Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Best of Lake Toba: Where To Stay, What To Eat, and How To Get There

Oh, fair Lake Toba.  Home of the Batak cowboys, sky-piercing rooftops, indolent afternoons on the lakeside, and jaw-dropping landscapes in every direction.  Dare I say you were my favorite place to pass the days in all of Sumatra?

Destination ranking notwithstanding, we sure found some lovely places to lay our heads and spend our hard-earned rupiah.

Due to a bummer of a first night in a questionable locale (don't listen to the local boys on the ferry from Parapat), we took the better part of our first full day in Tuk-Tuk looking for the perfect guesthouse for the remainder of our stay.  We found Hariara Guesthouse and all of our modest needs were instantly met.

Nine dollars a night for the upstairs apartment shown below. On the lake.  With hot water. Yes, that's the real price.

Don't come to Lake Toba expecting to sample local delights.  Backpacker fare is the norm. That said, there were some food highlights.

Daily breakfast at Orari Restaurant. (Also good for motorbike rental)

Homemade brown bread and scrambled eggs with cheese and guacamole was a perfect start to our days!

Dinner at Jenny's.  We loved everything about Jenny's: the food was great, the staff excessively welcoming, and the atmosphere continually lively with traditional Batak jams a couple times a week.  The best place to drink tuak (Batak palm wine) in Tuk-Tuk (go further into the hills surrounding the lake in the late afternoon to imbibe with local farmers)Also, try their delectable fresh lake fish, grilled or barbequed.

Bamboo:  Great place for an afternoon coffee and a good read.  Steer clear of the overpriced and generally taste-less food.

How do you get to Lake Toba?  Since we were coming from Bukit Lawang, we took the "tourist bus" (a shared van) with a few other passengers.  Via Medan, we stopped mid-way in Berastagi, a sleepy town in the highlands where one can spend a couple days trekking up volcanoes and buying cabbage, but opted to continue on to the lake.  At 150,000 Rp. a person, the ride was reasonable and very comfortable.  While you can do the same trip for half the price, we were happy to splurge and avoid the chicken-bus boogie!

The Karo Highlands are the breadbasket of Sumatra, with fertile lands and cool, temperate weather.  The landscape reminded me of the American West, yet with active volcanoes rising from the coniferous forests.

The Karo Batak are a pious people and Protestant churches pepper the landscape on the way to the lake.

 After hurtling through the highlands, we finally reached Lake Toba!

We reached Parapat just in time to take the last ferry of the day over to Samosir Island and caught a beautiful sunset over the lake.

Practical Information:

Take a “Tourist Bus” (shared private car) to Lake Toba via Berastagi (Rp.150,000, includes ferry transport from Parapat to Tuk-Tuk, takes around seven hours).  Stayed at Hariara Bungalows (Rp. 90,000). Highly recommended with great location in Tuk-Tuk and nice waterfront rooms.  The upstairs apartment (room 1) is especially nice with a great balcony area. Eat the BBQ lake fish and drink Batak wine (tuak) at Jenny’s. Rent a motorbike(60,000 Rp) and drive from Tuk-Tuk along the lake to Ambarita for some Batak history and then onwards to the hot springs near Pangururan.  (Just be wary of crossing the island!)

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