I have for some time wondered what the area around Lake Toba in North Sumatra would be like to ride. I was not able to find any bike rental previously but by chance met someone from the area via Instagram who gave me some advice including how I can easy rent a scooter on Samosir island.

To get there I flew to Jakarta from Labuan Bajo after my ride in Flores. I was still recovering from food poisoning I was hit with the last day in Flores. Exhausted I slept across a few chairs in airport waiting for yet another delayed Indonesian flight.

IMG_8926Nice view of Mt Rinjani during the flight.Arriving the Jakarta hotel I lay down and fell asleep again immediately. This stuff gets harder as you get older especially when not 100%. Don’t leave it until retirement to travel, your options will be much more limited.

Next day I felt better but experienced comical airline behavior at Jakarta. Arriving at the terminal for my flight and queuing for ages I am told I have been put on another flight which departs another terminal. Arriving there I am told the new flight is later time. That time arrives and the plane disappears from screen. No announcements, eventually I find someone who says it is late wait at same gate. After another hour try to find some more info am told my flight already has boarded (no announcements or anything on screen) am directed to a different gate that takes me to the tarmac where a few other people wandering around unsupervised. After 10 minutes a bus is flagged down and we are taken to yet a third terminal and board a plane where I have to ask is this to Medan, no boarding passes are checked. Don’t fly Lion folks, pay a little more.

At Medan airport I am fortunate to meet someone going my way and we split the cost of private car to Parapat, about $35 each. You can take shared mini van or share taxi also but it is a minimum 4 1/2 hour trip on roads of often bumpy surface so weigh it up.

I stay overnight at Parapat. I had booked a hotel here thinking if anything is delayed then I would miss the last ferry and that proved to be true.Indonesia is a tobacco paradise. A pack retails as low as .90c Aus. No ban on advertising anywhere including tv. When I was young cigarettes were cheap and advertising designed to make boys think it was manly and cool to smoke. Half the high school I went to smoked, myself included, a deceptively addictive drug that took years for my friends and I to quit.This brand boasts a pro never quits.


After a breakfast of cake as my stomach is not quite ready for any street food I ride a becak to the port. These are public mini buses built from old delivery vans which ply certain routes like jeeneys in Philippines. Cost .40c, not sure if locals pay less but seems reasonable to me.


Next I take the pubic ferry across Lake Toba to the village of Tuk Tuk.There recently was a terrible tragedy on this lake with a overloaded vehicle ferry sinking taking 200 people to their deaths. The captain seeing my hesitation assures me that was no where near here and his boat is fully equipped with brand new life jackets.


45 minute ride and he drops me right at the jetty of hotel I am staying. Two days, two planes, a car, van and boat. Welcome to Samosir island land of the Batak people.


First order of business is find a bike. I need not have worried, the village of Tuk Tuk is just for tourists, every second shop offers a scooter for rent for about $10 for 8 hours day use, pick up in morning return before evening. I want to ride further than the average Mio 125 type machine is suited for so when I see a Yamaha N-Max 150 I know it has to be that. I negotiate to have near new helmet and keep the bike overnight and am happy at $20 per 24 hours rental despite this being well above the other bike rates as I think it is a much better package.Next day I ride south around Samosir island and the scenery is superb.


When the Toba volcano erupted about 75,000 years ago it was an explosion of unimaginable force. You may have read of the mighty Krakatoa volcano explosion of 1883 and how big that was. For some sense of scale that ejected 18-25 cubic kilometres of rock into the sky and the explosion was heard 3600km away. Toba ejected 2700 cubic kilometres of rock into the sky! The explosion and it’s affect would have been felt around the entire globe. Silt was deposited over much of south Asia. Pakistan and India received 1 to 5 metres of ash. The larger affect of climate change from a nuclear winter and widespread destruction of all life` are still being debated.

What is left is the worlds largest caldera. Lake Toba is at an altitude of 1000 metres and the island formed in the middle, Samosir, is the size of Singapore.


It is really a beautiful place which my phone lacks the dynamic range to capture.I have no set gps route here just paper map and rough idea to try see the lake from many viewpoints.

Stopping in a small village to get some drinks I meet some lovely people who invite me to have coffee with them. The lady is based in Myanmar with a church and is returning home to visit family. A wonderful interlude.I ride on up the west side and it too is beautiful then cross a bridge and climb up to see from a higher view point.


The N-Max came into it’s own already having the acceleration to pass the mini vans easy something the smaller scooters lack. I had a nice ride up and down the rim of the caldera on it too the handling is more sporty and quite fun. Next I took a road that goes over the middle of the island which initially was mighty rough on the small wheel bike but took me to a superb vantage point.


For a sense of scale those walls of the lake are up to 600m high, the camera pushes things away and makes everything appear much smaller. I used the raw photo file format of my aging iPhone 6 to take three images for the above panorama which allowed me to extract a little more of the detail from the shadows but small sensors regardless of pixel count have poor dynamic range thus are weak at scenes like this. I regret not having my proper camera today as it is unlikely I will pass by here again in my life.


The next day I felt confident to try ride to the northern outer edge of the caldera where there is the most published viewpoint of the lake.

I first rode around the northern inner edge. There are many people living in traditional Batak houses on Samosir island.


These peaked roof houses can be seen in every village.I came across a wedding procession in one of the villages. The bridesmaids all posed for me Smile


There is such a relaxed atmosphere here. It’s ‘island time’ but things and services still operate as expected.  The ride north after leaving the island was long and tiring on the N-Max. I find the feet forward ride position of scooters to be uncomfortable as it transfers every bump to the lower back.The viewpoints are not signposted and difficult to find. Eventually I came to a nice spot as the sun finally broke through the clouds that had made riding cold all morning.


