Monday, 23 June 2008

Lake Toba

Lake Toba (Danau Toba) is the largest lake in South East Asia and is located in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Lake Toba is an immense volcanic lake covering area 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.

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. You get a ferry from Parapat to Pulau Samosir Island, they run every 1-2 hours, the last one at 7:30pm (Rp 7000). Self proclaimed 'Tourist Hunters' may befriend you on the boat but are harmless and often helpful to find things, arrangements etc (Bintang can fix you up with anything). Tuk Tuk is the main town to stay on Samosir.


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 the Chinese New Year, when availability drops dramatically and accommodation costs are known to sky rocket.

Get in

The main town is Parapat, about 4 hours by car from Medan (4-6 hours by public bus). Public Bus fee is 18,000 IDR. A scheduled and shared 7 passenger minivan costs 60,000 IDR and can be arranged by most hotels in Medan (Feb 2008 price). A private taxi costs about 600,000 IDR one way from Medan (Feb 2008 price).
Get around

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 inclusive of 4 litres of petrol). 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.


There are hot springs on the western side of the island just across the causeway from Pangururan.

* 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


Kick back and relax after the frenetic atmosphere of Indonesia. Enjoy the fact that the residents are used to Westerners and won't hassle you; most of them are stoned. 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.


* Tabo Cottages is the most luxurious accommodation on the island. Prices start at around Rp.120,000 per night and climb up from there. The rooms are very clean and quite modern by Sumateran standards. Internet is available from the family's computer for a nominal rate and the western-styled food served in the restaurant is very good.
* There are numerous hotels and guest houses, mainly in Tuk tuk but with a few scattered in other small towns around the island.
* Liberta Homestay 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.
* 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 25000 and 50000 rupiah. Good food and cold beer at a reasonable price.
* Samosir Cottages 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.


* Jenny's Restaurant on Samosir Island, Tuk Tuk. There is only one or two roads in Tuk Tuk, 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. When he is singing old Batak songs about earlier times and you listen to the guitar tunes and his melancholic voice, your eyes wander over the lake and you feel like never leaving Samosir again.

Cotney Restaurant - It is located by the Samosir resort on Tuk Tuk. 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.

* 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.


There is one discotheque on Fri and Sat nights - expect the latest 80s music. Better to drink at your guest house generally.


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