Indonesia, Sumatra – still as beautiful as I remember it

“Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right! “

Rise up this morning,
Smile with the rising sun,
Three little birds
Each by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, (“This is my message to you-ou-ou”)

Salam (hello in Indonesian) beautiful people!

Reporting from Indonesia – one of my favorite country in the world. Still as beautiful, still as big and still with as nice people as I remember it. We have visited Indonesia 3 years ago and it haven’t change at all. 3 years ago it was Java and Bali this time it’s Sumatra, Flores and again Bali. 28 days of amazing scenery with jungle, lake, cities, islands, beautiful beaches, amazing food, extraordinary people and animals that you usually see only on National Geographic.

Indonesia – the world’s fourth most populated country – 245 million and counting – is an archipelago of more than 17.000 islands, that runs along the equator for 5000km. From the western tip of Sumatra to the eastern edge of Papua, this nation defies homogenization. It is a land of so many cultures, people, animals, customs, plants, features, artworks and foods that it is like 100 (or is it 200?) countries melded into one.

This weeks post will cover 900 km of Sumatra – first of 3 big islands that we are planing to explore. The exploration started with a short 1,5 h flight from Singapore to Medan (point A), from where we took a mini bus to Butik Lawang (point B – 3 h bus drive). From Butik Lawang the road took us to Parapat & lake Toba (point C – 8 h bus drive & 30 min boat ride). After the beautiful Toba lake we stopped at Bukittinggi (point D – 15 h bus drive) and we finished exploring Sumatra in Padang (point E – 2 h car drive).

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MEDAN

West Sumatra’s capital and major metropolis (2 MIO), and Indonesia’s third-largest city, has a bad reputation in Southeast Asia backpacker circles and it frequently pops up in ‘What’s the worst place you’ve ever visited in Sumatra?’ conversations. But it would also be fair to say that this is a city with real Indonesian character. So call it ugly and not interesting, would be not fair from us.

We stayed basically in Medan just few hours. We flew to Medan from Singapore, so it was our starting point for Bukit Lawang and when we returned our starting point for Lake Toba. So if anybody has a bit more time than us, stay a day or two and let us know how it is, maybe next time we stay a bit longer 🙂 .

BUKIT LAWANG (Gunung Leuser National Park)

Lost in the depths of the Sumatran jungle is this sweet little tourist town built around the popularity of its orangutan-viewing centre. But Bukit Lawang has much more to offer beyond our red-haired cousins. It’s very easy to while away a few days lounging in the many riverside hammocks, splashing about in the gushing river and watching the jungle life swing and sing around you. The forests surrounding Bukit Lawang are part of the vast Gunung Leuser National Park, which is one of the richest tropical-forest ecosystems in the word.

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We stayed in Bukit Lawang just one night, but I wish we had stayed longer. Maja went for a morning orangutan’s feeding but she didn’t see any of them. The rumor is going on that park rangers on purposely don’t want you to see them, so that you take a trekking tour through the jungle with them. There supposingly you have a big chance to see them, but since we were on tight schedule and on smaller and smaller budget, we had to leave this trekking for some other time. Once again we are applying the rule – always leave something to see for when you come back :).

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LAKE TOBA (Parapat)

Medan was once again our starting point for our next destination – Lake Toba. We took 8 h bus drive to Parapat – the mainland departure point for Danau Toba. Parapat has everything a transiting tourist needs: transport, lodging and supplies. BTW – it’s worth to mention that Parapat is located on Batak’s people territory. Batak’s are the most musical people in whole Indonesia – which means that you will see literally everybody (mostly man though) playing a guitar and sing – and they are good at their job.

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Danau (Lake) Toba is the largest lake in Southeast Asia, covering a massive 1707 sq km. In the middle of this huge expanse is Pulau Samosir, an island almost as big as Singapore that was created by an eruption. Lake Toba has been part of traveller folklore for decades. The island use to be a party mecca – it was almost overrun with tourism: wild full-moon parties would kick off, and travelers in beach-bum mode would get ‘stuck’ on the island for months on end. Whilst the traveling world has hardly forgotten about Toba, those hard party days are certainly a thing of the past. Nowadays the Batak people continue to warmly open their arms to travelers.

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We stayed on the island 2 nights in Franky Restaurant & Accommodation – lovely family run guest house with economical accommodation and decent food. They offer very decent laundry and a possibility to rent a motor bike, which we took a full advantage of it. For 5 EUR with a full tank included we cruised the whole island – a circle of 130 km. Beautiful waterfalls, villages on the way, amazing view points are all the reasons to take the ride. The island itself is very peaceful place and I wish we had more time to chill on it. But our next stop was calling us – Bukittinggi.

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BUKITTINGGI & HARAU VALLEY

Bukittinggi was once a mainstay of the banana-pancake trail, but regional instability, shorter visas and the rise of low-cost air carriers have seen the traveller tide reduced to a lower ebb. The town’s still definitely worth a visit though and is a good base for setting out to the Harau Valley and Danau Maninjau. There are a little sightseeing in Bukkittinggi, but there are some caves, a small canyon and a great Bukittinggi wall (let’s just say that it has nothing to do with the great Chinese wall 🙂 ).

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The highlight of Bukittinggi was definitely a 5 h and more live concert by the local guys in a place called “De Kock Cafe”. Wooow what a concert  – sipping a cool Bintang beer and listening to the local and international music covers was just what we needed. If you are around there, you must check it out.

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The reason why we stopped in Bukittinggi was the famous valley of Harau. Heading east from Bukittinggi takes you through the tapioca-growing area of Piladang, famous for keropok (tapioca crackers), and the sprawling agricultural centre of Payakumbuh. Of Minangkabau’s three clans, this is the territory of the 50 Kota (50 Villages) yellow branch. Paddies and daydreaming buffalos flank the narrow road that leads to the tiny village of Harau. Venture another 3km and spectacular 100m cliffs rise up to enclose the Harau Valley, 15km northeast of Payakumbuh and 55km from Bukittinggi.

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We took an organized tour with a great tour guide (can’t remember his name) hired from the hotel we stayed in – Orchid hotel. Funny guy who had a lot of stories under his belt and knew all the best local restaurants. We took a full advantage of it and got an amazing Jack fruit curry and Radang (famous local beef dish) to eat it at the waterfall in the middle of the valley.

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We stayed in Bukittingi 3 nights and we think it’s enough to do and see everything around.. Next stop was Padang’s airport since we were heading on to Flores – 2nd big island to explore.

PADANG

We actually didn’t even stop in Padang :). We found out that there is a small village next to the airport, with just one hotel and since we had an early flight we decided to stay there. If you have a later flight from Padang, I would say that it’s probably better to stay in the city (it will cost you the same once you add the taxi drive). Why? Firstly there is nothing to do in that village. And secondly since the hotel is the only one in the area, they are abusing the fact and overcharging for the standard they offer – no shower and mosquitos as your buddies to sleep with.

Ok 8 days of Indonesia and with that Sumatra is behind us. It has amazing countryside (its greener than the rest of the country since it gets much more rain throughout the year), has amazing people (specially Batak people with their music) and amazing food (jack fruit curry, radang, …). As I said 10 days of Flores is in front of us and then another 10 of Bali with Maja’s ex coworkers Jorge (Pablo :)), his girlfriend Laura and another Jorge. Let’s see how that goes 🙂 – more to follow.

Love each other – we definitely do love you and each other!!!

Maja & Andrej

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