From Bangkok we hopped across the Malacca Strait to the huge island of Sumatra, the world’s sixth largest and the westernmost tip of Indonesia.
After the relative development of Thailand, Sumatra was a bit of of surprise. The taxi from the airport to Medan was stuck in traffic for almost the whole journey. The streets were dark and grimy (we watched the biggest rat we have ever seen run into a restaurant), the air smoggy from burning rubbish; and after a horrendous bout of food poisoning in Bangkok, the only place we could face for dinner was Pizza Hut.
The next morning the 180km potholed bus ride to Lake Toba took six hours and was full of chain smokers. But on the flip side, compared to Thailand, Indonesia has significantly fewer tourists (apart from Bali), super friendly locals and beef rending, my #1 curry.
Toba is the largest lake in Southeast Asia covering 1,707 sq km. It is a crater lake formed from an extinct volcano. And to top it all off, in the middle of this huge body of water sits an island* (Pulau Samosir), which itself is nearly as big as Singapore and was created by a massive eruption. A pretty crazy combination of natural forces.
While Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim nation (as well as the world’s fourth most populous country), there are pockets of Buddhists (in Bali) and Christians dotted across the 2,000+ islands which make up the country. And the Lake Toba area is home to the Batak people who are mainly Protestant Christians.
On our first day in Tuk Tuk, our Lake Toba base, we rented a moped and drove part of the 120km circuit of the island. We saw beautiful countryside, local life and, of course, stunning lake views at every turn. Friendly locals and smiling kids waved ‘hallo’ as we rode by.
The next afternoon, after a morning of trip planning whilst gazing at the lake and a quick swim, we decided to do a spot of cooking so signed up for an Indonesian cookery course ran by a local restaurant.
We really enjoyed preparing the dishes (chicken rendang, aubergine with sambal, sate and steamed fish) and talking to the teacher about her life and in particular inter-faith marriage, life in Indonesia and her kids.
For our final day we rented bicycles to see more of the beautiful island. Cycling in the midday heat was a challenge, especially as the island is pretty hilly, but we saw some more stunning landscapes, cheeky buffaloes, pointy traditional Batak houses and ancient tombs.
*Pulau Samosir is not technically an island as it’s actually connected to mainland by a narrow isthmus
Next stop: trekking to (hopefully) see orangutans in Bukit Lawang