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10 days in Northern Sumatra, some questions!

Tokyo, Japan
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10 days in Northern Sumatra, some questions!

Hi there,

I'm travelling to Sumatra for 10 days soon: arriving into Medan on Saturday 20 December at 8am and flying out again on the morning of the 31st

I have some questions and would be very grateful if any one could help!

1. Itinerary. I don't really have one set in stone. Basically I am a travel blogger and want to have some good experiences, see local life and have some spectacular views and stuff to write about. I have already been trekking in Borneo before (Danum Valley in Sabah) and seen orangutans there so I'm thinking there may be not much point me going to Bukit Lawang. Am I being flippant or would you agree?

I would like to get high up and see some mountain/volcano views, and experience a range of scenery and terrain. If a place is interesting I am genuinely happy just relaxing and exploring with my camera, eating local food, capturing local life. Simple stuff. So I was thinking of travelling straight to Lake Toba once I get of my flight at 8am and hanging out there for a few days. After that head to Berastagi and do the same. After that, well I'm not sure. Should I just spend the full 10 days in this area or is that too long? The Aceh region looks really interesting, but looking at the map I don't know if I could pull that of in such a short time frame. Any input gladly welcomed!

2. Weather and what to pack. I know it's monsoon but I also assume its pretty hot? So shorts obviously. But if travelling to Toba and Berastagi I'm just checking how cold it gets there: would that be trousers, shoes, socks, jacket? I remember visiting Malaysia one time and while KL was sweltering, Cameron Highlands was freezing. I needed thick blankets on my bed and a coat for walking about. Is it like that? I'm only bringing a small backpack so would like to keep things to a minimum. I love hot weather, cold not so much...

3. How busy will it be? I usually book accomodation in advance but I'm thinking I may not on this trip due to possibility of landslides, Sinabung erupting again etc. Just in case my itinerary changes last minute. Just wondering if this OK to do, how busy it will be over Christmas and if I will have trouble finding somewhere. (I was in Myanmar last Christmas and if I had not booked somewhere to stay in Bagan I would have had to sleep at the local monestary on the floor as every room was booked!)

I'm sure I will have some other questions once you reply, but for now I just want to thank you for reading this and any advice you can give me. This Sumatra board seems to have some very experienced people on it.

Here are a couple of past blog posts, illustrating type of stuff I like to see and do.

Myanmar: LIfe on the Streets

ikimasho.net/2013/…

The day I saw a body being burned in Denpasar

ikimasho.net/2013/…

Thanks

Justin

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Samosir
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425 posts
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1. Re: 10 days in Northern Sumatra, some questions!

Hi Justin,

I am a bit busy at the moment but I will respond. However, it may take another day. I checked your blog posts and I am looking forward to see similar posts on your Berastagi and Lake Toba experience.

HORAS !!! HORAS !!! HORAS !!! WELCOME TO BERASTAGI AND LAKE TOBA

Tokyo, Japan
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7 posts
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2. Re: 10 days in Northern Sumatra, some questions!

Thanks so much. As well as the stuff on my first post I'm still wondering about the logistics of Aceh too. As I'm unsure how cold it's gonna be I would really like some hot weather at some point. Tokyo where I live is getting very cold now, and I guess I was spoiled in August when I went to Bali :)

Samosir
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425 posts
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3. Re: 10 days in Northern Sumatra, some questions!

Justin,

Let me start with how busy it will be.

As I am based in Tuk Tuk, Samosir, the following relates to Tuk Tuk, but I guess the same story holds for Berastagi. During the Top High Season Holidays Tuk Tuk is extremely crowded with guests all day and all night searching for rooms and many of them ending up sleeping in cars in a traffic jam. Searching for rooms also for reason that many guests seem to know from friends or TripAdvisor reports that one can easily find a room for Rp 50.000,-- per night in Tuk Tuk. This is the room the guests keep searching for, not knowing that the price for this room during the Top High Season Holidays may easily go up to Rp 300.000,-- or even Rp 500.000,-- per night. During such days travel time from Medan to Tuk Tuk by car may easily go up from the regular 5 to 6 hours to 12 to 18 hrs, keeping in mind a 6 to 7 hr waiting time in Parapat for the car ferry to Tomok.

