When Jetstar launched its inaugural flight to Medan in 2013, we quickly booked a short break of 5 days 4 nights for March 2014. The last time we visited Medan and Lake Toba was 1991 so it was time to return for a visit after so many years. The return air tickets per person cost just $78 not including airport tax from Medan.
Transfer from Medan to Lake Toba wasn’t so simple. There were cheaper alternatives with public buses or share minibuses but won’t be convenient and comfortable. So we contacted Mr. Baker from Horas Family Holidays to arrange for private transfers from Medan Airport to Parapat via Pematang Siantar and then take a ferry over to Samosir island. The return trip will be via Berastagi for a day tour on the way back to Medan. The transfer cost was 800,000 IDR and 1,000,000 IDR respectively. We requested for a driver who would not smoke in the car and could speak some English so we could communicate a little during our transfer journey.
Our flights details were as follows:
Singapore to Medan 10.40 am to 11.05 am
Medan to Singapore 11.45 am to 2.40 pm
The planned itineraries were as follows:
Day 1 (Samosir Island Lake Toba)
Arrive Medan Airport and direct transfer to Parapat Tiga Raja Harbour
Take ferry to Samosir Island
Check in to Tabo Cottages
Day 2 (Samosir Island)
Activities on Samosir Island
Day 3 (Medan)
Take ferry to Parapat early morning.
Return to Medan via Berastagi for day tour.
Check in Grand Aston City Hall Hotel in Medan
Day 4 (Medan)
Visit Medan City
Shopping in Medan City
Day 5 (Medan)
Take Airport Railink to Medan Airport in the morning
Flight back to Singapore
Day 1 – Singapore to Medan onward to Lake Toba
Though we booked our flight in July 2013 and our departure was March 2014, the day for our trip to Medan came quite quickly. The flight timing to Medan was ideal. We took our time to Changi Airport and had breakfast before our flight. It was just a short flight under an hour. We arrived Medan Airport just after 11 am.
After custom and immigration clearance, we exited the airport to look for our driver Mr. Rahman. We found him without any trouble. So we went to A&W to grab some fast food lunches for ourselves and our driver and off we went towards Lake Toba.
It was around noon and the journey to Tiga Raja Habour would take around 4 hours. We were hoping to catch the 4.30 pm ferry to Samosir island. If we missed this ferry timing, the next ferry would depart at 6 pm. Taking public transportation would be quite impossible to reach Parapat early in order to catch the 4.30 pm ferry to Samosir Island.
Though it was a fast food lunch, we were quite happy with our meals including our driver who seemed to enjoy his lunch very much. The lunch wasn’t very cheap either and we believed our driver would not be having A&W meals often but probably cheaper alternatives with local food.
Along the way, there wasn’t much to see, definitely not some awe-inspiring scenery. We witnessed crazy drivers on the road who drove like some F1 drivers wannabes. In addition, the drivers and even passengers in shared minibuses smoked and we were sure glad we were not travelling in those vehicles.
Our driver Mr. Rahman spoke some English which were passable for some meaningful exchanges and most importantly, he drove safely. The vehicle was a Kijang Innova which was clean with working seatbelts and more than enough space for my wife and myself. The air conditioning was good too. From experience, taxi drivers in Indonesia usually set air conditioning at minimum comfort in order to save money on petrol so we were glad to be travelling in comfort on a hot day. Mr. Rahman also played some English Oldies which lightened the somewhat boring journey. He also listened to English songs to learn English as well.
Eventually, we arrived Tiga Raja Harbour around 4.15 pm and were met by a representative from Mr. Baker’s homestay. We were ushered to a coffee shop to wait for the ferry to depart for Samosir Island.
In about ten minutes, the same representative walked us up the ferry. The ferry left shortly after and we were on our way towards Samosir island. During the journey, a staff came and collected 10,000 IDR from each passenger.
The last time we crossed the lake was over twenty years ago. It wasn’t the same feeling we had back then where this place was a flourishing tourist destination with crowds of people in Parapat and shops doing roaring business. Tiga Raja Habour now looked forlorn and rundown.
Though Lake Toba was still serene and beautiful, it wasn’t the same Lake Toba we used to know. We hoped Samosir Island would offer us something better when we arrived. It was already close to evening time but it was still bright on the lake and the air fresh. After 45 minutes, we arrived at the jetty of Tabo Cottages.
Check in was simple. We booked a Batak Villa for the first night and a Junior Suite for the following night at 450,000 IDR per night as the cheaper deluxe rooms were fully booked. We were given keys to a Batak Villa which was a house on the second floor. It was a house with a Batak architecture roof and Batak style internal furnishing. The room wasn’t luxurious and sparsely furnished.
The double bed was clean and comfortable. Unfortunately, the wall fan mounted across the bed was partially blocked by the stairs leading to the attic. On the attic was a mattress where we could look out a window onto the lake. Lighting in the room was barely sufficient and of course no TV in the room.
The bathroom was huge but the bathtub could be slippery when wet. The hammock in the big balcony was fun to have a relaxing time hanging out for some light reading and enjoying the cool climate on the island. After checking everything in the room and with no complaints, we left Tabo Cottages.
We went over to Horas Family Holidays Homestay next door to look for Mr. Baker to pay him for the transfers arrangement. The staff told us he was having a drink at the café across the street. So we went over to look for him and we sat down to have a chat with him. We were invited to go over to his homestay for a visit when we were free during our stay on the island. After paying him the transfer fees, we went out to look for a restaurant for dinner.
So we walked back towards Tabo Cottages and went a little further. We went into a restaurant across the street from Tabo Cottages recommended by Mr. Baker. We settled down and ordered some local dishes. It was about sunset time and with the simple but delicious food before us, the dinner was indeed very enjoyable. It was our first meal in Lake Toba after twenty three years. Our feelings were hard to express. It was a rather quiet affair. The last time, it was a grand dinner in a hotel restaurant with a huge crowd full of tourists and exuberant Batak singers. This time was a dinner in solitude that perhaps we should be glad to have some quiet time on the island.
After dinner, we took a slow walk back to Tabo Cottages. The air was cool and fresh. However, it was getting dark and there was nothing much to do at night. So we retired earlier as there was no TV in the room. Though air was cool at night but in the room, it was a little stuffy. So the fan across the bed was turned on and even though the wind was partially blocked by the stairs, it was still better than none.
Wifi was working and so connecting with the children back home was the last activity for the day before we closed our eyes to prepare for the next day. Everything was fine at home and so we gladly retired for the day hoping to enjoy ourselves on Samosir Island after such a long time.
Continue to Day 2 …