There are many big lakes in the world, but Lake Toba, located in the province of North Sumatra in Indonesia, is not only the world’s largest volcanic lake, but it is the 5th largest lake in the world also housing the world’s largest island within a lake. This island, Samosir, located in the middle of Lake Toba appeared roughly 75,000 years ago due to the mega volcanic eruption under the lake. This presently-inhabited island is the cultural center of Batak, the largest tribal group in North Sumatra. The lake is located at 900 m (2952 ft) above sea level, hence the temperature here is nicer than most other areas in Indonesia. No wonder, besides Bali, Lake Toba is also a popular destination in Indonesia.
It's a huge lake
To get to Samosir Island from North Sumatra’s capital city of Medan, you need to take a 5-hour trip by car to Prapatan district, located by the lake. From here, you can take a ferry from either Ajibata or Balige dock to Tomok district in Samosir Island. Ajibata is a bigger dock where you can find larger ferries that are able to load cars, so if you are driving, you will depart from Ajibata.
This 40-minute ferry trip to the island is fascinating. This is the largest volcanic lake with a size of 1145 square kilometers, which is about 440 square miles, with clear blue water. You may think you are sailing on the sea, forgetting that you are actually on a lake.
The legend of Batu Gantung
You will ride past a stone cliff named ‘Batu Gantung’ (hanging rock). It looks like an ordinary one, but when you stare for a few seconds,or minutes, it is said an image of a lady will appear. Who is this lady? According to the local legend (the Batu Gantung legend), she is a girl named Seruni who was forced by her parents to marry a man she didn’t love, and somehow jumped from the cliff before an earthquake that ended her life. After the earthquake, a rock with her image appeared on the cliff. Well, that’s a sad story, but this stone has now become a very popular tourist destination due to this unique legend!
Throw coins into the lake
On your way to the legendary cliff, you may ride past a group of boys on their small rowing boats, and when they see your ferry approaching, they will swim towards the ferry hoping to get something from the ferry passengers. This is kind of fun. You may want to bring some Indonesian money coins of 500 IDR (0.04 USD), because after throwing the coins somewhere in the lake, these brave boys will dive to chase and attempt to retrieve the coins.
An inhabited island within an island
As you step foot in Samosir, you will be surprised with what you see. In this 630 square kilometer (243 square mile) island, it is amazing to find that Samosir is truly an inhabited small island inside of a bigger island! There are around 100,000 people living permanently in the districts and villages throughout the island, which means you can also find infrastructures like roads, schools, government offices, and hotels too! Also, don’t imagine that people there live in traditional Batak wooden houses, with tall roofs and blade-like tips. The houses you see on the roads are modern concrete houses with tiled roofing, and are no different than those you see in Sumatra or Java. You can only see traditional houses in tourist areas like Sigale Gale or the Batak King’s tomb in Tomok.
Dance with a Sigale Gale puppet
The first visit to the island will be to a cultural place named Sigale Gale, which is within walking distance from the dock. Sigale Gale is a sacred figure for Batak people and here you will see the statue of Sigale Gale in each of the Batak traditional houses. You can also watch Sigale Gale performances, which show at certain times of the day, and you will need to pay 80,000 IDR (6 USD) for the show. During the performance, you will see the wooden human-like puppet called Sigale Gale dancing a lively dance (also called the Sigale Gale dance) together with a group of Batak male and female dancers. Be prepared to dance with them too!
Stay longer in Samosir
You can choose to be on the island (in Tomok village) for 1 or 2 hours before going back to the mainland. After the visit to the cultural center, you can buy souvenirs in the shops in the area before heading back to your boat. However, like many other tourists, you can also choose to stay longer on the island. After visiting other attractions like the Batak King’s tomb and a couple of museums, you can go trekking or venture the island by a bike or motorbike. You can easily rent these bikes in Tuk Tuk village, a few kilometers from Tomok. More than that, what can be a better thing to do than watching the sunrise or sunset from the island? It’s simply breathtaking!
A must visit when in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia or Brunei
Lake Toba is not far from Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei. Wherever you are in Indonesia, as well as any of these other countries, this lake should be on your list of places to visit. Take a plane to Medan, charter a car with a local driver from a car rental shop or a travel agency, and here you go! Be ready for the adventure!
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