Northern Sumatra – Medan to Lake Toba

Welcome back. I hope you have been enjoying our tales of adventure, tips, and pics thus far. We move on to the next leg of our journey: Northern Sumatra.

Missed out on our Bali and Gili Islands Adventure? Read it here.


After parting ways with our family and friends in Bali, we set off on our way with North Sumatra in our sights. First stop, Medan. We didn’t really choose Medan as a destination that we were interested in exploring, but more of a necessary port of entry into North Sumatra.

🛫 Tip: If you are flying from Bali to Medan and want to get there economically, fly AirAsia via Kuala Lumpur. We booked two separate flights: Bali -> KL & KL -> Medan/Kualanamu. It was far more cost-effective.

😴 Tip: If you are looking for an economical hotel close to Kualanamu Airport, check out ZEN Rooms Basic. They offer free airport shuttles. Don’t expect much in terms of the location. Medan is about 30 minutes away from the airport as opposed to the hotel which is about 10 minutes away. It is meant purely as a transit hotel. It is clean and comfortable with TVs and aircon in the small box-sized private rooms.

Back to Medan. It’s hot. It’s noisy. It’s dirty. It’s chaotic. Our first thoughts were, ‘Oh god, where are we??’. We definitely found comfort in knowing that we were only in town for just 1 night.

We desperately searched Tripadvisor and travel blogs for something to do or someplace to go that provided either good food or aircon, preferably both. A coffee shop seemed like a good idea. Those usually have aircon and wifi right? Our search revealed a coffee shop within walking distance; Macehat Coffee would surely be our escape from the oppressive heat.

After a 20-minute trek along streets continuously buzzing with the sound of little scooter engines, we found Macehat Coffee.

We stepped inside, eager to feel that gush of arctic air as the door opened but alas, we were greeted with a long queue of overheating people waiting to be seated. Not even a fan to keep the crowd cool. We had read about a drink – something too unique to miss out on trying. Hence, we grabbed a waiting number and joined the sweaty line of caffeine-hungry, soon-to-be patrons.

After about 30 minutes of endless dripping, our number was finally called and we were quickly seated in the adjacent room. Our choice of beverage was a swift decision. 2 Avocado Coffee Floats, please. The lady serving our table scribbled down our order and I got the feeling that it wasn’t the first time she had written down that order that day. As I peered around the small room, in front of the majority of the seated customers was the drink we had quickly requested.

Not long after we had placed our order, our drinks arrived. Swirls of brown and green filled a tall glass with a perfectly sculpted scoop of chocolate ice cream on top. To the side, a freshly brewed shot of dark and powerful espresso. We poured the espresso over the ice cream as directed. We took our first sip. Wow! I never thought I’d say avocado and chocolate is a thing, but trust me, it’s a thing! The avocado made the drink thick and creamy and the espresso and chocolate flavors complemented each other so gracefully. Needless to say, for whatever reason, you find yourself in Medan, slot the Avocado Coffee Float at Macehat Coffee into your itinerary.

The Avocado Coffee Float @ Macehat Coffee, Medan

🚩Side Note: The Avocado Coffee Float contains avocado puree, chocolate ice cream, chocolate syrup, a light dusting of Milo, and a shot of espresso on the side. Need I say more?

Lake Toba

The following morning, we were up early and ready to start our long day of journeying to our first location in Northern Sumatra. Where were we going you ask? Lake Toba! More precisely, Tuk Tuk on Samosir Island.

Before I detail our day of travel, here is an interesting fact. Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world. It is believed that a super-eruption occurred around 75,000 years ago. It is said that this eruption caused a 6 to 10-year-long global winter. Scientists also believe that this eruption left an ash blanket of 15cm/5.9in all over South Asia.

So how did we get to the largest volcanic lake in the world from Medan? In a high-speed death trap piloted by a fearless, nicotine-sucking, red crazy-eyed madman, that’s how. For us, the fear was real. We bought two seats on a shared taxi from Medan to Parapat. The appeal was the comfort of being in a smaller car with aircon as opposed to a slower and overloaded public bus with just the hot Sumatran air blowing through the windows. We had read stories of the F1/WRC aspirations of some of the shared taxi drivers. On the upside, we made great time.

🚕 Tip: Getting a shared taxi from Medan to Parapat should cost you around 80,000 Rupiah. The transport companies’ initial price will be high but don’t be scared to negotiate it down. Head down to this street to find a bunch of transport companies all offering shared transport rides to Parapat. Once they see your foreign face they will be eager to shout at you and begin the negotiation.

After 5 hours of gut-wrenching Colin McRae style driving, we arrived, I won’t say safely but definitely in one piece, at Parapat. From Parapat, we took the big ferry across to Tomok, Samosir. From Tomok, we took a tuk-tuk to Tuk Tuk.

Tip: You can take a car and passenger ferry from Ajibata Ferry Terminal to Tomok for just under 4,000 Rupiah. From there you can negotiate a price for your accommodation with a tuk-tuk driver. Alternatively, you can take a more expensive ferry from Tiga Raja Harbor. These tickets run from 15,000 Rupiah but the ferry will drop you at your accommodation in Tuk Tuk.

Samosir is home to the Batak people. They have their own language. They have their own food. They have their own style. The traditional houses with sweeping roofs are reminiscent of old wooden ships.

Life on Samosir is slow and simple. The mornings are quiet and relaxing. Waters laps on the lake shores as fishermen in small boats pound the water, with a hammer-like clubs, scaring their catch into strategically placed nets in the water.

We rented a scooter for the duration of our stay as our accommodation, Mas Cottages, was a little outside of the town. Most of our time on Lake Toba was spent eating. We ate a lot. Most of the little restaurants in Tuk Tuk serve really good food. We have to recommend the fried fish and avocado salad at Maruba and the grilled fish at Jenny’s.

🛵 Tip: Most scooter rental shops fix their prices at around IDR 100,000 a day. Head over to Robinhot in Tuk Tuk. After some haggling, we got our trusty steed for IDR 200,000 for 3 days /IDR 66,666 per day.

Besides filling our faces, we spent one day scooting around to the west side of Samosir and found panoramic views of Mt. Pudik Buhit. On another day, we hired a canoe at Carolina’s and spent an hour out paddling on the lake.

🚩Tip: There are other sights to visit within driving distance from Samosir such as Sipisopiso waterfalls and hot springs. I say driving distance because it will take at least a few hours to get to each. It will not be a fun ride on the back of a scooter. Make sure to plan your day trips accordingly. We did not and found the hot springs and Sipisopiso waterfalls to be too far away by scooter. Other blogs led us to believe that they were easily accessible from Tuk Tuk but realistically, they are not. If you would like to see those things or hike the volcanoes it will be best for you to base yourself in the small town- Berastagi.

Continue on with us to Bukit Lawang and jungle trekking with wild orangutans

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