WANT to take a trip but don’t want to spend too much money and time? Then Lake Toba should be your choice destination.
Many would be aware that Lake Toba is the world’s largest volcanic lake, thanks to Geography lessons in school.
Located in North Sumatra, Lake Toba had never been on my travel list due to its close proximity.
It was not until a few months ago – on coming across various ads promoting flights to Lake Toba – that I started toying with the idea of visiting the place.
Before my trip there, I had been to Bali where I met a couple from Medan, Indonesia.
“At Lake Toba, you can experience the original Batak Toba culture such as songs and the traditional house of the people known as Rumah Bolon,” said Pak Harris.
He explained that most hotels and resorts are concentrated in the Tuk Tuk area and that each resort has its own jetty.
“When you reach Lake Toba, you tell the ferry driver your resort name and he will drop you off at the hotel jetty.”
Pak Harris and his wife, who run a resort called Toledo Inn on Samosir Island, invited me to visit the family-run place.
While Lake Toba has become a popular tourist destination, much of its natural beauty remains intact and it is a great location to escape to from the busy streets of Medan.
The lake is said to have formed following a massive volcanic eruption some 70,000 years ago.
In the middle of the lake is Samosir Island, which is a little bigger than Singapore and has a population of 125,000.
Samosir Island is surrounded by stunning waterfalls, mountains, hot springs and cultural villages.
Aside from the island’s dramatic landscape, visitors come here for outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, climbing, camping and kayaking.
While there are several ways to get to Lake Toba from Kuala Lumpur, the fastest is to take a direct flight to Silangit.
But my friend and I decided to fly to Medan first and take a four-hour car ride to the main jetty in Parapat, a town by Lake Toba.
Suffice to say, I will not be taking that long and winding route again.
Arriving at Parapat around 2pm, the driver dropped us at the jetty, saying that we could get the tickets on the ferry.
“Luck was on our side as there was already a ferry ready to leave for Samosir Island in 10 minutes.
A smiling ferry worker helped us with our bags and we paid around RM5 each for the one-way trip.
The weather, which was sunny and humid at the start of the ferry ride, became wet and misty within 20 minutes as the lake sits 900m above sea level.
One of the ferry workers kept passengers entertained by singing local Batak songs.
After checking into our hotel, we decided to hire a motorbike as it is one of the best ways to explore the island’s remote areas.
We met a local, known as a skipa, who guided us on places to visit.
“Right now is the rainy season, I do not recommend the waterfalls, including Simangande Waterfall, as they can be very slippery,” she said.
At dinner time, we found that the food on Samosir Island has a story of its own.
Batak cuisine is unique for its spices, especially the “sambil arsik” which is used in its carp stew.
Produce grown on the island’s fertile volcanic soil is mainly for local consumption and the fish is freshly caught from the lake.
Our journey started early the next day. First, we went to Bukit Holbung – a lookout point also known as “Teletubbies Hill” for its scenery.
We continued with a 20-minute hike to Efrata Waterfall.
Some would choose to camp at the waterfall area, but the rain made it too cold for our liking.
Of course, the waterfall was a sight to behold with its stunning black volcanic rocks and greenery.
The best part was we had it all to ourselves as it was low season on the island.
Kayaking came next and the experience of paddling along the lake’s clear water while volcanic mountains “meet” dark clouds in the horizon was nothing short of magical.
However, the unpredictable weather did not allow us to go far.
Alternatively, there is the option of fishing at the lake.
On the second day, we ventured out for a hike which was expected to take about three hours.
What started as a pleasant walk from Ambrita became cold within an hour due to rain. With temperatures quickly dropping, having only a sweater was not enough to keep out the cold.
Afternoon rains are apparently quite normal on the island but we were not prepared. Slowly, the trails got steeper and after another hour of hiking in wet conditions, we decided to stop.
On the bright side, we then went to the hot spring, which is called Pangururan, and it only cost RM5 per person for a private pool.
Not only was the water relaxing, the hot spring is surrounded by pristine nature.
The locals have built ponds that collect natural water from the mountain and mixed it with freshwater.
For hiking and cycling trips, travellers must plan early as there are not many proper trails and local guides are required.
For our next trip to Lake Toba, we are planning to take a 10-hour hike to the highest peak in Samosir Island.
Needless to say, the rainy weather continued as we took the ferry back to Parapat.