By Muhammad Hasif Mohd Jelani on January 30, 2020
Due to its close proximity to Kuala Lumpur (around an hour by flight), the destinations within the North Sumatra province, particularly Medan and Lake Toba (locally known as Danau Toba) are fast becoming Malaysians’ favourite getaways. Given the province’s amazing attractions such as unique Batak culture, historically mesmerising Lake Toba and wondrous natural surroundings, it is almost incomplete if travellers do not experience both destinations in one go.
Medan is the capital of the North Sumatra province and the largest city on Sumatra Island. To many travellers, Medan is known for being one of the best culinary hotspots in Indonesia, besides being the entry and exit point to Lake Toba.
Lake Toba, on the other hand, is the largest natural lake in Southeast Asia and one of the world’s deepest. Interestingly, in the centre of the lake lies the 630-kilometre squared Samosir Island, which is almost as large as Singapore. It was formed due to a climate-changing supervolcanic eruption in 75,000 years ago!
But do continue reading this article since it talks about our experience visiting selected attractions between Danau Toba and Medan that are bound to make your journey special and memorable, especially if you are adventurous and want to explore off-the-beaten-path.
Good to know: Apart from Kualanamu International Airport (KNO), travellers can also fly to Sisingamangaraja XII International Airport (DTB) to get to Lake Toba. In our case, we arrived at DTB and returned to Kuala Lumpur from KNO.
Besides offering comfortable guest rooms, this lovely property in Siborongborong coloured in white also serves as a café serving Batak menus, making it a good stop for lunch. Some of the recommended dishes are ayam bumbu rempah Batak, ikan mas arsik and fried cassava with sambal belacan. For drinks, the café’s signature is their own-brewed single origin Arabica coffee. This place has the view of vast paddy fields so diners can take in the serene rural landscape while dining here.
The name ‘Eden’ is symbolically chosen to describe the concept of this park where humans, animals and plants coexist in harmony, while ‘100’ refers to the number of plants that can be found within the 55-hectare park. But the most iconic is the endemic plant called andaliman (Sichuan pepper), a common ingredient used in many Batak traditional dishes. Besides learning about the plants, another popular activity that can be done here is trekking to Lumban Rang Waterfall, which holds a huge boulder believed to be thrown to its current place when the supervolcanic eruption happened 75,000 years ago!
This pretty hotel in Parapat sits just next to Lake Toba, therefore the view from the balcony of the hotel’s guestrooms is effortlessly majestic! Each of the rooms is cosy and well-equipped with air-conditioning unit, hot shower and television. Its in-house restaurant called Pasir Soso faces Lake Toba, so travellers can enjoy the view even more. Another plus point about this hotel is its beautifully landscaped European-style garden, which is Instagram-worthy.
A must-visit when being on Samosir Island, this 2,400-metre squared ancient Batak ethnic village is surrounded by a stone wall and contains stellar examples of traditional Batak architecture. ‘Huta’ means village and ‘Siallagan’ refers to the clan inhabiting it. Other interesting items that can be seen here are the two sets of 500-year old Batu Parsidangan (Stones for Conferring) located just a few metres away from each other: one for meetings and trials, while the other is for carrying out executions. Travellers should also participate in Sigale-gale ritual, a common practice to welcome visitors.
This village’s name literally means ‘the five cows’. Located in the subdistrict of Onan Runggu, the village stands on family-owned land, serving as a homestay hosted by the friendly, live-wire Ibu Ratna and her husband, Pak Thomas. This is where travellers get to participate in invigorating activities such as visiting the farm and harvesting peanuts manually! The lunch here is exceptionally delicious.
Specialising in Javanese cuisine, this restaurant in Binjai has ample space catering to a large number of diners any time. Among the favourite dishes are ayam ras penyet and tumis kangkung belerang. For the convenience of travellers, the restaurant provides prayer room and playground for children as well.
This eco-friendly resort offers six types of accommodations namely Siamang Lodge, Hornbill Lodge, Orangutan Lodge, Thomas Leaf Monkey Lodge, Butterfly Lodge and Rimba Lodge. Surrounded by lush rainforest with a calming view of the pristine river, travellers can expect back-to-nature staycation when putting up here. Since it is strategically located next to the main entrance of Gunung Leuser National Park, travellers can participate in interesting activities like jungle-trekking, which we found remarkably rewarding.
After three hours of trekking, we eventually encountered the critically-endangered species of wild Sumatran orangutans that live freely in their natural habitat. Though this activity depends on one’s luck, at most times, travellers are bound to witness these adorable creatures. Trekking within Gunung Leuser National Park needs to be led by licensed, highly-skilled rangers for a safe and enriching experience.
Along the trek, travellers get to learn about the national park and its biodiversity, on top of stumbling upon the friendly, cool-looking Thomas’s langur, locally called kedih.
Spanning 950,000 hectares, this park is regarded as the green heart of Sumatra. Having been enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004, it earned the title ‘The Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra’, shared with two other national parks: Kerinci Seblat, and Bukit Barisan Selatan.
“We are not promoting these elephants but instead the harmonious coexistence between humans and animals,” mentioned the guide when we met the elephants at this conservation area. To avoid human-elephant conflicts and fight poachers, the Conservation Response Unit has been established. But running such effort requires huge support to ensure that these Sumatran elephants can lead a better life.
Travellers are encouraged to visit this place not only to appreciate these giant, gentle creatures but to support the programme by participating in activities that charge certain fees, for instance feeding the elephants, bathing with them and even following them into the jungle under the supervision of their mahouts to observe their natural behaviour.
If you are into outdoor activities, then this place in Namu Sira Sira, Bingai is highly recommended. There are plenty of activities travellers can participate such as camping, paintball, archery, trekking and water rafting, which is nothing short of exciting! The view along the river is breathtaking. When we were rafting, we made a few stops to enjoy nature by doing activities like swimming and cliff-jumping. Thanks to our instructors, the two-hour rafting experience was both enjoyable and safe.
While in Medan, be sure to visit these places…
The China-born Tjong A Fie was an influential businessman in Medan back in the early 1900s. His businesses included real estate, mining, banks, railroads, coconut, tobacco, tea, rubber, palm oil and sugar plantation. Basing on his good relationship with the Sultanate of Deli, Chinese merchants and Dutch colonisers, he was highly respected. But more than that, he was recognised for his outstanding, no-prejudice philanthropy. He built schools, hospitals and even religious buildings like mosques, churches and temples.
This 35-room and two-storey mansion used to be the resident of Tjong A Fie and his large family. Now turned into a museum, travellers will definitely be in awe knowing how this majestic building was once part of his extraordinary life. The building was constructed in accordance to feng shui principles while incorporating Malay, Chinese and Western design styles.
This museum, which was built between 1887 and 1891, used to be the royal palace of the Sultanate of Deli. It showcases a grand architecture symbolising the sultanate’s sovereignty with a mixture of foreign influences such as Moghul, Spanish and Italian. Travellers should rent out and don the striking traditional costumes – at a fee ranging from IDR25,000 to IDR150,000 – and take memorable shots around the palace, including at its ornately-decorated Balairong Seri (The Great Hall).
Gaya Travel Magazine team members extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Ministry of Tourism of The Republic of Indonesia and the Embassy of The Republic of Indonesia Kuala Lumpur Office for making our trip to North Sumatra smooth sailing.