To be frank I’d never give much thought about going to Medan, perhaps I felt Medan is just, Medan. But when it came to plan for the three days leave in tandem with the Malaysia Day, Medan was one of the options that fit the short time and budget. I quickly booked the flight tickets which I managed to get cheap, and as the date to our departure drew nearer we started doing a little bit of research of the place we were going to set our foot to. And those photos I stumbled in the net suddenly made me go all excited.
We safely landed at the Polonia International Airport on the early morning of Sept the 15th, after 45 minutes flying from LCCT. Ignoring the constant touts of the airport taxi drivers, we walked past the gate towards the emerald green gas station, and found it to be Petronas, our national petroleum company. We hailed a becak from there, and asked for Terminal Amplas. So much into cutting our budget short that we had to endure the back-aching journey to the bus station, squeezing ourselves inside the cramp becak and inhaling clouds of black exhausts and street dust. So much for an adventure.
Us inside the becak to Terminal Amplas.
Since we haven’t had breakfast, we decided to eat first by one of the stall at the bus terminal before embarking another 4 hours journey to Parapat. The only available menu was Soto Medan so we took the opportunity to taste it for the first time. A bit different from the typical clear chicken soup soto we have back home, soto Medan is cooked in thick yellowish spicy chicken soup more like a green curry. Instead eating with rice vermicelli or rice cake like we always do in Malaysia, it is eaten with plain rice and we simply add the potato croquettes as side dish.
Bus ticket to Parapat.
We quickly ate our breakfast and before long found ourselves inside our ride. It’s norm for the bus to wait until it’s fully occupied, and as we were among the last to get on so it wasn’t a long wait. The ride costs us 25 thousand Rupiah each and it is the cheapest mode of transport to Lake Toba.
Nothing much to say about the bus journey except that the seat was a bit cramped (like the bus seat on our ride to Tagaytay last time) but again there wasn’t many people on board so we had the seats all to ourselves. The inside was a bit stuffy as the only ventilation was from the small opening of the glass panels above our heads, and there was no aircond. A bit uncomfortable, but bearable until at the moment when it started to rain and we had to shut those panels to prevent the incoming rain. The man behind our seat suddenly decided to while the time with some cigarette, and he was smoking and puffing like nobody business inside that enclosed coach. Apparently it was common in Medan, as another man lighted up his Gudang Garam. Grey stale fumes wafted the air, and I was coughing terribly from the passive second hand smoking and so did DH. In low voice I heard him grumbling, albeit being the heavy smoker himself. With a laugh I told him that he should by now understand my feelings every time he smokes in front of me.
Fortunately the rain was only a while, and I quickly opened the glass panel for fresh air. More and more people onboard the bus, especially somewhere along Tebing Tinggi where we stopped to accommodate commuters from another bus which had broken down. From there we were sharing our seats with an old Batak lady. With DH in the middle I was squeezed to the wall and could barely move my legs. Definitely the seats are child-size, and not anywhere fit for three adults. Well we got what we paid for, and wasn’t complaining. We were relieved when she get off from the bus an hour later and reclaimed our breathable space. The bus stopped for more passengers at Permatang Siantar bus terminal and from there we continued our journey to Parapat. An hour later the bus started climbing uphill, the air get chilled and cozy. Lake Toba was revealed to us bit by bit as we bent down the curvy road, and was so awestruck with the beautiful landscape of green rolling hills and bluish lake that served our eyes. Horas to the Land of Batak!
It was around 2pm when we arrived at the quaint Parapat town, and asked the driver to drop us at Tigaraja jetty. Eventually the bus didn’t go that way, and the driver was kind enough to let us off at the nearby street. From there we had to walk a few hundred meters to the jetty and had our simple lunch at one of the muslim restaurant there.
It appears that there is a morning market by the jetty, although not much since it was already noon. We managed to snap a few photos of the market while waiting for the boat to Samosir, an isthmus island of Lake Toba where we will spend our night. Before that we booked a taxi to Berastagi for tomorrow, and had to charter a private ride since the shared taxi was only available very early in the morning. There’s no public bus going to Berastagi from Parapat as it is not a popular route.
Batak woman selling bananas at Tigaraja Market.
Salak fruits at Tigaraja Market.
Dried fish sellers, Tigaraja.
Tigaraja Jetty in Parapat. Boats to Tomok and Tuktuk in Samosir runs every 1 hour, and the last boat departs from the jetty at 6pm.
We hopped onto the boat as soon as it arrived, and other than ourselves and a group of Westerners, most of the passengers are locals. Based on the recommendation we got from the net, we decided to stay by the quieter Tuktuk instead of heading to the touristy Tomok. We paid Rp7000 each for the trip.
I saw this man with his nets, as the boat slowly left the jetty.
