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Discover hidden paradises of North Sumatra (part 2, Bukit Lawang-Tangkahan-Medan)


Before reading this post, you should read the first part to understand the whole content.

The next destination shall be Bukit Lawang. It is the only original habitat of Orangutan left in Sumatra. Bukit Lawang is located in the Gunung Leuser National Park on the border between North Sumatra and Aceh. You must go back to Medan first which take around 4 hours driving from Parapat, then continue 3 hours driving through palm and rubber plantation. Since the road is quite poor, especially on the plantation area, you should arrive Bukit Lawang before night. It means you shall start your journey at 10 am from Parapat or 9 am from Tuk-tuk.

Accommodation area on the riverside of Bahorok River, Bukit Lawang
Accommodation area on the riverside of Bahorok River, Bukit Lawang

Continue reading Discover hidden paradises of North Sumatra (part 2, Bukit Lawang-Tangkahan-Medan)

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Menikmati Danau Toba dari Pulau Samosir


Keindahan Danau Toba tak akan pernah habis diperbincangkan orang. Dipandang dari sudut mana pun — baik dari Parapat, Tongging, maupun dari Pulau Samosir — danau ini sama indahnya. Kali ini saya akan mengajak Anda menyusuri Danau Toba dari dalam, yaitu dari Pulau Samosir.


Pemandangan Danau Toba dari udara. Kredit foto: Tempo/Arie Basuki

Continue reading Menikmati Danau Toba dari Pulau Samosir

Menikmati Danau Toba dari Pulau Samosir


Keindahan Danau Toba tak akan pernah habis diperbincangkan orang. Dipandang dari sudut mana pun — baik dari Parapat, Tongging, maupun dari Pulau Samosir — danau ini sama indahnya. Kali ini saya akan mengajak Anda menyusuri Danau Toba dari dalam, yaitu dari Pulau Samosir.


Pemandangan Danau Toba dari udara. Kredit foto: Tempo/Arie Basuki

Continue reading Menikmati Danau Toba dari Pulau Samosir

Want to trot to unbeaten tracks on an elephant? Go to Tangkahan!


Tangkahan is not as well-known as its sister, Bukit Lawang, but we can assure you, it’s much better! Located in the North Sumatra, about 3 hours drive from Medan. It is the junction of two rivers, Buluh River and Batang River, on the foot of Mount Leuser. If you get lucky, you will meet orangutan there!

The main attraction there is elephant trekking. The elephants are taken care of by Flora and Fauna International Indonesia and everyday they offer elephant trekking or bathing. This is not only a simple elephant ride you’d experience in other parts of Indonesia or Thailand, for example. In Tangkahan, the elephants climb unbeaten routes. So hold tight on your saddle, because your elephant will hike up to 60 degree! Although it is a bit costly – the information on the cost is provided below – you will be sorry if you don’t do it.

There are plenty things to do in Tangkahan. Some people may enjoy swimming and bathing in the river where water is fresh and unpolluted. Some may prefer lazing on a hammock.

You can also go to hot springs nearby by swimming across the stream. Indulge your body with natural hot water.  Just before the Buluh River meets the Batang River there is a small waterfall. You will have to have to walk up a small creek about 100 meters to reach the waterfall. People sit under the pouring waterfall and let the water massage their tired backs!

How to go there

You can go to Tangkahan using public transportation from Medan. Catch the bus “Pembangunan Semesta” from Pinang Baris Terminal. You will be pampered with bumpy road and mostly palm oil plantation view. The bus goes to Tangkahan twice a day, and using Pembangunang Semesta, you would need to allocate 5-6 hours. And yes, what Lonely Planet says is true, you will at least experience flat tire once during the trip. We had one on the way to Tangkahan and two on our way back to Medan. If I remember correctly, it only cost Rp 14,000. The first bus to leave Tangkahan is at 7:00 in the morning. Make sure you are ready in front of the visitor centre at least 15 minutes before.

Renting a car would be an option for a group tour or family with small children, or for you who choose for more comfy trip. With private car, it only takes about 3-hours drive.

Accommodation

There are only a few accommodations in Tangkahan, across the river. Jungle Lodge, owned by a British and Batak couple is the most notable with price starting from Rp 80,000 on low season.  Jungle Lodge offers a basic place to sleep with superb view. The wooden huts provide a comfortable gateway for those who want to escape busy life. From their restaurant you can enjoy the view of the clear river with a cup of hot coffee milk!

A neighboring accommodation is Mega Inn, which also use eco-lodge concept to attract visitor.  There are some other accommodations on the roadside. Mostly basic motels.

Accommodations provide basic food such as nasi goreng, instant noodle, sandwich, coffee and tea, with reasonable price.

Others

There is no ATM in Tangkahan, so you better bring cash from Medan. The cost of the accommodation is cheap, but you will need plenty of rupiah to pay the elephant trekking. When we went there about 3 years ago, it cost 160,000 per hour per person. Recently, we got information and the price has gone up to Rp 300,000 per hour per person. And believe me if I say one hour is not enough!

Lake Toba: One lake with a thousand angles (Part I)



How to get there

It is very easy to fly to Medan, the capital of Northern Sumatra province. Garuda Indonesia (www.garuda-indonesia.com) offers two flights daily from the capital city, Jakarta. Budget airlines, such as Lion Air (www.lionair.co.id), Sriwijaya (www.sriwijayaair-online.com), and AirAsia (www.airasia.com) offer frequent flights with cheaper tickets. Direct flight from Jakarta to Medan takes about two hours.

