July - August 2017
Rainforest meets paradise
The most northern and second biggest island of Indonesia situated on the equator and definitely one of the most stunning ones. Sumatra is beautiful with it’s pearly white beaches, clear blue seas, untouched rainforest and sweetest people we have ever met. Sumatra is awesome!
From Medan airport to town it’s fastest to take the train but cheapest to go by public bus. Somewhere in the middle there’s the Grab or Uber taxi way. Traffic around Medan is horrible and can take you two hours to get into town.
We skip the city for now and have a shared taxi take us to Bukit Lawang for € 23.00 in 6 hours. At Medan airport we are being picked up by Hoesein a small thin Indonesian guy with a big smile. He will drive us to Bukit Lawang.
We need to go to the toilet, get money from the ATM and buy a simcard before we go so our driver although slightly annoyed patiently waits for us. At the airport we pay Rp110.000 for a simcard with 3.5 gb data and some minutes. We were supposed to arrive at 14.30 but now it’s 16.00 and we have a six hour drive ahead of us. Our driver Hoesein barely speaks any English but gently lets us know to get moving…
With our new simcards we enjoy ourselves in the car, while looking out the window at the neverending traffic around Medan. It takes us no less than two hours to get passed Medan (45 km) and then we are on our way west!
Hoesein likes to take a break and we can’t blame him. So he stops at a little outdoor restaurant where he obviously knows everyone. He has a coffee and some food and we just sit with him and look around. He let’s us taste some of his food, it’s a noodle soup and it’s not spicy he says. Uhuh, we’ve heard that before. And we were right, my lips are on fire for the rest of the night.
Two girls at the restaurant want to serve us some fried chicken, they insist. It’s a crispy leg and it tastes good.
We are ready to continue. Another three hours to go. As we pass some cute villages we instantly remember why we loved Indonesia the last time.
While it’s getting dark the roads around Bukit Lawang are getting worse. Hoesein has both hands firmly on the wheel and his eyes focussed on the dark road ahead. Every ten minutes he has to break for a cow in the middle of the road and apologises for every pothole. And there are quite a few…
Hoesein tries to make a conversation but his vocabulary is very small, so every once in a while he says a word of something he sees out of the blue, like ‘cow’ or ‘ribah’ (river) or a name of a town we pass. It’s very cute but I don’t know what to say because he can’t understand any English either. So I just try to ask simple questions like if he has children or a wife. This works and before we know it we arrive in Bukit Lawang.
Singing in the jungle
We have to walk ten minutes from the car park to our guesthouse Lawang Inn through the town of Bukit Lawang. The town has one long street alongside the river with restaurant and cafes everywhere, one looking even better than the other. When we finally arrive we are so not disappointed, Lawang Inn looks great! Next door there is a bar with some live music so we drop our bags in our room (oh my god our room is huge!!) and run next door to The Bugis Inn for some of the action and a cold beer. Oh yeah, this is just what we needed!
Drunk and stoned Indonesian guys playing guitars, everybody’s singing and sitting in a big circle. It’s a Kumbaya meets Woodstock vibe, we love it!
You better like cats because there are hundreds of them here in Bukit Lawang. This charming town in the middle of the jungle has a lot to offer, besides the inviting guesthouses to choose from there are many cool activities to join.
We won’t do any tours here because we have planned to go further into the jungle where our money is probably better spend (see Kedah). You pay about € 30.00-35.00 per person per day for any tour. The prices are mostly fixed by the Indonesian tourist association so you’ll find the same prices everywhere.
We do our own tour and hike through the town to a bat cave. We pass a few wobbly bridges, one even more scary than the other.
We also pass the Bukit Lawang orphanage managed by the Dutch Saskia and her Indonesian husband. They started their ‘Kindertehuis’ in 2007, 5 years after a huge flood in Bukit Lawang killing 245 people and leaving many children in the region without a home or family.
The orphanage looks like a real home, a great garden with nice colors and a big house where the family lives together with their 9 orphaned children. In the garden are two spacy cottages for rental or the volunteers they have every now and then.
