Medan - the Gateway to North Sumatra / by Jenn Wei Hee

Sumatra in Western Indonesia is the sixth largest island in the world. It doesn't have the temples, beaches and historical sights of Bali or Java, but it's certainly make up for the awesome scenery and thrilling treks. Home to Batak ethnic groups - the term used by Malays settlers to describe non-Muslims in the Sumatra. A place steeped in tradition and fascinating culture. 

 Beautiful mountain view from Taman Simalem. 

Beautiful mountain view from Taman Simalem. 

Tourism in North Sumatra is still under-developed, and this is the exact reason why you can expect to see Sumatra at its raw culture and the charm in all its natural glory; free from commercialisation and human tampering. 

 A 5-day North Sumatra itinerary, 414km. 

A 5-day North Sumatra itinerary, 414km. 

AVERAGE COST

Accommodations below are based on 4-person stay. Indonesia is relatively affordable but slightly more expensive compare to Thailand! Hostel dorm per bed will cost around US$5 a night and Hostel private room for 4 cost around US$20 a night. Alternatively, Airbnb is available as a great choice to experience authentic local culture. 

  1. Pulau Samosir - Horas Family Home US$53/night - stayed for 2 nights
  2. Tonging - Taman Simalem Resort US$103/night
  3. Medan - Airbnb at Medan Town Centre US$33/night

Food (per person) in North Sumatra is slightly on a high side. We visited one of the popular traditional coffee joint in Pematang Siantar City, where a traditional hand brew coffee cost around US$5. A sit down restaurant with table service can cost from US$4 - US$6.

Transportation - With the help from Horas Family Home (Pulau Samosir), we pre-arranged a driver to pick us up from the Kualanamu airport (Medan) towards Pulau Samosir. It's an almost 5 hours ride with stops for scenery and meal, so yes, get a real comfortable car as possible. Once you've arrived at Pulau Samosir, you can get around the island by foot, bicycle or motorcycle. We hired the same driver from Horas, travel from Pulau Samosir towards Taman Simalem, Mount Sibayak and back to Medan. Total cost for the 4-day arranged driver cost around US$40 for 4 persons. 

Medan is the gateway to the rest of North Sumatra, an underrated tropical beauty offering lush rainforests, waterfalls, mountains and lakes.

LAKE TOBA

Supervolcanoes are usually not on your radar unless you have special interest in them. In North America - there are Yellowstone, Valles Caldera and Long Valley Caldera; In Europe - Campi Flegrei in Italy; or if you're in New Zealand, most likely you've heard of Lake Taupo. In Southeast Asia - there's Lake Toba (Danau Toba), a beautiful caldera lake measuring at 100km by 30km. In the centre of Lake Toba is an island called Pulau Samosir. 

Places of Interest and recommended time to spend: 

  1. Jump into Lake Toba - swim or kayak - 2 hours
  2. Explore Tuk Tuk town - tranquil town on Pulau Samosir - half a day
  3. Bukit Holburg - hill view of Lake Toba - 1 hour
  4. Huta Siallagan - stone chair of King Siallagan - 1 hour
  5. Pasar Tomok - local handicraft market - 1 hour
 At the Pematang Siantar City, Sumatra is famous for its Arabica coffee. Here you can find these great coffee at Cafe Kok Tong, which have been in operation since 1925, no espresso machine but traditional hand brewed coffee. 

At the Pematang Siantar City, Sumatra is famous for its Arabica coffee. Here you can find these great coffee at Cafe Kok Tong, which have been in operation since 1925, no espresso machine but traditional hand brewed coffee. 

 At Lake Toba, ferry ride from Parapat town to Pulau Samosir (Tuk Tuk Town). 

At Lake Toba, ferry ride from Parapat town to Pulau Samosir (Tuk Tuk Town). 

 The Lake Toba!

The Lake Toba!

 The view of high land plateau of Parapat town from Pulau Samosir.

The view of high land plateau of Parapat town from Pulau Samosir.

 Exploring the Tuk Tuk Siadong at Pular Samosir by foot.

Exploring the Tuk Tuk Siadong at Pular Samosir by foot.

 Sun beams streaming into the valley through the clouds.

Sun beams streaming into the valley through the clouds.

 Local boys at Tuk Tuk Siadong. 

Local boys at Tuk Tuk Siadong. 

 An invite into the Lake Toba, dock from Horas Family Home. 

An invite into the Lake Toba, dock from Horas Family Home. 

 We arrived at Medan in the morning, another 5-hour car ride to Parapat town. By the time we arrived at Pulau Samosir via ferry ride it's already past 3pm. We spent the rest of the evening chilling, swimming and kayaking at Lake Toba. Head out for Huta Siallagan, Pasar Tomok and viewpoints around Pulau Samosir on the next day. 

We arrived at Medan in the morning, another 5-hour car ride to Parapat town. By the time we arrived at Pulau Samosir via ferry ride it's already past 3pm. We spent the rest of the evening chilling, swimming and kayaking at Lake Toba. Head out for Huta Siallagan, Pasar Tomok and viewpoints around Pulau Samosir on the next day. 

 Pasar Tomok.

Pasar Tomok.

 We got back to Horas Family Home in the afternoon, headed out for a sunset view from Reggae Guest House.

We got back to Horas Family Home in the afternoon, headed out for a sunset view from Reggae Guest House.

 Enjoying our Sumatra milk coffee, pan-fried bananas and the view from Reggae Guest House at Tuk Tuk Siadong, Pulau Samosir.

Enjoying our Sumatra milk coffee, pan-fried bananas and the view from Reggae Guest House at Tuk Tuk Siadong, Pulau Samosir.

