Project Description





Highlights: Mentawai indigenous culture / Island endemism / Tropical rainforests / Stream invertebrates / Mangrove forests / Intertidal zones / Coral reefs

Mentawai Magic – 7 Days

Siberut Island, off the western coast of Sumatra, is truly a land lost in time. The Mentawai people who have inhabited this remote isle for thousands of years represent the most archaic and fascinating culture in all of Indonesia. To visit these people as invited guests in a respectful manner is a life experience never to be forgotten.

Thom Henley has worked closely with the Mentawai on numerous trips to their jungle island over the past twelve years. He has authored a book on their culture: Living Legend of the Mentawai and donated all revenues from sales back to the Mentawai Health, Education and Tourism Assoc. (MHETA). The Mentawai who make up this clan-based group will provide all guides and services for our expedition. Our trip will support indigenous tourism exactly the way the Mentawai want it to be.

This amazing eight-day adventure begins in Singapore as we our board Silk Air flight to Padang, Indonesia. It is a short but dramatic flight crossing the great island of Sumatra. Arriving in Padang we will have an afternoon to take in the sights and sounds of this thriving center of Minangkabau culture before dinner, and boarding our all night boat to Siberut.

Siberut is a magical place, and we will sense that magic right from the start. As we boat up the jungle-lined Siberut River all trappings of “civilization” seem to disappear behind us. We will have several days to set our schedule to the everyday pace of Mentawai life. “Mole, mole,” the Mentawai are fond of saying. They believe it is important to set a “spirit-pleasing pace” to one’s life.

Over the course of four days, we will live in traditional Mentawai “umas” – extended family houses, and take in the experiences of daily life. Harvesting sago, making tapa cloth, net-fishing in the rivers, making arrow poison, gathering and preparing jungle medicines, enjoying a clan feast, and having the honor to observe sacred ceremonies, are but a few of the traditional activities we will have the privilege to partake in.

In addition to the cultural highlights, there will be ample opportunity for soft adventure and nature studies. We will trek through the lowland rain forest, paddle a river in dug-out canoes, swim in the refreshing pool of a paradise waterfall, explore mangrove forests, snorkel over living coral reefs, hike along unspoiled beaches, and feast on fresh seafood at our final night beach lodge.

Following our return boat trip to Padang, on day nine, we have the opportunity to enjoy a refreshingly cool, and quite different, experience in the central highlands of Sumatra. The Minangkabau people are a matriarchal society with a rich and proud history. The ancient center of their highland civilization, Bukkittingi, will be our hotel base to explore many fascinating cultural sites in the area. We drive back down from the mountains to Padang for our return flight to Singapore on day twelve, having shared an experience few have ever had, or ever will.

Study Focus: Crossing of Menawai Strait / Siberut National Park

  • Depart Singapore International Airport on Silk Air flight to Padang, Indonesia. Airport pick-up by mini bus and transfer to Batang Arau Hotel.
  • Time to explore some of the sights of Padang before dinner and departure by boat.
    All night crossing of the Mentawai Strait.

Overnight: sleeping berths in cabins


  • Arrive at Malipet pier on Siberut Island at dawn and transfer to Malipet Café for breakfast.Visit the Siberut National Park interpretive center for an orientation to Siberut’s unique flora/fauna.
  • After customs clearance in Muara Siberut, we board boats for the journey up the Siberut River. A two-hour run brings us to the Mentawai settlement of Rodogot where we break for lunch.
  • We have another 3 hours on the river before we disembark in Madobak and do a short hike to Malaguet uma, our home for two nights. Time to clean up in a pristine jungle creek before dinner with the family.

Overnight: Malaguet traditional uma

Study Focus: Traditional Life

  • Awake with the family and enjoy watching a traditional uma come to life. Following breakfast we set off to observe, and take part in, traditional daily pursuits: sago harvesting, arrow poison making, net fishing in the river for prawns, or whatever the events of the morning may be.
  • Returning to the uma for lunch, we have time to swim in the creek, lounge in a hammock, catch up on our journals, or enjoy a good book until the afternoon activities begin. Animal tending, basket weaving, or making loincloths (avats) from the bark of the baiko tree, may be among our afternoon activities.
  • Dinner and a clan ceremony with the dancing and singing of traditional Sikeri (medicine men) will highlight our night.

