Into Indonesia

Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
Trip End May 2010

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Where I stayed

Flag of Indonesia  , Sumatra,
Friday, January 15, 2010

After our stay on fantasy island (see last blog entry), our Thai visas had run out so we had to run for the border! We didn’t really have an idea of where to go next; a quick flip through the SE Asia Lonely Planet highlighted the natural wonders of Indonesia’s largest island, Sumatra: primary rainforest, big, hairy primates, active volcanoes, prodigious waterfalls, deep blue (and clean) crater lakes and the very friendly Batak culture. Check out what we got up to!

Jungle Treks!
Hanging with other primates
Tasty eats!
Batak culture!

The Road to Sumatra
We said our goodbyes to Laoliang (believe us, it was tough) and made our way to Malaysia’s west coast island of Penang, where we hoped to board a ferry to Sumatra. The multiple bus fiasco that we endured trying to get to Penang that evening was a story in itself, but we’ll save you! Needless to say, we slept the night on the bus terminal floor in the small mainland town directly across the water from Penang, and early the next morning, we were ready to tock at the Penang /Sumatra ferry terminal at 6:30am. Turns out that the once-daily ferry service to Sumatra has decreased its schedule to only Mon/Wed/Friday departures and that they’ve swapped the fast ferry for an older, slower ferry (making the crossing a 10 hour epic)! With our hopes dashed for a ferry trip, we grabbed the local bus to the airport, checked the morning flight schedule to Medan, Sumatra. Turns out there was a 9:35am flight for which we quickly bought tickets for. Talk about a scene out of the Amazing Race: sleeping on the bus terminal floor, rushing at pre-dawn to the ferry terminal, turning on our heels to catch the local bus and crawl through morning traffic to the airport, arriving shortly before the flight to buy tickets, checking in and boarding just as the flight was about to close!!

Medan: Beyond Desciption
So after all that travel to get to Sumatra, we were greeted with Medan.   Medan, Indonesia's third largest city, is, bluntly put, a squalid rat hole.  We've been to some pretty roten places on our trip so far (dingy Puerto Montt, Chile, sprawling and pollution-filled Chengdu, China, trash ridden and even more polluted New Dehli, dusty and soulless Uyuni, Bolivia - to name few!), but there's something about Medan that seems to put it above (or below!) the rest.  Maybe it's the combination of deafening, chaotic traffic, over the top air and street pollution, sufficating humidity, open sewer stench, inescapable chain-smoking Indonesian men, blaring muezzins from the lethora of mosques, unexplicably high prices (by Indonesian standards) and the general consensus that ripping off foreigners is the only way to do business?!  So what did we do?  We found the most expensive hotel we could afford and locked ourselves in our rooms and slept!  Then we found a travel agency and booked the first ticket out of town!  (There's a reason we don't have any photos of Medan!)

Jungle Love

We happily left the chaos of Medan behind and headed to Bukit Lawang, a laid-back, jungle settlement located at the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park.  This park is famous for its primary rainforest and extensive wildlife, as well as home to Indonesia's most successful wildlife rehabilitation center.   
Seeing semi-wild orangutans was a blast for sure, but taking the time to talk to extremely knowledgable park rangers is the real treat that most folks miss.  These guys have the most amazing stories of dealing with orangutans through the rehabilitation process, as well tons of wildlife encounters (think tigers, lots of poisonous snakes, etc!).  Ben really digs this stuff!!  

Here is some orangutan footage!

Sandra, a semi-wild orang utan, was rehibilitated at the Gunung-Leuser Orang Utan Rehab center

The next day, we did a jungle trip and stayed for a night in the jungle.  We saw orangutans in the wild, including a middle aged male!  We also saw turtles, black gibbons, baby orangutans and heaps of birds and fruit growing wild.  Camping on the river in the middle of a Sumatran forest was a trip! 
Mother and baby orangutan.

The cook (and the oldest big-kid we've ever met) taking Lindsey hostage

Ben in the Lord of the Flies

We had to strip down and cross the raging river to get to our campsite!

As much fun as it is to hike in a true rainforest, it's also a pain in the ass. The ground is an ever decomposing mix of leaves, watersoaked roots and other organic matter, so hiking is a slippery mess. Our guide accurately calls it jungle skiing! So instead of returning on the trail, our guide built us a raft using tractor innertubes and we floated down the river!!

See the raft in the background?

Where to next you ask?

Bergsteigen in Bergstagi
To Bergstagi to climb one of the nearby volanoes, at 4am no less, to catch the sunrise over Sumatra! The weather was sort of the pits, so the epic views were a little less epic, but the watching the lightening storms over the Malaysia Peninsula in the distant skies was a first for us!

The active volcano, Gunung Sibayak, reeks of sulphur (big surprise). It's quite a place to watch the sunrise!

The three of us, hanging out by ourselves on the windy top of a volcano in Sumatra and watching the sunrise sort of hit us in a sentimental/spirtual way! We were tired from all the craziness in getting to Sumatra from Thailand, then the crazy fun trip in the jungle and now at the summit of a volcano--it really was a bit of trip!!

Ben and Lindsey having their Gortex sunrise moment

Ray and Lindsey struting their stuff!

Meeting the local geothermal energy plant workers

Sumatra's Lake Toba: Chilling in Samosir
Lake Toba and Samosir Cottages (this is where we stayed)

After our hike up the volcano, we jumped back in a van and headed to central Sumatra's, Lake Toba.  In the 90s, Lake Toba was like Thailand is now: packed with backpackers. Somehow with the Tsunami and regular earthquakes hitting Sumatra hard, the Lake Toba has been more of less deserted from the tourist track. As a result, it's a great place to go do basically nothing in an amazingly peaceful and beautiful place for an absolute pittance (read: beachside double rooms run $5US/night). We, of course, still found some stuff to get in to!
The Sipisopiso waterfall (Indonesia's highest waterfall) in the Batak highlands of Sumatra. It is formed by a small underground river that hurls itself from a cave in the side of the lake Toba caldera some 120 meters (360 feet) down to lake level. (This waterfall flows into the North end of Lake Toba).

Visiting many of the well-preserved Batak long houses

We enjoyed Indonesian eats: Nasi Goreng, Mie Goreng (if you've been there, you know what we're talking about ;))

Riding bikes in a third world country always means adventure, esp. given the shape that these bikes were in!

We got lost on the backroads on motorscooters. Ray got a flat which led to some fun interactions with local families and we ran into these monster snake on the road!

Ray and Linds

Ben and Lindsey left Lake Toba to head to their next destination (New Zealand). Ray shot this photo as we went our separate ways. Ray came to visit us for a week or two after which he was going to take off on his own adventure. We had so much fun together that we ended up staying together for five weeks, and those five weeks were some of the best we've had on this trip! We miss you already Ray!!!

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Ali Coad (Andaman) on

Lake Toba was one of my favourite places on our trip! We stayed in TukTuk, and also got lost on motorcycles!
Hope all is well :)

therunningdog on


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