During the 4-day tour, except for the last day which was a free and easy day, much of our time was spent on the bus, travelling from one location to another.
Basically, apart from Lake Toba which is the main attraction of this trip, and an impressive new Chinese temple in Brastagi, the rest of the attractions are less interesting although of historical values.
Day 1 – Travel from Medan to Parapat (more than 5 hours by bus, with one stop-over at a local tidbits shop)
Day 2 – Tour of Samosir Island (on Lake Toba) and transfer to Brastagi.
What a charming natural attraction! The lake is like an oasis of serenity amidst the backward rural settings. We did not remember it was this enjoyable 20 years ago. A friend teased that this is because we only had eyes for each other then but I see this as another change in us – a better appreciation for nature as we grow older. :) Both of us also share the same view that Lake Toba is far nicer than the well known West Lake in Hangzhou, China which we visited in 2005.
Along the way, we were entertained with Batak songs by these two young enterprising boys and of course, it is not for free. Towards the end of their performance, one of them came around collecting tips with his cap.
These shop/stall owners are desperate for business but yet they would always start with a high opening price that could scare the potential buyers off. According to our tour guide, we must bargain with them and ask for as much as 60-70% off the opening price! Wow… anyway, we did not buy any souvenir from these attractions at all. 20 years ago, we bought a set of 3 beautifully hand-painted, wood-crafted fish and they are still looking good at home.
King Ompu Ni Ujung Barita Sidabutar’s sarcophagus (stone coffin), that has a likeness of the king on the front and the woman Anting Malela at the back. King Ompu Ni Ujung Barita Sidabutar was an important ruler.
Yes, we visited the tomb on the first day of Chinese New Year! Well, DS and I are not the superstitious type but a tour member joked that she has to go to the temple to pray after returning to Singapore!
Samosir Villas, one of the hotels available on Samosir Island. There are quite a number of choices of hotels on this island. Another one is Toledo Inn which we stayed for a night 20 years ago. This shot was taken on our way from Tomok Village to Ambarita , another ancient Batak village on Samosir Island.
Saw this at the entrance to the Ambarita Village but not sure what it is. It was not explained by our tour guide. Unlike the Malaysian group, our group was just a little unlucky to have a lousy guide.
Each of these houses has three stories. The ground floor is for rearing poultry. According to the guide, these houses do not have toilet but there is a hole made on the floor of the second level for the residents to pass motion directly to the ground level. The second floor is for adults and it is divided into two areas for men and women. The top floor is for children.
Tour guide for the Malaysian group demonstrating the execution with the help of a local boyTools used for execution. See that little booklet on the left. It was used to choose a “good” date for the execution.
After lunch, we embarked on our bus ride from Parapat to Brastagi which took more than 6 hours with three brief stops along the way. It started to rain in the early evening. With the poor and slow traffic conditions, it was already 8pm by the time we checked into Grand Mutiara Hotel in Brastagi. I was very tired after a very long day that started from 7am.
Day 3 – Tour of Brastagi and transfer to Medan
A big lobby at the reception floor. The guest rooms are big too but the maintenance was poor. I described it as 5-star hotel (as told by our tour guide) with 3-star guest rooms! The basin in our room was leaking and our bathroom was “flooded” after we used the basin.
Brastagi (meaning “rice store”) is a town situated between the Karo Highlands and the city of Medan. The main attractions of the town are the two active volcanoes, Gunung Sibayak and Gunung Sinabung. According to our tour guide, the temperature in Brastagi used to be very cool (below 10 degrees Celcius) when he was a kid (more than 25 years ago) but it is no longer so nowadays after too much of deforestation.
The local market which DS and I did not find interesting at all as compared to the local markets in Japan (like Tsukiji Market in Tokyo and Kuromon Market in Osaka). However, I was glad to see some beautiful flowers in the flower stalls. :) 20 years ago, this market was not included in the itinerary.
Our journey to Medan took us less than three 3 hours. In Medan, we visited Maimoon Palace, home of the Sultan of Deli and a well known landmark in the city that was built in 1888. The Sultanate of Deli is one of the Sultanate in northern Sumatra in the 19th century but they no longer hold office powers these days. The current sultan is only 11 years old and residing in Sulawesi with his mother. His dad died in the Medan plane crash in 2005.
There was a Palace guide who showed us around and spoke very fluent English. He claimed that he knows five languages including German and French. His mum is residing in Bishan, Singapore!
The rest of the day was spent shopping at a Batik shop and Medan Fair shopping mall.
After a very dissatisfied Nasi Padang lunch earlier the day, we decided to find some food in Medan Fair shopping mall to soothe ourselves. However, it turned out to be yet another disappointment!
Day 4 – Free and Easy Day
I like this day the best as there was no more 6am morning call, and we were free to do whatever we like! As there were not much interesting sightseeing to do, we decided to spend the day at Sun Plaza, the largest and newest shopping mall in the city of Medan, which is just a short walk away from Danao Toba hotel.
Do we want to visit Lake Toba for the third time, perhaps another 20 years later? Well, before the trip, I thought it would be wonderful to do so again if by God’s grace, both of us are still alive and healthy then. However, after this trip, we are certain that we will not want to return anymore although this place holds some special memories for us, unless there will be helicopters that fly directly from Medan to Lake Toba in future! It is also not usual for us to repeat our holiday destinations since there are still many places that we have not been to.
Nevertheless, this second visit to Lake Toba is certainly very meaningful to us. I count this a great blessing. I pray that DS and I will have many more blissful years ahead, and also be able to accumulate a lot of wonderful travel experiences and memories together the rest of our lives.