30 days in Sumatra next July - North to South or South to North?
Replies: 9 - Last Post: Dec 11, 2012 1:17 AM Last Post By: macmaghnusa
Nov 27, 2012 4:20 PM
30 days in Sumatra next July - North to South or South to North?Hi guys:
Planning on flying into PADANG from KL, doing Lake Maninjau and Bukitinggi, then flying up to Medan for a sojourn in Lake Toba, Karo Highlands. We'd then head back to Medan for a flight to Banda Aceh and some snorkelling and lolling about on Pulao Weh. From there we'd fly back to KL for the end of the trip. I was in Lake Toba in 1991 and nostalgia draws me back. I was just wondering in the short space of time we have, should we split the trip into rough thirds? That's to say 9 days in Minangkabau country, 9 days in Batak country and 9 days on Pulao Weh, with a couple of days in KL tagged on both ends as that's where we fly into and out of. Had considered taking a bus up to Penang and flying to Padang from there. We're not really into trekking for health reasons (one has a knee prone to swelling), so the orangutan experiece (the worthwhile one, not the 'circus' at Bukit Lawang that some describe) is kind of beyond our scope. My question is this: if by splitting the trip into rough thirds, would we be dwelling unnecessarily too long in each place?
I think I stayed in Lake Toba for two weeks in 91, but I was young and footloose with different priorities. ;-)
Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Nov 27, 2012 5:09 PM
1At Bukit Lawang you can see the Orangutans by going up to the feeding station - it is a bit of a climb (say 15 minutes) but there are steps. You might be able to do this even if you don't trek. There is a good atmosphere there - I go for that not for treking. Occasionally you can see the Orangutans from the river bank. Lots of monkeys to see near the accommodation.
Nov 27, 2012 5:44 PM
2We were in Banda Aceh, Medan and Lake Toba last April-May. I previously spent time around Padang on a couple of occasions 15-20 years ago, roughly when you were at Lake Toba, and also visited Toba and Medan in 1991.
On our recent trip, my wife was rehabbing a hip that had been replaced, so our Banda Aceh time was really mostly Pulau Weh time, in order to snorkel as many hours a day as possible. We flew Air Asia from KL, and stayed at Freddie's, where you enjoy quality food in comfortable but simple bungalows overlooking a beautiful beach with very good snorkeling. We booked for a week, and stayed 17 days. It was just what we needed. Pulau Weh is largely unspoiled, and there are interesting day trips if you can drag yourself out of the water. We found Banda Aceh friendly and easy, despite a hotly-contested local election.
We flew from BA to Medan with Sriwijaya Air, a decent outfit that's way cheaper than Garuda. We overnighted, but I would definitely go right up to Toba, or to Brastagi if it was later in the day, rather than overnighting in Medan. In any case, be sure to get to Prapat well before dark to catch the ferry to Samosir.
Although TukTuk has some big fancy resorts on it now, we had an excellent time. The old classic traveler's route from Toba to Bukittinggi has dried right up, so instead of being a must-stop on a busy through route, Toba is now a last stop on a dead end that requires you to deal with Medan. As a result, aside from the week-ends when the domestic tourists arrived, it was pretty untouristed and reminiscent. Where the ferry first lands, there are three good places to stay (see Trip Advisor): Horas, Tabo Cottages, and the funkier Bagus Bay. A couple of old standards, Carolina's and Romlan's, are still much as they were.
Unless you hire a bike to do some exploring, 9 days might be overkill. Although many swam in the Lake, it was a little alive for my tastes. However, the Toba Batak remain cheerful, and the setting is unsurpassed. A day going to Brastagi on the way to a day at Bukit Lawang (not a terrible experience at all!) would fill the time nicely.
I haven't been back to West Sumatra for a while, but we're going to Bukittingi and Padang next April. It's a stunning land and seascape, the food is great, the weaving and silver work are remarkable, the markets are overwhelming, and the area to the south toward Gunung Kerinci offers some intriguing possibilities. A couple of people posted about that area a couple of months ago.
The small airlines like Lion Air , Sriwijaya, and Air Asia, to name just three, have wiped out a lot of the old overlanding, but there are lots of cheap flights on airlines that are better than (shudder) Merpati ever was that open up intriguing possibilities. If you get tired of a spot, you can get beamed up pretty easily. I don't think you'll feel like a month is too much for Sumatra, and if you do, Air Asia out of KL will get you somewhere interesting fast and cheap.
