Sunday, 20 May 2012

TIME OUT IN TOBA- Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia

As we left Aceh province, and entered North Sumatra, the churches took over the mosques in number, headscarves disappeared, and charming, old, wooden cottages lined the road. The journey was long to Samosir Island (the island in the middle of the huge Lake Toba), and on arriving in the rain and dark, we learnt the mini buses were no longer running. So close, yet so far! So we stayed in Pangururan for the night (the eastern side of Samosir Island), and legged it the next day to the backpacker haunt of Tuk Tuk.

We knew this had been a popular place for travelers to rest up on long journeys for years, but we had no idea how many hotels/guesthouse/restaurants/shops there are here. If they ever all fill up, it must be a crazy place. Luckily we were here during off season, and it was very quiet and relaxed. Despite all the facilities, it is somehow a still low-key village, with the only downside the desperation of the locals to sell travelers services- one restaurant owner telling us “I have to be friendly to the foreigners, because there are so many restaurants for them to choose from”. Interesting attitude. After one atmospheric, but potentially uncomfortable night in a traditional Batak house, we found the wonderfully tranquil Liberta Guesthouse, and scored the best room with views over the lake for around AU$6 a night.

Our first house, Tuk Tuk

Our first house, Tuk Tuk

Our Liberta hut, Tuk Tuk

View from Liberta hut, Tuk Tuk

Friendly Indonesian tourists

Love the camera!

Local boys guarding their buffalo

75,000 years ago Mount Toba erupted in a colossal explosion that was apparently the biggest event in the history of mankind. One of the results was Danau (Lake) Toba- the world’s largest and deepest crater lake. Tuk Tuk is a large peninsula on the massive Singapore-sized Samosir Island in the middle of the lake.

Dramatic sky, Tuk Tuk

View of Danau Toba with Tuk Tuk in background

Local cutie

Steps, Tuk Tuk

Link to a video of a rare double rainbow around the sun:

North Sumatra is inhabited by the tuak (palm wine) drinking, pork-loving Batak people, and Lake Toba is their heartland, with a very large population. There are gory stories of the Bataks being cannibals in the past, when enemies were rubbed down with garlic, before their flesh was eaten raw and their blood drunk. Obviously, this practice finished when they converted to Christianity 150 years ago. Although churches are ever-present in the North Sumatra area, and every Sunday, everyone dresses up to go to the service, the Bataks still practice their traditional faith and beliefs, including black magic. I love the story, that after Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic powers tried to convert the strongly proud Bataks, they finally accepted Christianity, because it meant they would be able to eat pork, and because the Christians brought lots of big, fat pigs with them!

 Sunday church-goers

Tomb mixing Christian and traditional elements

Stone carving, Ambarita


Ancient tomb site, Tomok

Egyptian influence? King's tomb, Tomok

Stone carvings, Tomok

Old tomb site, Ambarita

Love those pigs!

We alternated between hanging out in the guesthouse garden taking in the sun and the glorious lake view, eating copious amounts of great food (the avocado and chocolate shakes quickly became a firm favorite),and exploring different areas on the island by foot and motorbike- the south road being by far the most scenically stunning. We found the various ancient ruins scattered around the island interesting- many of them related to the king's tombs, meeting places and sites of grisly executions and cannibalism. The village architecture of North Sumatra has strong influence from other parts of Asia- we were particularly surprised at the similarity to the traditional buildings in Sulawesi.

Traditional village, Pulau Samosir

Easy rider

Beautiful scenery around Pulau Samosir

Rice fields, Pulau Samosir

Beautiful scenery around Pulau Samosir

Colorful shawls at market

Curious, Parapat

The time came for us to tear ourselves away from our comfortable abode at Liberta Guesthouse in Tuk Tuk, Lake Toba, and get back on the road. We will be back!


  1. Great report, as always, and very emotional photos. Many thanks, with love from Taipei, Konni & Matt.

  2. This page covering our ancestors' land has some of the most exquisite travel photos that I come across in the internet. I enjoyed looking at them. And for that I'm grateful. Thanks a lot.

    RSO Pardede
    Abu Dhabi, UAE.