no more than 10,000 IDR).
If you can drive, or if you are ready to pay more, you can visit Pagaruyung Palace by private transport.
Many hotels in Bukittinggi offer a private car with a driver. It is convenient and safe, but of course, much more expensive- something between 700,000 to 1,000,000 IDR, which may or may not include the lunch for the driver. At least, in this case, you don’t need to care about anything, just trust the guide.
Some hotels can arrange a rental car without a driver. It is cheaper- around 400,000 to 500,000 IDR. However, they usually require a deposit of about 2,000,000 IDR or more.
Motorbike (Scooter) rent
Finally, if you want to be free, independent, and budget, you can rent a motorcycle in Bukittinggi. This is the option that we chose. Again, most hotels can arrange rental motorbikes. But even if they can’t arrange it, we can propose a small company (the company we used), called Sewa Bus Pariwisata. See its location here. Yes, they will hold your passport but don’t worry, we rented a motorcycle from there twice without any problem.
For 24-hour rent, we paid 130,000 IDR (you can probably find a cheaper motorcycle, but this is the average price). The distance from Bukittinggi to Pagaruyung Palace is 43 km. You can add fuel in the petrol stations or just buy bottles from one of the multiple fuel roadside shops that you can see almost everywhere. When you rent your motorbike, ask the owner what type of fuel it uses. Most motorcycles use “Pertamine”.
Warning: the traffic between Bukittinggi and Pagaruyung Palace can be complex and dangerous, especially in Bukittinggi. When you approach Batusangkar, it is much better. At the same time, if you come from a country with the right traffic, you may have some difficulties until you get used to driving on the left, in intense traffic.
But on the other side, you are free, and you can draw a whole route by yourself. That’s what we did- we visited Pagaruyung Palace, the oldest Rumah Gadang house in Balimbing village, the old village of Pariangan, and more, within one day.
Joining a tour
This is a proper option for those who want to make everything easier- you don’t need to care and arrange everything yourself. But just you follow their itinerary, not yours. And these tours are a bit expensive.
Here are some of the best tours that you can join. They include not only Pagaruyung Palace, but also Padang, Bukittinggi, and the spectacular Harau Valley.
- Private Multiday Tour in Minangkabau with accommodation 4 days
This trip starts and ends at Minangkabau Airport in Padang. It guides you to Padang Panjang Minangkabau Cultural Center, then explore Harau Valley, Pagaruyung Palace, Bukittinggi, and back to Padang.
- 3 Days Private Padang Tour: Minangkabau Cultural Center, Village, and City Tour
This trip is only 3 days long, and focuses more on the cultural Minangkabau sites around Bukittinggi, like Pandai Sikek, the villages around Singkarak Lake, and of course, Pagaruyung Palace. It skips Harau Valley. The trip starts and ends in Padang, and also includes visiting some sites in Padang and Bukittinggi.
- West Sumatra Cultural Tour With Accommodation 4 Days 3 Nights
This one is like the first trip, however, its main focus is Haray Valley, and it includes a whole day of trekking around the valley. Again, its starting and ending point is Padang.
Where to stay
If you join a trip to Pagaruyung Palace, you don’t need to worry about accommodation- they will arrange everything. But if you are an independent traveler, you have to consider this problem. Most travelers base their trips on Bukittinggi- they go to Pagaruyung Palace in the morning, and back to Bukittinggi in the afternoon or evening.
Emersia Hotel & Resort Batusangkar is the best one. It is located in the center of the town and belongs to the luxurious class. At the same time, the prices are quite cheap for such a luxury.
Puri Ratna Joewita is a good option too, a bit cheaper than Emersia, but its location is a bit far from Pagaruyung Palace.
OYO 93143 Mega Raudhah Syariah is a cheap, budget option. However, it is quite far from the Palace. Besides, it has some bad reviews from travelers who have been there but there was no staff to open the hotel.
In other words- the closer to the Palace, the more expensive, and the better and more luxurious.
This is Pagaruyung Palace, and this is how you can arrange your trip to this amazing destination. As I mentioned, you can combine it with a full exploration of the whole Minangkabau cultural region, including more traditional villages and houses, more local customs, art, and crafts, and the amazing nature, full of volcanoes, jungles, lakes, and waterfalls- an adventure, rich of impressions, a significant part of exploring West Sumatra.
Check some travel books about Sumatra:
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Hi, we are Krasen and Ying Ying. Krasen is from Bulgaria, and Ying Ying is from China. We are passionate about geography and history, and we believe that the best way to experience it is by exploring the Earth in reality, not in a school, and not virtually.
So, we created this blog Journey Beyond the Horizon, where we share geographical knowledge, travel guides and tips how to experience it when you explore our planet, and a lot of inspiration.
And we wish you a happy journey, not just virtually, but most of all- in reality.