The Journey in North Sumatra – 1

This is really embarrassing, I haven’t updated this blog for a month and this update is on the trip I had in March! Which is a long time a go now. I have forgotten a large part of the trip. *sighs

My nice excuse is the mouse on my computer is broken so I couldn’t do edit the photo size easily,  but really I have just been really lazy. 😀


On my trip to Sumatra I started in Medan of course, landed late at night, but was determined to do something before going back to the hotel for an early start. Durian is first in my head, Medan is famous for it. My luck hits me again, the Durian season has just ended. D’oh! (as Homer Simpson would say). However with  local knowledge (my uncle) we managed to find somewhere which still sells Durian. Rp.50,000 per Durian was extortionate, they say they had to get it from outside North Sumatra that is why it is so expensive, they were also really small. My cousin said the month before she bought some massive Durian from Rp.15- 20,000, when they were in season. Because I had to eat Durian, and considering that in Europe you probably get one small size for that, I thought blow it, it is still cheap.

Durian Stall 1 in Medan

Here is the Tukang (Indonesian generally call builders or those who sells) packing up some durian so people can take them home.

Durian Packaging Medan

Vihara Lumbini

Started our journey the next morning at about 8am towards Toba lake. We stopped along the way at a few places, first at Vihara Lumbini, a Buddhist Centre. You would have go through some track, to discover the site. The site of the large vihara almost seems like it is out of place. It is free to go there, just remember to take of your shoes.

You may know Indonesia as a country only acknowledge 5 religions: Islam, Katholic, Protestant Christian, Buddhist and Hindu. On your citizen card, religion is one of the subjects that you need to put in, beside your date of birth and your gender. There is no such thing as being an Atheist or Agnostic or others. But then again we have all the sacred holidays acknowledged too, the country would have a day or two off for each of the religion holidays, not like in UK or the Netherlands for example you only have Christmas off.

Anyway I digress, the vihara is worth the stop, they have lovely gardens with lotus and the decoration on the temple is pretty too. I learnt today that the name Lumbini is derived from a Buddhist pilgrimage site in Nepal, it is a place where Buddha lived until he was 29.

Vihara Lumbini

Si Piso-Piso Waterfall

From this trip to Indonesia I can gather that we are definitely not lacking of waterfalls they are everywhere. This the famous Si Piso-Piso waterfall.  We arrived late in the afternoon, it was really quiet, I think in high season this place must be heaving. The waterfall is 120 meters high, and located about 800 meter above sea level, the water flows from a cave on the side of Lake Toba. Great view of the waterfall and of the lake.

Sipiso-Piso Waterfall North Sumatra

The view from the top of Lake Toba.

Lake Toba North Sumatra

Sipiso-piso Waterfall North Sumatra


Now here is where the driver took us, Berastagi Fruit Market, I think maybe this is where every tourist wants to see, as for me it is the most quiet market I have ever been therefore it didn’t feel like one. From this I assume locals don’t really visit this market. It is a very stale market indeed.

Pasar Buah Berastagi

There are however these cool roofs near the car park. So don’t forget to look up if you are there.

Roof of Pasar Buah Berastagi North Sumatra

We then traveled to Perapat, where we stayed in a hotel before an early morning ferry ride to Samosir Island.

Ancient Sarcophagus of King Sidabutar

In Samosir Island we visited the Sarcophagus of Raja Sidabutar . Raja is Indonesian for King, but I think after listening to the history of it, he might be just a Tribe leader/chief. Sidabutar is still a family name of Bataknese, I am assuming that the Bataknese family name similar to Scottish Family name is a clan name too. And like Scottish clans they have leaders, their own rituals, own Ulos design (Ulos: Bataknese Ikat). Do correct me if I am wrong.

The story is Chief Sidabutar was supernaturally strong , and similar to Samson (from the Bible) he will lose his power if his hair was cut. Beside the sarcophagus there were statues of elephants, which represents the elephants that he gave to his wife for a wedding gift. (what a wedding gift, right? wasn’t love enough for this girl? hahahha).

To go into the area of the tomb you have to put on an Ulos, you could give a donation for the upkeep of the site, obviously you don’t have to. But think about the car parking you have to pay for the small privilege of having a small space in Europe/America or the tons of money you pay to go in a museum, don’t you think Rp.10.000 (0.80 Euro cent/$/£) or more  is nothing considering you are visiting an ancient tomb?

King Sidabutar Burial Ground

Next on the itinerary is Village Ambarita. This an ancient village where you can see traditional houses, burial grounds, and ancient meeting place.

Carving on a house in Ambarita Village Samosir Island Indonesia

There are guides around that could speak English or Indonesian. This is our guide who is a descendant of the King of the village. It was one of my favourite part of the trip, as he tells us about the symbols on the houses, Bataknese culture, and they way they used to live in the village. He even rectified the legend saying that Bataknese were Canibals. All very fascinating.

Tour Guide Ambarita Samosir Island Indonesia

You can also see how an Ulos is made. This is the only lady in the village who is still able to make Ulos. As I mentioned before Ulos is the traditional fabric made using ikat techniques. I asked how does she decide the patterns or decorations that she wants; because the way it is made,  maker sees the back of the design, one can only see the result when it is finished. She said she just has it in her head. Genius! right? How?

Each Ulos takes around 3 weeks to months to make. Each are different with its own different purposes. I bought one that the lady had made which was Rp25,000

Ulos Maker Kampung Ambarita

We then spend the rest of the day in Samosir, lounging around, watching the beautiful scenery, eating fried banana (pisang goreng). Whilst doing this we were lucky enough to have seen a rehearsal of Tor-Tor dance in our hotel.

Tor-Tor is a traditional Bataknese dance, its name derives from the sound of the stamping done in the dance. Traditionally the dance was performed in ritual ceremony of death, harvest, healing and at young people’s parties. Now it is used everywhere, usually to convey messages, the duration of the dance depends on the message, as soon as the message is conveyed than they would stop (source: National Geographic Indonesia).

Here are pictures of the dancers, when they dance they are accompanied by traditional bamboo flutes and drums.

Tor Tor Dancers

Tor tor Dancers in Samosir

Pretty and colourful aren’t they?

Pfiiuh, finally first post done, 6 to 8 more to go.

So what do you think? does that make you want to visit North Sumatra? let me know in the comments below. Let me know if you want me to elaborate more on my visit or any help I can give you.

For tips on how to travel in Sumatra check out this post. Next – North Sumatra Trip part 2.