Do you want to know more about the great things Saskia does for the children? You can find their website here!
The bat cave
The bat cave is worth while. The entry fee is Rp20.000 including guide and flashlight. We ask the ticket guy who our guide will be and he looks surprised, I think nobody ever takes a guide. Ah well if it’s included in the price, why not.
Our guide shows us how to enter the cave. We probably wouldn’t have found the best route on our own so his presence is addition already.
Inside the cave there are many small bats hanging upside down and spiders too. It’s dark and my flashlight is not of good quality so we have trouble seeing anything. You can walk/climb through the cave for an hour but we’ve seen enough and go back to our guesthouse before it starts to rain.
Opposite of our guesthouse there is a nice restaurant called Eriono, here we ate the most fantastic pumpkin curry… twice! Actually the food is terrific everywhere. And of course the fresh fruit juices are too 🙂
Tubing down the river
The next day we decide to walk along the river the other way. There is a guesthouse called Back To Nature, at about an hour from town so we hike there and have a cool drink. An amazing location in the middle of nature, monkeys all around and a view to die for.
From there we go back to town by jungle-taxi. That means tubing over the river! With two ‘drivers’ and us in the middle we float in the blown up tire over the river back to our guesthouse. Floating is not the right word, wild water rafting… and it is SO COOL!!
With it’s 1130 square kilometers Lake Toba is the biggest lake of Sumatra and also the biggest of South-Eastern Asia. The depth is estimated at a about 500 meters. Can you imagine, a lake of half a kilometer deep!
When we get there the owner Roma shows us around. There are three very basic bungalows, one has a bucket shower but we choose the middle one with a normal shower. The bed is not made yet and looks brand new. We pay the heartbreaking amount of € 3.25 per night. Roma is very sweet, she works hard and we decide to give her some advice for marketing her bungalows because the location is perfect. We’ve put her accommodation on TripAdvisor and build her a basic website that hopefully helps her get more guests!
As soon as we are installed we go for some food in the small town just a few hundred meters away.
With a beer from Piet through our website to drink our sadness away, that helps a lot… thnx Piet!
Pulau Weh has got two main areas, the city Sabang on the east and Iboih on the west. The island is especially popular with divers and we now understand why. We arrived on the island as snorkelers planning to do one Discover Scuba Diving lesson. We ended up doing our Padi Open Water ánd Padi Advanced Scuba Diver course. With a total of 26 dives in and between the courses we now consider ourselves full-blown scuba divers.
The many different fish and corals are impressive and colourful. We’ve seen Blacktip and Whitetip sharks, an Eagle Ray, Marble Rays, Octopuses, big Porcupine Fishes, Turtles, Pickletail Baracudas and Great Baracudas, large groups of Giant Trevalli’s and many other impressive species at a very close range. Also smaller creatures like Scorpion Fish, Rock Fish, Lion Fish, Box Fishes, Harlequin Shrimp, Leaf Fish, Nudibranches and Mantis Crabs we can add to our ‘seen’ list. Whoah, we are addicted! We are so happy under the surface, like floating in space. Just when we thought we where doing alright exploring the world we discover a whole new world that looks even better than upstairs…
Our arrival at Sabang Airport was a bit awkward at first. There are no tuktuks, only taxis asking ridiculous prices so we walked away from the airport hoping to find a Bechak (tuktuk). As soon as we find a small restaurant after a ten minute walk we ask around. But no, there aren’t any bechaks available in this area. A guy in a car stops and asks us where we are going. To Long Beach, we say. We need a tuktuk, not a taxi, we say… thinking this guy wants to make some money.
Ah, a bechak! Not at the airport, only in town, he tells us. So, he brings us to town ‘as a friend’ and arranges a bechak to Long Beach on the other side of the island for Rp150.000. It is an hour drive so the money seems well spend.
The town Iboih on the west side is small but has some guest houses, restaurants, shops and diving schools. Outside of the town there are a few smaller villages by the beach. We stay two nights in Long beach north of Iboih at Panorama Seulako bungalows. Great relaxing vibe but not much to do. We pay Rp275.000 per night for a quite new room with ac and private bathroom.
