Discover hidden paradises of North Sumatra (part 1, Medan-Brastagi-Lake Toba)


The beauty of Indonesia doesn’t live only on Bali, Yogyakarta, or Lombok. North Sumatra is one of the best part of Indonesia which is easy to access and offer so many beautiful place. This province has the biggest fresh water lake in South East Asia, the only original habitat of Sumatran Orangutan (literally means Man of Jungle), the amazing water fall, unique culture of native people, and delicious local food. Whether you want luxury holiday package or explore in a backpacker way, North Sumatra has so many choices.

Lake toba viewed from north side, on the viewpoint near Sipiso-piso waterfall
Lake toba viewed from north side, on the viewpoint near Sipiso-piso waterfall

Your journey in North Sumatra will begin at Medan, the capital city of North Sumatra Province. Medan is the largest city in Sumatra and fourth largest city in Indonesia after Jakarta, Surabaya, and Makassar. It can be reached easily by flight from Jakarta, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. Most visitors come to Medan from Jakarta where all major Indonesian airlines serve the flight daily from early morning to evening.

Exploring the tourist destination in North Sumatra take more efforts since the area is large and the road condition is not as good as many roads in Java. If you prefer to go in comfortable way, hiring a car or take a tour package from local operator is more recommended. But if you like adventure, backpacking style using public transport will be more challenging. But don’t expect everything will be smooth, you may expect the unexpected, from “zombie” bus until lost in the jungle.

A Pembangunan Semesta (means universe development) "Zombie" Bus, serve Medan-Tangkahan route
A Pembangunan Semesta (means universe development) “Zombie” Bus, serve Medan-Tangkahan route

Let say you are an expatriate working in Jakarta and have 2 days holiday like Christmas and New Year holiday this year. This itinerary will help you discover the hidden paradises of this region.

You can go to Medan by Friday evening after office hour. Remember the traffic jam during long weekend, from city center of Jakarta to Soekarno Hatta International Airport may take 2 hour or even more. Better to go before end of office hour if possible. Flight to Medan take 2 hours, so you will reach that city almost by late night. So you need to stay in Medan for first night and remember to book in advance since many hotels will be fully booked during long weekend.

First destination on your first day, Saturday, shall be Lake Toba. You may go there by flight or by car. Susi Air (www.susiair.com) serves daily flight from Medan to Silangit, the nearest town to Lake Toba. It takes 40 minutes flying from Medan to Silangit. Again, you are recommended to book in advance since the seats are very limited. However, from Silangit to Parapat, the main harbor to Samosir Island, it still take an hour driving. Parapat is a little town where many tourist accommodation can be easily found, from star hotel to cheap hostel. You can start admire the beauty of Lake Toba from Parapat. Most tourists prefer to cross the lake to Samosir Island. There are two kinds of boat serving the crossing to the island. First, the large ferry where vehicle can be accommodated. It takes an hour crossing from ferry terminal Ajibata to Tomok on Samosir Island. Second, the passenger wooden boat which carry only people. It sails about 30 minutes from passenger harbor near Ajibata terminal directly to hotels in Tuk-tuk area. Tuk tuk is the main location for tourist accommodation.

Tabo hotel on the lake side of Lake Toba, one of recommended hotel in Samosir Island
Tabo Cottage on the lake side of Lake Toba, one of recommended hotel in Samosir Island

However, if you want to enjoy the scenery on the way to Lake Toba, hiring a car is more recommended. There are two main route, via Tebing Tinggi and via Brastagi. The route via Brastagi is preferable since you can visit the magnificent Sipiso-piso waterfall. Brastagi itself is a main tourist destination for local tourist. It is located between two active volcanoes, Sinabung and Sibayak. There are several destinations there, the famous ones are Gundaling hill and Lau Kawar lake. Only an hour driving from Medan, no wonder Brastagi become famous destination, just like Puncak for Jakarta people.

Sinabung mountain viewed from Gundaling hill, Brastagi
Sinabung mountain viewed from Gundaling hill, Brastagi

If you only have limited time, just skip Brastagi and continue driving to Kabanjahe region where you can find a way to Sipiso-piso waterfall. It takes around 2 hour from Brastagi to Kabanjahe and only 30 minutes from centre of Kabanjahe to Sipiso-piso waterfall. It is the tallest waterfall, up to 120 m high. The waterfall come out of underwater river then fall to small river flowing to Lake Toba. It is perfectly located in between green canyon making breath taking view for every visitor. From the viewpoint, you can also see the beautiful view of Lake Toba from north side. From Sipiso-piso, you can continue the journey to Parapat within 2 hour driving before crossing to Samosir Island. It’s better if you can arrive in Parapat before dark, otherwise you may miss the last ferry and have to stay in Parapat instead of Tuk-tuk.

Sipiso-piso (piso means knife) waterfall, one of the highest waterfall in Indonesia
Sipiso-piso (piso means knife) waterfall, one of the highest waterfall in Indonesia

Spending Saturday night in Tuk-tuk and gathering with local people will be another exciting moment. You will find the Batakese, local tribe of North Sumatra, is very musical. From every corner, you can hear they play guitar and sing traditional song. Sunday morning is the right time to explore Samosir Island. The best way is by hiring a motorcycle, just ask your hotel staff. You can visit traditional village, stop on many lake sides, hot spring, water fall, and some viewpoints. Hiring a boat and exploring Lake Toba is another exciting option. Just remember you don’t have much time unless you only want to spend your time here.

Tuktuk area viewed from the hill on the lake side, Samosir Island
Tuktuk area viewed from the hill on the lake side, Samosir Island

The next destination will be continued on the second part.

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6 thoughts on “Discover hidden paradises of North Sumatra (part 1, Medan-Brastagi-Lake Toba)”

  1. Horas horas: Sitting in the Hot Volcanic Pools, Brestagi. and nearby “Tom n Jerry”.
    Listening to wild siamang in the surrounding mountains- a magic cathedral. Eating Durian with my friend Dr Erwynson and his beautiful wife. German bread on Samosir Island, eclectic. Bukit Lawang and the orangutan (mawas) rehabilitation- indah sekali. I love Sumatera.

    Like

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