Lake Toba (Danau Toba) is the largest lake in South East Asia and is in Sumatra, Indonesia. Samosir island within the lake is the island within the island of Sumatra.
Lake Toba is an immense volcanic lake covering an area of 1707 sq km (bigger than Singapore) with an island in the center. Formed by a gigantic volcanic eruption some 70,000 years ago, it is probably the largest resurgent caldera on Earth. Some studies say it might have been associated with causing previous ice age/climate change and the largest human population bottleneck ever. Genetic estimates suggests that there where only a few thousand individuals that survived the catastrophe. The island in the middle - Pulau Samosir - was joined to the caldera wall by a narrow isthmus, which was cut through to enable boats to pass; a road bridge crosses the cutting. Samosir island is the cultural centre of Batak tribe who are mostly Christians in the modern days.
Most visitors fly to Medan and then travel by land to Parapat, the town by Lake Toba. Parapat is about 4 hours by car from Medan (4-6 hours by public bus). Public Bus fee is 22,000 IDR. A scheduled and shared 7 passenger minivan costs 60,000 IDR and can be arranged by most hotels in Medan (Feb 08). Raja Taxi +62 (0)617 366-555 operates a shared cab service leaving from Medan airport at scheduled times that costs 75,000 IDR per person (Dec 08). Alternatively, you can book the whole taxi, a Toyota Avanza which seats seven, for 450,000 IDR. Parapat is a nice little town with reasonable hotels/guest houses, good food options and so on. However its on the island itself that you get the real feeling of Danau Toba.
Parapat is connected to Tomok and Tuk Tuk on the Samosir Island by boat/ferry that run every 1-2 hours, the last one at 6:00PM (Rp 7000). Self proclaimed 'Tourist Hunters' may befriend you on the boat but are harmless and often helpful to find things, arrangements etc. Tuk Tuk is the main town to stay on Samosir. Please take note that there is no ATM machine on Samosir Island (Feb 2009), be sure to get enough cash at Parapat before crossing the lake to the island.
Another great way to get to Lake Toba is by train. Two or three trains leave each day in that direction and you want to get off either at Pematang Siantar or Tebing Tinggi (note: the train stops at one or the other). The train is a wonderful way to travel. Once you are in your seat and have a stream of buskers, food vendors and friendly local passing by you will know why this is often the best way to travel overland. From Siantar (1 hour Taxi) or Tebing Tinggi (2 hour Taxi) you will need to hire a taxi or a bus for road transport to Parapat.
The ferry ride over is fantastic, just truly peaceful, apart from the car radios playing, the ladies selling peanuts, aqua, mee or pretty much anything else. Some spoke excellent English which was a little surprising. Landing at the other end of the one hour ferry journey is daunting, but again, behave like everyone else in Indonesia and just push, ever so politely, but firmly and eventually you will get off the ferry and onto the main road.
The road signs are pretty much useless, as is asking the locals for directions, why is it so hard? Anyway if you are going to Tuk Tuk keep going, even though it may seem to be taking forever and you have been stuck in the Kijang for 8 hours with 10 other people, but you will get there and the hosts will be wonderful.
Do not, I repeat, do not try to drive out of Samosir Island by going up and over the top to the land bridge. The road is very bad and even my Indonesian relatives eventually gave up, took my advice and turned around (perilously) and headed back to the ferry.
It is also possible to go to Parapat from Dumai by mini-van, leaving in the afternoon. The trip takes around 11 hours, and costs 150,000Rp.
Local transportation around the lake takes the form of boats (cheaper, school boats with limited schedules and more expensive public boats that operate throughout the day).
Public Boats from Parapat and surrounding areas sail from either Ajibata or Tigaraja to Tuktuk or Tomok at Samosir Island. The fee is 7,000 IDR per trip. There is also bigger ship which transports Cars and Busses sailing between Tigaraja and Tomok.
Hire a motorcycle for a day or two and get out and about (Rp.70,000 per day including full petrol - you can bargain down to Rp.50,000 per day in low season if you hire for several days). Take a map. There are no police checking licenses and there is not much traffic - just watch out for the big trucks, buses and diabolical bridges. A good journey to take on a motorcycle would be to travel North from Tuk Tuk around to the western shore, stopping at the tourist sites along the way such as the many and varied traditional houses and villages. The roads are very bad in the centre of the island (bumpy and washed out) and it takes half a day to cross this way (verse 1-2 hours by coast road which is more scenic anyway). You can expect to ride at least up to 100km in the day.
It may be obvious but just remember there are no taxis around Tuk Tuk. Sure you can walk the small part of the island in an hour or so but if you are heading out for the night plan ahead on how you will get back home. The locals are very friendly people who will go out of their way to help. However, some corners of the island are very quiet at night and you may find yourself on a long long walk.
