Sumatra 7 Days Itinerary – Medan, Berastagi, Lake Toba

Planning an itinerary for Sumatra can be tough as it is not as firmly on the tourist trail compared to many other places in Indonesia, for example, Bali or Java and so it can be difficult to know what to do there and where to go. Planning the itinerary for Sumatra is also no easy feat but don’t worry as our itinerary will fit in some of the must visit places in Sumatra, fitting them all in one week.

In this itinerary, you will find yourself covering the 3 main tourist locations of Sumatra that are interlinked to your convenience. They are Medan, the main city and where you most likely fly into, Berastagi, the Karo highlands of rice fields and the famous Lake Toba, the largest volcano lake in the world with arguably the best tourist facilities in Sumatra.

Here is a suggested itinerary that you can tailor according to your own preferences for your 7 days in Sumatra.

Medan

Suggested time: 2 days
Connects to Berastagi (2 hours) or Lake Toba (5 hours)

Medan is not typically thought of as a tourist destination by international travelers who used it simply as an entry and exit point to move on to other places. The domestic market in Indonesia, however, sees things very differently and Medan is known as the culinary capital of Indonesia.

Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Tjong A Fie Mansion in Medan, Sumatra. Photo by Pratyeka, via Wikimedia Commons

Day 1 – Medan sightseeing and food

Tjong A Fie Mansion was a relative of the better known Cheong Fatt Tze who lived in Penang and built the gorgeous Cheong Fatt Tze mansion. This is one of Medan’s few real attractions and is definitely worth a trip to see how people would have lived in 1900. It’s also near to Kesawan Square, a great option if you are looking for some authentic Medanese food.

Addres: 105 Jl. Jend. A. Yani,
Kesawan, Medan Bar, Kota Medan,
Sumatera Utara 20111;
Telephone: 0813 6120 3998.
Opening hours: 9 am to 5 pm.

Soto Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Soto Medan. Photo by Fachriazmi9, via Wikimedia Commons

Soto Kesawan is located just across from Tjong A Fie Mansion so it makes sense to combine the two. You will need to get here before 4 pm however as they shut up shop after that. This small cafe is famous for its Soto, a soup made with coconut milk and filled with juicy prawns.

Address: Jl. Ahmad Yani, Kesawan, Medan Bar,
Kota Medan, Sumatera Utara
Telephone: 20236; 061 4514518
Opening hours: 7 am to 4 pm.

Day 2 – Medan Mosques and Palaces

Mesjid Raya Al Mashun is the great mosque of Medan and is known for its great beauty and imported building materials. You will see glittering green tiles here as well as graceful black domes and pretty stained glass and marble floors. Make sure to dress modestly if you are going to visit.

Address: Jl. Sisingamangaraja, No. 1, Medan Kota,
Kota Medan, Sumatera Utara
Telephone: 20212; 061 4512555.

The great grand mosque of Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

The great grand mosque of Medan. Photo by Rolling Okie

Istana Maimun is the royal palace that used to belong to the Sultanate of Deli. Now it has been turned into a museum and you can also catch a traditional band here that play local tunes every day at 10 am.

Address: Jl. Sultan Ma’moen Al Rasyid No. 66, Medan Maimun,
A U R, Medan Maimun, Kota Medan, Sumatera Utara 20151.
Opening hours: 8 am to 5 pm.

Istana Maimun (Palace), Medan Sumatra, Indonesia

Istana Maimun (Palace), Medan. Photo by I, Merbabu via Wikimedia Commons

Merdeka Walk – If you are looking for dinner in Medan but can’t decide what to get then consider a trip to Merdeka Walk. Here you will find a long strip that has a range of stalls selling all kinds of dishes from noodles, to rice, to soups, to desserts.

Address: Jl. Balai Kota, Medan Barat, Kesawan,
Medan Bar, Kota Medan, Sumatera Utara 20236.
Opening hours: Some places here are open 24 hours a day.

