Exploring Medan and Lake Toba
My recent trip to Medan was an unexpected one as I was initially hoping to go to Thailand or Bandung for a holiday. However, flights for those places were too expensive which led me to turning to Skyscanner for inspiration.
When I saw this and the picture used to represent Medan, it immediately reminded me that it's a good chance to visit Lake Toba to explore and so plans were made to go to Medan! Also, the price of the flight was a great incentive to visit too!
Medan is located 1.5 hours from Singapore by plane and budget airlines such as Jetstar and Airasia fly to Kualanamu airport too.
The main attractions of Medan are Lake Toba, Samosir Island, Sibayak Volcano and the other attractions that are shown in the map above. People here tend to speak Bahasa Indonesia while there's quite a large Chinese community who can speak in Hokkien too.
After this trip where my friend and I rented a car and drove on our own, we realised that it is more sensible to hire a driver or a guide because the roads are not reflected according to what is on Google Maps. Also, a local driver can help to ensure you get to your destination without getting lost or panicking about the road conditions there.
We had rented our car from http://www.medanrentcar.com and the service was quite good! Also, they have the option of hiring the driver when you rent the car as well.
Lake Toba is a huge crater lake that formed after the eruption of the super volcano. It is the largest volcanic lake in the world and the largest lake in Indonesia. It's a 3-4 hour drive from the Kualanamu airport or 30 minutes from Silangit airport. This was taken from a viewpoint that we happened to chance upon near Supiso Piso waterfall.
Taman Simalem Resort
Taman Simalem resort is famous for its stunning views of Lake Toba. This is an all-inclusive resort that has a series of activities for guests to participate in too. To enjoy the views you don't have to be a resort guest to do so, you just have to pay 200,000 to 300,000 rupiah for your car to enter the resort. I also mentioned hiring a local driver because my friend and I kept getting lost even though we followed Google Maps but were still unable to get there. More information on the resort can be found at https://www.tamansimalem.com.
Patra Comfort Parapat
If you don't think you need that much luxury for your accommodation or want to look for a cheaper option, Patra Comfort Parapat is pretty good for a hotel with great views of the lake too.
The rooms are pretty simple but spacious and comfortable. Hotel service is good as well! We realised we had a flat the second day of our stay and the staff willingly helped us to replace the tire as well.
To get to Samosir Island, you can take a ferry from Parapat and the ferry takes 30 minutes to get to Tuk Tuk, the more populated part of the island. The first ferry to Tuk Tuk leaves at 8.30am and the ferry leaves every hour. The last ferry to depart leaves at 3.30pm or 4.30pm. There are even ferries for cars to go onto the island too but it goes to Tomok, another part of Samosir Island and it takes about an hour to get there.
This is the Tuk Tuk section of Samosir Island which has many resorts you can choose to stay in. It will be good to stay in a resort here if you want to do water activities because some resorts only offer water activities to guests and not the public.
Staying in Samosir Island
A nice place to stay would be Hora's Inn or Hora's Family Home which is located near the jetty at Tuk Tuk. This post is not sponsored because I didn't stay there, we only planned to visit Samosir Island for a day trip. Due to lack of planning, my friend and I didn't know what to do and just walked into this inn which states they have kayaking. Later we found out that their activities are only for guests and they seem to have quite a good variety of activities! They were also nice enough to plan a tour for us and got a tuk tuk to pick us up and show us around after that. If you would like more information you can look at http://www.holidaysumatra.com/home/ for more details.
There are a wide range of accommodation choices you can choose from so you can look at what each place offers and decide where you would like to stay based on what you prefer!
Exploring Samosir Island
Many people travel around by motorbikes here and locals offer their services as motorbike taxis too. Or else you can hire a tuk tuk to drive you around as well!
The Batak museum is a nice place to find out more about the Batak culture and history (the Batak people are an indigenous tribe Northern Sumatra). The museum guide is very interesting and funny, teaching others about his culture in an entertaining and interactive way.
A local food specialty is Mie Gomak, also known as Batak spaghetti (according to a local) and it's actually curry noodles. The curry taste is light yet fragrant and we enjoyed it very much.
Scenery on the island of the lake and of other parts of the island are generally quite nice too! It'll be good to stay here for one to two nights if you would like to explore the island properly. There are hot springs here but we were told they're 40km away from Tuk Tuk so there's actually plenty to do!
I was told there isn't very much to do in Medan city, apart from eating so here's a list of food highlights from one day there.
This cafe is famous for their coffee and they have a special drink, the avocado coffee float. This was really interesting but we felt that we tasted more chocolate (from the ice cream) than the coffee so if you really like coffee you might want to get a double shot! They also sell drip coffee in sachets so you can get some as souvenirs and gifts too!
Fried kway teow
I really love fried kway teow and was so excited to try it when my Indonesian friends tell me Indonesian fried kway teow is the best. Truly, the one I tried did not disappoint, even though I can't decide if I like Indonesian or Penang kway teow more. This plate of kway teow is from Kwetiau Ateng and they have a few outlets in Medan city. From my research online, there isn't a significant difference in the standards and taste so I just went to the one nearest to me.The kway teow was really chewy and you can taste fragrance of the duck egg used to fry it as well!
Martabak manis stalls can be found in many places in Medan as well. I've heard chocolate cheese peanut is a classic Indonesian flavour. I had nutella this time because my friend wanted it but it was really good too! The usual martabak manis looks like a usual pancake (like min jiang kueh Singapore and Malaysia has) and the special is the double decker one as seen in the picture. This should be shared with a group for health reasons (due to the amount of margarine, sugar and condensed milk put into it) and also because the serving is really huge.
Street food at Selat Panjang
Selat Panjang is this street that has many food stalls where you can buy and eat local street food. We had the local version of wanton mee and the noodles were springy and flavourful with generous serving of meat in the wanton. My only regret was that there was too much food here and too little stomach space in me to eat them all!
Massage at Zen Garden Premium Spa
Zen Garden Premium Spa is a nice place to get your massage because the place is very clean and service is good, prices are very reasonable too. We were asked to fill in a form about our preferences at the reception to reduce language barriers during the massage as much as possible. I got a 2 hour sports massage for 265 000 rupiah and it was a truly relaxing experience indeed.
Oleh oleh means "present" in Bahasa Indonesia and it is also associated with souvenirs that people buy and give out after their overseas trips. There's a wide variety of local snacks and goodies sold in the city and at the airport so here are some famous snacks that are good to buy back!
I got the Meranti Roll cake after seeing that it's highly raved about online, it's quite similar to a swiss roll but it's a lot more dense in terms of the sponge cake and the ingredients in it. I got the chocolate cheese cake and it was really good though sinful, and a mocha flavoured cake. Meranti roll cakes can be found at their stores and at the airport shops as well.
Kueh lapis is also a good souvenir to get from Indonesia, I got the pandan flavoured lapis from the Medan airport.
Bika ambon is a snack that originated from Medan. A famous brand that you can try is Zulaikha Bika Ambon. The bika ambon is really fragrant indeed! They are available at their stores and also in some shops in Kuala namu airport!
Tip: If you want to get souvenirs from the Medan airport, get them from the departure area before going through immigration, the bulk of the local snack stores are there and there's barely nothing left after going through immigration as well.
That marks the end of my short Medan and Lake Toba guide, I spent 3 days and 2 nights there and personally felt it wasn't enough. I would have loved to spend more time getting to climb Sibayak volcano and exploring Samosir Island so I guess those are enough reasons for me to return one day!