(Long ass post ahead, and also the last of the series!)
Medan, a bustling city with a diverse language and culture. With mainly Indian & Chinese living in Medan, it's hard not to feel like I am in Malaysia. No doubt the difference in both nation's (Malaysia and Indonesia) culture and language, both nations share similarities in the way of life.
In a snapshot, both cities share immediate differences in the hygiene of the streets, where Medan had cleaner streets with actual locals cleaning up after they use it. While public bins are available at almost every establishment, some litter do find its way onto the streets in the form of cigarette butts, tissue paper, and several nondescript items. Despite the differences, it was observed that Medan have many people living on the streets, where evidence of their living is clear in sidewalks, shop fronts and back alleys. The homeless, at some points, dominate the sidewalks, resulting in impassable paths. Where its safe from the traffic and weather, signs of the homeless can be seen.
Unlike many cities that discourage people from sleeping on the streets, Medan it was observed that Medan did not share the infrastructure to keep people off, but keep people in. Bringing light to the topic, the people of Medan indeed shares distinct differences in the financial class. For instance, one may see the middle-high and high-end people spend more time sheltered, in cars and in air-conditioned shopping malls, while the middle-low and low-end people spend more time outdoors, within their local vicinity.
Despite the latter, Medan, like most towns in Indonesia share similarities in its transport situation. With a few traffic lights and a high amount of vehicles (of all kinds) on the road, traffic jams in Medan can last from a minimum of 15 minutes to 45 minutes. Well on the bright side, the use of traffic lights are strictly enforced with the police on a lookout, making the safety of pedestrians a tad bit higher.
However, a constant fear in Medan and most parts of Southeast Asia is the fear of getting mugged, stolen from, or pickpocketed. However, the lack of foreign tourists seen in Medan makes it less likely for tourists to get into some form of trouble. On one occasion, while we were returning from our late night supper, we ran into a beggar trying to get some change from us. We declined. Within the same time, I notice a middle-aged man suspiciously approaching us from a distance. Without much delay, we picked up the pace and eventually left the area. As it was my first time with such danger, the brief encounter has continued to stay with me to this day, as a reminder to be alert while travelling overseas
Despite the harsh realities of society, the good continue to surround everyday life. For example, we encountered helpful and understanding people while travelling and even had a conversation going! In short, interaction with locals bring joy to the experience and lights up the path to exploring the unknowns.
Untouched and isolated, forests in Indonesia remain as one of the more beautiful places I have ever been. Despite the effects of eco-tourism, nature areas remain etched in the beauty of its own, in its already beautiful landscape. For instance, a road divides two forests at the plateau of Samosir Island, giving a weird vibe to the landscape. The division of the forest, undoubtedly causing the destruction of the natural ecosystem, resulting in a way for visitors to observe how different the forest is.
With industrialisation dominating most habitable parts of Medan & around, little pockets of nature do appear around large landmarks, such as Mount Sibayak, along with little bits of civilisation. At the base of the volcano, a line of shops, possibly for travellers in its peak period cover remain disused using the off-peak. With that comes the immerse amount of litter that is disposed of in a pile near the forest.
Undoubtedly, the presence of litter on Mount Sibayak was also alarming, where a variety of plastic bottles, food packaging and waste charcoal fires continue to remain on the mountain for years to end. Despite the littering on the mountain, views of steaming geyser vents and the constant fog continue to shape the landscape on the mountain. Yellow-stained rock show signs of sulphur, while the constant scent of 'rotten-eggs' got stronger near the vents. Sounds akin to the roar of aeroplane engines continue to roar at every interval. The volcano was still, very much alive! Surprisingly, green was hard to come by on the mountain, except for small pockets of greenery tucked between boulders.
When the moon rises, light from the moon brightens up the area sufficiently for us to walk around without our torchlights. However, light from our torchlights attract the irritable beetles that latch onto anything that brightens up.
A natural landscape, though largely visited remains as peaceful as it was untouched at night. When dawn came, clouds came and gone while the sun rose, creating a spectacular sight only the human eye could capture. Gladly, temperatures rose from a chilly 16 degrees to a mere 18 degrees, giving me some much-needed warmth. But heck, if I had the equipment to spend another night on the mountain, I would gladly do so.
