Sunday, 30 October 2016

Discovering The Hidden Gems of Medan In Not More Than RM660 / SGD220

"Air Asia is having promotion again. Let's go to Medan!"

MJ, Richard and I have known each other for 8 years and despite having gone on several staycation and weekend road trips, we have never traveled abroad together. So when AirAsia was having their promo last year in June, we decided to finally do a backpacking trip to Medan, Indonesia. Tagging along is two other friends, but one had to bail out 2 months before the trip due to personal reasons and the other one stood us up few days prior to departure. Richard had just sprained his ankle a week earlier and MJ had just recently change job but we all decided to go ahead with the trip no matter what. It's something we had decided a year ago, and we refuse to cancel it. So off we go, even if it's just the 3 of us.

Day 1: KLIA2 > Kuala Namu Airport > Medan City

The day has finally come and our flight was scheduled to depart from KLIA2 at 8pm but it was delayed by about an hour. The flight took off around 9pm and reached Kuala Namu Airport at approximately 9pm local time. After clearing immigration, we walked over to the bus terminal just outside of the airport and boarded the city bus (RP20,000 per person / RM6 / SGD2) to Jalan Halat, the street where our hotel, Carolina Transit is located. The city bus is unexpectedly small and cramped even for someone as petite as I am, even if you were to board without a backpack. The seat is basically smaller than AirAsia's and the leg room is approximately less than 20cm apart. We waited in the bus until it is full before the driver set off. The bus stopped at several stops until we finally reach Jalan Halat. We alighted and asked for direction to go to Carolina Transit. After checking in and putting down our backpack, we set off to find some food to fill our growling stomach. Unfortunately, it's passed 10.30pm and the place we set our mind to go for food hunting (Jalan Selat Panjang at Chinatown, heard there's a lot of nice local food there... if only our flight wasn't delayed T.T) is closed at 10pm, so we asked the hotel reception for some recommendation on Martabak, local Indonesian pancake.

"If Plan A didn't work, the alphabet has 25 more letters! Stay cool"

The friendly reception directed us to a place called Makyung which is only about 5 minutes walk away. We were expecting some hawker stall on the roadside only to realise it's a cafe. It was quite late at night so we decided to just try this cafe instead of insisting on trying street food. The martabak here lean more towards the crunchier side and actually kinda resemble pizza in my opinion. We order one signature martabak panggang and one martabak banjir which were not bad but were a tad bit salty for my liking. The more bites I took, the saltier it taste.    

Clockwise: Ayam Goreng Cabai Ijo, Martabak MakYung Panggang, Nasi Goreng Cabai Ijo, and Martabak Banjir

Richard was feeling very hungry and decided to sample their fried rice and ordered  Nasi Goreng Cabai Ijo. It's indonesian fried rice came with a fried sunny up and a piece of fried chicken drumstick. The main highlight was the crispy drumstick which got us all wanting to order an additional portion of that chicken only to mistakenly ordered a different kind of fried chicken, which was... VERY SALTY. Hahahaha. Our bill came to a total of RP138,100 (RM45/SGD15) which includes a glass of avocado juice and a watermelon juice.

It was 11.30pm by the time we finished our meal and return to the hotel after buying some drinking water from a local mini-mart. We took turn to shower and head to bed, ready to embark on our journey the next day.

Day 2: Medan City > Siantar > Parapat (Tiga Raja) > Samosir (Tuktuk)

The next morning we woke up at 8am local time, showered and packed our bags, ready to head out for breakfast. MJ had shortlisted a few famous local eateries around Jalan Semarang and Jalan Selat Panjang (aka, in Medan's Chinatown) which is about 2.5km or 35mins walk away from our hotel. We only have several hours to spare in the morning to sample some local food as our journey to Lake Toba would be taking almost an entire day. So we checked out and with our backpacks, we walked out in search for our breakfast.

Masjid Maimun spotted on our way to Medan's Chinatown

With no internet and no map on hand but screenshots of google map and info googled by Richard the night before, we walked towards Jalan Selat Panjang where the famous Tiong Sim Mie Pangsit is located. And when we felt lost, we stopped and asked for directions. The local people do stared at us a little (it's pretty common when you backpack) but when we asked them for direction, most of them willingly guide you to your destinations.

Mie Pangsit Tiong Sim, one of the famous local food in Medan City

After about 30-40mins walk (plus getting lost and asking for direction), we finally reached Mie Pangsit Tiong Sim, where they serve a local Medan cuisine called, well, as the name suggest... Mie Pangsit. For those who wandered, mie means noodle (Indonesian spelled it Mie while Malaysian spelled it Mi or Mee) and pangsit is dumpling (aka wantan or wanton in Malaysia/Singaporea/Hong Kong). With that said, Mie Pangsit is their local rendition of wantan noodles. Instead of char siew, theirs are served with shredded pork meat, chicken meat or duck meat and fried shallots and chopped spring onions. We ordered 2 bowls of noodles to share since we would want to try other food as well. The noodles look slightly dry at first when it was brought to our table causing the three of us to raised our brow. Once we took the first bite, it doesn't feel dry at all, but instead very tasty. The noodle is quite springy and doesn't have that disgusting strong after-taste of the typical yellow noodle and that's a plus point. And once you mixed the whole bowl of noodles with all its ingredient together, the fried shallots give this extra crunch, which I loved.