Moving on from Medan, you have two options:

How to get to Berastagi – Take a bus from the main bus station on Jalan SM Raja that will take you directly to Berastagi. The trip takes about 2 hours.

If you want to skip Berastagi then you can also take a bus directly to Lake Toba from Medan which takes around 5/6 hours.

Berastagi

Suggested time: 2 days
Connects to Medan (2 hours) or Lake Toba (4/5 hours)

From Medan, you can easily move on to Berastagi, home of the Karo people with just a 2 hours bus ride. One of the highlights of Berastagi is picking your own fruit like oranges and strawberries at one of the local farms, although you need to be there when the fruit is ripening so it’s best to check when you are actually in Berastagi.

Gunung Sibayak (mountain) at Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia

Gunung Sibayak (mountain) at Berastagi, Sumatra. Photo by swifant

Day 3 – Berastagi volcano mountain

Gunung Sibayak is a dormant volcano has a large crater at the top from which gas still erupts. There are also hot springs here where you can soak in the naturally warm thermal waters. It is about a 7 kilometer walk to the top.

Day 4 – Berastagi waterfall

Sipiso-piso Waterfall – This is one of the best spots in Berastagi and you can see all the way to Lake Toba from here. You can catch a mini bus called an angkot straight from Berastagi to the waterfall or hire a motorbike and head out there on your own.

Gunung Sopiso-piso Waterfall at Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia

Sopiso-piso Waterfall at Berastagi. Photo by Ronald Tagra

Moving on from Berastagi, we head on to Lake Toba.

How to get to Lake Toba – You will need to take a mini-bus to Siantar which takes about 3 hours and then another bus to Parapat which takes about 1 hour. It’s then a short ferry ride across to Tuk Tuk, the main island in Lake Toba.

Lake Toba

Suggested time: 2 days
Connects to Berastagi (4/5 hours) or Medan (5/6 hours)

Lake Toba is a gem in the region of Sumatra and has a crater lake that sits in a dormant volcano. It’s also the largest crater lake in the world and sits next to the charming island of Tuk Tuk.

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Holmes Nainggolan

Day 5 – Enjoy Lake Toba and Tuk tuk village

Enjoy the lake – One of the reasons people come to Lake Toba is the lake, so make sure that you enjoy all that it has to offer. You can indulge in a range of water sports here and can tour the lake in a speedboat. For something a little more relaxing you can simply float here in a rubber tube.

Visit Tuk Tuk – The village of Tuk Tuk is charming and is also the home of a Batak cemetery. Here you will find amazing carved graves Batak kings which are in the shape of traditional Batak houses, so make sure to give this a miss to get an insight into Batak culture.

Batak People @ Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Batak Women. Photo by Marc Veraart

Day 6 – Explore Lake Toba island

Tuk Tuk is covered in a range of attractions and due to its size, you can see most of them in a day. The best option is to hire a car and driver or a motorbike to whizz around the island.

Day 7 – Back to Medan

Getting back to Medan, completing the loop of Medan, Berastagi and Lake Toba in Sumatra. Here you can choose to head onwards north to Bukit Lawang for the Orangutan trek or the interesting city Banda Aceh or go for diving at Pulau Weh.

Check out our Sumatra Travel Guide.

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Top 10 Things To Do In Banda Aceh

Banda Aceh is one of the lesser visited provinces in Indonesia, although those who make the trip will be rewarded with interesting sights and things to do. Banda Aceh is easily accessible as you can fly in directly to the main airport here or you can travel to Medan in North Sumatra and then move on from there. The province was devastated by a tsunami in 2004 but has been rebuilt so that only a few reminders can still be found. This is also the only place in Indonesia to have Shariah law but visitors will find it remarkably laid back, at least on the surface, and while you should dress conservatively you will not be expected to cover up as the locals do.

