Lake Toba… am I still in Sumatra?

There is a lake result from a volcano crater, the Lake Toba, locally called Danau Toba. There’s an island inside the lake, a big island more than the size of Singapore, which was the cone of the volcano, the Samosir Island, Pulau Samosir.

There’s a beautiful landscape where the blue of the lake waters contrasts with the gold grains of the rice fields. There’s an impressive cedar forest covering the steep slopes of the volcano. There’s a temperate climate with sunny warm days and fresh evenings. There are amazing traditional wooden houses from the Batak ethnic group… and there’s a small village called Tuktuk that is mostly a tourism orientated place, with empty shops, empty restaurants, empty guesthouses… where are the tourists!? What happen here?!?!?

It looks like Lake Toba was put aside on the tourist route of Sumatra… or maybe Sumatra is out of the Indonesian tourist route!

*****

But letting behind all this consideration, Lake Toba is definitely a beautiful place where the Batak cultural identity is still visible in the characteristic architecture of the wooden houses with pointy and steep roofs, and proudly decorated with woodcarving motifs, painted in white, black and red. The Batak is a group of different ethnic groups of North Sumatra that share similar language and culture, but where some traditions were seriously affected by the arriving of the Christian missionaries in the IX century.

The landscape that surrounds the Lake Toba as well of the Samorir Island with green hills covered by cedar forest, the Christian churches the flowers that grow in front of the houses, the quietness of the place, the mild temperatures… all this make me wonder… I’m I still in Sumatra?!

Lake Toba
Lake Toba
Lake Toba
Lake Toba… rice fields, cedar forest, mild climate and Christian Churches… am I still in Sumatra?
Lake Toba
On the north part of the island, there’s a few beaches where is easy to access the lake water to swim… but at Tuktuk, most of the accommodations are nearby the lake and have a small pier from where is possible to jump to the warm lake waters
The Batak culture and traditions were seriously affected by the arriving of the Christian missionaries in the IX century.
The Batak culture and traditions were seriously affected by the arriving of the Christian missionaries in the IX century.
Lake Toba
Lake Toba… where the blue of the lake waters contrasts with the gold grains of the rice fields
Samosir Island... Batak culture
Samosir Island
the Batak cultural identity is still visible in the characteristic architecture of the wooden houses with pointy and steep roofs, and proudly decorated with woodcarving motifs, painted in white, black and red
the Batak cultural identity is still visible in the characteristic architecture of the wooden houses with pointy and steep roofs, and proudly decorated with woodcarving motifs, painted in white, black and red
Samosir Island... Batak culture
Samosir Island… Batak woodcarving decorations
Lake Toba
Pulau Samosir is not really and Island as it is just separated from mainland by this narrow canal than can be cross by a bridge
Lake Toba
Tuktuk, Pulau Samosir, Lake Toba

Where to sleep in Samosir Island/Lake Toba:

In general the accommodation prices at Tuktuk are cheaper that usual in Sumatra, and is possible to get a room for 50.000 Rp.

The Liberta Homestay is one of the many options available at Lake Toba and there, despite the abandoned look of the village, there’s a certain atmosphere as this place attracts travellers that choose this place to stay for long periods.

The location is perfect: nearby the lake and a few meters from the boat pier. There are trees and plant all around, making a quite and relaxing place to stay.

There is a wide range of room, with different characteristics and different prices, starting on 44.000 Rp (strange number this one, but apparently is to cover the government taxes, despite there isn’t a guest registration!!!)

I stay at the traditional Batak house, an old wooden house that has a big room with small doors, and a low ceiling in some areas, which make you very aware of your movements to avoid bumping your head. The toilet is attached but without hot shower. This room costs 66.000 Rp/night.

The breakfast isn’t included but there’s a restaurant at the place, serving a big choice of Indonesian and western food… I try cap cay (xap xai) a Chinese-Indonesia dish that was good but cooked according to the western taste, soft and without much species.

There’s wi-fi in the common/restaurant area but doesn’t reach all rooms.

The Liberta Homestay is a cool place with a certain character but the rooms as also the common area lack a little of maintenance and cleanliness.

Liberta Homestay at Tuktuk. Lake Toba
Liberta Homestay at Tuktuk. Lake Toba
Liberta Homestay at Tuktuk. Lake Toba
Liberta Homestay at Tuktuk. Lake Toba

Where to eat in Samosir Island/Lake Toba:

There are many restaurants with a big choice of western and Indonesia food, with a strong presence of fish. But the pizza is the very popular in Tuktuk.

There are a few local eateries serving padang style food but run out of food around the middle of the morning. I try a few but didn’t find anything that stands up. For breakfast is possible to find at this eateries “gorengan”, deep fry banana, tempeh or chicken.

Tomok has a bigger concentration of local restaurants as also a small street market with fruits, nearby the ferry pier.

Tomok
Tomok, the other village that also has a boat connection with Parapat, isn’t much more than a street with avery small market, restaurants and shops… many of them selling souvenirs from Lake Toba
At the empty Tuktuk some sweet pop up in the end of the afternoon... a small shop open it's door to sell "putu bambu" a Indonesian sweet made form rice flour and with palm sugar, which are steamed inside a bambu and served with grind coconut
At the empty Tuktuk some sweet pop up in the end of the afternoon… a small shop open it’s door to sell “putu bambu” a Indonesian sweet made form rice flour and with palm sugar, which are steamed inside a bambu and served with grind coconut

How to move around in Samosir Island:

If you like to walk is possible to move around Tuktuk, as it is located in a kind of small peninsula with about 4 km perimeter.