Mie Pangsit (RP35,000/RM11/SGD3.8) aka their local rendition of wantan mee
Ps: I did some googling after seeing the above photo that this shop is located at Jalan Semarang instead of Jalan Selat Panjang and noted that there's actually two Mie Pangsit Tiong Sim in Medan. Once is since 1933 (the one we went) and the other is since 1940 (the one well-known located at Jalan Selat Panjang). There's some story behind these two stalls, which if you are interested you can refer to this blogger's post here. I guess MJ's research refer to the one at Jalan Selat Panjang which we meant to go the night we reach Medan. There are plenty of other delicious food (a long long list) but too bad our flight got delayed and we reached here too late. Google Mie Pangsit Tiong Sim and most info will refer you to the one at Jalan Selat Panjang as well. I guess we just so happened passed by this one at Jalan Semarang and thought this is it. Nonetheless, it was still a delicious bowl of mie pangsit I never regret having. Afterall, there's no benchmark for me to compare against.

"Life takes us to unexpected places, and charm is a product of the unexpected"

After burning a total of RP79,000 (including 3 glass of teh manis), we walked out of the shop and looked for Soto Kesawan, another local specialty MJ found through her research. After some asking around we walked into an alley where we saw some food stalls lying around but no sign of any soto. We then spot a Chinese uncle in front of a pau stall called "Bak Pau" (he's the owner by the way) and decided to ask for direction. We asked for direction in Bahasa, but the man replied us in Cantonese when he heard MJ and I conversing in fluent Cantonese. Frankly, we were shocked to find people speaking Cantonese in Indonesia. We asked about Soto Kesawan and direction to Amplas bus terminal, from which we will be taking local bus to Parapat (where people take ferry to Lake Toba). Mr Bak Pau (that's what he asked us to called him, it's not some kind of nickname I give) was surprised that we would want to go to Amplas terminal and persuade us not to go and to rent a private car instead. MJ and I exchanged look and we insist on going. Bus from Amplas to Parapat will only cost us about RP40,000 per person (if I remember correctly) while renting a minivan will cost us RP120,000-150,000 per person. It's a clear choice to us and we've got the whole day spared for traveling anyway.

Soto Kesawan, and it's halal

Bak Pau then decided to first bring us to buy a sim card (since he knew we didn't get any) and he recommended a decent soto place next door (since he has no idea where Soto Kesawan is). We end up not buying any simcard since it wasn't any cheap deal (we were offered RP70,000) and we don't think we needed mobile data, but it turned out the soto place next door is actually Soto Kesawan! He left us there to have our meal while he went back to his shop. He asked that we return to find him and he will guide us to Amplas.

Our soto being prepared

For those who wonder, soto is an Indonesian traditional soup dish composed of broth, meat and vegatables. The more commonly found soto is the one like a clear chicken soup, and that is what I normally have in Malaysia and Singapore. However, Soto Kesawan is rather different. The soup base uses coconut and their specialty here in soto udang (prawn). Well, that's sometime different from what I usually have and I was eager to try it out. Since we just had 2 bowls of mie pangsit, we decided to order only a portion of soto udang.

Soto Udang (RP27,000/RM9/SGD3)  in creamy coconut broth base
The soto is served with a plate of white rice. Luckily we had some mie pangsit earlier, because the portion was rather small. It kinda resemble Thai tomyum at first but it was milder and not as creamy of tomyum. The prawn is also fried before added to the soup instead of being cooked in it. The soup is light and refreshing but taste didn't linger in our mouth for long unlike Thai tomyum. Hmmm... I actually kinda wish it is thicker and creamier, but then it's not soto already? Dilemma dilemma. Nonetheless, it is still a decent bowl of prawn sotong, just not something I would crave and return for more.

Avocado juice (RP16,000/RM5/SGD1.7) topped with a spoonful of milo powder
As promised, we return to find Bak Pau after finishing our soto and we found him having his breakfast (or was it lunch? or brunch?) with his other Chinese friends. All of them disapprove of us going to Amplas terminal. Aparently, the bus terminal is infamous for having many pickpocket and swindler and they warned that it's not worth risking it. They even offered to send us to a private transport company called Paradep where we can take a shared minivan (air-conditioned) to Siantar and then transit to Parapat from there. It's relatively faster than the public bus (no aircon) from Amplas to Parapat which make many stops along the way and cheaper than a direct private car from Medan city to Parapat. So off we went to Paradep and managed to negotiate for RP50,000 per pax. We said goodbye and thanked Bak Pau for his assistance and Richard exchanged number with him in case he wants to meet up shall he fly to KL in the future. 

We were blessed to have met a good soul - Bak Pau

We waited for about 40mins until the scheduled departure at 12.30pm. As with the previous minibus we took from the airport to Medan city, this minibus is also small and cramped but with slightly bigger leg room. Richard was the unfortunately one as a not-so-petite guy sat next to his and he was unable to sit properly for the first hour of the journey. He turned back to look us several times to check if there were any available seats behind us and I finally noticed the situation. I spoke to him in Mandarin that there are several seats behind us which attracted the attention of the guy seated on the row of seat next to MJ and I and stroke a conversation with us. Turned out he's from Siantar (the town where this minibus is headed) and we learned from him that Amplas is indeed infamous for being a crime spot where tourists and even locals are drugged and scammed. Phew~! Thank god we listened to Bak Pau and his friends.

We even asked Elsen (this friendly guy from Siantar) how to do a transit from Siantar to Parapat and how much would it roughly cost and he ended up helping us make phone calls to car rental company and secured a local price of RP20,000 (RM6/SGD2) per person from Siantar to Parapat. Once we reached Siantar (the entire journey was 4 hours by the way), he even waited with us and ensured we got into the car safely and being charged not more than the agreed price. Wow! We were so lucky to be meeting good souls during this trip. He even left us his name card (and added each other's facebook) and offered help shall we need any while in Samosir Island.