Here are our top picks of what to do in Banda Aceh:

Mesjid (Masjid) Raya Baiturrahman

Mesjid Raya is the main mosque in Banda Aceh and was built in the 19th century by the Dutch. This mosque is an absolute must visit. The mosque is decorated with gorgeous domes and beautiful traditional Muslim Islamic motifs. It is very picturesque and is the favourite of many photographers at day or night. At night, it lits up beautifully with the strategic lightings. Note that if you visit you will have to dress conservatively and women will have to wear a headscarf.

Jalan Mohammad Jam
Opening hours: 7-11 am and 1.30-4 pm.

Admission is free although donations are encouraged.

Masjid Mosque Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Aceh great mosque. Photo by Vidi Agiorno

Tsunami Museum

The Tsunami Museum is one of the top attractions in Aceh and is designed as a powerful tribute to those who lost their lives when the waters raged into the province. Around 170,000 people are said to have died in the floods and the Tsunami Museum is filled with waterfalls that mimic some of the experience. You will also find videos and news reports of the tragedy and this is an exceptionally moving visit if you want to learn more about this difficult period of Aceh’s history.

Jalan Sultan Iskandar Muda, Banda Aceh.
Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 9-12 pm and 2-4.30 pm.
Friday 9-11.30 am and 2.30-4.30 pm.
Closed on Mondays.

Tsunami Museum, Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Tsunami Museum. Photo by Dinokl, via Wikimedia Commons

PLTD Apung

Another reminder of the devastating tsunami can be found on a visit to PLTD Apung which is a large ship that would have once sailed in the waters around Aceh. When the tsunami hit it was carried inland and has been left there as a monument to those who lost their lives. You can actually climb aboard the ship and walk around and one of the best reasons to do this is to look out across Banda Aceh and take in the scenery.

Jalan Harapan, Banda Aceh.

Monday – Sunday 9 am – 12 pm and 2 – 5.30 pm.
Fridays 2 – 5 pm.

PLTD Apung ship, Banda Aceh, Indonesia

PLTD Apung ship. Photo by Andy Doyle from Dublin, Republic of Ireland, via Wikimedia Commons

Warung Kopi Solong

If you make it to Aceh then you absolutely mustn’t miss the chance to visit Warung Kopi Solong which is something of an institution in Banda Aceh. The region is known for its delicious coffee and this place has been serving up some of Aceh’s finest brews since 1974. If you are looking for a souvenir of your trip then you can also buy bags of the delicious and earthy grounds beans.

Jalan Teuku Iskandar
Opening hours: 9 am – 7 pm

-> Find the best Banda Aceh hotel deals at Booking.com *

Museum Negeri Banda Aceh

The Aceh Museum is well worth exploring if you want to learn more about the culture of this part of Indonesia. Inside you will find some collections with photographs and memorabilia like farming equipment, textiles, swords, and other traditional curios. The signature piece here, however, is a stuffed baby buffalo with two heads.

Jalan Sultan Alauddin Mahmudsyah
Opening hours: Tues – Sun 8 am – 12 pm and 2 -4.30 pm.
Fridays 8.30 -11.30 am and 2.30 – 4 pm.
Closed on Mondays.
Admission: IDR 10,000.

Museum, Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Museum Banda Aceh. Photo by Si Gam, via Wikimedia Commons

Rumah Aceh

Rumah Aceh is actually part of Museum Negeri Banda Aceh and sits in the grounds of the museum. Rumah Aceh features a house on stilts which shows you how people would have lived in the days of old. This is actually the most interesting attraction at the museum so make sure not to miss it.

Jalan Sultan Alauddin Mahmudsyah
Opening hours: Tues – Sun 8 – 12 pm and 2 – 4.30 pm. Fridays 8.30 am – 11.30 am and 2.30 pm – 4 pm. Closed on Mondays.

Admission: IDR 5,000.