But to go way from this area, even to Tomok, you gonna need a vehicle.

There are small buses along the road from Tomok to Pangururan.

Is possible to rent a scooter at Tuktuk but it will cost you 100.000 Rp a day (almost the double that you can find at others places in Indonesia) but with the tank full of petrol. Isn’t a good deal for you as you hardly empty the deposit in one day, only if you make a road trip around all Samosri Island… even so… and in the end of the day, if you still have half of the deposit with petrol, they don’t make any discount. So try to rent a scooter without the petrol included, as you can get a litter of 8.600 Rp just in front of Liberta Homestay.

Parts of the road are in good conditions others in bad and others are in works… all this make the 40 km from Tuktuk to Pangururan in a hard journey, but you can always take some rest in one of the many beaches along the way.

ATMs and Money exchange in Tuktuk:

Couldn’t see any ATM at Tuktuk but there are a few moneychangers.

How to reach Lake Toba/Tuktuk:

No matter if you came from Medan or from Padang/Bukitting you’ll need to stop at Parapat, the closest village from the lake that has boats to Samosir Island.

If you travel by bus, they will probably drop you along the main road, nearby the street that leads you to the pier. Probably there will be an angkot (local small buses) that take you to the boats.

At Parapat you have two options:

  • there are boats that departure from Ajibata to Tomok, that transport vehicles… but there’s no accommodation at Tomok but you can get an angkot that pass by Tuktuk
  • and there are boats just for passengers from Tigaraja to Tuktuk… and you can even ask them to drop you directly at your accommodation if it’s located away from the main pier. The boat ticket is 15.000 Rp, per person, each way.
Boat schedule from Parapat to Pulau Samosir, and return
Schedule of the boats that link Parapat to Pulau Samosir
"angkot" from Parapat's main road to the boat pier to Pulau Samosir
“angkot” from Parapat’s main road to the boat pier to Pulau Samosir
Boat that link Parapat to Pulau Samosir
Boat that link Parapat to Pulau Samosir

How to go from Lake Toba to Bukit Lawang or to Medan:

There is no way to go to Bukit Lawang without passing by Medan.

The best definitely is hire one of the tourist services available at all places and guesthouses at Tuktuk, that drop you directly at Bukit Lawang for 220.000 Rp per person. The car will wait for you at Parapat pier. This travel service is also available to the airport (Kualanamu International Airport) as also to Medan for 90.000 Rp per person.

But if you prefer, you can do the entire trip by local transport for 80.000 Rp…. but it takes you all day and a lot of energy. Here is the step by step to reach Bukit Lawang from Tuktuk:

  • You need to take the first boat at 7:00 a.m. It’s better to arrive 10 minutes before as the boat sometimes arrive earlier. Boat from Tuk Tuk to Parapat take between 30 to 45 minutes and cost 15.000 Rp.
  • At the pier, there will be angkot (local public mini-buses) that drop you at the main road, where the local bus to Medan passes every hour. The ticket cost 4.000 Rp.
  • Just wait at Parapat for the bus at the main road. The bus arrived at 8 a.m. at Parapat and took 5 hours to reach Medan. It will drop you at Amplas Terminal. The ticket costs 40.000 Rp. It’s an old bus, not very clean or comfortable and people smoke inside… fortunately was a trip without music.
  • At Amplas Terminal, after you get ride of the ojek drivers, you’ll see a yellow angkot (mini bus). It has a sign saying “Baris” that is the name of the bus terminal nearby. But tell the driver that you want to go to Bukit Lawang and he will drop you directly at the place where the buses stop, at cross road Jalan Gatot Subroto/Pinang Baris Road. The angkot cost 10.000 Rp and the trip takes 1.45 minutes, as it needs to cross Medan from East to West, and traffic jams are common in Medan.
  • The public buses to Bukit Lawang departure every 15 minutes. They are orange colour and they stop just in front of the Mawar Bakery. That is an important reference point.
  • The trip takes more than 5 hours through a dusty and very bumpy road, along an endless palm oil trees landscape, in an old and crowded bus. The ticket cost 25.000 Rp. Pay only at the end of the trip to the driver’s helper. There are lots of people hanging around the place from the Bukit Lawang buses departure… stay way from everyone, as there’s a scam with the tickets involving people that are not working on the bus. Watch out your luggage.
  • It will drop you at Gotong Royong. From here you need an ojek to reach Bukit Lawang that is 2.5 km further. The best option is to ask a transportation from your guesthouse… believe me, after all this trip you’ll need this treat… and probably you’ll arrive close to the sunset, that makes more difficult to find your accommodation.
Local bus from Parapat to Medan (Amplas Terminal). It’s an old bus, not very clean or comfortable and people smoke inside
"angkot" that cross the city and drop you nearby the Pinang Baris Terminal, from where the bus to Bukit Lawang departure
“angkot” that cross the city and drop you nearby the Pinang Baris Terminal, from where the bus to Bukit Lawang departure

2 Responses

  1. Cap cay is not usually a spicy dish so you probably had the usual version, not the tourist version.

    • Stepping out of Babylon

      Really!!!! Good to know! I was so used to have spicy food in Indonesia that I thought that “something was missing” 🙂 Thanks a lot for the information!

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