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pPamela
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Hi Everyone,

One of the travellers tommmmm... from LP Thorn Tree Indonesia forum spent a wonderful 6 weeks travelling in Sumatra in 2010.
Here is the link www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree(...)spa?threadID=1958599 and the full report he wrote.

Enjoy reading.

Thanks to all the people on this LP forum who've helped me plan my trip!
Maybe this report can be of some use to you when plaanning your trip.

End of august I came back from a 6 week trip on Sumatra.
We (my girlfriend and I) really loved this island. It's incredibly beautifull, the people are some of the friendliest I ever came across (especially in aceh), the food is delicious (good for vegetarians as well). it's also very cheap to travel around here.

We started in banda aceh and went down from there to padang. we did this in 6 weeks and that was a good time to see the things we saw. It was way too short to see everything we wanted to see on sumatra. I love to go back.

I'll tell a little about the places we visited, hope you get inspired to make a trip to sumatra as well. I've seen quite a few places around the world and sumatra is definitly one of my favourites; even after just one visit!

accomodation prices I mention are for double rooms.



Pulau Weh

Lovely laidback island. Beautiful scenery and clear waters. Spend 7 days here and that felt about a right amount of time although you can easily stay longer.
Tourists come here mostly for the diving as it is supposed to be amazing. I was a little disappointed; sure it’s beautiful but I didn’t think it was amazing; a lot of dead coral. Basically all other divers I spoke to there felt the same. When I asked the resident divemasters why they liked it so much they said it was all about the currents. The currents can be pretty strong.
I dove with Rubiah Tirta divers, based on Iboih (actually Iboih is a village a little further away yet this stretch of bungalows is commonly referred to as Iboih). It’s owned and staffed by locals and the owner won some prize for environmental awareness (he’s replanting coral). They didn’t seem to care too much about safety though. I had a cold so I specifically asked the divemaster to keep this in mind and take it easy. Yet when we went up to the surface, from aprox. 21 mtrs, he didn’t make a safety stop at all. They also offered people to go down to 60 -70 meters; even if you didn’t have the proper experience. Keep this in mind if you’ll dive with them. If you’re a confident diver and make it very clear you care about safety you probably won’t have a problem with them. They are really friendly people. Lumba lumba divers on gapang appeared to be more concerned about safety, it’s not locally owned though.

The snorkelling is really nice in front of Yulia’s (Iboih) and around rubiah island. The moray eels are huge. From Iboih you can easily swim across to rubiah, no need to be a strong swimmer at all. Just make sure it’s low-tide. At rubiah swim around or walk across (there’s a path) to the other side for the best snorkelling.

Don’t forget to rent a motorbike (80.000 a day with full tank in Iboih) and ride around the island, beautiful scenery everywhere. Ride to the south side ass well where it’s more quiet.

We stayed at Yulia’s; last in the row of the places on Iboih. Nice bungalows for 50.000, the best are the ones right on the water (60.000). decent food, friendly staff. I had a look at the other places on Iboih as well and thought Yulia’s was the nicest, good vibe. Yulia’s also has the best snorkelling on Iboih right in front. Went to Gapang once but wouldn’t have liked staying there, snorkelling there wasn’t any good.

Fast ferry from BA to pulau weh and vice versa is 50.000. slow ferry is 20.000 and actually quit enjoyable.
Ferry’s from sabang to ulee leh (BA) leave every day at 8 a.m. (s/f), 2 p.m. (slow) and 4 p.m. (fast). On Wednesdays there’s no 4 pm fast ferry.

Banda Aceh

Nice town to spend a day or two. Friendly people. There’s no chaos, no noise, no smell, it’s not dirty but also nothing special. Tsunami museum is impressive and worth a visit (free entry, donation appreciated), but not completely finished while we were there. Apart from the museum I didn’t find anything really attractive.

We stayed in Hotel Prapat for 100.000 a night. Has western shower and toilet and you even get free bottles of drinking water. Chinese owner may appear grumpy but he is actually very friendly and helpful. Good location. It’s in between hotel medan and wisata. I’ve heard from others these hotels weren’t nice but I didn’t check myself.

Aceh adventure rents out bicycles for 50.000 a day and motorbikes for 100.000 a day.
Also organises bicycle trips through surrounding countryside for aprox. 300.000 a day.

Bus (small one) from BA to takengon costs 80.000. It was supposed to take 6 hours, took us 12 (you’ll get used to this quickly on Sumatra Emoticon: Wink ). Still you might wanna tell the driver ‘pelang pelang’ every now and then; on this route we had the craziest driver off our entire trip. Some people take nightbusses on this route, I wouldn’t recommend this for safety reasons but also because the scenery is nice.

Takengon.

Lovely small town. The lake is beautiful but it was the people that made me enjoy this town so much. Friendly, helpful and a good sense of humor. Didn’t see any other bule while we were there.
Stayed at hotel Mahara which was very expensive (200.000 a night) and strangely formal (f.e. when you pay for the room you get a receipt in an envelope). It does have very comfortable beds, hot shower and breakfast included. There’s a lakeview from the topfloor restaurant.
There’s cheaper hotels around but can’t remember the names, just look around.