Top Season Holidays in Tuk Tuk are the days around and just after

1. Hari Raya (Eid Ul Fitr),

2. Imlek (Chinese New Year) and sometimes

3. the Christmas and New Year period.

My personal feeling is that this year the Christmas – New Year Season will be relatively quiet in Tuk Tuk for the simple reason that Christmas and New Year will be just two midweek holdidays. Berastagi may be a different story as it is much closer to Medan.

The weather in Tuk Tuk

The wet season in Tuk Tuk is more or less from October till May. This sounds worse than it actually is. The total precipitation in the dry season from May till October is about the same as in the wet season. The main difference being that in the wet season is rains more often and it takes a longer time to get the rain down.

Where in the dry season we may have a rainstorm once or twice a week, during the wet season we may have rain every one, two or 3 days. Normal weather in the wet season is a clear and sunny morning with a temperature of about 20 centigrades at sunrise. Temperature rising till about 28 centigrades at 11.00 h when it gets cloudy and the temperature drops a few centigrades. Late afternoon or early evening yes or no a rain or thunderstorm.

Just during the last two weeks it has been raining a lot, not much precipitation, but sometimes 3 or 4 times rain during the day, coming out a completely overcast sky, making it rather cool. Temperatures early morning some 18 centigrades and during the day time some 25 centigrades.

Generally speaking Berastagi is some 4 to 5 centigrades cooler than Tuk Tuk. But on a clear crisp morning just after sunrise you can find some frost on the ground.

For some warming up you can always go back to Medan with a very high humidity and a temperature of some 30 to 32 centigrades always good for some sweating without any special exercise required.

Your itinerary

Looking at your interests I think that you can easily spend your 10 days in the Berastagi and Lake Toba area, both places having its own charmes. My suggestion is that you try to make up your own mind where you want to stay first and also over Christmas. Just make sure that you don’t arrive on Dec 24 – 25 in either Berastagi or Tuk Tuk or you may be in for a very unpleasant surprise regarding room availability and price. Best is possibly to go on Dec 20 straight to Berastagi or Tuk Tuk and find yourself a place not only to stay for one night but where you can also stay over the Christmas Holidays. Of course you could stay one night in one place and use your second day to look for another place, if need be. As soon as you have decided where to stay over Christmas get whatever you have agreed in writing and pay a substantial deposit for the Christmas nights. Over the years I have heard too many stories of guests happily staying in a guesthouse and being kicked out on Christmas or New Years eve, unless they are ready to pay the triple special high season rate of such guesthouse. For moving from Tuk Tuk to Berastagi or the other way around Dec 27 is possibly your best choice.

HORAS !!! HORAS !!! HORAS !!! WELCOME TO TUK TUK AND BERASTAGI.

Tokyo, Japan
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7 posts
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4. Re: 10 days in Northern Sumatra, some questions!

Thanks so much for your kind and detailed response, especially the heads-up as to how busy it could be. It's a shame that Christmas Day lies right bang in the middle of my trip. If I chose to stay in Tuk Tuk over Christmas that would mean arriving on the 21st and having to spend 21/22/23/24/25 (5 nights) there, which seems quite long. (I usually think 3 nights is a good amount of time per place). But I enjoy cycling and exploring so it might be OK. Alternatively I could book all my accommodation in advance for each place (pay up front) and then the only thing to worry about would be the journey between each destination.

