Orang Utans in Bukit Lawang
You will be able to see Orang Utans in the wild; they can only be found in Sumatra and on Borneo.
We did a 3-day trek through the jungle which was much hillier than we expected. The trekking is quite exhausting but also rewarding as we saw not only Orang Utans but also different kinds of monkeys, birds and lizards. The nights are spent in simple camps along small rivers. Our guide was fantastic and not only showed us animals but also different plants and their use. This was especially helpful after I got stung by a wild bee! He found a plant that promised relief within seconds and after a couple of hours I couldn’t even feel it anymore.
Lake Toba and Samosir Island
Lake Toba might be the most popular sight in Sumatra and it is for good reason, with its stunning views of the blue lake with the volcanic island Samosir and the surrounding mountains. Most people will end up staying in TukTuk on Samosir Island. We did the same, it is the tourist centre but still very nice and there is many options to stay and to organize the exploration of the island from there.
Samosir is the biggest “island within an island” and also one of the largest lake islands in general. Besides the stunning views it is famous for the Batak culture. It is possible to see traditional houses and visit a dance show where the performers tell stories with their movements.
There are several volcanoes that can be visited in Sumatra and we decided to climb Mount Sibayak (Berastagi). After a short but steep climb we reached the top and enjoyed a spectacular view. In several places the volcano was steaming and bright yellow sulphur covered the rocks. The hike could be done without a guide but we enjoyed having someone tell us about the volcano and the plants growing in the jungle on the way up. After the hike we were able to visit some hot springs to relax our muscles.
The traditional houses of the Batak in North Sumatra differ from region to region, all having very distinct roofs. Many are boat shaped, as on Samosir Island. In all the Batak groups the houses were inhabited by several families sharing one dwelling. They live in the same big room, each family having their own fire place where they were sitting during the day and then laying out their mattresses during the night. Today most people live in modern houses and the traditional houses are more like a museum or the front is still the traditional house and the family have added a modern house at the back.
During WWII the Japanese who occupied Indonesia built a large tunnel system, using forced labour, in the rocks close to Bukittinggi. These can be visited today and seem to be more like a labyrinth of chambers and rooms, all of which interconnect.
Fruit and vegetable markets
The higher regions like Berastagi are famous for their fruit and vegetable markets. A huge variety of different products is piled up at small stands. The vendors are very nice and gave us all kinds of things to taste. We, of course, also bought loads of delicious fruit.
What many people don’t know is that the epicentre of the tsunami in 2004 was close to Banda Aceh in north Sumatra. The whole city was destroyed with 167’000 people dead, the only building left being the mosque. Some of the boats that were pushed on land are still there and it is possible to visit them as well as the memorial. It was very sad to visit those sites but also interesting. I did see a different view from the news in Europe where it was mainly about the touristy areas effected like Thailand.
They do have perfect beaches as well 🙂 We went to Cubadak by Padang – a little paradise! It’s an island with just one basic resort for maximal 30 guests. There is a kayak, paddle board, snorkeling at the house reef and two short walks to either the top of the island or along the beach.
The people in Sumatra are very kind and helpful. The communication is often difficult as most people don’t speak English if they are not working in tourism.
Of course there must be a place to scuba dive!
Pulau Weh is an island at the northern tip of Sumatra and is perfect for diving. While some of the opportunities are for more advanced divers (there are strong currents) there are dive sites suitable for all levels. The region shows a great biodiversity with a huge variety of wildlife to be found underwater. My favourite dive site was “shark plateau” where we saw many black tip reef sharks. We also saw devil rays and several other kinds of ray; if you’re lucky you might even spot a manta or a whale shark. Besides schooling fish and loads of reef fish the area is good for macro-photography as well. We saw ghost pipefish, seahorses, frogfish, crab, shrimp, octopus and nudibranchs.
Plus there are underwater hot springs – take off your fins and bath your feet in lovely warm waters 🙂