Long weekend in Lake Toba

Lake Toba is a gigantic lake in North Sumatra, Indonesia. It was formed by a huge volcanic eruption 70 thousand years ago when a supervolcano erupted causing a massive climate-changing event.

Some cool facts about Lake Toba:

  • Largest lake in Southeast Asia
  • Largest volcanic lake in the world
  • 436 square miles (bigger than Singapore!)

We stayed on Samosir Island, the big land mass in the middle of Lake Toba. The island is interesting because, besides being one of the only islands within an island in the world, it’s also one of the only regions of Indonesia that is mostly Christian (versus Muslim like the rest of the nation). The people that live on the island are the Batak tribe, who have a number of particular Batak traditions, build homes in a beautiful style of architecture called Batak, and speak a language called—wait for it—Batak. We were very excited to meet these island dwellers on our trip.

The group (eight of us, and a great eight, too!) left for our fantastic voyage after work Thursday evening, as Friday was a public holiday in Singapore. Let the holiday begin! After flying one hour to Medan, we started a “four hour drive” to Lake Toba which, because of Friday night traffic, turned into a nearly seven-hour trek that got us in before 5AM on Friday morning. We were all super tired but very happy to be in Lake Toba, and even though it was pitch black when we arrived, we could see the lights glistening on the lake and knew we were in for an epic view in the morning. Our hosts at Tabo Cottages where AMAZING and stayed up to greet us and observe our zombie-like behaviour as we walked to our various rooms and fell asleep on impact.

Breakfast was served the next morning until 10AM, so we all woke up responsibly at 9:57AM to take advantage of the meal. We ate a nice long breakfast of fruits and toast and drank the delicious coffee of North Sumatra (I felt almost starstruck drinking it, because I had sold Sumatra blend during my five years at Starbucks to many customers, and was drinking the real thing!). I loved Tabo Cottages right away. It’s the kind of place that is modest but makes you feel right at home. The decor is cozy, and the people are some of the sweetest and most accommodating I’ve ever met (if you’re reading this, hi Alfon!). It’s everything you look for in a hotel—a place that makes you feel welcome and instantly relaxed.

Alfon and the team set us up with a private ferry that took us on an hour-long ride across the lake, and the ride itself was something to remember. We listened to epic Indonesian hits on the ride over, drank some morning beers and chatted before arriving at Situmurun Waterfall, which was beautiful. It is a stunning waterfall of fresh and crisp, clear water surrounded by lush greenery—and an excellent place to go for a swim. We all hopped off the boat and into the blue waters and spent the afternoon enjoying the scenery while the locals looked on and took pictures of their entertaining Western counterparts. After waterfall swimming it was back on the boat for a packed box lunch (thanks again, Tabo—truly the MVP of the trip) and another scenic ride across the lake back to our cottages. Back at Tabo, the group split into two groups of four for massages, while the other half got some drinks by the pool, showered, got ready for dinner, etc. Our dinner that night was at Jenny’s, up on the hill in the restaurant area of Samosir. Delicious food in a small restaurant with really good music (a mix of Batak tunes as well as some Western, blues-y covers). There was very little we didn’t order from the menu, and by the end of it all our table was covered with grilled BBQ fish, lots of curries, nasi goreng, chicken rendang, and of course some tofu and veggie options for yours truly, as well as what seemed to be an endless flow of drinks. Our dinner was very long (we were at the restaurant for almost three hours!) and the girls were all feeling quite stuffed and tired from our trek the night before (morning of?), so we hauled it back to Tabo and laid our weary heads to rest while the boys kept the night going (#champs).

Saturday morning was an early one: a day full of activities on the agenda! We were up and at ’em by 8:30AM because Connor (one of the Great Eight) had planned for us a cultural tour of Batak tribe traditions, and we had planned a visit to some local hot springs. So we powered through another yummy breakfast at Tabo, then hit the road to see Bolon Simanindo Village, the former home of Batak King Sidauruk and his 14 wives (play on, player!). Traditional music greeted us as we entered the village courtyard to see the local people perform a dance ritual of over 10 parts. The dance started when the villagers led a buffalo into the courtyard, a key symbolic role in the traditional cultural practice. Also the program said that typically the buffalo is slaughtered as part of one of the dances so I was low-key freaking out the whole time, but managed to suppress my slaughter-related stress when the dancers pulled us into the courtyard to learn a few of their fly moves! A few of us went up into the courtyard to dance a few rounds, and it was really fun to be able to share in the tradition with the Batak people. We also got to walk through some traditional Batak houses, complete with saddle-shaped roofs that are distinctive and prolific all over the island.

With our itch for culture fixed, we then headed out in an effort to find a nice hot spring to chill out in for a bit. We did end up hiking a bit along a beautiful hilltop, but couldn’t find the hot springs we had in mind from our TripAdvisor search, and also it was hot enough that Satan would’ve felt at home, so we decided to call it early and head back to the cottages for lunch (tempeh, avocado and sprouts sandwich for me). After lunch the group decided to go jet skiing but since I was super tired from the night(s) before and have the sleep schedule of a newborn, I decided to take the opportunity to catch up on an hour of sleep so I’d be fresh and ready to go for our final night’s dinner!

There were so many reasons to celebrate in Lake Toba: besides a big group of friends being together, we also had two birthdays and a wedding anniversary for toasting. The owners of Tabo Cottages are a German family with a bakery down the road, so I had called ahead for a Black Forest cake to be made and brought out during our dinner. And best yet, there was a live band performing during dinner who stopped their set to sing to our table as the staff brought out the cake! It was truly a special moment, and we FaceTimed Roisin during all of this so she could see the band sing to her boyfriend (one of the celebrants) like she was there in person.

Super epic dinner was made even more epic by the night that followed at Roy’s, the local live music venue on the island. Picture this: Batak guitarists performing Western favourites like the Eagles and the Stones (and even Despacito, if you pay them enough rupiah). And the best part was that some of our hotel staff came out to party with us which was great, and Alfon got on stage to lead the whole bar in singing “Happy Birthday” to our two August babies, Rajat and Anjuli. This night was definitely the cherry on top of a fantastic weekend, and we could not have asked for a better last evening together.

Lake Toba is one of the most beautiful places I have visited in Asia, and this was certainly one of my favourites. With such a good group of people that meshed so well together, in a magical place like Toba, it was truly a memorable trip!

Some photos from Lake Toba:

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