Rumah Aceh Tenggara, Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Rumah Aceh Tenggara. Photo by Rilies via Wikimedia Commons

Kherkhof Cemetery and Museum

Another moving sight in Aceh is Kherkhof which is a large cemetery with Dutch and Indonesian graves. The soldiers interred here died while fighting against the Acehs and there are inscriptions of the names of those who died at the entrance of the cemetery. The area was destroyed in the tsunami and the grave stones ripped up by the waters but these have now been replaced with wooden crosses.

Jalan Teuku Umar
Opening hours: 8 am – 6 pm.

Kherkof Cemetery and Museum, Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Kherkof Cemetery and Museum. Photo by Rachmat04 via Wikimedia Commons

Gunongan

Gunongan is a pretty little attraction although you may not know what you are looking for at first. This is actually a monument built by Sultan Iskandar Muda for his wife as a reminder of her hometown of Pahang in Malaysia. It would have been used as a bathing place for the princess although now anyone can visit.

Jalan Teuku Umar
Opening hours 8 am – 6 pm.

Gunongan monument, Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Gunongan monument Banda Aceh. Photo by Si Gam, via Wikimedia Commons

Pasar Malam Rek

Pasar Malam Rek is definitely worth a look if you are in the area as this is the most famous of all the night markets in Banda Aceh. As darkness falls, the stalls start up, and you will find delicious treats such as freshly grilled satay, fried rice, and toothsome noodles.

Intersection of Jalan Ahmad Yani and Jalan Khairil Anwar.
Opening hours: 5 – 10 pm.

Pulau Weh

For many people, the main reason to come to Aceh is to visit Pulau Weh which is an island that can easily be reached from Banda Aceh. Pulau Weh is something of a hidden gem in the region and you can expect azure seas and some excellent snorkelling opportunities. This is one of the top tourist spots in Aceh both for foreign and domestic tourists although you are unlikely to find crowds whenever you choose to visit.

Pulau Weh, Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Pulau Weh Islands. Photo by Vanina W.

Boasting so many things to do and attractions, Banda Aceh is truly a delightful surprise of Sumatra. From here on there are many places to visit such as Medan, Lake Toba, Berastagi and Pulau Weh Island. So if you are ever in Sumatra, remember to add on this interesting city to your trip list.

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Top 10 Must Visit Places in Sumatra

The island of Sumatra, located to the west of Java, is home to rich landscapes, blustering volcanoes, and unique culture that makes it a fascinating if under-visited stop on the tourist trail. The tourism infrastructure is more basic in Sumatra than other areas, but for those who make the journey, a trip across this diverse island is a rewarding experience, and some of the highlights include tropical islands, limpid crater lakes, enchanting wildlife, and bustling cities, to name but a few.

Here we take a look at the Top 10 Places to Visit in Sumatra.

Mentawai Islands

Just off the coast of West Sumatra lie a cluster of volcanic islands that make up the Mentawai Islands, a hidden gem perfect for those who want some surf and sand that is firmly off the beaten track. Travel here is not too arduous if you take a ferry from Padang to the largest of the islands, Siberut, and from there you can venture on to smaller islands that boast better surf breaks like Pulau Sipora.

Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia

Mentawai Islands, Sumatra. Photo by Claire

Medan

The largest city in Sumatra, Medan is often maligned as a tourist spot and only used as an entry and exit point for the nearby Lake Toba and Bukit Lawang, although to miss Medan altogether is to miss a trick. Internationally it may not be well known, but within Indonesia is it considered one of the country’s premium foodie destinations, particularly in neighboring Java, and visitors flock here just to eat and drink their way around the city. If you are using Medan is your main entry point on to other things in Indonesia, then at least make sure to sample some of its culinary delights before you leave, such Soto Medan, a spicy coconut milk based soup often eaten for breakfast and Mie Aceh, curried fried noodles.