Most of the cottages and guest houses at Tuk Tuk will rent you a very serviceable bicycle for a nominal fee, this is a very much preferred way to get around, but be very careful for the cars as nobody looks and there does not seem to be any right side of the road, even when its the left side.
There are hot springs on the western side of the island just across the causeway from Pangururan. The water is hot. Locals usually use their hands to get some water out of the pool, standing in the pool is possible, but you probably won't be able to swim. The fee to enter to the surroundings is Rp. 2'000. The pools are free, there's some special foreigner pool for Rp 10'000.
Samosir - Many Big Statues as Cemeteries for Batak people ancestors
Samosir, Simanindo - Batak Museum with traditional dance performed twice daily
Samosir, Ambarita - Stone chairs used for judgement and executions
Just on the other side of Samosir, near Pangururan are hot springs
From Tuk tuk you can see a waterfall up the mountain behind you. It's a great walk with a rewarding fresh swim!
Kick back and relax after the frenetic atmosphere of Indonesia. Swim in the volcanically warmed waters of the lake or arrange an overnight 'party' boat out on the lake if you can get enough volunteers together. A beautiful place to do nothing at all. Plenty of second hand book shops to stock up on reading material. Traditional Batak Dance in Restaurant Bagus Bay every Wednesday and Saturday from 8.15PM onwards. After the dance, sit back and enjoy the folk songs done by a group of men.
The main road around Tuktuk is lined with small restaurants of varying quality. Also on offer is magic mushroom and various "happy herb" pizzas if you want that.
Jenny's Restaurant, There is only one or two roads so simply ask for Jenny's., Jenny and her husband Rinto run the very simple but cozy restaurant with view on the wonderful lake Toba. You will notice that every day the table cloth are being changed, a usually rare to find nicety and convenience. The curry is delicious. A must-try is the fresh lake-fish, steamed or grilled. Even western food like Schnitzel (breaded pork or chicken chop pan fried) is very good. For dessert try the fresh papaya that grows in the back-yard or a golden-brown banana pancake with chocolate sauce and a sprinkle of coconut. Once all the guests in the small place with only about 5 tables are fed and happy, Rinto will take the guitar from the wall and entertain his patrons
Cotney Restaurant, by the Samosir resort, Specialties include delcious rendanags, curries, and the best smiles on the island by the two lovely sisters who run the restaurant. Internet is also offered for the cheapest price on the island.
Maruba Restaurant, Tuk-tuk, In between Amberoba Hotel and Rodeo Accommodation, Ita Manurung cooks delicious food, including traditional Batak & Indonesian food. Her boneless fish curry is sensational. She also cooks a variety of Western meals such as schnitzels and stuffed roast chicken and bakes fresh bread and baguettes most days. You can order a Batak feast one day in advance. There are a selection of main dishes to choose from and all are served with Batak style vegetable dishes and rice. Some choices are Ikan Na Neura (Very fresh raw fish marinated with candlenuts, spices & lime juice), Napi Nadir (Batak style curry made with grilled chicken), Saksang (Chopped pork cooked with Batak spices and fresh pig's blood (blood is optional!).
There is one discotheque on Fri and Sat nights - expect the latest 80s music. Better to drink at your guest house generally.
Saturday night is often the highlight on the local calendar. You can hear a chorus of parties going around the Tuk Tuk area. At Samosir Cottages you will also see a wonderful local Batak performance that is a mixture of traditional dances and fantastic drinking songs (Lesoy!!- Cheers!!). Everyone is so talented it seems as the local people watching the performance also join in or start up their own sing along table after the main show. Harry and his Dad both perform in the band and sell a fantastic souvenir that you will enjoy when back at home.
There are also a number of fine spots around the Tuk Tuk area to catch a sunset beer. Reggae Bar is perched high up looking over the lake while the Hibiscus Bar on main street is hosted by two wonderful local girls and plays cool tunes with a little encouragement. Thats the thing to remember in Tuk Tuk. This area is in a depressed tourist state but is actual a wonderful gem that should be on the world stage. So while some places may look like not much is going on- GO IN - and the momemtum will build into a fun filled night with new friends.
There are numerous hotels and guest houses, mainly in Tuk tuk but with a few scattered in other small towns around the island. During Chinese New Year (end of Jan/early Feb), many Indonesians come for vacation and will pay generously for their rooms (about triple the rate). To accommodate these guests, some guest house owners may ask their existing guests to vacate their rooms, but only giving them very short notice. Therefore, when arriving before Chinese New Year, check with the guest house owner to ensure your stay will not be interrupted.
Bagus Bay , +62-625-451287, Bagus Bay, is a lovely place next to the lake. A dark wood and bamboo bar/restaurant give the place a particularly relaxed feel. The rooms are basic and range between Rp.30,000 and Rp.100,000. Good food and cold beer at a reasonable price.
