This is a long overdue post. Three other friends and I traveled to Lake Toba in Indonesia from January 16-20, 2014 (Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Lake_Toba). From the resources that we have read off the web, we knew that there isn’t much to do there especially that we are going there right before the peak season, which was Chinese New Year, so it was the lull before the influx (storm) of tourists.
We took a low cost airline from Singapore (Tiger Airways) at 9:00 am and arrived an hour and a half in Medan. But we were not even half way there. We took a cab ride right from the airport to Parapat for a ferry to Samosir island. Our cab ride cost Rp 450,000, which could actually take about 7 pax (excluding the driver). However, if you do not wish to rent the entire multi-purpose vehicle, you can find a taxi that takes 7 pax if you do not mind waiting for more passengers. We heard that there is a train going direct slightly off Parapat and take a cab from there to the terminal for the same period of time (about 4-5 hours), but we could not find any information on the train timings. Thus, we decided to save time and took a taxi even though it is slightly more expensive than the other options. Just be cautious that some of the taxi drivers would initially agree for a fixed price, but when you are about to board the taxi they will revise the price a little bit higher or even use a meter, which you would not even know if it measures accurately. It also pays to know a little bit of Bahasa Indonesia to negotiate with the cab drivers. Cab would usually cost Rp 500,000 but you can negotiate it until Rp 450,000, which we did.
We were fortunate to have a pleasant cab driver, although he drove like he was in a Fast and the Furious movie. Nevertheless, he was skilled in overtaking even in tight spaces. But I was still praying for dear life that we will reach Parapat in one piece.
There were two stop overs to take a loo break. The first one was where most buses and taxis would stop for such, only 45 minutes away from the airport. A local is also located there where you can buy some local snack items and refreshments while you take a 10 minutes break.
The 2nd stop was an hour away from ferry terminal. The place is overlooking the lake itself. Since it was January, the breeze was cooler than usual, and it would be a good time to have a hot coffee or tea. If you and your friends have the entire cab to yourselves, you can ask the driver to stop a little longer have the hot cuppa of coffee.
The last hour was the longest we had since we had that feeling of being so near and yet so far. So we snoozed and sang our way to Parapat (well, it wasn’t only the last hour but ever since we left the airport… haha).
The moment we arrived at Parapat, we immediately inquired about the ferry schedule and cost of tickets. The ticket costs Rp 8,500 per pax only (slightly over US$1) and the ferry leaves every hour. This is a public ferry so be prepared to be with the locals and local tourists. There is a wet market within the vicinity, which could be a little smelly if you are not used to it. However, my friends and I walked around and were amazed by the variety of vegetables and lake-food being sold. We even saw Koi Fishes crowding in one small bucket being sold for a very cheap price (Rp 50,000 per fish!).
Just be aware of the time when you are waiting for the ferry since the sound to signal that it has arrived may be drowned by the noise coming from the wet market. Thus, it is good to keep a lookout for the ferry. Why? It is because people will be just rushing to it and the good seats are gone in seconds.
View from the ferry
The moment we boarded the ferry, we felt very sleepy. It was because of the cool breeze yet sunny day.
That’s me sleeping on the bench (thanks to my friend, CP, who took this stolen shot)
The ferry ride took 45min to 1 hour, depending on the number of stops at every resort. We were the 2nd to the last to disembark the ferry.
Samosir Villas – where we stayed for 4 days and 3 nights
Samosir Villas, I think, is one of the nicer and newer resorts. We booked the hotel via Booking.com and paid only on spot, the moment we arrived. The resort has a nice pool and view of the lake, and since we arrived on Thursday, there were not many tourists yet and we were able to enjoy the peace and quiet before the influx of tourists on Friday.
Even though Samosir Villa is one of the higher end resorts, the management still needs to learn more of entertaining more international guests. Take for example cleaning of the rooms – they don’t on a daily basis. Good thing that we have kept our room clean during the entire duration of our stay. They also don’t change the towels daily. If you take a dip in the pool (which was freezing, by the way, since it was early January), you can’t request for another set of towel. You need to use your own room towel! It was good that we brought our travel towels that dry easily.
The breakfast buffet is also not great, but cooked meals during the day are a-okay. It is highly suggested that you venture outside of the hotel to look for eating places. Tripadvisor provides great suggestions by fellow travelers (look out for me there, too, as a contributor – adventurejunkie23)
Part 2 coming up soon…