Mama’s café has delicious food and a wonderful owner who loves to speak a little dutch.

There doesn’t seem to be a place to rent motorbikes but you can ask anyone to rent you their own motorbike.

Minibus takengon – ketambe cost 120.000. took us about 10 hours.

Ketambe

Truly wonderful place. Tiny village in the middle of the jungle.
You can walk along the road (blangkejeran direction) and have a good chance of seeing orang hutans and other creatures. On my first day there I walked along this road and after half an hour or so, near Gurah bungalows, I saw two big male orang hutans. There's troops of makaks and thomas leaf everywhere. Hornbills flying over. Snakes and lizards crossing the road. And of course the gorgeous forest mountain scenery. We saw many other creatures the following days. About eleven different orang hutans, lots of hornbills, white headed gibbon and even a landturtle. Some spectacular bugs as well. The research area is out of this world.

It's also quite easy to walk through the forest yourself, without a guide. There's lots of trails criscrossing each other. I would recommend to go with a guide though, at least the first couple of times. They are much better in spotting wildlife then you are and they know the forest. They can tell you lots of interesting things on the flora and fauna and local lore (depending on their english and your indonesian language skills).
Obviously not al guides are alike and some are better then others. It's best to talk to your guide and see if you like each other before you head into the forest. We spend 2 days in the jungle with a guide who usually works for friendship ('cause pak mus his guides weren't around at the time). He was unfriendly, very lazy, didn't know much about the forest, didn't keep his promises and didn't enjoy being there with us at all. This was the first and last time pak mus hired this guy.
Luckily we went on other trips later with pak mus himself and members of his family. They were great. Al is a good guide to if he's around and feels like joining you into the forest.
There's 5 guest houses in ketambe, plus gurah bungalows up the road. Friendship has the website and is our pick in the lonely planet (the author only stayed in friendship). At one time they were completely full while every other place was empty ('cept us at pak mus). The bus from takengon even dropped us of right in front off friendship without asking and threw our bags in their garden.
Now friendship is probably a very nice place to stay but so are the others. I strongly recommend to take a look at the others before you decide, they're very close together.

I've stayed at pak mus and fell in love with the place. The family are the nicest people, so friendly. When I didn't feel like going into the jungle I joined pak mus for some business in town or check out his plantations. My girlfriend joined satuma (pak mus his wife) to the market and they cooked together. We had the best time or our entire trip here. We stayed for ten days and felt real sad leaving and we still miss them.

Their bungalows are set in a lovely garden and cost 50.000 a night. Monkeys come and raid the fruit trees, don't leave fruit on your porch. You can swim in the river and just behind the bungalows, 10 min walk, is a lovely waterfall. You eat together with the family and the food is terrific.

Dayhike costs around 250.000 pp. Multidayhike around 300.000. These include everything (water, guide, tent, food)

You can't get or change money in kutacane, nearest place is brastagi so bring plenty.

You can get to toba in two ways. 1 is kutacane – tele (5 to 8 hours), tele – pangururan (1 hour) and then on to tuktuk 1 hour.
OR you go kutacane – kabanjahe (3-5 hours), kabanjahe – siantar (2-3 hours), siantar – parapat (1 hour) and the ferry to tuktuk (40 minutes).

The first route took us about 12 hours. The road down from tele to pangururan is incredibly scenic.

Lake Toba

after ketambe tuktuk came as quite a shock. There are a lot of tourists. Some people say there aren't that much and compared to the number of hotels and restaurants this is true. But I didn't see this many tourist any other place in sumatra.

The lake and mountains are very pretty. I enjoyed riding a motorbike around samosir, great views. You can rent motorbikes from every single person in tuktuk for about 70.000 (full tank). I couldn't help to feel a little lost here. I still missed pak mus and co and didn't like toba that much. I thought maninjau was a lot nicer.

Stayed at lekjon in tuktuk. For 50.000 you get a huge room, comfortable beds, clean, hot shower.

You can't get money on samosir; take the ferry to parapat and then walk for half an hour or so on the road to the left from the harbour to find an atm.

We booked or superexecutivenonsense bus parapat to bukkitinggi in tuktuk. Expensive at 180 or 190.000 a ticket. It's a nightbus and took us about 18 hours. Freezin cold airco (I hate those things) so come prepared.

Bukittinggi .

Nice little town. People complain about the noise from the mosques but I didn't mind it at all. The muezzin's could use some lessons though on how to sing a proper call to prayer.
Good base from where to explore the surroundings. We spent about 2,5 weeks in and around bukittinggi and liked it a lot.
There's not much to do in the city itself; fort de cock is underwhelming and the adjacent zoo will get you depressed for sure. Markets on wednesday and saturday are nice to walk around. The panorama view offers good views indeed.