Fast forward to the journey to Bukit Holbung (pronounced as hol-boong). Walking over 11 kilometres, we passed through a landscape of local, village life. Greenery was everywhere in the form of rice plantations. While houses congregate about an area the size of Bishan Park, the rest of the area was left to rice plantations, family tombs, schools and village convenience stalls. Despite the warm, mid-day sun, views of the area around were breath-taking, apart from the usual 'what-are-you-doing-here faces' the locals give us, accompanied with the usual, 'Saya Ta Boleh Bahasa' upon starting a conversation.
A spectacular landscape with shimmering rice fields, glazing in the hot, mid-day sun, surrounded with multiple terraces of rice fields of difference hues, and dem rolling green hills that seemingly feel very easy to climb. Much like your usual Microsoft wallpaper, the view was simply the best one yet.
Bukit Holbung, though one of the many hills in that area, is a largely touristy hill that actually has one of the best views of Samosir Island and neighbouring hills, such as Puksit Buhit. With dem rolling hills all around the hill, Bukit Holbung isn't just a hill but set of many small hills, clustered into one. No doubt, its beauty easily relates close to soft, puffy clouds, except it is green
As mentioned in the first few paragraphs, I shared how diverse Medan and its surroundings are, and there you go - with culture comes food. From the usual Wanton Mee to the uber usual, Nasi Goreng, there ain't no cuisine you can't miss in Indonesia. Commonly sold items such as Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice), to Indomie Goreng (Fried Noodles) and the usual Nasi Padang can be found almost every corner in and around Medan. Unlike the latter, Chinese food in the form of Bak So Mee (Pork Noodles), huge-ass buns and Wanton Mee (Dumpling Noodles) can be found at some places where the Chinese congregate.
Unlike Malaysia, Nasi Goreng served doesn't usually comes with a sunny-side up, it is either served with its egg already mixed in the rice or as an omelette covering the rice. The chilli used, is surprisingly spicier and actually comes with a kick! At some establishments, a serving of Keropok (Prawn Crackers) comes together with the meal. As usual, MSG as a form of flavouring is added, along with several other flavourings such as Kecap Manis, that sweetened the already tasty rice into a perfect concoction of fried stuff. Undoubtedly, Nasi Goreng continues to be one of the most affordable eats in Indonesia, between prices of 10,000rp to 35,000rp.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Indonesian cuisine is how a popular Instant noodle named, Indomie could hold its place in most menus. Served in a spicy soup or fried with meats and seafood, Indomie Sop/Goreng never fails complete any meal.
Despite the common cuisine, one drink dominates the country, and that is - TEH BOTOL. Teh Botoh is a lightly sweetened tea usually served chilled, or with ice. Amazingly, it pairs well with most dishes, considering I had been binged drinking it almost the entire week in Medan. Haha
Amongst other sweet treats, I found love in carbohydrate-rich items such as chocolate rice covered pancakes, dem buttery murtabak, chendol, and glutinous rice cakes. What is common within all that is mentioned, is that it contained relatively simple ingredients. For instance, the buttery murtabak is actually made by glazing the pan with butter, followed by pancake mix, followed by more butter, followed by the flavouring (chocolate + chocolate rice). That's not all! Once cooked, the surface is coated with another round of butter, making murtabak one of the most guilt-driven treats I've ever eaten - damn it is even worse than doughnuts!
Glutinous Rice cakes came in a chewy, purplish cake that felt dry yet sugary. Coated in powdered sugar, the cake tasted semi-sweet but had the consistency of the Sticky Rice (From Thailand's Mango Sticky Rice). A sweet treat I would say, once in a while.
Chendol, a chilled dessert with a variety of nuts and glutinous rice cakes, is enclosed in coconut milk and topped off with Gula Melaka (Brown Sugar). A traditional dessert familiar to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, the Chendol varies in its ingredients and tastes, depending on the region. For the Indonesian one, a thick, starchy item was discovered and dem it tasted weird. I did eventually try one, but the chendol was really sweet.