We join Monster Divers at Gapang beach just south of Iboih. The Spanish owners speak good English and are very relaxed. Eventhough the diving school picks you up from any hotel on the island we decide to move to an accommodation at Gapang Beach near Monster Divers.
There is not much available for our budget so we stay at Da Dang Na in the beginning of the beach. The fan only room with private bathroom is very ok but isn’t clean. There is a big amount of hair in the shower and the towels we get are smudgy. There are ants everywhere and the fan has some undefinable strings of dust. The beds look clean and is only for three nights so, ok. We’ll survive. We pay Rp150.000 per night which was definitely too much.
A while ago we have made a reservation to stay at Freddie’s Santai in Sumurtiga, close to Sabang on the eastside of the island. The reviews are excellent and the price: Rp325.000 for an amazing seaview bungalow with a relaxing deck with hammock.
Unfortunately the glory fades away quite rapid when we get acquainted with our neighbors, a small mosque. They start their prayers the next morning at 5! The chanting takes about half an hour and is repeated six times during the day. It’s very loud but as soon as it’s over we forget the whole thing. Despite this we have a great time here and do some dives at Monsters every other day.
The 17th of august it’s Indonesian Independence Day. Everything is closed and Sabang is filled with festivities. Great to experience a day like this, people in their finest clothes smiling all day.
We change accommodation again and this time we find a nice bungalows next door to Monster at Paman Bungalows. We pay Rp150.000 per night for a nice basic but clean room with a bathroom and a deck with hammock. The owners are very sweet and eventually we stay at Paman Bungalows for 16 days.
On the ferry from Pulau Weh to Banda Atjeh the seats are the only thing that’s comfortable on board. People smoking indoors, crying children and people walking back and forth. We have chosen the slow ferry which costs only Rp14.000 per person and takes about 1.5 hours. We can’t complain. We survive the trip easily but it quite tiring. We let a bechak take us to our hotel, Hotel 17. It just opened a month ago and looks very nice. We really need some luxury for a change, but unfortunately our luxurious and pricy room is quite small and has no window. Eventhough the bed is comfy, the room is not really clean as well. We pay Rp420.000 so you may understand our disappointment. The first thing they did ask when we checked in was to put a review on TripAdvisor, that we certainly did!
Today is Eid al-Adha, sacrifice feast in the Islam. Banda Atjeh is one of the most strict Islamic cities in Indonesia so this holiday is hard to miss. A no fun holiday for non-Muslims, and especially for animal lovers, animals are being sacrificed, slaughtered, everywhere throughout the city and streets are filled with blood, so they say. Our afternoon in Banda Atjeh is a lot different from what we were warned for. To our great relieve we see no terrifying festivities nor shocking scenes. The streets are abandoned and every store and restaurant is closed so there is not much to do here.
Eventually we discover one small restaurant named ‘Coffee Cream’ in the same street as our hotel that is open.
The owner has Indian roots so he says, so he doesn’t care much about the holiday. He doesn’t have much fresh veggies because everything is closed today but he’s glad to fix us a nice meal. And nice it is! For Rp13.000 (€ 0.85!) we get fantastic fried noodles with tofu, egg and some vegetables with spices that are just right.
Unfortunately we haven’t seen a lot of the city when we leave for the airport the next morning.
Kedah - Gunung Leuser with Mister Jally
We are spending a few nights in the jungle around Gunung Leuser. Mister Jally has a lodge in the middle of the rainforest and is famous for his trekking. We have had contact for a few weeks because our day of arrival was still unsure but now we’ve set a date and they are picking up from the Gayo Lues airport.
After booking the tickets with Susi Air by telephone and paying the Rp375.000 per person at an ATM we got our tickets by email.
While we where in the taxi to the airport we got a phone call from Susi Air… oh no, flight cancelled? Nope, they call to say the check in is now open.
