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Lake Toba

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Biking and hiking on Samosir island

lake toba samosir island

View of the morning from our doorstep.With a view like that, it’ll be such a pity not to act like idiots in front of it. So we did.

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This picture takes the cake though… Stef’s face… Simply no words… And don’t you love my high-cut bikini flash?

Samosir Villa Resort’s complimentary breakfast was nothing to shout about at all. It was mostly carbs, but the glass noodles and rice were pretty good.

Samosir Villa Resort breakfast

View from Samosir Villa Resort
Panoramic view from the alfresco dining area.

After spending a night in the presidential suite that was way too big for the 3 of us — it even had a working kitchen which we didn’t make use of — we hopped over to the next accommodation. We wanted to ask about getting a cab there because Stef and Shanna had luggages, which weren’t great for dragging along the pitted roads here, so we approached the concierge on duty that day at Samosir Villa Resort. But he was extremely unhelpful and rude. 

Stef: Hi, can we get a taxi or car to Bagus Bay?
Staff: No. (Looks away)

No. No suggestions, no apologies. Just. NO. Gee, thanks.

So we stomped off grudgingly and made the short, pretty painless walk there. Bagus Bay was recommended by Stef’s colleague, and our room reservation was made over a brief SMS to one of the staff there. No deposit, no confirmation email needed. We simply turned up at the lobby and asked for Sabah.

The place had a very laid-back, shabby charm to it, and I immediately felt more at ease here compared to the more standard hotel we had the night before. And although our room was not ready, Sabah was very nice about it, which put us back into a good holiday mood. So we left our stuff with him, and headed out on our scooters! The plan was to get to Tele tower, an elevated spot on the mainland that promises one of the best views of the lake and Samosir. The lady whom we rented the bikes from estimates that we’ll reach in about 3-4 hours. I was pretty stoked to get on the bike again because my last experience biking around Sapa in Vietnam left me wanting more.

Samosir island villages
Whizzed pass many village scenes like this.

The main roads were good, the air was cool, and there were few cars on the road. So it was pure bliss riding through the surrounding villages, with the lake on one side and greenery enveloping the rest of the area. I had to put a brake on the scenic route, however, when a pile of durians caught my eye. I just got to have it! Eating durians with your hands by the roadside is definitely one of my favourite things to do in South East Asia.

We did just that, and the locals walking by or zipping pass us on their bikes couldn’t stop staring at the three Chinese girls who were stuffing their faces with the creamy durian flesh. After I was very, very satisfied (Stef and Shanna kindly let me have most of it as I fucking love durian) we set off to cross the bridge that connects Samosir to the main land.

Samosir island mountain town

Lake Toba view from Samosir island

Near Tele viewpoint

We arrived at the foot of the mountain that Tele was located on right about the time when the sky started to really darken. You see those cuts in the mountain in the picture below? Those are the windy roads we needed to ride up in order to get to Tele. It was beginning to drizzle, and without the weather on our side, we thought it was better not to risk our amateur riding skills on those roads which had no shelter. So it was with much sadness that we made the decision to turn back.

Route to Tele

Lake Toba foggy weather
The sun was nowhere in sight, but I loved the shroud of mystery this lousy weather brought upon the lake.

Lake Toba panorama

This region was also known for its nautral hot springs, but we were disappointed that all the hot springs were blocked off and chargeable. The entire place looks decrepit and unattractive, so we just settled at a nearby coffee shop for lunch. After we settled down and placed our orders, I spotted a little boy holding a chubby puppy, and the rest was history.

Cute puppies
He showed me to the back of the coffee shop where a litter of the cutest little puppies were stumbling about in their DIY pen.
Cute puppies
Seeing that I had a camera, he proceeded to take out all the groggy puppies to show them off.
Cute puppies with village kids
He was the oldest brother, and instructed all his siblings to pose for this lovely family portrait.

I was very amused at how the kids were real cam whores, and went on to pose for me very willingly. They were in turn very amused when I showed them the images I took on my camera. This was the most fun I’ve had while waiting for food to arrive. The cook was their mum, and boy was she an awesome one.

Samosir island Mee Goreng.
My heavenly plate of oily Mee Goreng.
Village kids
I’ll miss these munchkins… (Photo: Shanna)

The rain poured down relentlessly from the time we started lunch till we got back to Bagus Bay. It should’ve been a miserable ride, drenched to the bone and far from home. But it was still helluva fun. Perhaps it was the holiday mood, but it’s something that I didn’t regret. I was very proud of my girls too because all of us made it back in good spirits. We set out at 9:30am and returned at 5:30pm in one piece! What an adventure.