On the whole, Indonesia (Sumatra), you have been an eye-opener. From spectacular natural surroundings to bustling cities, to the friendly people of Samosir Island and around, the journey to explore the unbeaten track has been fulfilled. Cultural and social differences, between Sumatra and Singapore, bring light to how I should be grateful for the sense of security I get at home, and the belonging I shall continue to uphold throughout my lifetime. Things we take for granted, are those things we only cherish when it is taken away from us. I'll be back for more, Indonesia.
Till we meet again <3
An island of the Batak culture, an island of friendly, welcoming people situated on Samosir Island. A plateau shapes the island, combining with rolling hills, green fields and wild roaming animals.
We spent quite a while in the Island, getting into its laid-back style of living, and exploring the unbeaten tracks not many would journey in. Sharing many experiences in nature, we had many opportunities to interact with locals and understand them better. As the bus slowly moves away from the mainland city of Parapat, traditional Batak music echo from within my earphones, reminding me the energy the island gave throughout our stay there.
The journey to Medan was a 'pee-holding', 'cramping' trip that lasted over 4 hours. Having stopped over a gas station en route, my bladders can't help but shiver in silence, awaiting the next pee-stop. Nonetheless, I did had a great sleep, that eventually resulted in more backaches while trying to hold my nausea down. The ride costs us 130,000rp each, where the driver dropped off passengers heading to the airport, the city centre (that's us) and Bukit Lawang.
The intriguing thing was that we met the driver that brought us to Berastagi, in Medan. In fact, dem drivers are indeed all in the same company! After dropping off, the taxi entered one of Medan's infamous traffic jams, that was caused by a delay in the flow of traffic along the train tracks. With immerse horning and the continuous shuffling of vehicles and people of all sizes, the traffic was tight and seemingly impossible to move. Giving way is simply, not a norm in Medan, or as I heard the Jam capital of Indonesia, Jakarta. Heck! I was told the traffic wasn't that bad!
We were crazy to believe for the fact that we could walk over 11km over terrain to accomplish a task not many would deem sane. Yet we did it. Past many villages and townsfolk that were friendly and willing to help, the experience was worth it and I would (never) do it again. Hahaha
The journey started from a town named Simbolon, where locals advised us to take the ferry, only costing 5000rp across the lake. A scenic 5-minute transfer it was to get to the other side. Once over, we realise that even Maps.me doesn't have roads in our location! So using intuition we kinda just, walk. Round and round the sides of the mountain range, we came across several beautiful sights that really took my mind off the weight of the load. In fact, I felt at peace with rice plantations amidst the rolling hills of Bukit Holbung and it's siblings. It was simply wonderful.
I definitely had a sunburn and my hands were all red like tomatoes! Soon we were near Bukit Holbung and incredibly the view was AMAZEBALLS LEGIT.
We settled down, laid out our tents before preparing a meal. The evening was fine. I remember seating down by the tent and admiring the landscape ahead. With cool air and wind bellowing towards us, I can't help but feel at peace.
At around 8 pm, it started raining. Well, at least my tent can be 'washed'. It then rained for the rest of the night. With the rain clouds finally settled, we get a break from the rain and got out to stretch. The air was fresh, cool and chilly. In fact, my windbreaker wasn't good enough to withstand the cold. We saw the lights of the nearby city, Panguruan that shine in the distance.
After some rest, the sun was up and man it was spectacular! No words can replace what I had observed in that morning. Early morning orange hues combine with blue hues to create a unique purplish colour that lit the sky with a warm and fuzzy mood. A full rainbow was observed since it stopped raining just a while ago.
I lit the fire and warmed up some coffee, as we sat in our tents admiring the glowing sky. Coffee warmed our hearts and rest our soul while we slowly began the day. We gathered our essentials and began trekking for the summit. Past a series of hills, of untouched grasslands, we finally reached the summit. The summit (1300m), a treeless terrain with views of the northern part of Samosir Island and its plateau. Seemingly endless grasslands and natural bushes spot the entire landscape while agriculture and roads lined the coastal areas.
As I look over my shoulder, I can't help but be mesmerised in the beauty of nature's landscape. Contrasts between Rolling hills, untouched natural areas and industrialised areas highlight the importance of keeping our environment clean while embracing what nature offers. At the micro level, Bukit Holbung was littered with tons of cigarette butts, wrappers and fire-pits that had been left after a night of burning. Although damage to the landscape isn't high, Bukit Holbung remains one of the cleanest hills I have been.