An hour early we board our plane, a 10-seater propellor aircraft with a small snack box on every seat. There are three other passengers and two pilots. The flight is extremely relaxed, no turbulence and a fantastic view over the breathtaking rainforests of northern Sumatra.
The airport, or airstrip is one runway and a small wooden shed with benches. As soon as we get out of the plane a traffic controller asks us if we go to Kedah, to mister Jally… yes, that’s us!
In the car the driver asks us where we come from. Holland I say, Belanda. Ahhh you know Sigrid and Marije? Haha yes I do!
From where we leave the car it’s a thirty minute walk to the lodge. A peaceful place in the jungle without any mobile connection. During our short hike we see Thomas Leaf monkeys very close to the lodge. Cool!
We get settled in our basic bungalow. The bathroom is not quite what we expected, but at least there is a real toilet. We only pay Rp180.000 per night including three meals a day, so we shouldn’t complain.
On our deck we meet a weird looking multi paw creapy crawler. And when we go to dinner at the canteen we see a big rat. Great. Jungle life haha.
We don’t sleep very well, the mattress on the floor is very thin so we feel broken when we get up.
Two black gibbons close to our bungalow make up for everything straight away. We meet some of the staff and we hang around the lodge. One of the guys, Addy, makes me a beautiful rotan bracelet which takes him all morning and after our lunch we go for an amazing hike with two of the guides.
After another restless night on our thin mattress we are ready to go. With some bare necessities we enter the rainforest for a two day hike. It has been raining a lot the past few days but the weather is good now. The trekking is quite heavy but the brown gibbons we spot are so worth the effort. Halfway through the day we finally spot what we came here for; an Orangutan. We quietly sneak closer and sit in the bush at only 10 meters away. Ohh… and she has a baby!!
No hike will be complete without a mud bath, so in an attempt to fulfill my expectations I slip and slide through the mud holding on to a tree to prevent me from sliding down the slope. Perfect.
After hiking the amazing no-trail jungle we arrive at the river. Rain falls heavily from the sky so when we need to cross the wild river we don’t really care because we are already soaked.
Being an absolute gentleman Mister Jally carries me across the river but almost looses the balance in the stream so my pants get wet anyway. Soon we arrive at the camp where the carriers already set up the tent and made a fire.
Everything we brought is wet so we try to at least dry our shoes by the fire. While the staff prepares some food we enjoy the crispy fire and our new surroundings.
It’s breathtaking here. The sound of rain, the wild river and some birds is all we can hear when we lie on our thin mat.
The night was rough but after some food, again rice with egg and noodlesoup, we pack our things and enter the forrest for our hike back to the lodge. After another full day hike we come back to our bungalows and talk about what an amazing time we’ve had.
The next day we take the bus from Kedah to Ketambe at 7 am. Or… that’s what they said… it eventually left at 8:30 and took five long hours to get to Ketambe.
After our trekking in Kedah we were not planning to do another trekking, we came to Ketambe to relax.
Eventhough there’s not much to do in the direct area around our guesthouse, their garden is amazing. Many different flowers and tropical plants tastefully combined and überZEN. It doesn’t take long before Macaques and Thomas Leaf monkeys visit the area. They are shy so don’t come too close, but close enough for us to take some pictures.
The owner of the guesthouse is very caring and helpful with information about Sumatra and Java. We get a lot of useful information and decide to book a flight to Medan with his help. He calls Susi Air to reserve two seats which we can pay at the airport just before the flight. For this flight from Kuta Cane to Medan we pay Rp275.000 per person.
We end up staying here at Thousand Hills Guesthouse for five nights. We pay Rp150.00 per night for a very ok bungalow with private bathroom and veranda. The guesthouse has a restaurant with a 17 year old cook. Eventhough he still needs to learn a lot he’s certainly got potential! The food is tasteful and fresh and prepared with love.
In Ketambe there are no ATM’s and there is no citycentre. It is just a road with some mini markets and houses alongside it. If there is anything you need you can go to Kuta Cane which is a 45 minute drive.
The airport on the other hand is a different story. From Kuta Cane we take a too small becak and drive to the airport in an hour. Long wobbly dirtroads through ricefields and small villages. Extremely uncomfortable but a beautiful trip and quite cheap. We pay Rp45.000 for this trip.