Riding on Samosir island
All smiles despite the shitty rain!

DAY 2

The day got off to a pretty strange start. I was still feeling stuffed from the awesome dinner at the restaurant in our accommodation the night before, and decided to go for a chicken cheese salad instead. Sounds pretty safe right? Never would I have expected something like this…

Coleslow sandwich
It turned out to be a weird sandwich filled with coleslaw-ish fillings that had chicken, cheese, pineapple, carrot, bean sprouts, and tomato. Yuck.
Badminton at Bagus Bay
A game of badminton in the hot hot sun to warm up. (Photo: Shanna)

The plan for the day was to get a map and hike our way through the jungle and search for the nearest waterfall, which was located behind Tomok. But Sabah advised us not to as the trail is not clearly marked and we’d surely get lost. So he did us a favour and got his cousin, Romano, to take us for USD 25. While we were waiting for him, a group of children, each with a pen and notebook in hand, walked up beside us and kept saying “Miss, miss, do you have a moment please. Miss, you speak English, miss? Where you from, miss?” We got quite scared because we thought they were trying to preach. It was a Sunday, and the majority of the people on Samosir island are Christians.

When we finally spoke to them, we found out that they were just trying to complete their English assignment, which required them to ask tourists some simple questions in English. So they asked us things like what we liked about Lake Toba, how we find the locals, where we’re from, what we’ve done on our trip so far. It was quite cute actually. And to prove that their notes were not made up, it was also required that they take pictures with their interviewees!

Samosir island village kids
Shanna’s 5 minutes of fame.
Samosir island village kids
And this is the group who interviewed me.

Our scenic scenic stroll towards the jungle.

Even before the real hike began, we were already grateful to have a guide as the dirt paths leading towards the start of the jungle trail didn’t have any signs, and we would’ve gotten terribly lost.

Samosir island trekking
Romano leading us into the bushes.
Samosir island trekking
Don’t you love Stef’s choice of outfit for the hike? Pretty brunch dress, sling bag, and sport shoes. Super on trend.

The hike was not a walk in the park. There were constant inclines, and it was quite challenging to keep up with Romano, who powered on like he does this every day. (Although he doesn’t. So I guess we’re just not as fit. Haha.) But I loved the challenge. I enjoy being in nature, and in this trek was more about the journey than the destination because honestly, the views up there weren’t jaw droppingly gorgeous.

Samosir island trekking view
View from halfway through the trek.
Samosir island trekking waterfall
View from the bottom of the waterfall.

We had to cross some pretty slippery, narrow paths that dropped off to a great height on one side, and I was very proud of Shanna, who overcame her acrophobia and completed the trek despite may attempts to convince us to turn back. As you can see, the view of the waterfall isn’t anything to shout about. But I won’t say that this trek is not worth it because I personally enjoyed the trek itself. It’s quite an adrenaline rush, especially when trying to scale high and slippery rocks. I got my pants and shoes all muddy, but it was good fun.

Samosir island trekking dirty feet

Samosir island farm animals
Passed a farm on the way back.
Samosir island locals gambling
Had a water break next to some locals who were very engrossed in their gambling.
Samosir island trekking outfit
Still amused at my friends’ hiking outfits.
Samosir island waterfall
The waterfall as seen from afar.

Lake Toba view from Samosir island

Samosir island music festival
This was a very trippy moment when an entire orchestra made up of white people came marching past us. They were in town for a music festival.
Bagus Bay on Samosir island
Back at Bagus Bay. We were putting up in the traditional Batak house on the left.
Bagus Bay on Samosir island
The gorgeous view from our front porch.

It was already threatening to rain during the hike, and while we were relaxing in our room and waiting for dinner time, the weather turned from gloomy to a full-on raging thunderstorm. So we were stuck. We wanted to venture out further to Bamboo restaurant which Romano recommended, but we had to stick to Bagus Bay’s restaurant again because the storm wasn’t letting up at all.

Bagus Bay restaurant
Our greedy girls feast.

The Lake Toba lobsters was their signature dish, and it’s not expensive at all. We had the BBQ sauce lobsters the previous night, so this time round we tried the stir fried version. Both were super good, but I preferred the BBQ sauce. My main dish for this dinner was stir fried noodles, and again, their carbs don’t disappoint at all! Bagus Bay has this system where they put all our bills on the final tab, so I don’t have a clear idea of how much each meal cost. But we estimated that each meal should add up to USD 20 for all 3 of us, including drinks. (Their avocado milkshake is the best!) Most dishes, except the lobster, cost around USD 2 – 3.