Descending from the summit, the landscape slowly develops, creating a beautiful portrait at every angle. We strike tents, and made our way to the main road, en route to Tuk Tuk.
The night is pretty chill. Temperatures were at least 16 degrees with some wind and light rain. Well, I must say I wasn't prepared for the cool weather. I should have definitely spent some good money on a better sleeping bag, instead of a legendary BodyPac Sleeping bag used since early 2000. Nonetheless, sleep was bearable and the best sleep I have happened to occur between midnight to 2 am.
And that means I'm bright awake from then on with nothing to do, instead to pretty much, type this very blog post on my phone.
The chill actually comes more from the ground, where the lack of coverage makes the damn transfer of cold faster. Despite that I do feel kind of 'a-ok' - hah maybe I have my fats to cover me. But heck it's cold sia.
3 hours to daylight and I have no idea what to do. Netflix is fully unusable with its constant 'Something went wrong. Try again later (error -1002)'. Music doesn't do much but drain my battery. And sleeping is a good idea but the ground is freaking cold. Well, I guess I have to suck it up and do what's best.
It's morning! The sun rose high and sunrise tourists came walking around with their torchlights. I made some coffee and damn it was good! We set off to the crater to catch the sunrise. Unfortunately, clouds actually covered the sun and it got really foggy. We headed down and got ready to leave the campsite, ensuring no litter is left behind (Leave no trace).
On the way down at 1,800m, we chance upon Sibayak's sister volcano, Gunung Sinabung - which is still erupting as I type. Rishab sits atop a rock desperately trying to get that perfect short. Heck if we were to stay here for an hour I wouldn't mind as the ambience was literally peace and tranquil. Away in the distance, birds and insects chip away, while cool wind gently bellowing against shrubs all around.
As I type, the constant pitter patter of the rain fell on the tent, I feels like it's getting heavier. I can not imagine what would it be like in an evacuation, despite how unlikely it sounds. The ground is cold while the air was cooool. Moments before we were about to ascend the Ridge line to view the landscape ahead.
Berastagi, a small town located in between Lake Toba and Medan. Situated in close proximity is the 2 volcanoes, Gunung Sibayak and Sinabung. Just last month, Gunung Sinabung erupted. While both volcanoes are in close range, Sibayak has not erupted in more than a decade. Yet remains as a popular attraction in Berastagi.
We begun our hike though the main road, before heading up 2.2km to the start of the trail. Along the way, a gradual declination of farms, housing and retail was observed. The terrain was gentle, before it got really steep! I went on to repack my bag before continuing.
Words can't tell the experience, so I'll let the pictures do.
Along the way, we met a few travelers and talked for awhile. But I must say the terrain got really full of steps with surplur coated rocks, here and there. Despite the height, the weather was cool and favorable for walking comfortably. With the load on bag back, it got nearly impossible but I guess I gotta keep moving forward!
Finally the Summit. Nothing I had ever imagine - it was my first time on a volcano. The campsite is kinda like sitting at 1,935 meters below the crater, but a long shot to the geysers. Not mentioning the smell of rotten eggs. I had to kinda agree to appreciate the wonderful smell nature gives.
So we set up our tents and went off hiking to the crater. Where the surplur smell got worse but.... YOLO. Fast forward to now, the rain has gotten smaller, the air is definitely getting cooler, and legit there's no Mobile Internet 😂
Netflix gonna save the day. Instead, all I got was a mirage of error messages saying I can't view my downloaded shows even in airplane mode.
As night fell, I prepared dinner and kinda sat at peace looking into the clouds. I had some MRE from reservist and it was a-ok. Night quickly set in and before we know it, it was pitch black. Dafuggg worst was that Beatles stay flying around and kinda surrounded us. Right now I can only imagine what would happen if the volcano erupts or we are forced to evacuate in the wee hours. The geysers sounded like the fans at the air conditioning unit while the air smelt like a pale rotten egg scent.