On my last trip to Bali (August) I was paying about 250,000 - 300,000 for nice accommodation, so I guess I am mid range traveller in that respect. I dont squander money on jetskiing or tours, and I eat local, but I do I like having somewhere decent to come back and relax after exploring. Usually I pay up front on Agoda and it has always been reliable. Have you heard of Mas Cottages in Tuk Tuk?

agoda.com/mas-cottages/hotel/samosir-island-…

There doesn't seem to be much Tuk Tuk accommodation listed on agoda - Im not sure if thats because it's sold out or many places have not signed up to be included on the site.

One thing I'm slightly worried about is what you said here:

"During such days travel time from Medan to Tuk Tuk by car may easily go up from the regular 5 to 6 hours to 12 to 18 hrs, keeping in mind a 6 to 7 hr waiting time in Parapat for the car ferry to Tomok."

If I arrive in Medan on Saturday 21 December will I be able to actually make it to Tuk Tuk that night? Does that waiting time even apply if you are a foot passenger? Worst thing would be if I booked somewhere to stay and then couldnt even make it there on time.

Also, and I know this question has been done to death, but can I travel to Lake Toba straight from the airport or do I have to detour via Medan?

Once again, thanks for the help. I know you are busy so I appreciate it.

Justin

Edited: 6:51 am, December 10, 2013
Samosir
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5. Re: 10 days in Northern Sumatra, some questions!

Justin,

I will try to respond para by para.

If you arrive on Dec 21 in Tuk Tuk my idea is that it is better to stay over Christmas. I am afraid that it will be very difficult to find a reasonable place at a reasonable price in Berastagi when arriving there just before or during the Christmas Days. The same will most likely hold for Tuk Tuk when arriving just before or during the Christmas days. Therefore my suggestion was to come on Dec 21 to either Tuk Tuk or Berastagi and negotiate as soon as possible for a room including the Christmas days.

Looking at your interest including the cycling I think you can easily spend 5 days in the Tuk Tuk area.

Normally your budget would be good enough for a High End Back Packer accommodation in Tuk Tuk. During the Christmas days it may be just enough to get you a most basic room. If you start negotiating on Dec 21 your budget should allow you a good place including the Christmas Days.

Have already responded to you in PM on Mas Cottages.

There are only very accommodations in Tuk Tuk which have signed up with Agoda. Actually I was surprised that you can book Mas through Agoda.

If you arrive early morning in Medan on Dec 21 you have ample time to reach Tuk Tuk as on Dec 21 traffic conditions will still be normal. The waiting time I referred to only holds for cars waiting in Parapat for the car ferry to Tomok. As a foot passenger this will not affect you.

With public transportation you have to detour to Medan to AMPLAS busstation and take from there a bus or minibus to Parapat. Straight to Parapat from the Airport is only possible with a shared taxi or chartered car. For a shared taxi, unless pre-arranged, you may have to wait for fellow passengers to fill up the shared taxi. If you would go for NICE TRANS offering this service at the Airport I still think you will have ample time to reach Parapat and Tuk Tuk in the afternoon.

An option to find the best accommodation for you in Tuk Tuk could be to just take your chances on Dec 21. In Tiga Raja Harbour in Parapat, where the passenger ferry departs for Tuk Tuk, quite some tourist hunters will be waiting for you and make you their best offer on behalf of the accommodation they are working for. Nothing wrong with that. Just go with the one that you think best and book and pay for one night. If you like it just negotiate your stay till over Christmas. Alternatively, the next morning rent a bicycle or motor bike and check out other accommodations and see if you can find a better place.

It will be my pleasure to help you finding places in and around Tuk Tuk / Samosir for you to take your photo’s. Just buy me a beer or join me when I am enjoying my 18.00 h sunset beer in the Warung.

HORAS !!! HORAS !!! HORAS !!! WELCOME TO TUK TUK

Tokyo, Japan
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6. Re: 10 days in Northern Sumatra, some questions!

Haha thank you! :)

I guess with this trip I just have to go with the flow and not think too much or book ahead. If you think I'd be OK just turning up on the day I may do that, or I could always just book Mas for a night to be safe.