The final tab for Bagus Bay, which includes 2 nights stay and food (breakfast and dinner on both days), came up to USD 114. The traditional Batak house that we stayed in only costs USD 25 / night during the peak season!

DAY 3

It’s time for one last morning stroll before bidding this lovely lake goodbye and make our looooong car ride back to the airport…

Lake Toba view from Bagus Bay
More gloomy, chilly weather…

It has been a blast, Bagus Bay! I would recommend every backpacker visiting Lake Toba to stay here.

Lake Toba ferry
Bye bye!

Lake Toba: A forgotten destination

“Huh, why you go there?”

That was the most common reaction I got when I mentioned that I was heading to Lake Toba. It was a popular tourist destination when our parents  were still dating, and has long been bumped off the list of trendy places to visit. But when Stef brought up the idea of going there for a short trip and I did a quick Google image search, I knew that I had to witness its beauty first hand.

The journey there isn’t what most comfort creatures would call easy. After the short flight from Singapore to Medan (SGD 223 via Silkair), it took us another 4.5-hour car ride (USD 54 one way for the whole car) to get to the lake.

But hell, was it worth it.

Lake Toba view from mainland
First view of the vast lake.

The lake is gigantic. It’s mind-boggling because it looks as vast as a sea. You couldn’t see the end of it, making it rather hard to believe that we’re standing on a landlocked area. Our main destination is in fact on Samosir, the island in the middle of the lake that’s almost the size of Singapore. (You can get a tiny glimpse of it on the left side of the picture above.)

[stag_map lat=”2.62744″ long=”98.79218″ width=”100%” height=”350px” style=”none” zoom=”6″]

Whilst waiting for the ferry ride (USD 0.80 each) to the island, we were very happy to have a casual lunch at a local Nasi Padang stall. The total bill for the meal added up to a mind blowing USD 5.

Ferry across Lake Toba to Samosir island
That’s our ride on the left.

Ferry across Lake Toba to Samosir island

We planned to stay for 3 nights, and chose Samosir Villa Resort for the first night. It was one of the more upmarket accommodation, and the chalet-like villa we got, that could fit a family of 4-5 comfortably, cost USD 125/night (including breakfast).

Samosir Villa Resort
That’s our suite on the ground floor.

It was already late afternoon when we got everything settled, so we decided to take it easy for the rest of the day and headed out for an aimless stroll.

Samosir island village girl with puppy
Shanna endearingly nicknamed her SPG (Sarong Puppy Girl).

We wandered into Hora’s Family Home, which had a lovely backyard filled with unusual plants, a very healthy-looking vegetable patch, puppies, and rabbits.

The entire town seems to be half asleep, so we joined the lethargy by stopping for some drinks at one of the many convenience stores that offered everything from laundry service to magic mushrooms. There was an overly jovial (and we think slightly high) lady mending the store we settled at, and she mentioned that she rented out scooters too. We were planning to explore the island on our own the next day, so we took up her offer to try the bikes out. Everything seems to be in order, and agreed to take 2 bikes (USD 7 each for the entire day) for the 3 us. You simply can’t turn down someone with such an infectious laughter.

Saomsir island lake toba diving board

I went for a dip in the lake in the gloomy evening, and was quite disappointed as the waters were not only cold, but had strong undercurrents too. With the sun shaded by the clouds, it wasn’t that enjoyable to relax by the waters either. The impending darkness and gusty winds soon drove us back into the comfort of our expensive villa.

For dinner, we heeded Wikitravel’s recommendation and headed for Today’s Cafe. I really loved how laid back it was. Our order took damnnnnnnnn long to come as there were only 2 girls cooking and serving. We had special fried noodles and rice, as well as stir fired veggies with tofu. Together with my avacado milkshake with chocolate, the entire meal was nothing but glorious. There’s just something about South East Asian countries and stir fried carbohydrates. I always have to shake my head in disappointment every time I see a white tourist order Western dishes at a local restaurant. Anyway, the dinner cost us a total of USD 12 only!!!

Saomsir island Today's Cafe
Shanna camouflaged.

That’s the end of day 1! Stay tuned for our scooter adventure in the next post.

Rented bike on Samosir Island
Stef in front, and me with Shanna as my pillion behind her. (Image: Shanna)
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