Medan Grand Mosque, Sumatra, Indonesia

Grand Mosque, Medan, Sumatra. Photo by Ismail Batubara

Lake Toba

As you move around North Sumatra, one of premium attractions here is Lake Toba, which has the claim to fame of being the largest crater lake in the world, having been formed by a massive eruption of a now dormant volcano, or, if you believe the local legend, by a magic fish. Lake Toba is known for being the home of the Batak, one of the main indigenous groups in Sumatra, and the tombs of Batak kings of old as well as traditional Batak style houses can all be visited at Lake Toba.

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Holmes Nainggolan

Padang

Padang is yet another place in Sumatra that is raved about by domestic travelers and largely ignored by international tourists. One of the main reasons that foreign tourists go to Padang is to move on to other places like the Mentawai Islands, and so the city has a wide range of accommodation options and facilities, but the biggest draw here is the food. Widely touted as the best food in the whole of Indonesia (a lofty claim in a county with over 17,000 islands) Padang food comes in the form of the ubiquitous Nasi Padang, a range of small plates of vegetables, curries, and accompaniments like tofu or tempe (compressed soybeans) served with rice.

Bukit Lawang

Orang Utan Sanctuary at Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia

Orang Utan Sanctuary at Bukit Lawang, Sumatra. Photo by Arian Zweger

To the north of Medan, you will find Bukit Lawang, most well known for its Orang Utan sanctuary that aims to rehabilitate these precious primates and reintroduce them into the wild. Bukit Lawang lies at the beginning of Gunung Leuser National Park, a protected area of jungle that stretches up into Aceh Province and due to its unspoilt charms it’s is a great place to go trekking and check out some of the local flora and fauna.

Pulau Weh

Pulau Weh is arguably one of the most beautiful islands in Indonesia, but unfortunately, most visitors never make the trip up there to find out. Located off the coast of Aceh Province, Pulau Weh has some of the best diving and snorkeling in Indonesia and is thankfully far less crowded than other beach locations, while still having just enough visitors to ensure that tourists will be well catered for.

Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia

Pulau Weh, Sumatra. Photo by Chalz

Banda Aceh

The capital of Aceh Province, Banda Aceh has sadly become synonymous with the devastating tsunami of 2004, although a trip here also offers a glimpse into a very different way of life to the rest of Indonesia. The Tsunami Museum, in particular, is an extremely moving experience, and the majestic Grand Mosque is an example of the beauty of Islamic architecture and is also well worth a visit to learn more about this conservative corner of the country. As Aceh is also famous for its coffee, visitors shouldn’t miss a trip to one of Banda Aceh’s most famous coffee shops, Warung Kopi Solong.

Nias

Bali may claim it has the best surfing in Indonesia but Nias has a well-established surf scene for those in the know. The island of Nias is perfect for those looking to get away from the crowds at Kuta, and there is just the right mix of facilities like guesthouses with a serene and unhurried atmosphere that is often lost in frenetic Bali. Aside from the surfing, Nias has some amazing local rituals such as stone jumping.

Nias, Sumatra, Indonesia

Nias, Sumatra. Photo by Atlas Obscura

Bukittinggi

The best thing about Bukittinggi may not be the city itself, but actually, the areas that surround it, and in particular the gorgeous Lake Maninjau that ripples with clear emerald waters and is firmly off the tourist trail. Located in West Sumatra, Bukittinggi is home to the Minangkabau, the indigenous people of the area, so it’s also a great place to find sweeping unique Minangkabau architecture and learn more about this matriarchal society.

Lake Meninjau at Bukittinggi, Sumatra, Indonesia

Lake Meninjau at Bukittinggi, Sumatra. Photo by Wikimedia

Palembang

The capital of South Sumatra, Palembang’s claim to fame is that it is one of the oldest cities of Indonesia, as well as being the center of the Srivijaya Kingdom in the days of yore. What makes Palembang a worthy stop in Sumatra is its status as a port town and its position on the Musi River. Many of the city’s main attractions are located along the river, and there are also quaint floating restaurants on local wooden boats that serve some of the best food in Palembang.