From Medan we’ve decided to fly to the south of Sumatra. We wanted to go to the Banyak and Mentawai Islands but changed our plans last minute. Why? We will see many beautiful islands as we travel south east and the islands on the west coast have the tendency to be rough and windy this time of year. Not suitable for swimming and relaxing. So: skip.
Bandar Lampung, the undiscovered south
From Medan we fly to Bandar Lampung with a technician stop in Batam (nice from what we can see). Garuda Indonesia takes us across the Island for Rp800.000 (€ 50.00) per person. We could find cheaper flights but that was in two weeks, so booking a little more in advance has it’s advantages.
From the airport in Bandar Lampung it’s still 23 kilometres to town. A taxi will take you there for Rp170.000 (€ 12.00) but the public bus costs Rp23.000 (€ 1.50) per person and is very acceptable. And the bus stops right in front or our hotel too!
After our jungletime we really could use some luxury.
The too hard or much too soft beds didn’t bring us the rest we needed on the long term, but our hygiene was also decreasing somewhat.
Bathrooms in Sumatra are very primitive. A western toilet is one thing but a shower is also not obvious. Mostly bathrooms have a toilet (in or above the floor) and a small bath bassin, tap or shower. The water coming out is not always clean and filtered. So washing our clothes sometimes resulted in even more smelly and dirty clothes then before. Furthermore, a mirror is scarce and so is a clothes hook. But you get used to it. Really, you will.
Our stay in Bandar Lampung did the trick, totally. We booked two nights at the Batiqa Hotel including a very good breakfast.
Besides hanging around in our fantastic room we strolled around the town and discovered some great cafes. A typical Indonesian town, without tourists but with potential.
We decide to take it as it comes and book a third night at the Batiqa Hotel.
Way Kambas National Park
Eventhough we came to the Lampung area for various reasons we ended up doing none of them.
In Way Kambas National Park, 80 kilometres from Bandar Lampung you can see the Sumatran elephant, which of course is amazing! Unfortunately we read on TripAdvisor that all the elephants are chained and punished. Being taught tricks and being rid on. We don’t want any part of this so we decide not to go to this park. Terrible!
Great, what’s next?
The west coast of Sumatra is famous for it’s impressive waves. The little surf town Krui sounded appealing but after doing some research we couldn’t find any accommodation under € 40.00 per person. Yes, that is per night. A super simple bungalow with a hole in the ground for your poo. Ridiculous. Krui could have been so awesome. But… skip.
The small town Kiluan just south of Bandar Lampung is supposed to be an amazing spot. Dolphin watching, a beautiful bay, ambiance all over the place. Looking into this we see more and more comments about litter spoiling the beautiful sight, twenty or more boats chasing the dolphins and people not caring about the environment. Pfff… is that 6 hour bus ride over a uncomfortable dirt road really worth it?
Are we travel-depressed? Is there anything left in this area we dó want to see?!
Slightly disappointed we answer our question negative and decide to leave Sumatra with the beautiful things we did see and leave the undiscovered south the way it is.
Sumatra to Java
We book a busticket with Damri bus company at the busstation in Bandar Lampung. A Royal Class ticket all the way to Jakarta for Rp235.000 (€ 15.00) p.p. and that’s no disappointment. Ohhhhh my… we could live in this bus…
Our bus drives from Bandar Lampung to the harbour of Bakauheni in three hours and immediately drives onto the boat. We get our of the bus and sit outside on the upper deck. At 11:30 the boat leaves the harbour and navigates through the small tropical islands in the middle of the bright blue sea.
After two more hours at 13:30 we are on the other side, Merak, Java.
There is a trainstation at the harbour but we continue our journey by bus. For now…
We arrive in Jakarta at Gambir trainstation at 16:00 after a quite comfortable ride.
Volcanoes of Sumatra
Everything has lost it’s colour houses and cars are grey, covered in in a thin layer of ash. It looks like people aren’t really impressed by what’s happening, regular life goes on.
