TWHS: Sawahlunto Old Coal Mining Town

Continuing to catch up on our jaunts through Indonesia today! The rainforests are the only inscribed WHS in Sumatra, but there’s several interesting tentative sites as well, that are way way off the beaten tourist track. And today, let’s visit a particularly under the radar place,

Sawahlunto Old Coal Mining Town

Sawahlunto Old Coal Mining Town


Sawahlunto is the oldest coal mining town in South East Asia. The municipality of Sawahlunto of West Sumatera is geographically located in a narrow-isolated valley along the Bukit Barisan mountain range. The Town itself is surrounded by several hills, namely Bukit Polan, Bukit Pari, and Bukit Mato. At the end of the 19th century, Dutch Indies had discovered and further exploited coal in Sawahlunto. Since then, this rural area developed and become a mining site.

Since the 18th century, invention of steam engine technology in West Europe has been applied in various activities of Industrial Revolution. Dutch Indies has conducted and mapped coal deposit from various places in their colony, the first location being Pengaron, Kalimantan. Unfortunately the quality of coal did not meet the requirements. In 1858, Dutch Indies discovered coal deposits about 200 million ton in the Sawahlunto valley. Those huge deposits could be used to support various activities such as industry, train and railway systems and shipping..  

Visually, it’s a little town that looks like it was transplanted from middle Europe to the Sumatran hills, just as you’d probably expect,

Sawahlunto Old Coal Mining Town

And if you look on any — seriously, any — of the conventional hotel booking sites, you would conclude that the place does not, in fact, actually exist. Like the pre-Internet days this was, having to actually arrive at the place and then start wandering around to figure out where to sleep that night. No wait, not even like that, because back in those days we’d whip out our trustly Lonely Planet guidebook. This place now, it’s not even in the guidebooks!

But we did indeed find a hotel without too much trouble,

Parai City Garden Hotel

and that front building pictured there? That’s actually one of the listed properties — the residence of the mines’ medical personnel. Always nifty to actually stay in part of the site you’re visiting!

Parai City Garden Hotel History

That’s pretty much the run of the place actually, just wander around looking for buildings that look vaguely Dutch, like this one,

Dutch Building

… and there’ll be a plaque nearby telling you what it was back in the coal mining days.

What’s actually more interesting that the buildings are the people really; not sure how many foreigners ever make it here, but it sure isn’t very many; even the traffic police were taking selfies with the odd duck wandering around their town.

And the kids, well they just dragged us to their school, apparently funny looking foreigners are just the best show and tell you can bring to show off to your friends here

Morning Assembly

and if you want to do character studies of locals completely unaccustomed to foreigners, well the town square is a great place:

Locals In Town Square

So yep, whilst perhaps Sawahlunto Old Coal Mining Town won’t make anybody’s Most Spectacular Site clickbait lists, we enjoyed ourselves quite thoroughly; if you’re around central Sumatra, definitely a good place to kick back way off the tourist trail!


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  1. […] while you’re in central Sumatra visiting Sawahlunto Old Coal Mining Town, just a hop away is today’s Tentative World Heritage Site […]

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