Even though still under the radar of the tourists of Indonesia, Sumatra has a lot of interesting tourist attractions to offer. Do you have another must visit place in Sumatra? Share with us so that we can learn more about what Sumatra has to offer.

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Going Local in Sumatra: Berastagi and Lake Toba

While Bali and Jakarta are high on most people’s must-see lists in Indonesia, the culture, mountains and waterfalls of North Sumatra were calling my name more than the beaches and cities crowded with heaps of tourists. By getting off the beaten track, I wasn’t only able to get a deeper feel for the country; I was able to leave my own impression on the nation as well.

Although my destination was only 40 miles from the Medan airport, crude roads and the occasional bovine traffic jam meant that getting to Berastagi took around 2 hours. The public transportation system also meant that this time was spent in the back of a crowded van painted with such vibrant colors that I could have sworn its original use was for transporting clowns.

Finally arriving at my destination, I found myself facing a dusty street lined with shops that seemed to be acting as venues for card games and lively conversations more than actual retail outlets. The fronts of houses were worn and many featured badly chipping paint, but their inhabitants carried a friendly and pleasant air that floated through the streets.

Mangosteens at Berastagi Market, Sumatra, Indonesia

Mangosteens at Berastagi Market, Sumatra

Almost immediately after getting out of the van, I was greeted with a lively wave by a fit man of 30. He looked upon me with kind eyes as if he was looking upon an old friend. After a brief moment, he introduced himself as Abdy Sitanggang, my host from Nachelle’s Homestay. My mind then clicked back to the endless emails we had exchanged prior to my arrival. Abdy had always been enthusiastic in his communication and was even more so in person. This seemed to be something the man carried in endless supplies as he immediately began to urge that we take off and explore the traditional market. Eager to see something that still excited a local, I promptly agreed. Pleased with my decision and bursting with pride, Abdy began explaining that as “Berastagi” means “rice store”, the town’s market is vital to its 40,000 residents.

I quickly found this importance to be far from an exaggeration as the moment I entered the market; I was met with open-air stalls, bursting with vibrantly coloured fruits and lively chatter. Abdy’s excitement fit right in as he bounded towards a large pile of round purple fruits topped with fluorescent green leaves. “Do you know what these are?” he asked excitedly. I made a guilty face in response; fearful my lack of knowledge would come as a disappointment. However, Abdy smiled on to explain: “they are mangosteens,” winking at the stall owner and taking a fruit off the top of the pile “see how this one is purple and squishy? That means it is the tastiest,” he explained as he peeled the purple skin to reveal a white interior.

Traditional Market, Berastagi, Sumatra, Indonesia

Traditional Market, Berastagi, Sumatra

I then took off to explore the market on my own and while wandering past a shop bursting with cheery flowers, I heard a group of school children call out “miss, miss” from behind me. When I turned towards the group, they began fiddling with their hands and whispering nervously to each other. Finally, one of the girls was pushed to the front of the pack and asked it I would practice English with them. I wasn’t going to deny them something as simple as my time, so I agreed. With this, the kids immediately began rummaging through their school bags to pull out notebooks filled with perfectly handwritten English phrases.

Their meek demeanours immediately vanished and I received inquisitions about things like: “what is your favourite colour?” and “do you like Indonesia?”. As I had only just arrived in the country, I told the kids they were my favourite part of Indonesia and was met by beaming faces.

The region offered more than traditional marketplaces however, and the next morning, Abdy and I embarked on a trek up Mount Sibayak, a stratovolcano three miles out of Berastagi, at 3am the following morning to reach its peak for sunrise. We headed towards the summit in the pitch dark while being guided only by a small flashlight. Despite having summited several mountains in the Canadian Rockies, all of my previous climbs had been during the day and trekking at night was a completely different experience. Despite my hiking boots, the lack of lighting meant I almost lost my footing on several occasions and instead of the usual treetop vistas, the sky was the main attraction, hosting the largest collection of stars I had ever seen.