With another good soul, Elsen from Siantar

"Once of the best thing about traveling is meeting unexpected people in unexpected place at unexpected time in unexpected manner"

We waited for the car for about 40mins and after bidding farewell to Elsen, we squeezed ourselves (again) into the back seat of a mini MPV car and continued our journey to Parapat, together with 4 more local Indonesian ladies, where we would be taking boat to Samosir Island. In case you wonder yet again, Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world believed to have been formed by a massive volcano eruption almost 70,000 years ago. Scientists believed that the eruption have formed an ice age that almost wiped out the entire population. Samosir Island is within the lake. So, it's basically and island within the island of Sumatra. And to go to Samosir Island, one would need to take a boat from Parapat. There are basically two ports in Parapat - Tigaraja and Ajibata. Tigaraja is a port mainly catered for tourists who go to Tuktuk Siadong, the resort area of Samosir Island while Ajibata will bring locals to Tomok, a local village on the island. 

The entire car ride took us about an hour, and we finally reached Tigaraja at 6.30pm and the last boat (7pm) has yet to arrive. We bought some mineral water and bananas from a nearby stall which was still opened at that time and waited for our boat to arrive. The price of the boat ride varies according to the drop-off point and we were charged RP15,000 (RM5/SGD1.60) per person to get to our hotel - Lekjon Cottage. We were lucky that we were able to catch the last boat at Tigaraja as we met a Perakian the following day who took a boat from Ajibata to Tomok only to have to pay RP40,000 (RM13/SGD4.40) for an ojek ride to Tuktuk. Phew~! Indeed a lucky day for us.

Thanks to the two good soul, we managed to catch the last boat to Tuktuk

After one hour of ferry ride to Tuktuk Siadong (we were dropped off right in front of Lekjon) and checked into our hotel and quickly walked out for dinner. We had been starving the entire day since our last soto udang and we were in the mood to feast. Turned out one of the famous restaurant recommended by backpackers - Jenny's is just right around the corner, about 5min walk from our hotel. So we dashed out to Jenny's right after putting our luggage in our rooms. 

Jenny's - local Batak food and specialised in barbequed fish

Since we had sufficient budget left for dinner (as we did not have lunch), we decided to treat ourselves better for the night and we ordered barbequed fish (it was tilapia), curry chicken, tomato omelette and gado-gado. Tomato omelette and gado-gado (Indonesian salad with peanut sauce) was okay but the barbequed fish was simply delicious. We burnt RP165,000 (RM54/SGD18) that night for dinner but it was worth it. Let the photos do the talking, shall we?

Barbequed Tilapia

Tomato omelette

Curry chicken

Gado-gado, Indonesian salad with peanut sauce

Our barbequed tilapia served with spicy sambal sauce

We then went to the reception to ask about car rental package for the next day. We were told that renting a bike will only cost us RP100,000 (RM33/SGD11) per day. But since MJ and I do not know how to ride a bike, we had to settle for car/minivan rental as the island is too big to be explored by bicycle. The hotel staff quoted us RP700,000 (RM232/SGD77) for a car and after much negotiation, he suggested that we take a becak (bike-rickshaw) instead which would cost us RP500,000 (RM165/SGD55). The package includes a driver which would also serves as our guide and the route would cover up to Tele Tower, the highest point in Samosir Island offering a bird's eye view of the entire Lake Toba. We took the deal and went to bed anticipating tomorrow's adventure.

Day 3: Tuktuk > Pantai Pasir Putih > Pangururan Hotspring > Tuktuk

MJ and I woke up early the next morning at 7am to shower and prepare ourselves for the day. We then went to the lake side to immerse ourselves in the beautiful scenery before heading out for breakfast.

View from our room
It's a beautiful day with clear bright sky and fresh air. Can i just retire here?

Blue sky white clouds, it's simply beautiful

The girl who is always ready for the camera

Somehow this shot reminds me of my Tokyo trip.

Our room rate does not include breakfast so we ordered the breakfast set which costs RP30,000 (RM10/SGD3.30) per person. The set is a choice of either nasi goreng (fried rice) or mie goreng (fried noodle) with coffee or tea and fruit juice or fruit salad.

Mie Goreng
Nasi goreng

Fruits salad - avocado, papaya, passion fruits

By the time we finished our breakfast at 9am, the becak arrived and we went to greet and meet our becak driver together with the hotel staff who made the booking for us. And then the drama began...

Contrary to the promise that RP500,000 include a ride all the way to Tele, the hotel staff now claimed that the driver will only take us to Panguruan and no further. A ride to Tele will be charged an additional RP100,000 (RM33/SGD11). He even claimed that he did not promise that our package includes a ride to Tele. We were furious at this sudden turn of event. There's no way we would allow them to try rip us off, so we stayed firm and refused to top up the additional cost. We even asked for a refund and cancelled the booking. We were ready to change our plan and explore the island by ourselves even if it means forgoing Pangururan and Tele. Shocked at our insistence, the driver and hotel staff gave a second thought and after some bargaining, we settled for an additional of RP50,000 if he agrees to cover Tele. We finally came to an agreement and hop onto the becak.