Nowadays, you can fly directly from Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Phuket, and Singapore using AirAsia or Silk Air (www.silkair.com). Flight from Kuala Lumpur or Penang takes around one hour.

In Polonia, the international airport of Medan, expect busy crowd. The airport serves as a hub with frequent flights without huge improvement in hygiene, quality, and service. The main advantage of this airport is its location, in a city center. Update : Now airport had been moved to Kuala Namu International Airport which is far better than Polonia, but it’s quite far from city center. So, prepare your time if you want to go there.

How to get to Lake Toba

If you arrive in Medan in the morning, you can try to directly go to Lake Toba. From the airport you can take a taxi to Amplas bus terminal. Most taxi in Medan do not use meter, so you have to use your bargaining skill for cheap fare.

There are some bus and minibus companies that serve trips to Parapat, a small town in Lake Toba. I recommend you to take a big busses such as Sentosa, rather than mini busses such as Medan Raya Tour or Omegah. Big bus will cost each person around $2.5 while mini bus can cost up to $5 per person. It is also more convenience and safe to take a bus for an approximately 5 hours trip to Parapat. During the trip you can enjoy the scenery of North Sumatra, including the town of Pematang Siantar.

Tips: During the trip, don’t be afraid if the driver is speeding or always trying to overtake other vehicles. They are experienced driver who know their way. Just pray a lot …

Parapat

Parapat is the main town in the lakeside of Toba. Various hotels and motels serve rooms all year round. Unfortunately, due to low turnout of tourists, many closed shops. Hence, there are still many options for you.

High end hotels in Parapat include Patra Hotel and Inna, will cost you over $50 a night. Midrange hotels will cost you $15-40 a night. Wisma Pandu, a nice, expatriate-standard motel hidden because it was located on the slope of the lakeside. The rate of $20 a night was reasonable, it was quite a good value of money for the facilities. The room is clean and they provide basic toiletries such as soap and towel. It also provides Indonesian junk food such as Nasi Goreng and instant noodle, tea and coffee for very reasonable price. A backpacker-style will cost you less than $15 a night. You can just walk along the main road to check the price. During low season (and maybe even in a non-low season) you can bargain the room rate down up by $5 a night!

There is only one ATM in Parapat, so you better take enough money from Medan to avoid hassle. Only top end and high midrange hotels accept credit cards. Parapat provides a range of restaurants and warungs (small food stall), most sell Indonesian traditional food, with one or two Chinese food menu.

Mainland to Samosir

There are two ways to go to Samosir Island, the heart of Lake Toba. You can take a small boat directly from Parapat to your hotel in Samosir Island with around $1.5 per person. Or you can take angkot to Ajibata and then take a ferry to Tomok in Samosir with only around 30 cents – yes it’s true, 30 cents per person!

Jump to the ferry and you can take lower or higher decks. They use the lower deck to put the cars and trucks. For better view of Lake Toba and its surroundings hop on to the passenger deck. Some little boys will ask for money, or they would swim searching for coins thrown by the ferry passengers.

The trip to Tomok took around 45 minutes. I decided to dismount in Tomok and continued the trip on foot to Tuk Tuk. For me it was the best idea since I could take some more pictures in the way and explored the beauty of Samosir at the same time. A very special site appeared, in the corner of roads to Tuk Tuk and Ambarita. The corner was so unique and beautiful. On a plain that a little bit higher than the road, we could see the lake clearly without obstruction. If we saw another direction, we would view on the group of high hill surrounding Samosir Island, complete with exotic waterfall. It looked small but very high. A slight fog covering the top of the hill made the scenery perfect.

Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuk is a small town which offers some nice small accommodation, restaurants, natural beauty and Bataknese arts.

One of the most recommended accommodation is Tabo Cottage. In fact, Lonely Planet calls the best accommodation in Northern Sumatera. The cottage is the combination between classy, privacy and convenience. The more comfortable deluxe room has jungle bathroom. The room was spacious, the bathroom was large with some orchid plants hung on the wall. The standard room is also nice but basic. Two family rooms are also provided on the second floor. No TVs in all rooms. Although named as the most expensive accommodation in Samosir, Tabo Cottage was fairly cheap. For a deluxe room, we paid only Rp 195,000 a night. Please visit their website at: http://tabocottages.com/. This cottage is very popular with its vegetarian foods and fresh bakery.

Another recommended hotel is Carolina. It is suitable for families, or those going in a group. The hotel is situated in a perch of a hilly lakeside. They offer 30 rooms with different types in a Batak-style architecture. The room rate varies from $10 to $30 a night. The best value of this hotel is it has a swimming pool. Please check: http://www.sumatra-indonesia.com/carolina.htm for more information.

Other hotels are: Silintong 1, Silintong 2, and Silintong 3 which each offers a lot of room but not much sense of privacy.

You can go around Samosir by renting bicycle or motorcycle. Renting a motorbike will cost you $7-$10 a day without gas.

In Tuk Tuk you can see rice fields overlooking the Lake Toba. It was surrounded by the group of high hill where the waterfall is located. The combination between green rice-field, blue lake water, and a group of sky-crapper hills made the scenery astonishing.