We spent 1 night in rajawali. The owner is a friendly guy wit lots of info on the surroundings. The rooms are pretty bad. Hadn't been cleaned for some time, awful smell from the bathroom and the floor is more comfortable to sleep on then the beds. Think we payed 60.000 for the night but not sure.

We spent some nights in d'enam which is a nice hotel. 60.000 for a night. Rooms are clean, private bathroom. Friendly owner. Nothing fancy but all you need.

Most of the time I spent there was during ramadan. This was partly nice because the streets where quiet but the also the restaurants were closed. During the day you could only eat in tourist restaurants. At night lots of foodstalls would appear.
Bedudal cafe is one of the tourist cafe-restaurants. They have good food and the people working there are nice; and can give you lots of info on anything.

Sianok Canyon

just outside bukittinggi is this gorgeous canyon, good for walking around.
There is a guesthouse called Taruko which is on a amazing location; the views are unbelievable. They have 2 bungalows (building a third) and a restaurant right next to a river. The bungalows are really fancy; sort of a resort feel to it, but very laidback. Expensive at 150.000 a night, but if your alone they only charge 75.000 for the same hut. When the third hut is ready they will charge 500.000 for the hut we slept in; so you better go there soon. Go by ojek.

Danau Maninjau

beautiful lake. I liked it a lot more then toba. Very green with sawa's and jungle all around. Part of the craterrim consists of amazing cliffs. Good place to ride a motorbike around; rent them at your guesthouse for about 50.000. circle around the lake and enjoy lunch in one of the tiny villages. Drive up to a viewpoint for a view from above. The ride up the 44 hairpinbends might be a little difficult if your not used to manual motorbikes, going down is good fun though slippery when raining.

We checked out most of the accomodations and we picked muaru beach in maninjau village. Nice bungalows with good views and even a little rocky beach. 60.000 a night. Laidback vibe and the restaurant serves good food. I thought lily's guesthouse was the most beautiful one on the best spot but they had shared bathroom and my girlfriend didn't want that at the moment having her period. (where are the good old days of travelling alone Emoticon: Wink )
at muaro beach you can use their canoes and the thing I enjoyed most was to paddle right to the middle of the lake and watch sunrise from there, surreal. You can swim in the warm water of the lake and is nice as long as you don't get to close to the fishponds.

Bus from bukittinggi takes an hour and is very cheap.

Harau Valley .

Amazing and under appreciated. Spend about a week here and this was the nicest place in sumatra for us (together with pak mus).
Endless sawa's, tiny villages surrounded by coconuttree's and huge cliffs all around. Waterfalls tumbling down everywhere. The gibbon calls from the jungle on top of the cliffs and thomas leaf monkeys jump around your hut.

We spend 2 nights in echo and didn't really like it. Overpriced (120.000 for a hut) and abandoned. We tried to find somebody to cook us a meal in the huge restaurant but there was nobody there. When we did manage to get a meal there once but it was tasteless.

Then we went to abdi's homestay which was completely different. Just two huts in the ricefields. Terrific views across the fields, the jungled cliffs and sago (volcano) in the distance. Right behind the hut a huge cliff with waterfalls coming down.
The huts were new, a really clean mandi, an extremely comfortable bed, nice porch with hammock for 60.000 a night.
Owner Ikbal and his wife noni are kind people with a good sense of humor. The food they prepare for you is unbelievable, so good, the best we've had. You eat on your porch as there is no restaurant.
You can walk to the village which is inhabited by friendly people who love to play a game of tabletennis with you in the village shop.
Go on a jungletrek with ikbal; on top of the cliffs there's nice forest with little waterfalls and swimmingpools, gibbons and lots of pitcherplants. And those views!
Walk around the countryside, and your worlds away from bukittinggi. It's just paradise. And no other tourist there.
Go follow a stream and find hidden waterfalls. Go to a village a little further a weekly for a nice weekly market.
The people we've met who had been here all stayed for just one night. The place deserves so much more time.
Don't go with a guide/agent from bukittinggi or maninjau or something. You'll pay more while ikbal receives less. It's real easy to get there yourself.

From bukittinggi take a bus to payakumbuh. From there a bemo or something to harau village. From there an ojek to the valley. Will take you 1,5 to 3 hours and costs almost nothing.

Bungus Bay

really I don't know why you'd go here. Dirty little beach right on the motorway. Lot of noise. Big city very close so dirty brown water. I suppose you can wait for a plane here, padang airport not to far away, but I wouldn't go there for no reason.
TinTin homestay is a dirty place. Another (forgot the name) is really expensive. We stayed at carlos in overpriced rooms (150.000 for a nice one, 100.000 for a not so nice one). You can't sleep with the noise from the road. Carlos is an unfriendly character who cares about money alone.

A trip to pagang island is a different storey. This is a really pretty island. The snorkeling is nothing to speak of but it's a sweet island anyway. The boattrip there is also pleasant with nice views. With carlos you pay 200.000 for a day trip, minimum 5 people. You can spend the night on the island but this will be expensive. We heard carlos charge different prices to different people but it will be about 300.000 a night.
enjoy your travels!






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