I never found the viewpoint marked on the map and had to think about getting back as already 2.00pm. It would be too long to return same way so I decide to gamble the ferry from Tigaras is running.Alas the ferry is not running and now I am a long way from where I started and it is already mid afternoon. Nothing for it but ride on to Parapat. Try take my scooter on the small boat or leave it at the port and come back tomorrow.

Once upon a time I would have worried but I am getting better at things like this and know it will work out one way or another. Even if I miss the last ferry can get a room in Parapat and buy cheap throw away shirt and underwear at markets and it will not be the end of the world. I take a break on the ride south at a viewpoint with interesting Instagram photo gimmick.


I admit I wanted to get a photo on this but looking at the clock I really had no time if I was to make the Parapat ferry before it finished.

Hang on so what am I doing now fooling around. Well the clock and my heart stops when asked for a selfie by two pretty girls…


Everywhere I went people were very friendly, girls want to chat and take selfies.


Great riding from here south to Parapat. Tuk Tuk village can just be made out on other side of water above so I did not stop to take more photos which is shame as this section was beautiful as the sun got lower. Made it to Parapat 2nd last ferry and no problems to take bike and myself across. $1.50 for me and $1.00 for the N-Max. You could probably live here very affordably, everything except wine is very cheap.


The loading was easy, the unloading however was one person to very narrow jetty which I then had to ride along but again I made it.What a huge day. Nearly 10 hours by time I am back to hotel.I was still tired the next day and the weather was overcast. I waited but the sun was staying away today. Well that makes it easy to decide not to try ride to the southern outer edge.

Did a little exploring of Tuk Tuk village. Lots of German owned lodges here serving European food and every tourist seems to be speaking German. The lake with its high walls, cool temperatures and cold water is perhaps the closest thing in appearance to a European lake I have seen in SE Asia.Here is a map of the area to give some ideas if you travel here. You can click this or any image to enlarge.


Very nice bike the N-Max. In another class to the usual 125cc base model machines and it has quite a punchy acceleration. I could easy blip past the mini vans with tourists. I ended up just roaming about this afternoon looking at the many churches and traditional houses.

The people here speak their own language and have a unique culture that pays high respect to elders and how many generations your family has been in the area. The family grave is an elaborate structure that stands very tall with a small Batak style house positioned up high with a view often to the lake. Family are entombed in the grave and after about 25 years the bones are transferred to the small house up high as the final resting place.


I enjoyed to see this area and satisfied I made my way back to Medan, the ferry and car trip taking about 6 1/2 hours into gridlock Medan central. I had hoped to enjoy a nice wine tonight but alas despite being a big city there is virtually no alcohol sold thanks to the influence of the Islamic religion. Some small consolation,  KFC offers coffee and donuts here…


I went looking for the spicy food Medan is said to offer but I really have not had one meal that I would deem spicy in the whole time I have been in Indonesia, very mild compared to Malaysia and Thailand. I was a little surprised that everyone eats with their hands, even in restaurants in the mall. Seems out of place in SE Asia. Food can be very cheap in sit down family restaurants $2.00-3.00.


Those Oppo and Vivo smartphones are half price here but I decide I prefer to put the money towards changing my camera. My Lumix GX85 has excellent dynamic range which would have been big help on this ride but it is incredibly heavy for a compact camera, 700g with a small lens, it literally feels like a brick in my jacket and so sits at home meaning it is useless.

I’m heading towards home today from Medan to KL then to Tokyo next day. Flying Malaysia airlines, it was cheaper than Air Asia once I added all their fees which nearly doubled the base fare. A350, very nice plane.


Well this is Selamat Jalan from Indonesia. I have enjoyed my visit to this country again. This also brings me to the bottom of my ride list I set out to do in Asia. I still have a few more ride adventures elsewhere in the world to complete my original ‘bucket list’ that I started on four year ago but in this part of the world I can say that I am satisfied.


  1. Another great trip report Warren. I will have to try and get over there one day.

  2. I have enjoyed your Indonesian adventures – Flores and now Lake Toba. I have not really had Indonesia on my bucket list but reading your reports has made me re-think this… went to Lake Toba on the way back from a surf trip to Nias in about 1986. I have very fond memories of the few days I was there.

    • Hi Richard,

      Flores is a very good ride, the road built across the island is not dissimilar to twisty roads say in Northern NSW and Gold Coast and it is still reasonably priced.

      I saw quite a few European guys retired in Samosir. Besides wine everything is very affordable and many benefits.

  3. Interested in your camera comments Warren. I always use a good quality compact simply because of size considerations. My Sony DSC RX 100 took great photos but reliability was an issue. I'm not going to spend any more money and must research what are currently good compacts before our China trip next year.

    • Hi Geoff, in Japan I often shoot the same scene with multiple cameras, iPhone6S, Sony cybershot and for few years Micro four thirds sensor cameras from Panasonic.

      It is easy to see the improvement in quality as the sensor size increases when shooting landscapes. The smaller sensor with less dynamic range makes a mess of the detail where light contrasts.

      I had lens problems with both my Lumix cameras, quality control issues which is shame as the LX100 in particular took an exceptionally good photo when working. I now have a Canon G1XMIII with DSLR size sensor in semi compact body. I talk about it elsewhere in the blog a bit. Build quality is superb. Too early to say more but seems very good.

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