We chose to sit by the open deck, and enjoying the refreshing view was never boring. I saw a bunch of life jackets and floats, and wondered whether they were enough for all of us. Toba is also the deepest lake as it is large, and we were sailing in an old antic. I was hoping that all is fine.
Toba is the largest caldera lake in the world formed by super volcanic activity about seventy thousand years ago and it took about an hour to get across. Surrounded by green and lush mountains, it is a beautiful sight to behold. The stunning view kept us occupied most of the time, and that 1 hour seemed to fly pretty fast.
Samosir mountain range.
A local man came to sit in front of me, chatting casually with one of the Caucasian woman that was onboard with us. At first I thought they came together, cause from the way they talk looked like they have known each other for quite some time. The guy then turned to us and asked whether we have booked any accommodation for the night, of which I realized he was one of the ‘tourist hunters’. He was suggesting Bagus Bay, and said that he could get us a good price if we plan to stay longer. He sort of lost interest in us when we told him that we were not, and that we have plan to stay somewhere else. At least he wasn’t pushy.
Another boat cruising the calm Lake Toba. Too bad it was a bit cloudy.
I love the house by the lake, and could imagine myself waking up to the beautiful view every single day and not be bored.
A traditional Batak house we saw on the way to Tuktuk. Batak, is the tribe people that lives around Lake Toba, and once famous for cannibalism although the ritual had ceased many years ago. Definitely not the people you would like to mess with unless you fancy ending up in their cooking pot! Most of modern day Batak people have embraced Christianity, but they still believe in animism which was their original faith and this is heavily reflected in their life and culture. Being near to Bukittinggi, I found their houses resemble the distinctive similarity with the Minangkabau pointed roof, although the whole structure is quite small compared to the latter.
The lake is not only just a water source to these people, but also the pulse to the Batak’s socio-economy. It is a place for social interactions as well as generating the household incomes through tourism, fishing and agriculture.
Arrived at Tuktuk we dropped at Lekjon Cottage, where we got a room at just Rp100k. The room was clean and spacious, and nothing to complaint at, less the water heater. It was pretty cold in Samosir, and water heater is sort of a necessity. But that is something that we could live without. With a balcony fronting the lake it was quite a deal, and I thought with the fresh air and serene view we will finally have our ultimate holiday. Unfortunately that was not the case (which I will tell later).
Enough rest and shower, we set out to explore the area with a rented bike. Helmet was unnecessary, as we were leisurely cruising the scenic village road passed some colorful Batak houses, smiling villagers, flowering bushes, running chickens, stray cats and friendly dogs while the stunning view of the lake is at our side all the time. Nature was singing those delightful songs and I really fell in love with Samosir.
The path leading to Ambarita and Simanindo.
DH at a lookout point in Tuktuk, with the panoramic lake at the back.
Beautiful Lake Toba.
Tuktuk in the evening, overseeing Ambarita Village at the far end.
Some scenic views of Tuktuk. We planned to see the sunset, but eventually the sun down on the other side of the mountain, thus ended the chase.
Night falls quite early in Samosir, and by 6pm it was already dark. Lamp posts weren’t many; knowing that it will be difficult navigating in the dark, we hasted to the guesthouse and returned the bike. We made a deal with the owner to rent it again the next morning before we go back to the mainland. Our dinner that night was simply Indonesia typical pressed chicken (ayam penyet) and some soto Medan at one of the muslim restaurant in the island, but I would say the ayam penyet was one of the best I’ve ever had in Indonesia especially the sambal (chili paste).
Night life in Tuktuk is pretty dull except for the cafes and bars that worth considering if you are in good company, which was pointless in our case. So we headed back to our room for a good night rest. Or so we intent. Apparently there was this group staying at the same resort at the room below us, and they decided to throw a full-blast party that night. Two gaudy sets of sound theater were stacked on top of each other, with the volume amplified to the max. They were singing, laughing, drinking and dancing the whole night through, and from the way they act we were pretty sure they got drunk after a while. Annoyed, we tried to keep our cool since they were singing religious songs and we didn’t want to be labeled anti-religist (although the choice of songs were quite contrasting with the wild theme of the party!). I had my headphones intact with the Metallica banging in my head and can still hear them. I said to DH perhaps they will stop at twelve, more of a self consolation actually. It was the time when we really lose our patience when one of them said lets continue until morning! I wasn’t sure what happened next as I pretend to sleep, but what I know suddenly there was peace and quiet. I asked DH what actually happened, and he said that he just went out to the balcony and gave them the ‘look’. It was a daring thing which he did, but luckily one of them saw his face and immediately called it a night. I imagine what kind of look he was giving them haha…
The next day when we were on boat to Parapat we met a couple who stayed 5 blocks from us, which had been complaining about last night commotion. Imagine he was 5 blocks away and couldn’t sleep because of that, while we were on the other hand just a floor above!