Medan is the capital city of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Medan offers the following points of interest for tourists and photographers;
- The Great Mosque of Medan (Masjid Raya Al-Mashun), Sri Deli Park
- Maimun Palace
- Our Lady of Good Health Church
- Sri Mariamman Temple
- Trips to Berastagi and the Instagrammable Natural Park Lumbini
- Trips to Lake Toba
- Trips to Bukit Lawang Orangutan viewing center
Hotels in Medan are very cheap, you can find famous luxury hotel chains at very low prices.
Completed in 1909, the Great Mosque of Medan is over 100 years old. What makes this mosque unique is that it was designed by the Dutch who were in Indonesia at that time. The marble was imported from Italy, Germany and China, the stained glass windows were imported from France. The mosque was designed to look more elegant than the Maimun Palace (below) which I think it does. If you visit the mosque when it’s raining you can get a wonderful reflection shot.
The Maimun Palace is the Royal Palace of the Sultanate of Deli. The palace is very Instagrammable but unfortunately my photo does not do it justice. There was a huge fair going on when I visited which meant the gardens were full of huge tents (above left).
In Indonesia it’s incredibly cheap to hire a car and driver to take you wherever you want. I chose to go to Lake Toba for a couple of days. Lake Toba is a volcanic lake, located in the caldera of a super volcano. The drive from Medan to Lake Toba takes 3 hours and you’ll pass endless rubber tree plantations on the way. You could stop in the town of Berastagi on the way where you can visit a few interesting sites. Notable sites in Berastagi are Sipiso-piso waterfall and the Natural Park Lumbini.
Parapat is a small village on the edge of Lake Toba. In Parapat you’ll find a market, a few hotels and boats offering rides to Lake Toba Island (Samosir). I stayed at Parapat which is a small village on the edge of Lake Toba. The other popular place to stay is Tuk Tuk which is located on Samosir Island in the middle of Lake Toba.
I didn’t see many good eating options in Parapat, I’d recommend looking for restaurants in the hotels.
Lake Toba is nominated to be a UNESCO world heritage site but has not yet been classified as one. Here are some Lake Toba facts;
- Largest volcanic lake in the world
- Largest lake in Indonesia
- Known as Danau Toba in Indonesian
- It occupies a caldera of a super volcano
- The super volcano last erupted over 74,000 years ago, this is known as the Toba eruption
- Most humans on earth were killed during the last eruption and following volcanic winter
- The Toba eruption was the most recent eruption of a super volcano
- The large island in the middle of Lake Toba is called Samosir Island
- Lake Toba is located close to the great Sumatran fault line
- The super volcano is active
- The local people are Bataks
There are many boats located on the banks of Lake Toba in Parapat and Tuk Tuk which you can hire. The boat drivers know where to take tourists and you must negotiate a price which will be very cheap. You can alternatively organize a boat tour with your hotel which will be a little more expensive but with a driver trusted by the hotel.
The local people who live around Lake Toba and North Sumatra are known as Batak people. Located on the Samosir island in the middle of Lake Toba is the Batak Museum where you can learn more about their culture, customs and history. The Batak houses are an unusual design (above). They are designed so the back of the house is higher than the front. The children will sleep at the back of the house to signify they must reach higher than their father in life. The number of steps leading to the door signifies how many children the family wishes to have. As you enter the house through the low doorway you must bow showing respect to those already inside.
Behind the Batak museum is a path which leads up to a beautiful viewpoint of the lake.
There are sets of stone seats and benches at the Batak museum. The first set was a conference area for Batak kings (above). The second set of stones seats is where the rajas would make judgement over a criminal or prisoner. The final set of stones seats is similar to those above but has a central stone which was for executions. You can pose for pictures on these stones but respect the brutal history.
From Lake Toba my driver took me back to Medan which meant I could continue my journey on to Jakarta.
From Medan I traveled to Jakarta by bus which is a long 2 day journey. It leaves Medan late afternoon and arrives in Jakarta 2 days later in the evening. I traveled to Jakarta with Putra Pelangi, you can buy your ticket from their office in Medan. The bus is quite luxurious and better than I thought it would be. Putra Pelangi have an Instagram account (above) which has lots of images of their fleet of buses.
An alternative to the bus from Medan to Jakarta is the ferry. Pelni Ferries offer a direct service from Medan (Belawan) to Jakarta. You can buy tickets for the ferry and check the schedule in the office in Medan.