Barbara`s Guesthouse , +62-625-7000230, +62-625-7000230, Ambarita, is a small quite relaxing place a few km from Tuk Tuk with lovely scenery and very good swimming. Rooms are clean and located in several houses. Prices per night from Rp. 35000 upwards. Western- and Indonesian style food is served in the restaurant and on the terasse direct to the lake. Guesthouse manager Gordon gives gladly general tourist information and good tips about Sumatra
Hotel Carolina, +62-625-451210, +62-625-451210, Tuk-tuk, A nice place with 49 rooms set in a lush tropical garden. It has a good restaurant with a verandah overlooking the lake. Staff is very helpful. Prices start with a bargain of Rp.50.000 for small Batak style cottages up the hill with cold water only and go up to Rp.100.000 for the luxury rooms on the lake shore which come with hot water, a bath tub and a fridge. Rates subject to a 10% tax. Good access to the lake for swimming with a pontoon to relax. The Hotel can organise trips, rents out motorbikes, has an internet parlour and even offers free WiFi, though the speed can be very slow.
Christina Guesthouse , +62-625-451027, Tuk-tuk, is a small relaxing place with lovely scenery and good swimming. Rooms are clean and located in several houses (e.g. traditional Batak-houses). Prices per night from Rp. 50000 upwards. Internet & Skype are available for reasonable price. Western- and Indonesian style food is served in the restaurant. Guesthouse manager Juan gives gladly general tourist information and good tips about Sumatra.
Liberta Homestay, +62-625-451035, Sosor Galung, is a good budget choice for 35000Rp/night+. It has quiet private cabins on the lake. Friendly owner Mr Moon will sing, cook, and go out of his way for you.
Mas Cottages, Mas Cottages is closer to the ancient ceremonial stone chairs than downtown Tuk-Tuk. It is a quiet sanctuary from the rest of the world with a variety of accommodation options all directly on the lake including VIP suites and traditional Batak houses. Safety and security are unparalled at Mas Cottages. Prices are a bit higher for this secluded location at 60-70,000 rps.
Romlan, +62-625-451386, +62-625-451386, is a small guesthouse with about 15 rooms and includes two batak cottages (40,000 per night) and traditional rooms in a single and two storey building (about 60,000 per night). The rooms are super clean and very comfortable with attached bathroom and nice furniture. All rooms have direct lake view and the swimming area is good for swimming and relaxing. Also great local and indonesian food including some German meals. Highly recommended. Ask the boat to stop at the private dock.
Samosir Cottages , +62-625-451170, +62-625-451170, Tuk-tuk, accommodates many of the travellers who arrive late in Parapat, as there is usually a representative to ship them to the cottages. This is not a bad thing, however - the place is large, with a big variety in the price of rooms (Rp 30,000 and upwards). The waterfront is clean, and the restaurant is large and serves good food.The Batak music performing every Wednesday night and Saturday Night is great Ron the Boss and Togi the driver will be very helpful and sincere people. They also own Samorsir Villa Resort 5 minutes drive away which is newly built in 2007.
Tabo Cottages , +62-625-451318, +62-625-451318, Tuk-tuk, The rooms are very clean and quite modern by Sumateran standards. They have free Wi-Fi and the western-styled food served in the restaurant is very good.
Lake Toba used to be popular tourist destination but now not many tourist come, which means many services, no crowds, cheap prices and friendly locals grateful for your business. It is a great laid back place to chill out for a few days after jungle trekking etc. The location is very popular with Chinese tourists around Chinese New Year, when availability drops dramatically and accommodation costs are known to sky rocket.
The local Batak people are very respectful and loving christians. Some of the local males may try turn on the charm too much especially if you are a group females. Be cautious as always but from our travels we saw no material need for specific security concerns day or night.
There seem to be a few 'Taksi Trans' operators that carry passengers between Parapat and Medan. Takes four hours, costs (July 2009) 65,000 rp per person. There are seven to a van, and if you book early, you can get the passenger seat next to the driver. John from Raja Taksi Trans speaks good English, and operates from a table in a cafe just up (70m) from the Tuk Tuk ferry, in the Harbour area of Parapat. Telephone 081362397309 (John). At the Medan end, the airport desk no is 061 7366333, or 7366555. I don't know how responsive or reliable the Medan end is. I booked the 9.30AM van from Parapat, on the understanding that it would not go until I arrived from Tuk Tuk on the 9.00AM ferry. Trouble is, the 9.00AM ferry is sometimes cancelled, and the 8.00AM ferry is often cancelled. Best to take the 7.00AM ferry from Tuk Tuk, and have breakfast in Parapat.
From the harbour in Parapat, jump in a local mini-van (Rp 2,000) towards the Parapat bus station. From there you can reach nearly all the big cities in Sumatra and even Java. A night trip to Bukkintinggi in an air-con coach costs around Rp 180,000 with the A.L.S. company. Prepare for one of the worst night of your trip.
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