Wandering through North Sumatra


01

Medan

After arrival in Polonia Airport, you'll be met by your guide and transferred to your hotel. There is plenty of time to cruise this bustling city, a regional trade powerhouse and enjoy some of its highlights. The Sultan's Palace is now a museum, telling of former days when feudal lords ruled ancient kingdoms. It is entrenched in a glorious past when caliphs ruled the land. A bit further down the same road, one of the largest mosques of Sumatra throws it call for prayer five times daily. It was built in an elegant pre-war Moroccan style and overlooks one of the busiest city intersections. Numerous klentengs or Chinese temples allude to a prominent Chinese community, the driving force behind most of the city's commerce. Few fine examples of colonial architecture are left over, bordering the wide lanes of Medan Merdeka, the city square right in the heart of town. While the city hall, the railway station and post office were all built in Dutch times, they are still in excellent condition.
02

Medan - Bukit Lawang

Through vast oil palm plantations and after visiting a crocodile far, you'll reach Bukit Lawang, a village bordering the rainforest of Gunung Leuser National park, located at the banks of the Bohorok River. Bukit Lawang is best known for its successful orang-utan rehab centre, founded in the early 70ties by two Swiss ladies. As one could imagine, the main objective of the centre is to prepare primates for a new life of freedom in the nearby jungles after they spent time in illegal captivity. It is possible to observe the feeding of the animals on a daily basis. You'll spend the night in basic accommodation in Bukit Lawang village.
03

Bukit Lawang - Brastagi

Today the trip leads through the Karo-Batak Highlands to Brastagi. These highlands are a volcanic plateau, stretching some 5.000 sq km from the northern rim of Lake Toba. It is home to some 200 Karo-Batak settlements and villages, of which Brastagi with its cool mountain climate and Kabanjahe with its large regional market, are the most important ones. You will visit one of these traditional villages enroute. Karo-Batak people are famous for re-burying their deceased ones. They are used to live in remarkable longhouses of which a few are maintained. There are countless spots of great natural beauty in this region. Several water cascades, like the one at Sikulikap, thunder from the mountains into steep gorges. Brastagi has a pleasant market with the many different kinds of Indonesian fruit available for tasting and buying !
04

Brastagi - Prapat

The road from Brastagi to Parapat leads through some exceptionally beautiful landscapes, with plenty of natural landmarks. At Sipisopiso, a screaming jet stream of water continuously thunders from the top edge of cliff into a 120 m deep gorge. You'll be surrounded by lush green rice fields, against the magnificent backdrop of Lake Toba containing the shimmering grey-blue contours of Samosir Island. In the afternoon, you'll be in Prapat, on the shore of Lake Toba, which is one of the largest and deepest freshwater lakes in the world.
05

Exploring Samosir

Today will be pleasantly spent cruising Lake Toba. You'll visit several places of interest on Samosir island. Tomok has the ancient sarcophagus covering the remains of Raja Sidabutar, the leader of the first Batak immigrants to Samosir. A Singa is carved into one end. This mytholigical beast, half-elephant, half-bufallo is an important mythological symbol for the Batak people. Once, carved sarcophagi dotted the landscape all over Samosir. Ambarita has a rather curious collection of stone chairs. Neither the meaning nor the true histories of these stone artifacts are clear, but locals are convinced these they are part of an old court of justice, dealing rather harsh punishments to those we were convicted. Simanando has some well-kept traditional houses. Dances performances take routinely place and can be enjoyed daily.
06

Prapat - Medan

Via another route, we return to Medan. The road leads through plantation land, a vast area of oil palm plantations, which brought considerable wealth to this region. Pematang Siantar, thriving on the riches of this economic sector, is the second largest town of North Sumatra. From Tebingtinggi onwards the road bends to the north again. During mid-afternoon you'll be back in Medan, ready to board a flight to your next destination.
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