Let's start the engine and go!!!
A selfie before we all got roasted under the hot sun. So regret not wearing long sleeves and long pants T.T

We passed by houses after houses, fields after fields, schools after schools and churches after churches (did I mentioned that majority of the Batak people of Samosir are Christians?) and the view of Lake Toba on our right and Samosir Mountain on our left is simply breathtaking. At times we felt like we are on a road trip somewhere in New Zealand (sans the snow) or Nepal. After some time, we forgot about the argument we had earlier and we were chatting and laughing with the guide.

Passing by fields

Mt Samosir to our left

Lake Toba to our right

"Jeju Island"?


After some time, we reached our first pit stop - the Batak Museum. As all three of us is not interested in visiting the museum and the fact that it is not free (I forgot the admission fee), we decided to give it a pass. We left after snapping some photos.

We saw some signboard about a nearby beach called Pantai Indah on our way so we asked the becak driver to bring us to the beach instead. He told us that the most beautiful beach on Samosir Island is actually Pantai Pasir Putih Parbaba, which literally means White Sand Beach, and drove us there. Upon arrival, we were awestrucked! Behold.... photos, photos and more photos...

Welcome to Pantai Pasir Putih

Mountain range view from the white sandy 

My travel mates

Simply love this place

Sending our loves to those who spend time reading this blog post

Looked emo but not emo

Local Batak lady doing laundry 

Who wouldn't love this place?

The admission fee to this beach is RP10,000 (RM3.30/SGD1) per person but I wouldn't mind paying since this place is such a heaven. The beach sand is fine, soft and so white I felt like lying there all day long, only if it wasn't so hot and sunny. Another plus point to this place is that it was not crowded at all. We hardly seen only people here, not to mention tourists. It's such a hiddem gem and we were in love with this place. 

After spending a good 15-20mins at the beach we decided to continue on with our journey. On our way out of the beach we saw some eatery selling "babi panggang Karo". Knowing that it's one of the local cuisine here in Samosir we asked the guide to stop at a good place to savour this roasted pork. 

A church opposite the babi panggang place
The driver brought us to a shop in Pangururan, facing a church. I did not notice any notible signboard (I'm probably too hungry to pay attention) and none of us actually know the name of the place. We didn't even bother to ask the driver when we see this...

Babi Panggang Karo
Pork!!!! Look at those smoke! There's so much smoke coming out I had a hard time snapping a clear picture of the pork.

One person portion served with brown coloured spicy chili sauce and vegetables

Soup that comes with the pork and rice

Jengkol, a type of pea is also served on the table. Richard had one and he didn't like it. Haha

The babi panggang is only RP20,000 (RM6/SGD2) per person and we even paid for the driver's portion. The pork meat is tender and fragrant, and if you like spicy food like I do, dip it into that accompanied chili sauce. However, unlike the chinese-style roasted pork, the skin ain't crispy nor crunchy, but instead hard and chewy. So, ditch the skin and just eat the meat. It's easily one of the most delicious meal we had throughout our entire trip and I strongly recommend this place. Just look for the church in the photo above. 

After fulfilling our growling stomach with a satisfying lunch, we went to Pangururan hot spring which is not far away. 

The view from hotspring. Isn't this Santorini? Lol

Women's section and Men's section

Entering the pool
Aparently, the pool is divided into women's pool and men's pool and since there weren't anyone there besides us, we all enter the men's pool. After all, we are only there to soak our legs in.

The entire place looked like a quarry to us and the driver told us that Samosir has not been raining for the past 7 months and thus the hot spring here had dried up. The pool we dipped had water drawn in using pipes and that has kept this place running. No wonder we saw so many dried cornfields on our way here. This island is undergoing drought! We are so lucky to come from a place where it rains every now and then and we never really need to worry about drought. Let's hope it rains soon in Samosir Island.

"We never know the worth of water till the well is dry. So, appreciate the luxury of having water and don't waste a single drop"

The dried up pool
Visitor will have to pay RP10,000 (RM3/SGD1) for entrance fee into the hot spring if they do not eat or drink at the restaurant. So, we sat down and have some tea while enjoying the beautiful Santorini-like view. We skimmed through the menu and something interesting caught Richard's attention - mie gomak. Curious how it would taste like, we ordered a portion. Apparently, mie gomak is an Indonesian-style spaghetti. I had a bite of it and the saltiness turned me off. Quite tasty but sadly too salty for my liking. 

Mie gomak aka Indonesian spaghetti

After finishing our tea, we continue our journey to Tele Tower and this is where our drama started... yes, again!!!

A small hut where one can sit there and have a nice view of Lake Toba

As promised the driver was supposed to make his way to Tele from Pangururan hotspring. However, after only 10min of ride, he stopped at a lookout point where we took some photo of Lake Toba and told us that this is the furthest he could get us, claiming his becak couldn't make it up the slope all the way to Tele with the weight of four persons. We understood his concern but asked for him to at least try before giving up. He reluctantly tried for 5min but gave up again. We were feeling bad for him and we weren't sure how much further it is to Tele Tower, so we reluctantly relent and agreed to return to Tuktuk without going to Tele. After all, we didn't want his bike to died in the middle of nowhere and have all of us stranded there. 

View of Lake Toba

Feeling bad that he couldn't bring us to Tele, he dropped us at several places along the way back to Tuktuk to make up for it - an abandoned resort overlooking the lake and mountains, two beaches, and Tomok village where we bought some local durian.

The sky is still shinning brightly at 3.30pm

An abandoned resort

View from abandoned resort

Sorry girls, this macho guy is taken

It feels like Bali

The lonely tree

No photoshop

The lonely tree and the emo girl who had got sand in her eyes

Buying a durian in Tomok Village

Despite the durian lady's attempt to get us to take all four of her leftover durians so she could go home, we only bought one since we can't finish all four and we were on tight budget. I'm sorry madam, we would love to help, but we really can't. The durian was great even though it's not as good as our very own Musang King.