Exceptionally not prepared for the cold, I lay above my sleeping bag (overused) and hope to sleep. Waking up at 6am to catch the sunrise but I am wide awake ma gosh. What a night 😌
And finally it's time to sleep. We actually got out to view the sky but there was no sky - just dust flying everywhere, clouds and cooool wind. Amazing without light the area around can be seen but visibility was limited to 10 metres max 👀
The sound of the horns
Awesome. My flight was rescheduled to an earlier time - so I get to spend more time in Indonesia.
The usuals. The excitement followed by Singapore's all new Terminal 4, a step closer to the future with its well designed interiors. Although automated clearance was a breeze, it's inability to detect unusual sized baggage and it's intuitive user interface might not had contributed to the great experience the airport had hoped
And touch down at 1306hrs. A flight of cries and much low end airtime. Though the food was satisfactory, the ambience was great - not too cold while having enough air going around. Cries were a commonplace in the cabin, amidst the constant humbling of the engines of the Airbus A320-200.
This trip felt indifferent, despite going into unknown territory, I really have not been to Sumatra before. Though much had been planned, I say I shall expect the surprises along the way and experience local culture at its finest - cuisine, society and way of life.
On one note, the immigration cards were actually in Indonesian. Like really? Haa.
I actually totally regretted not visiting the lavatories during the flight. Dem liquid waste simply wanting to be released! 🌚
Heading out from the airport, I went on to take the airport rail, a 50 minute ride to the City centre, costing a flat rate of 100,000rp. I did realised that I was the only backpacker on that train heh. Nonetheless the ride was smooth, ambience was great. For the price, I would say it's a premium, unlike taking a bus which would cost a mere 2,000rp but - generally longer travel time. Least to say, the traffic situation in Medan is horrific. Expect longer travelling unless you're in a bike like Ojek or GrabBike.
No doubt, the troubles of the day had only begun. A Tuk Tuk ride from the City centre railway to my hostel costs 50,000rp 🌚 while a regular Ojek ride would cost a mere 7,000rp tops. Damn.
The hostel owner was great. Though it wasn't very packed (actually quite empty), the owner gave me my own room with double bunks. The hostel in fact has a variety of amenities such has a legit kitchen to cook, modern toilets and a rooftop garden terrace. The area around felt more like a quiet neighbourhood tucked into the side paths of the busy Street. Shops around ranged from money changers to Coffeeshops, to fashion alteliers
Off I went exploring, with Ojek, simply because it was not a good idea to just walk around when the streets were filled with motorists that roam around in any directions. Amongst the many difficulties, the largest was the language barrier that both myself and the locals did not share. Bahasa, unlike Malay isn't very familiar, while Hokkien, unlike Chinese is used more here by the Indonesian Chinese.
Worst still, as I fumble around the dozen notes I have in my wallet I kinda became a tourist. hah. Dem thousands are pretty nasty.
Despite dem difficulties, I do find even the simplest of people have the kindred spirit and the willingness to help no matter the differences. Believing in the good of people makes anyone a better person. So it definitely sounds like I really have to write some bahasa down and practice it.
Well it's night time, Muslims have break fast and it is finally easier to just consume food in front of them. After all, I'm a guest in their country! I should definitely go about leisurely and watch DEADPOOL 2 (definitely at a cheaper rate here) soon
The night is young but there ain't much to do except the shopping malls. Outside is pretty dark to move so I'll stick to my room, and my beer.
Wild Boars - Pre Adventure Camp
Monday blues it is, when dem friends make it late for a camp we planned a week ago. Held on Pulau Ubin, the camp involves us to cook, hike, explore the island on bikes, and moreover, to have fun
We started off with rental our bicycles for $7 each, and realising the bicycles were a little too old for us to ride. We ride on anyway. No doubt the time of the day, we were attired in overalls, outdoor wear with our backpacks lined with water, food and necessities to last the night.
Making out way to Ketam Bike Park, we saw virtually no tourists, except for a few students navigating in the many streets of Western Ubin. Riding at top speeds, the wind flowing through by ears were not without the increasing cramps in my thigh muscles.
No work comes without good effort I must say.
Soon we headed back to camp where Rishab begun building the tent and I went on to prepare the fire pit. After 45 minutes, he was finally done with it, and I had completed setting up the fire pit.
We started the fire together, and made it to the point he started cooking his dinner! It was tasty indeed - Vegetarian Masala Maggi Noodles.
