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Most visitors don’t give Sumatra’s third-largest city a second glance, convinced that it’s just another simmering urbo-Indonesian sprawl of traffic, smog and chaos. It’s also a city astride one of the planet’s most powerful seismic zones, centrally located on the tectonic hotspot where the Indo-Australian plate plunges under the Eurasian plate.
A devastating 7.6-magnitude earthquake did hit the city in 2009, killing more than 1000 people, and destroying hotels and public buildings. Some remote villages in the nearby Kerinci region were wiped out completely from landslides, while the Mentawai Islands, Pantai Bungus, Bukittinggi and Danau Maninjau escaped relatively unscathed. Other significant tremors without major damage followed in 2010 and 2012, and the Sumatran seismic battleground that triggered the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami continues to be active.
But sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, this once-humble fishing village is also reinventing itself, aided by cheap airfares and its proximity to the region’s power centres of Malaysia and Singapore. There’s a strong sense of cultural identity among the youthful, well-educated population, and Padang is the modern face of Minangkabau culture and the cuisine the region gave to the world.