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 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 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.