Overnight: Malagulet uma

  • We’re up early with roosters, heading out after a hearty breakfast, for a good day of trekking.
  • We pass through the government re-location settlement of Ugai — where we will stop for lunch– before continuing on to Butui. Butui is a lovely setting along a clear river where several large clan houses stand proud in the jungle.
  • We enjoy another dinner together with an extended family and whatever cultural treasures they choose to share with us.

Overnight: Amaloulou’s uma — Butui

Day 5

  • Tracks of primary forest nearby Butui allow us to do a forest study of Siberut’s lowland forest, and to learn more of Mentawai ethnobotany, in the cool hours of the day following breakfast.
  • After lunch and passing the heat of the day in the comfort of a creek pool or a breezy hammock, we set off once again to experience Mentawai cultural traditions first-hand.
  • Dinner is followed by Mentawai legends shared around the oil lamps in the great uma.

Overnight: Amaloulou’s uma – Butui

Day 6

  • Following breakfast we bid farewell to our host family and set off early on a return trek to Ugai. From Ugai we travel by dug out canoe, paddling down the Siberut River to our next destination – a spectacular waterfall.
  • It’s time for a delicious picnic lunch beside the falls and a delightful afternoon of swimming.
  • Our final night in a traditional uma will feature a Mentawai feast of pig, chicken, boiled taro and banana rolled in freshly-grated coconut, steamed laipat greens, and sago cooked in bamboo or roasted in palm blades.
  • Visiting Sikeri and families from the nearby government re-settlement site of Madobak will join us for closing ceremony we will never forget.

Overnight: Baieloy clan uma

Day 7 and 8 – Down River to Coast & Explore Shorelines

It’s time to say goodbye to the Siberut Island interior and head back down river to the coast.

We stop for a lunch break at Rodogot before continuing our journey to the sea.

At the Siberut River mouth we transfer to larger ocean going launches for the short trip to Maselo beach lodge.

Time for late afternoon swimming, snorkeling or beach combing before dinner — a great seafood feast. (Overnight: in hammocks under the stars, or in Maselo beach lodges)

We have a full day to enjoy the splendors of Siberut Island’s unspoiled coast: exploring the extensive shoreline, hiking the beaches to coastal Mentawai settlements, offshore fishing, snorkeling, swimming, whatever our hearts desire.

Our final beach night will feature a great farewell party with fabulous food, music, dancing and a beach bon fire. (Overnight: Maselo beach lodge).

Day 9 and 10 – Mangrove Forest, Departure & Suatran Highlands


  • This is a good morning to catch up on some sleep, lounge in a hammock, read a book, or perfect that tan before the trip home.
  • We will have boat excursions to explore the mangrove forests, see the world-famous surfing breaks, and visit some more remote Mentawai coastal settlements before evening when we depart by boat back to Padang. (Overnight: berths in cabins aboard overnight boat)

DAY 10

  • We arrive in Padang at dawn and enjoy a hearty Western breakfast at Batang Arau Hotel.
  • After a thorough clean up (Ahh! Hot showers!!), we travel by minibus to the cool Sumatran highlands. Scenery en route is absolutely gorgeous – rice fields, jungle canyons, plunging waterfalls, and steaming volcanoes.
  • We arrive in Bukkittingi and check into our comfortable hotel for two nights.A free afternoon to trot around the town’s charming streets by horse and buggy, shop for extraordinary antiques and souvenirs, and take in the scenic wonders of this high Minangkabau center of art and culture.

Overnight: Bukkittingi hotel

Day 11 and 12 – Minangkabau Kingdom, Rafflesia flower & Depature

DAY 11

  • The Minangkabau kingdom has many ancient treasures to share with visitors and we will show you the best of them: centuries-old clan houses with their distinctive buffalo horn roof styles, water-powered coffee mills, spice orchards and rice-terraced hillsides, active volcanoes and crater lakes, and possibly, even a Minangkabau traditional bullfight.
  • It’s a full day, but if possible we will try to locate a rafflesia flower in bloom. Rafflessia arnoldi is the largest flower in the world and restricted to central Sumatra.
  • Our last night together is highlighted by a fabulous Minangkabau dinner and traditional music and dancing.

Overnight: Bukkittingi hotel

DAY 12

  • Time to bid farewell to a fabulous corner of the earth as we leave the highlands and drive back to Padang for our Silk Air flight back to Singapore.
  • All too quickly our expedition has come to an end, but the memories, the friendships and the insights gained may well be transformational.
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