Nov 27, 2012 11:51 PM
3For me 9 days on Pulau Weh would be too long - I don't dive and can only do so much snorkelling before I get restless so that period would be too long for me/ if Banda Aceh was included in that 9 days then much better - a wonderful city which is so much easier to get around on a motorbike.
Lake Toba - over the past year I visited Lake Toba twice; one of those visits was for 42 days. A great place for me but I was trekking most days - still pretty quiet when it comes to tourists; rental of a motorbike is a must though if you want to get into the countryside.
West Sumatra; yep, Maninjau is lovely and less tourist infrastructure compared to Toba; always passed through Bukittingghi heading for Harau Valley; 9 days in west sumatra then, for me, Harau Valley would be a must to visit... but again and for me, it's a place for long walks.
I discovered Kerinci towards the end of my travels just a few months ago, it's about a 7 hour plus ride to get to that area from Padang - again mostly walks and climbs but so much worthwhile. In all my time in Sumatra over the past years and I was amazed I'd never gone as far south as Kerinci - just a thought for you!!
Have fun wherever you go and enjoy the experiences.
Edited by: dc1
Nov 28, 2012 9:40 AM
4Thank you so much for your great, detailed replies guys. Lazlo, whose website is superbly informative, is just so knowledgeable about Indonesia, so when he dismissed Bukit Lawang as a gross tourist trap detrimental to wild orangutans, it made me think twice. I will consider a couple of days in BA. Apart from the strict observance of Muslim law there, is there anything else we should take do, see, take into account? I heard it was largely rebuilt (and for the better) after the Tsunami of December 2004.
Nov 28, 2012 7:27 PM
5Even if you can't do strenous hikes, you may still see wild orangutans around Ketambe. I saw my first one there emerging from the forest edge while I was still having breakfast! Normally you do have to walk a bit to see them, but it's mostly just for a short distance on fairly flat trails - if you really want to save energy, just tell the local guides to find them, and send someone to fetch you once they have been located. Even in the unlikely event that you don't get to see one, Ketmbe can be a nice enough place to chill out for a few days.
This could be done at the expense of those few days on Pulau Weh, where I would find 9 days too long.
9 days in West Sumatra can be well spent, while 9 days in the Batak areas should at least be split between the Berastagi and Toba regions.
Nov 28, 2012 11:25 PM
6Re Banda Aceh, I've visited this city many times; I have family and friends who live within and the surrounding areas. It's one of the most friendliest cities I've been to while in Indonesia. The strict laws within Aceh have never been a problem for me, I normally do as the locals do wherever I go, so no aclohol for me is okay, as well as walking around in long trousers / pants is also okay for me... I do this in cities throughout SEA anyway.
As a tourist of only 2 or 3 days to BA, and with regard to the strict laws in that area, you will see nothing in comparison to countries in the Middle East... in fact, it may even be difficult for you to notice any difference compared to cities like Padang; Medan etc.......
You'll have a great time, research on tourist attractions for this city is easily available via google... or just sit in a warung and enjoy the good coffee. and meet some really friendly people.
Nov 29, 2012 5:01 AM
7I have they greatest respect for Laszlo's knowledge of Indonesia, especially its customs and language. But the question 'what is the best place/food/etc' is very subjective. I like BL because I can walk around there and people say - Hello Paul, back again? Back again? I spend most of my time there visiting friends and talking to them. Not much to do with the orangutans. I have spend a week at Katembe but have never had the same feeling that I want to go back to be with friends. I have been spending about two weeks a year visiting friends in each of Danau Toba and Bukit Lawang for about 5-6 years now. (Before that it was Rantepao.)
Different places suit different people - some like some things, some others or have different opinions on the value of 'in different stages of rehabilitation' vs 'in the wild' ; some have physical restrictions (eg cannot trek because of physical problems). The feeding area in BL is a great place for those who want to see orangutans, (uncaged or constrained = 'in the wild'?) with a high probability of seeing them.
Use the reports on TT to work out what you want then see how best they can meet your needs rather than how they suited the needs of others.
Dec 8, 2012 7:38 PM
Dec 11, 2012 1:17 AM
9#8 - Hi Roni! Not sure I understand your post. Starting in Bukitinggi is an option if we fly into Padang from KL, but we still want to see the other areas (Toba-Ketambe-Banda Aceh-Pulao Weh). Going overland to Parapat-Lake Toba from Bukitinggi is out of the question for various reasons, but mainly time and inclination. Thanks for your help. :-)
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