Alan came shortly, after waiting nearly 2 hours for a boat from the mainland! Like a bare chested gorilla, he came to camp stomping like he owned the place, because it is Alan being Alan.
Rishab initiated him to help pose for a short of Alan tending the fire, and he did just that, except for the fact that he topped my entire mess tin full of water into the flaming fires of ******
A moment of silence for the fire.
Myself and Rishab begun to re-create the fire. Thankfully the mess tin of water was entirely consumed by the fire, allowing the embers to continue glowing. As the charcoal slowly got consumed by the flames, the fire regained it's strength and rose to its height.
Time for dinner! Ripping out an entire pack of chicken frank, I tossed it in my mess tin and begun toasting them in the fire. Incidentally Rishab and Alan wanted beer and went ahead to get it while I stayed behind to savour my chicken franks. Wild boars came roaming around and I was kinda terrified, despite having experience. Whipping out my knife I stood up in show of defence and waited till they were back.
Chang Beer was a-ok but the night continued anyway, until more Wild Boar cane around and we had to move to the lighted area near the Jetty. After lots of intensive talking, we got up and went for a night confidence hike. Though it would be great if all could come, Alan wasn't ready for it - he stayed behind, keeping the light company.
As me and Rishab headed off into the night, our pace quicken and the silence of the island slowly creeped into us. Anxious as it sounds, it was terribly dark, yet two, 'trying to be calm' guys walked through some extremely dark areas, with a balls of stone. Any rustling in the trees would make us walk faster and faster until it was too fast to keep up. Damn.
We finally made it back and caught some shut-off before making our way back to mainland in the morning.
At last, civilisation.
Its nearly a week to the trip, and I am uber-excited on my trip to the continent of Sumatra. Plans have been developed and reached its final stage where what it needs to be done is to pack my bag and head off.
Before I bring you on to the journey of 2018, I'd like to share with you our itinerary. Here it goes -
Medan - Mt. Sibayak - Samosir Island - Gunung Pusuk Buhit - Holobung Hills - Pematangsiantar - Tangkahan - Medan
All, in 14 days. I'd say, it also includes 4 nights camping in the wilderness in a tent and the rest of the days in hostels/hotels. Though camping outdoors wasn't necessary, It practically saved lots in accommodation, especially in mid-end hostels in and around Lake Toba.
The highlight of the trip I would say involves the cross-island trekking between the eastern and western end of Samosir Island. Honestly, I don't know what to expect. Despite the dangers imposed and the risks involved, I sure hope we'd be fine. Though safety seems to be the highest of the risk we are taking, any trip wouldn't be as safe as we are even if we're in an urban context. In cities, the risk of theft, robbery and muggings (omgard), are too simply hard to ignore, let alone areas with pickpocketing and scams. We have been pre-warned, per se, by Google, and the many travel books I've read so far.
I believe the only reason why people get into tough situations abroad may be due to a few circumstances, that is - They dress simply too 'Tourist'
Dressing plays a huge role in crimes abroad. Personally, I've observed several tourists dressing in the high-end fashion, or protective clothing such as being fully clothed in Khaki with the pants for 'you-know-what-purpose', wearing a cap, sunglasses and a VISIBLE money wallet on the neck.
Falling prey, I insist. When travelling, it is key to read up and understand the host nation's cultures and customs. Without doing so, they risk being a person totally unaware of the context and allow themselves to fall prey to un-imaginable situations.
February 2018, a cool evening I remembered. Rishab from scouts called me up and asked if I wanted to head on for a trip to Lake Toba to do a bit of hiking- I immediately agreed!
Soon after, we met up and started planning the trip to Lake Toba, where little did I knew I was just heading to Lake Toba, but the 2nd trip of my lifetime. Researching on Lake Toba, it really feels like a very nice place, ranging from the hills of Holburg Hill, and the Lake itself- clearly a magnificent place for all to enjoy.
The idea for travelling all the way to Surabaya from Medan came from some really crazy thoughts in my head. Not realising the overall cost, distance and time of my journey, I went on to book a one day flight to Medan (just today)! Excitement and rejoice came forward while I tried my best to hold it in, I just can't wait for it!
While you're reading this, though this blog may be dead, do not fret as I'll update it when I am planning this trip. Till then, chill out!