Indonesian durian
After trying out the local durian, we rode back to Tuktuk. We were dropped in front of Lekjon Cottage and we paid the driver the balance of RP250,000 (we had paid a deposit of RP250,000 last night) but he requested for the extra RP50,000. We insisted that we promised the extra RP50,000 in the condition that the tour covered Tele but he insisted that he deserved it since he made it half way. MJ and I was furious as this is a matter of principle and this whole morning scenario is repeating again. It's an obvious rip off. It wasn't a lot of money that we couldn't afford to pay but we hate feeling ripped off. Die die must stay firm! The driver had no choice but to leave while shouting "penipu" (liar) at us. 

"Some days we meet great people. Some days we meet bad ones. Traveling isn't all about sunshine and rainbows. There are thunder and storms too. Which is why it is an interesting story worth telling"

We ignored him and set out for dinner since it's already 6pm. Yes, the entire tour took us one full day and we were quite exhausted. We decided to try Leo's Restaurant for dinner this time around. Feeling tight on budget (and the menu here doesn't interest us that much) we ordered only one curry vegetables and one roasted pork for sharing, but the lady boss misunderstood our query on her fish and we were served with an additional barbequed tilapia. We had no choice but to accept that fish shoved to us. 

So-so roasted pork

Curry vegetables

Barbequed curry tilapia

Food was so-so compared to Jenny's (and the food are actually grilled and fried instead of barbequed) and since I was still hungry (once a glutton forever a glutton) I suggested to head over to Jenny's for second round. We ordered a barbequed pork (yes... it's pork day) for sharing (but basically I'm the only one eating) and cup of lemon ginger tea for MJ who wasn't feeling well. 

Barbequed pork

Served with salad

It was 9.30pm when we finally finished our supper and we went back to our cottage to rest. 

Day 4: Tuktuk > Parapat (Tiga Raja) > Berastagi 

The next morning we woke up at 6am in order to catch sunrise. I was feeling so tired I didn't want to get up from my bed that MJ had to wrestled me out of bed (lol... joking). Being an obedient friend, I followed her out to the lake side with my down jacket on, because it was so damn cold. I was feeling all grumpy at first but upon stepping outdoor I felt refreshed. We sat at a hut by the lakeside, slowly waiting for the sun to come out from hiding. Unfortunately for us, our view was blocked by a restaurant and we were too lazy to walk over to there, where a nice sunrise view is more probable, so we continued sitting at the hut until the sky brightened up.

Restaurant, oh restaurant, why you block my sunrise view?
We then head back to our room to shower and pack our bag. The first boat out is 8.30am and we wanted to make sure we get on one since we will be heading out the Berastagi from Parapat and it would be a 3 hours journey.

Waiting for our boat, in my signature "sexy back" pose

The boat is here
The boat came sharp at 8.30am and we boarded it, paying the same RP15,000 (RM5/SGD1.6) like we came in the other day. The boat went from one hotel to another in Tuktuk and headed to Tiga Raja port at Parapat.

Great skin condition while in Lake Toba. It could be the lake water we shower with and the fresh air

Fishermen fishing for fish and prawns

Goodbye Samosir, we will be missing you

Reaching Parapat

The boat to Tiga Raja, Parapat took one hour and we reached the port at 9.30am. Once you step on the port, car company representatives will be swarming at you offering transport to Medan or Berastagi, the two main cities people travel to from Parapat. We were approached by one who offered us RP150,000 (RM50/SGD16) per person. Knowing that we can bargain for a cheaper price, Richard told the man that it was too expensive and the man asked us to follow him to his physical store for further negotiation. This was when we passed by a small local market.

A busy market in the morning

Contrary to the empty quiet street we passed by on the night we came, the place basically transformed into a busy market in the morning. Totally a huge contrast.

As we passed by the busy market, the guy who approached us earlier was lost from our sight and at that moment we saw a car provider not far away and when we approached them, we were also offered the same RP150,000. We asked for RP100,000 (RM33/SGD11) and the man readily accepted. Hmmm… maybe we should have bargained for lower, perhaps RP80,000? Anyway, there’s no turning back and it was the kind of price range we had previously researched. We were told that the minivan will only depart an hour later at 10.30am, so we went back to the local market in search for some authentic Indonesian street food for breakfast. 

Martabak manis - peanut filling (RP8,000)

We first passed by a martabak stall selling martabak manis, aka apam balik. We bought one for RP8,000. We walked further in and found a stall selling mie lontong, also for RP8,000. Since it’s a crowded market, we ate standing in front of the stalls carrying bulky backpack. We were basically the only foreigners exploring the marketplace. No westerner spotted. No backpacker spotted. Only locals and we loved it. 100% local experience. 

"The best part about backpacking is to travel like a local. Eat what the locals eat, do what the locals do. It's the true essence of travelling" 

Mie Lontong (RP8,000)
Just right next to the lontong stall is a nasi campur stall (if I’m not wrong) selling mixed Indonesian rice and we picked the pork dish. The rice is served with salted fish, tempe, vegetables and the pork we chose. It also came with a glass of teh manis and another glass of plain water. There’s a long table next to the stall and the local ladies there were kind enough to offered us seats. 3 person sharing a plate of rice and none of them judged us. Everyone just looked at us with a smile on our face. Lovely! The people here is just so friendly and nice! 