The peak offered more surprises as we were greeted by groups of local children also eagerly awaiting the view with more zeal than I thought was possible for anyone to have at such an early hour. When the sun began to peak over the horizon, the sky erupted with pink and orange light. With each passing minute, more of the landscape was revealed and surrounding mountains seemed to appear from out of thin air.

Sunrise at Berastagi, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Sunrise at Berastagi, Sumatra

Once the sun had fully risen, I began my descent back down. The trail was incomparable to what I had experienced on my way up as I could now see the dense foliage and sharp outcropping of sulphuric rock that surrounded it.

My final excursion then took me to Lake Toba. Abdy explained this site as a caldera from an ancient volcano, which over time became inactive and flooded from a stream flowing down the tallest waterfall in Indonesia. This Sipiso-piso falls drop down a height of 360 feet before releasing their waters into the largest volcanic lake in the world at 702 square miles.

After trekking around the falls and witnessing the water rush powerfully off the cliff-face, Abdy took me to the small village of Tongging for lunch along the lake’s shore. Here, we entered a bright blue building overhanging right into the lake. There was a selection of tables, but I opted for a seat on a mat by the windows in order to get a full view of my surroundings. Rugged green mountains met trees with bright violet flowers before plummeting into shimmering turquoise waters. With a slight haze in the distance, the lake seemed to extend infinitely into the horizon.

Shops at Lake Toba, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Shops at Lake Toba, Sumatra

As much as I wanted to gaze simply upon the calm waters and breath the clean, crisp air, Abdy pulled me away to introduce me to “the best cook on Lake Toba”. To my bewilderment, this cook turned out to be a spunky young girl of 13, Lina. Despite her young age, she lived up to her title, giving me a full demonstration on how to catch, cook and season Tilapia to perfection.

The process began by using a large net to remove the fish from their pen. Then, a couple of incisions were made and rubbed with lemon juice, onions and curry paste. Once the fish had been fully coated, Lina then placed it in a pan a top a wood burning stove to grill for about 5 minutes on each side. Once the fish was prepared, we all sat down to enjoy our creation. Although full sets of cutlery were put out, Lina and Abdy dug into their saucy fish with bare hands and I decided to dig right in as well. While enjoying crispy and spicy mouthfuls of fish and picking out a surprisingly large amount of bones for such a small animal, Lina asked in broken English about my favourite colours and what I liked most about Indonesia. Clearly wanting to practice her English, I told her my favourite thing about the country was her fish and asked her about her favourite colours and what she liked most about Indonesia. Without hesitation, she replied: “I like to teach nice people like you how to cook fish here”.

Tilapia fish at Traditional meal, Lake Toba, Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

Tilapia fish at Traditional meal, Lake Toba, Sumatra

We continued to chat as a gentle lake shore breeze wafted across the restaurant. I looked out over the lake and couldn’t help but get caught in the infinite aquatic beauty that extended around me. As I admired the crystalline waters and the lush arbours mountain-scape, I realized the landscape wasn’t the only besieging allure at Lake Toba. There was also a kind, welcoming beauty in the new friendships that were forming.

Despite coming from upbringings half a world apart, I was able to create honest connections with Abdy and Lina. Since my visit, I’ve kept in contact with both of them and have come to see that it only take a few days to lay the foundation for a lasting friendship.

I had come to Sumatra to hike volcanoes in the middle of the night and visit waterfalls. While I accomplished both these feats, neither was the highlight of my journey. Instead, the new friendships I made took centre stage and opened my eyes to a whole new aspect of travel.

Guest Post by Judi Zienchuk
Nachelle Homestay
Address: Jalan Kenanga No. 82, Berastagi, Indonesia
Phone: +62 821-6275-7658
Website: https://www.facebook.com/NachelleHomeStay

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