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North Sumatra – Sumatera Utara – Recommendations for short trips

If you are in a hurry travelling the north of Sumatra, i. e. don’t have more than 3 or 4 days, here is some recommendations for you. I am writing these lines because the directions I had googled for a 3 day trip from Singapore didn’t make it clear to me that it’s hardly possible seeing more than one destination in Sumatera Utara at such short duration. Travelling is really tiring and it is a waste of time spending too much time on it. Distances are short, but lousy road conditions and traffic jams in the urban areas make them long time-wise. So take your time choosing your personal destination on your short trip in the country. Most likely you will enter into the country by flight arriving in Polonia airport of Medan. The old airport is in town actually, whereas the new airport will be approximately 30 k out of town. They wanted to start operation already in 201, but when the first plane landed the runway broke – they built the airport on the moor and obviously didn’t build it strong enough – this is Indonesia! Anyhow, I strongly recommend choosing from one of those 3 options: 1. Bukit Lawang (jungle, wild animals and relaxing) 2. Lake Tabo (relaxing and hiking) 3. Brastagi (Berastagi) hiking the volcanoes)
12 years ago, March 11th 2011 No: 1 Msg: #130841  
I decided to take individual travelling on low cost public transport. If you want to go individually, but more comfortable with your own car, you might prefer taking one of multiple taxis waiting at Medan’s airport to drive you all over the country. I met BRAM (<snip>😉, who showed me loads of handwritten recommendations of his guests from all over the world.
Bukit Lawang
Take a motorbike taxi to Pinang Baris Bus station (cost at approx. 20 or 30000 rupiah). The ride takes about half an hour. Arrived there, the driver will hand you over to the bus staff. Don’t be astonished – the bus will actually wait on the street, not in the terminal itself. The bus leaves like every hour between 8 am and 5 pm. The bus is about 50 years old or at least appears like that. The trip to Bukit Lawang (or rather Bohorok, the bus terminal less than a kilometer before BL) takes about 3 hours. The bus stops to release and pick up people several times. The conductor will collect only an hour or so after leaving Pinang Baris. Pay a max. of 20000 Rupiah, locals only pay 7000 I found out. But you are “bule” so you can afford to pay some more.
Arrived at Bohorok bus terminal, you may choose walking the last 800 meters or so, or take a motorbike taxi for another 7000. Accommodation can be found easily. Probably some local will already have talked to you on the bus and pretending to take you to some nice place. You may choose going with him, especially if you will only stay for a night or two. This happened to me: I was brought to the first place across the first bridge and could choose between a “not so nice” room for 50,000 with twin bed and a nicer one for 100 with a double bed. Took the one for 100, which was clean and good enough for a single night. No A/C, but wasn’t hot at all during the night so could sleep well. The room even had a balcony and a nice view over the river and the other side of the village. Rooms on 1st floor have terraces. The place is called WISMA LEUSER SIBAYAK & Restaurant (<snip>😉. Had lunch there the other day which was really nice. I was there in February and it was quite deserted. People told me that the crowded period goes from June till September.
Much nicer places to stay are can be found at the end of the village. Takes you another 15 or 20 minutes walking there but is real worthwhile if you have decided staying for more than 2 nights. Met this Englishman who got a great room on two levels, entrance up the stairs to bed room on 2nd level, balcony with river view and hammock, then inside stairway down to the bath with very stylish shower. He paid 225,000 per night for a 4 night stay. They have a restaurant across the trail on a wooden terrace “above” the river which serves very nice food on low budget. I saw some other places around there that really looked nice too but didn’t ask for lodging prices.
Things to do: Apart from enjoying yourself and meeting nice people from everywhere doing a jungle hike is a MUST. I was very limited in time so only did a day walk from 8:30 am till 2:30 pm for € 35,- (420,000 Rupiah). 2 day trips are much more recommendable because you may see more animal species. Though on the one-day-walk I saw Orang Utans (including mums with kids), lizards, turtles, various insects and loads of interesting tress and other plants. There are several guides, but I did very good with “EDU” (real name Jannersius Lingga), mobile phone <snip>, who is a very experienced guide. His booth is on the main side of the village right next to the first (frightening) bridge. You may alternatively contact his junior staff “Monang” at <snip>. Guidance and explanations of flora and fauna was excellent.
Summarized, I can say BL is a very relaxing place to stay for a couple of days. It’s a place to avoid the extreme busy cities of Indonesia.
Minivan taxi back to Medan (wherever your exact destination is) takes about 2.5 hours and costs 60,000 rupiah.
Lake Tabo
(I did not go there myself but read and heard a lot about it)
Bus from Medan to Parapat takes 4 to 5 hours; minivan is faster for about 60,000 rupiah. Bus starts at “Lapangan Merdaka” or “Setasiun Kereta Api Medan”, to which you can again take one of the thousands of motorbike taxis available. From Parapat you can take the 30 minute ferry ride to Tuk Tuk on the island Simbaran. Must be a relaxing place to do some hanging around and / or hiking. Not Tuk Tuk, which seems quite busy. But one hour of walking will take you to much more desert and quite places. I saw photos with marvelous views of the mountains surrounding the lake.
Brastagi (Berastagi)
This little town is a two hour bus trip off Simabung Jaya bus terminal outside of Medan. Again it’s a 40 minute motorbike ride from Medan downtown or half an hour from Polonia airport. Fare will be about 25 or 30 thousand rupiah. Buses going from there up into the mountains to Brastagi are of medium size with about 18 seats. Though they stuff them with like 35 people usually. I even saw buses with people riding on the roof top. Drivers drive crazy, sometimes do competition with other bus drives overtaking each other even if they cannot see approaching traffic from the opposite side.
Brastagi town is quite busy, I mean far not like Medan, but not relaxing at all. There are some lodges up the hill that seem nice. IMHO it’s only worthwhile going to Brastagi if you either want to hike on one of the volcanoes or want to visit the hot springs in the region. Brastagi itself is not such a nice town. I actually went there heading towards the volcano but did not go because it was all covered by mist. Though I have heard that like ¾ of the time the mountains are covered by clouds.
Last not least: if any specific queries arise, feel free to contact me on <snip>. But please don’t rush me because I might be busy or out of home for a while and cannot response right away.
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12 years ago, March 11th 2011 No: 2 Msg: #130846  
Hello Thomas

Please keep reports on your trips to your own personal blog. They are not suitable for the forums. I've removed your email addresses and phone numbers. These attract spammers to travelblog and thus it is against the rules to post them on forums.



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