Eating with the locals

We spotted another stall at the back selling some soup dish and decided to try it out. Turned out it was bakso, aka Indonesian meat ball noodle soup. Of course we ordered one to try. 


While the owner was preparing our bakso, one local lady ordered a gado-gado and upon seeing how it was prepared (because it looked so delicious) we decided to also order one. So one bakso and one gado-gado. Total bill RP20,000. My verdict? Love the gado-gado. It was better than Jenny’s. 


We also saw a sweet soup stall next to the bakso stall but decided to give it a pass since we were going to take a 3 hours car ride to Berastagi. We didn’t want to risk having upset stomach or throw up from over eating. We passed by the same martabak manis stall on our way back to the car provider and contemplated whether to buy some for snacks. We end up not to, thinking we should save our stomach for lunch at Berastagi later. 

The car departed from Parapat at 10.45am once the car is full. We shared the car with 4 other foreigners who booked through their hotel in Samosir. We recognised two of them being a couple who also stayed in Lekjon. We did previously asked the hotel and we were quoted RP150,000 per person. Thankfully, we decided to book directly in Parapat instead. 

It’s a long 3 hour journey in a comfortable air-conditioned car, and soon I fell asleep like a dead person. I ain’t sure whether I was too exhausted or my old habit of sleeping in comfortable car ride has returned. It must be the latter. Haha. The driver only made one toilet break during the entire 3 hours journey. There’s a look out point from where the car is parked and we snapped some photo of the Lake Toba below (we are heading towards Berastagi which is a highland and we are halfway there so I guess we are somewhere 800m to 1000m above sea level). 

We reached Berastagi town around 1.30pm and the driver dropped us at Thalitah guesthouse upon our request. We did not make any online booking for a night in Berastagi since MJ couldn’t find any other hotel or guest house that is satisfactory and Thalitah isn’t available for online booking. We walked in and fortunately they did have available rooms. We picked the family room (a suite with two joined room and a shared bathroom) which could accommodate the three of us, for RP300,000 (RM100/SGD33) per night. We even booked our next day’s tour package with them, covering Mount Sibayak sunrise hike, Sipiso Piso waterfall, Gundaling hill and hotspring. The package costs RP750,000 (RM245/SGD82) and includes a mountain guide for the hike and transport covering these landmarks and a driver. Learning from bad experience, we had the guesthouse owner write down every single detail of the tour package on the receipt just to secure ourselves.

We have got nothing to do for the day, so we walked out in search for lunch. We have spent almost all our fund and upon recalculating the balance we have, we need to be thriftier on our spending from now on. Thank god, our breakfast was cheap. Berastagi is sorta like our Cameron Highlands, except, well… dirtier. We walked pass several eatery and couldn’t let ourselves in. Too dirty. There were also several dead rats lying on the roadside. Gross… It’s a 180 degree transformation from Samosir Island as Berastagi is dusty and dirty even though the weather is chilly. We kept walking and walking until we finally found one that’s clean. A skim through their menu and the price is reasonable. We ordered one nasi pattaya, one mie goreng and one mie ssam ssam for sharing. Total burnt to our wallet – RP37,000 (RM12/SGD4). The food was good, the portion is huge for its price and we were full. 

Nasi Pattaya

Mie Ssam Ssam

Mie Goreng

We then walked to a nearby convenient store to get 3 Popmie (instant cup noodles), 3 packets of instant noodles, some biscuits and mineral water. Total bill – RP43,000 (RM14/SGD4.7). We had wanted to save on our spending but instant noodles ended up being more expensive than our lunch. The goods are already on the counter so we had no choice but to pay and we headed back to the guesthouse to have our rest. 

Dinner was instant noodles

Hot tea on the house

That night, we sat at the front yard, eating our instant noodle dinner and drinking hot tea provided by the guesthouse while enjoying the cold night breeze and talking about the recent happenings in our life. It’s been a long time since the three of us have a heart/to-heart talk like that even though MJ and I text each other frequently. 

We went to bed around 10pm that night as we need to start hiking at 4.30am the next day.

Day 5: Berastagi > Sibayak > Berastagi > Sipiso Piso Waterfall > Gundaling Hill > Hotspring > Kuala Namu Airport > KLIA2

Richard woke up early the next day and he was the first the use the bathroom. It was already 4am when he’s done and called out to us, reminding us that we have half an hour to go before we need to depart! Fortunately, MJ and I were quick in using the bathroom and we were ready in no time. Richard’s sprained ankle has yet to fully recover and he decided not to join us. We agreed that he shouldn’t try hiking Sibayak even if it’s an easy hike, so he went back to bed and we hopped onto the car waiting for us outside. Our guide for the day is none other than the guesthouse owner. What?! You are a mountain guide as well? Turned out, he really is and he used to guide people to the higher Mount Sinabung until it is closed in recent years due to its super active volcanic activity. Now, travellers like us can only hike the shorter Mount Sibayak, which is also an active volcano but has yet to erupt since a century ago. Mount Sinabung stands at 2,460m above sea level and was dormant for 400 years until it suddenly erupted in August 2010. The volcano then erupted again in 2013 and 2014 and access was prohibited. The last eruption was May 2016 and several people died and injured. For the past three years, this active volcano have been exploding ash several times a day and on certain days lava can be seen flowing from the peak. Mount Sibayak on the other hand stands at 2,212m above sea level and is a relatively easy volcano to hike. It’s a famous tourist attractions in Berastagi. This mountain may not have erupted for a very long time but it is still an active volcano and its geothermal activity remains high. 

