Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world, and was the site of a massive eruption that occurred around 69,000 years ago – an eruption from whose volcanic ashes could be seen falling as far away as Africa!
It will take around 8 hours in a private van to make the trip to Lake Toba from Medan but the scenery along the way is amazing! Once at a town called Parapat, which will be your first experience of the culture and customs of Lake Toba, you can take a ferry across to Samosir Island, which is of course famous for containing the “lake within the lake”.
In contrast to the picture postcards, I found parts of Lake Toba very grubby and rustic. But I liked that. I came here to experience the culture and to try to understand the community here, not sunbathe on the beach. The water of Toba looked pretty good, although obviously it wasn’t clear, but still good enough to go swimming in if you wanted to. I would have been a bit worried about the wildlife in the lake though (i.e. snakes), so I stayed firmly on land!
In the middle of Lake Toba, is a large volcanic piece of land known as Samosir Island. It is known as the world’s largest “island within an island”, and is roughly the size of Singapore. As well as the amazing scenery and warm freshwater swimming opportunities, there are considerable examples of local architecture on Samosir Island, and as such is a very popular hangout for travellers who wish to enjoy some much-needed respite from Sumatra’s terrible roads! Ferries from the port town of Parapat will sail you across Lake Toba to Samosir Island, upon which time moped is the preferred method of transportation!
One of my favourite things to look out for when travelling is the various types of traditional and local architecture on show. I love the Batak houses! Their style is very similar to the tongkonan at Tana Toraja in Sulawesi, but there are subtle differences. Nonetheless, I would love to live in one myself. There is also an ancient head-hunting tradition here, which is cool to learn about, yet unlike their ferocious ancestors, the Batak people of the 21st century are very friendly towards all travellers in the area, and would often give impromptu renditions of old Indonesian folk songs! The Batak children also loved to interact over a quick game of football!
Ambarita Village was a small rural enclave on Samosir Island, and is around 3 miles north of Tuktuk, which is probably the main hub of the island. It gave me a great insight into how local people go about their lives, and I would love to have stayed a little longer to further immerse myself in the community. A small village like Ambarita was a much more intimate and as such more realistic experience of Indonesian life than in the Sumatran megacity of Medan.