On Sumatra there are many different ways to transport yourself from one place to another. Airplane, train (only around Medan), taxi / private car, becak (tuktuk), lapi lapi (open ‘hop on’ van), shared taxi or ‘tourist bus’ (big car for 6-7 persons) and minibus for 12 to ? persons. Not all are value for your money…
It may sound decadent to complain about comfort in a country where many people can’t even afford to have something with wheels. For us traveling in an old worn down van with 20 people for several hours is acceptable, even the folded up legs and hard seats are bearable. You can use earplugs against the deafening music, but smoking inside is our limit, this a line we don’t want to cross.
Our experience with minibuses is that everyone smokes inside, the music is loud and the bus is full. Our last bus ride there were two guys throwing up as well… ride from hell. So, especially the smoking part made us decide to skip this form of transportation as much as possible.
Becak or tuktuk
A becak is easy and cheap but not available everywhere. This vehicle is not as big as we know it from Thailand. It’s a motorcycle with a small side car that just fits two small persons. In some areas there are even double becaks in which you can sit with four small people or two persons and two backpacks.
It’s an easy way to get from A to B and you contribute to the local economy 😉
Besides Lion, Wings, AirAsia, Garuda and many more, there is also Susi Air. Susi Air flies all around the island and is quite cheap. For about € 12.00 – € 25.00 you can fly almost anywhere in short distances. Booking the ticket is another story. We are convinced of full planes if only they would pick up the phone or reply emails. The first time we flew with Susi Air we let an Indonesian employee of the diving school in Pulau Weh call for us. She booked the ticket which we had to pay at an ATM or bank within two hours. The second time we booked we let the owner of the Thousand Hills guesthouse call and book the tickets which we could pay upon arrival at the airport.
The flights are quite on time, comfortable and a cool experience. A small 10 person propeller plane with a snack box on every seat.
Damri bus company
Damri is a government owned bus company that has routes over the entire island in different classes and prices. Their website is in Bahasa but most bigger cities have a ticket office. We tried out their totally luxurious Royal Class from Bandar Lampung to Jakarta and paid € 15.00 per person. A regular coach ticket would cost € 10.00 on this trajectory. Unfortunately just like every other form of transportation the music is turned on to maximum volume and very taste dependent. Sort of Indonesian Schlager festival music… yep, you gotta love it. A airplane ticket would have cost us pretty much the same but would have taken as just much time as well. From door to door. Eventually flying might have been better for our hearing. Fortunately after a while the music is less loud and we can relax again and enjoy our comfy leather seats.
Currency: 10.000 Indonesian Rupiah = € 0.64
In these 46 days we’ve spend:
- Transportation: € 475.00 (including domestic flights)
- Accommodations: € 456.00
- Food and drinks: € 535.00
- Entrance fees: € 41.00
- Other: € 224.00 (60 day Visa and SIM card + Internet)
That brings us to a daily budget of: € 37.60 for two persons including everything, except international flights and diving activities.
We’ve stayed in cottages and double rooms with private or shared bathroom, in- or excluding breakfast.
In Indonesia you are a millionaire after spending two minutes at the ATM. Eventhough almost everything is cheap, on this Islamic island alcohol is expensive and sometimes rare. But alcohol isn’t the only thing that is hard to come by. The lack of whole wheat products and buying anything without loads of sugar or fat is not easy. Your cash is worth a lot in Indonesia, but if you’re looking for healthy your money is worthless.
Here are some examples of products and prices in euro:
- White bread in supermarket: € 0.25
- Coffee latte in a lunchroom: € 1.50
- Beer (650 ml) in a cafe: € 2.50
- Beer (650 ml) supermarket: € 1.75
- Coca Cola in restaurant: € 0.50
- Fresh fruit salad in restaurant: € 1.00
- Gado gado in restaurant: € 2.50
- Fried noodles in restaurant: € 1.50
- Liter gasoline: € 0.40
- Renting a scooter for a day: € 6.50
- Simcard with 3.5 gb data: € 7.00