Can I change money OK at Medan airport for a decent rate (Japanese yen?)

Also, just out of interest, say a driver/tout approaches me and says he will drive me directly to Parapat how much roughly would be asking for?

Thanks :)

Samosir
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7. Re: 10 days in Northern Sumatra, some questions!

Justin,

My todays feeling is that you will be safe and you can just come and go with a tourist hunter which will be waiting for you in Parapat. Alternatively, booking for one night in MAS is also a good plan. If you like it, you extend straight away. You can also give yourself a morning to check out other accommodations in Tuk Tuk.

Money changing at the Airport is never a good plan. The rates will be rough. Just after immigration and having picked up your luggage you come in the arrival hall. Just walk straight ahead and you see a small row of ATM’s. This is most likely a much better option.

Parapat Transporters charge these days for a pick-up from the airport with a chartered car, (transportation only), Rp 560.000,--. Normally for high season there will be a mark up of 10 to 15%. Not sure when they will start using the high season rates. Most likely starting somewhere between Dec 22 and Dec 24, depending on the inflow of tourists.

Your driver / tout, not having company overhead, will most likely start with some Rp 700.000,-- The Rp 700.000,-- being negotiable.

An option could be to check Nice Trans for shared taxi. Alternatively, take a chartered taxi from Nice Trans, cost most likely some Rp 650.000,-- Though there have been some negative comments on Nice Trans, personally I would feel safer with a Nice Trans taxi than putting my life in the hands of an unknown individual and without having any idea of the technical state of the car he is going to use.

HORAS !!! HORAS !!! HORAS !!! WELCOME TO TUK TUK

Tokyo, Japan
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8. Re: 10 days in Northern Sumatra, some questions!

Yeah best to use an official car I reckon, though it's quite expensive so I may opt for public transport which I assume is a great deal cheaper. I'm just worried about how much of a pain in the *ss it'll be after already taking 2 planes from Tokyo haha.

As for the ATMs, I'm going to have to bring cash and change it unfortunately. I'd love to use an ATM but Japanese bank cards are notorious for not working outside Japan!

Samosir
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9. Re: 10 days in Northern Sumatra, some questions!

Justin,

Today, Dec 20, you would have been safe. I have been checking the Parade from my favorite watering hole in Tuk Tuk, and counting the number of cars passing by coming from the 17.45 h car ferry from Aji Bata to Tomok. (As said part of which come to Tuk Tuk and therefore pass my watering hole)

Statistics:

Dec 17. 4 cars

Dec 18. 6 cars

Dec 19 2 cars

Dec 20 today, 8 cars. You see it is building up.

At the moment, Dec 20, there are vacancies all over the place in Tuk Tuk and rooms go at real discount rates.

Dec 21. Tomorrow, I guess you still will be safe to find a cheap room.

Having said that, today I met quite some foreign guests, having in mind to stay over Christmas in Tuk Tuk, wondering around Tuk Tuk trying to book a room for the Chrismas Days in a good place for less than 7 times than what they are paying now. Trying to find a double room, in a good place for less than Rp 400.000,-- a night. A task, most likely, next to impossible.

Anyway, my current feeling is that Christmas will be rather quiet in Tuk Tuk. So you still can take your chances. For me, I think the real fun will be around New Year.

You are most welcome to join me one of these days, but before Dec 23, for my Sunset Beer in the Warung at 18.00 h, and having fun watching the Parade.

It will be my pleasure to guide you to ‘a good and cheap room’ in an unknown accommodation in the Centre of Tuk Tuk, (close to Roy's Pub) for let’s say Rp 300.000, per night, if you move in for minimum 3 nights starting Dec 23 including your Christmas Days.

HORAS !!! HORAS !!! HORAS !!!!. WELCOME TO TUK TUK.

10. Re: 10 days in Northern Sumatra, some questions!

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