The car drove us all the way until 1,400m, where we started our hike. Well, that does feel like cheating, no wonder we were told that it would only take us an hour to reach the peak. But this isn't a hiking trip to begin with and we were short of time, so that's like a perfect arrangement. For those who are feeling adventurous, you can do a full hike (a total of 2-3hours up and another 2 hours down) which is still a relatively easy hike.

Somehow kinda resembles Mount Kinabalu
We hiked in pitch dark with our headlights on and from time to time as we turned around, Mount Sinabung was clearly visible. Sinabung, oh Sinabung... If you haven't waken up from your 400 years of silence I would have climbed you! As we were nearing the crater, we heard some loud defeaning sound coming from afar. It sounded like chopper to us at first but the guide told us that it was the sound of steam and sulphurous gas being emitted from the fumaroles. I've hiked two active volcanoes before but this was the first time I heard anything like this. We continued our hike and we finally reached the peak after a total of 30-40min hike. What?! So fast? But I've only just warmed up! Haha

Waiting for sunrise

Local hikers waiting for sunrise
We waited for sunrise but we were doubtful that we would be able to see one since it drizzled the night before and the weather was quite cloudy. We waited and waited until the sky turned completely bright yet there was no sign of that "egg yolk" we were anticipating. 

BFF goal - scaling a volcano together
Mount Sinabung
After tons of selfies and photos with Mount Sinabung as our background, we followed our guide to the crater. The way down was so much easier that we reached the crater in no time. On our way down though we see some locals making their way up and some of the ladies weren't properly dressed up. Some are in leather jackets while others are in long maxi dress. Is this a volcano for hiking or is this a dating place? MJ and I can only laughed at this sight and followed our guide obediently to the crater. The other hikers' eyes were on us as well since we were the only foreigners that day. Where are the other foreigners? 

Sulphur sulphur everywhere

We were introduced to a fumarole that emits sulphurous gas and MJ and I couls only gasp in awe. We were then shown another hole where boiling water can be seen flowing in it. 

Hot boiling water at 200degress

Standing on the crater, we were told that magma and boiling water up to 200 degrees was flowing underneath of us. Okay, that's scary but at the same time fascinating.

Feeling the heat
We place our palms on the ground to feel the heat. It was bearable at first until slowly it turned hotter and hotter and I had to pull my hands away. 200 degrees babe, 200 degrees... Luckily it doesn't crack and I didn't fell into it. Guess I'm not too heavy yet, ain't I? Haha... 

No, I'm not having stomachache... Haha

The entire crater looked like an archaeological field at first and if you were to look closer, you would see pebbles being arranged to formed words, specifically names. Those must be the work of fellow hikers! So MJ and I followed suit and started forming our own initial followed by countless photos and selfie. 

Leaving our mark
We are each other's best friend

We then made a move to descend only to turned back because we forgot about Richard. So we added his initial and more selfies. Haha... 
We love you Richard! Sorry we almost forgotten about you

Once done, we started descending and on our way down we passed by another steam vent. Uh-huh! This must be one of the sources of that defeaning sound we heard on our way up. As we stood closer to the vent, nothing else but the sound of steams emerging can be heard. 

After about 20min, we finally reached the starting point and the driver was also here to pick us up at the same time. We got into the car and returned to the guesthouse to pick up Richard. We reached at 8am sharp, the same time the guide had previously told Richard of our return (so expert he could estimate the time so accurately, even though we spent a lot of time taking photos up there). We loaded our luggage into the car and went for breakfast. 

The driver offered to send us to the airport later that day for RP100,000 (RM30/SGD10) per person but we rejected the offer as we were low on budget. We planned to take public bus from Berastagi to Medan then transit to the airport. It would only cost us about RP30,000 (RM10/SGD3) per pax that way. 

The driver than drove us to a nearby Chinese hawker stall for breakfast. Richard ordered curry mee, while MJ and I order fried kuay teow and fried bee hoon. We then proceeded to famous Sipiso Piso waterfall. 

Curry noodle

Fried kuay teow

Fried bee hoon

Yao zha guai / You tiao (RP5,000 each)

The journey to Sipiso Piso took us about 1.5 hour and entrance fee is RP4,000 (RM1.3/SGD0.40) per person while parking is RP3,000 (RM1/SGD0.30). Even the toilet is charged RP2,000 (RM0.60/SGD0.20) per entry! That’s terrible if you asked me since the toilet there is so dirty! Speaking of which, all the toilet we have used throughout the entire trip was so clean we could hardly believe it but the one in Sipiso Piso waterfall was not. Toilet not well-maintained, yet they are charging for it?

Lake Toba - kinda look like I'm in Jurassic Park

Sipiso Piso from the top
Sipiso Piso, which means “like a knife” in Karo language, is the highest waterfall in Indonesia. This 120m high waterfall is formed by an underground river that flows out into Lake Toba. It’s a popular tourist attraction as one can see both the waterfall on the right and Lake Toba on the left. It's like hitting two birds with one stone, so who wouldn’t like it? Sipiso Piso is also known among Indonesian as the “mini Angel Falls” due to the shape resemblance.

Steep winding stairs to the bottom

To get down to the waterfall, we needed to climb down steep winding stairs as the peak of the waterfall stands 800m above sea level. For those with health issue or injury, the waterfall can be viewed from the vantage point near the carpark and there’s no need to go all the way down. As always, MJ and I were feeling adventurous and we can’t just leave without getting to the bottom of Sipiso Piso. Richard on the other hand, wanted to get as closer as he can to the waterfall even with his sprained ankle, so he walked slowly trailing us from behind. Please beware of some locals impersonating as authority as we bumped into several Indonesian men who wanted to collect entrance fee from us. We questioned the need to pay again since we had made our payment when driving in and they embarrassedly let us go. It’s an obvious scam and they were aiming at tourists who are clueless, so beware!