 Sunset view from Reggae Guest House. 

Sunset view from Reggae Guest House. 

 A building with Batak architecture infusion, boat-shaped with intricately carved gables and upsweeping roof ridges. 

A building with Batak architecture infusion, boat-shaped with intricately carved gables and upsweeping roof ridges. 

 Sunset and contrail. 

Sunset and contrail. 

THE HIDDEN GEM OF TAMAN SIMALEM

North Sumatra scenery never ceased to amaze, with a welcoming population yet little tourism development here. Tradition remains intact and uncontaminated, with fewer visitors too. A drive from Pulau Samosir to Berastagi to experience this region at its best. Spent almost half a day slowly snaking our way up north with an incredible bucolic landscape. En route Berastagi, we stopped by Menara Pandang Tele and stayed one night at Taman Simalem Resort. 

Places of Interest and recommended time to spend: 

  1. Tele Observation Tower - panoramic view of Pulau Samosir - 1 hour
  2. Taman Simalem Resort - the hidden gem! - 1 night
 A young stratovolcano constructed on western margin of Toba caldera. 

A young stratovolcano constructed on western margin of Toba caldera. 

 A hidden village en route Menara Pandang Tele.

A hidden village en route Menara Pandang Tele.

 Lake Toba overlooking Sumatra mainland.

Lake Toba overlooking Sumatra mainland.

 Lake Toba.

Lake Toba.

 One of the most important staple food product for Sumatra. 

One of the most important staple food product for Sumatra. 

 Aeriel view at Edistigor Hot Spring. 

Aeriel view at Edistigor Hot Spring. 

 Lake Toba view from Tele Observation Tower, 

Lake Toba view from Tele Observation Tower, 

 Looks almost like a table-top plateau! Absolutely amazing!

Looks almost like a table-top plateau! Absolutely amazing!

 Lush green landscape, blue sky! Lovely scenery from the tower. 

Lush green landscape, blue sky! Lovely scenery from the tower. 

 2 hours car ride from Tele Observation Tower to the Sipiso Piso Waterfall.

2 hours car ride from Tele Observation Tower to the Sipiso Piso Waterfall.

 Another great view of Lake Toba. 

Another great view of Lake Toba. 

 One of the tourist attractions in North Sumatra located in Karo district, Sipiso Piso Waterfall. From a rock opening 120 metres above magnificent gorge in Kabanjahe, flows one of the tallest waterfalls.  

One of the tourist attractions in North Sumatra located in Karo district, Sipiso Piso Waterfall. From a rock opening 120 metres above magnificent gorge in Kabanjahe, flows one of the tallest waterfalls.  

 Another half an hour car ride from Sipiso Piso Waterfall and we've finally arrived at Taman Simalem Resort. 

Another half an hour car ride from Sipiso Piso Waterfall and we've finally arrived at Taman Simalem Resort. 

 Brilliant is the word! 

Brilliant is the word! 

 The scenic view of Lake Toba. 

The scenic view of Lake Toba. 

 Sunrise on the next day from Taman Simalem Resort. 

Sunrise on the next day from Taman Simalem Resort. 

TO THE SUMMIT OF A VOLCANO!!!

Another 1.5 hours car ride from Taman Simalem Resort to Berastagi highland, a rural retreat into the town that offers never-ending supply of great scenery. A place boasted by 2 scenic volcanoes, Mount Sinabung (2,452m) and Mount Sibayak (2,212m). Guides are available for hire around Berastagi for US$15, however climbing Mount Sibayak can be done independently. Always team up with other hikers, never hike alone, unexpected weather changes and loose shale could cause falls and fatalities. 

Places of Interest and recommended time to spend: 

  1. Mount Sibayak Trek - rewarding view at 2,094m - 3 to 4 hour
  2. Sibayak Hot Spring - get into the hot spring right after the trek - 1 hour
 Trail up to Mount Sibayak summit, the hike is manageable for untrained adult, reaching the summit will take approx. 90 minutes; we spent about an hour taking in the breathtaking view from summit. 

Trail up to Mount Sibayak summit, the hike is manageable for untrained adult, reaching the summit will take approx. 90 minutes; we spent about an hour taking in the breathtaking view from summit. 

 The trail has various terrain from muddy to rocky. 

The trail has various terrain from muddy to rocky. 

 You can see Mount Sinabung from the trail up to Mount Sibayak, smoke bubbling from Sinabung. 

You can see Mount Sinabung from the trail up to Mount Sibayak, smoke bubbling from Sinabung. 

 Active fumaroles in the crater. 

Active fumaroles in the crater. 

 Some of these fumaroles are loud, like a steam engine running beneath. 

Some of these fumaroles are loud, like a steam engine running beneath. 

 A rare moment free of gas plumes, on the summit of Mount Sibayak, with Mount Sinabung in the background. 

A rare moment free of gas plumes, on the summit of Mount Sibayak, with Mount Sinabung in the background. 

 At the very tip of Mount Sibayak summit, 2,212m above sea level. 

At the very tip of Mount Sibayak summit, 2,212m above sea level. 

TERIMA KASIH!

That sums up our 5 days 4 nights North Sumatra trip. Witnessing the supervolcano at Lake Toba is really quite extraordinary, not just a huge crater with an island the size of Singapore in its center, it's also known as the largest volcanic lake and one of the deepest in the world. Big fans of the mountain ranges formed by the supervolcano, love to every single bits of it, impressive landscape underlies the craftmanship over thousands of years! 

 Here's to the 6th annual trip! Thanks for the wonderful trip guys! #HO6

Here's to the 6th annual trip! Thanks for the wonderful trip guys! #HO6

North Sumatra Travelogue in 1 minute!