Descending is always easier than ascending and so we reached the midpoint in no time. There were several huts and warungs along the way which cater for those who need some break. We stopped for a while at midpoint as we now able to get a full view of the waterfall and we spotted rainbow at the bottom. Awww, we were so lucky! It’s was so mesmerising, we can’t stop taking photos of it.

Richard decided to stop here as that’s how much his injured ankle could handle. The road down would be getting steeper and steeper and he didn’t want to strain his legs anymore. So MJ and I left him at the hut and we promised to be as quick as we can and joined him later. As we reached the bottom of the waterfall, the rainbow was gone (we were indeed lucky we were able to see it for a brief moment) and the waterfall looked less attractive up close.
Finally reached the bottom

Locals taking photos up close, but trust me, it's more beautiful from afar

Sometimes, something are just best seen from afar, I guess? We were glad that Richard made the right choice to stop halfway as that spot earlier was indeed the best vantage point.

After some photos (since we came all the way down here), we climbed back up that steep winding stairs again. I couldn’t stop complaining on the way up as I hate climbing huge stairs with my short legs and I even took a short cut to avoid climbing so many flights of stairs. That's not recommended kids, so don't follow okay? Safety first!

The entire journey up and down took us approximately one hour and we met up with Richard and the driver at the carpark. We hopped onto the car and off we went to our next destination – Gundaling Hill.

Horse riding at Gundaling Hill

Mount Sinabung

It’s approximately 1hour car ride from Sipiso Piso to Gundaling Hill and by the time we reach there it was nearly 12.30pm. The place is crowded with local tourists from Medan and to be honest, I wasn’t thrilled. 

There’s an interesting myth about the origin of the name Gundaling Hill. Once upon a time, a foreigner went to the hill with his girlfriend. The girl mysteriously disappeared and was nowhere to be found, so he named the place “Goodbye My Darling”. Back then, the local people couldn't speak English so well, and had mistakenly pronounced it “Gundaling” rather than “Goodbye My Darling.”

It’s said that Gundaling Hill is a strategic location to view both Sinabung and Sibayak from up the hill as you are basically standing in between two mountains, getting an unobstructed view of both at the same time. We went up but that's sadly not the case.

Mount Sibayak

It’s one on the left, the other on the right and basically quite obstructed by trees and other tourists. You definitely wouldn't get to see both mountain side by side in a same photo. There's also nothing much to do and see there except for locals who came to picnic and horses going up and down the hill. Since we don’t ride animals and none of the souvenier there got my attention, we stayed for only a while before heading back to our car. Plus, I dislike over-crowded places. It was almost 1pm, and we still had one final place to go before we needed to head to the airport --- hotspring.

We were worried that we may not make it to the airport on time. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 8.30pm local time and we have to be at the airport by 7pm to be safe. It’s half an hour from Gundaling Hill to the hotspring and it’s gonna be about 3 hours from Berastagi to Medan by public bus and another 1 hour from Medan to the airport and we were afraid we won’t be able to make it on time. Richard finally spoke up and suggest that we accept the driver’s offer to take us directly to the airport for RP100,000 per person. Spending a little bit more money in exchange for a guarantee-arrive-on-time-we-won't-miss-our-flight-ride, we accepted his proposition.

With Mount Sibayak at the background
We reached the hotspring at 1.30pm and to make sure that we have enough time to make it to the airport we made sure not to soak in for more than an hour. The entrance for the hotspring is RP5,000 (RM1.6/SGD0.50) per person and there are 9 pools in total. 

Eating corn while dipping in hotspring 
We picked one that has a nice view of Mount Sibayak and the three of us dipped in and enjoyed steamed corn. After an hour we wash up and changed our clothes and had lunch there before departing to the airport.

After wash up, ready to go for lunch

Lunch - mie goreng

It took us about 3.5 hours and we reached Kuala Namu airport at 6.30pm. We went for document check and head to A&W for dinner. We used up the last bit of our money for dinner and we happily boarded our flight home.   

A&W fried chicken and rice


It's the first time the three of us traveled together and it was indeed a memorable experience. We all have different taste and preference and we all have temper, but along the way we learnt to put up with each other and to see things from each other's point of view. We went into argument together, we laughed at silly little things together and we explored the unknown together. It's not all sunshine and rainbows, yet this trip couldn't have been any better without them. Thanks for making this trip work and let's see each other again for the next one! 

"As with any journey, who you travel with can be more important than the destination"

Expenses breakdown for whole trip:
Flight ticket: RM102 per person
Lodging: RM171 per person (RP530,000)
Transport, tour and entrance fees: RM247 per person (RP765,000)
Food: RM140 per person (RP434,000)
Total spent: RM660 (SGD220)

We could have spent below RM600 if we rented a bike at Samosir instead of a becak and if we took public transport to the airport from Berastagi instead of private ones. We could even stretch further if we book a smaller room at Thalitah or bargain for more on those private car rides. RM500 (excluding flight) in Medan is possible, depending on how budget you travel. For those who have plans to go, good luck and may you enjoy your stay there as much as we do. Bon Vovage!

Thanks for reading. Love you guys!

"Travelling doesn't have to break a bank. You just need to do it wisely"

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