Transport in Sumatra

If you’re looking for fair priced, budget transport information in Sumatra, please feel free to skip the story below and proceed further down to details.

I thought that Sumatra, was going to be an “easy” kind of place; yes,on rare occasions I like to make stuff simple by applying a black and white filter in my brain and that way I get rid of all these confusing mixtures of colours and shades. Everything becomes clear, good or bad, easy or difficult etc. Now, back to Indonesia, I didn’t expect to see many tourists and tourism establishments in Sumatra, I already knew it was a part of the popular hippie trails back in 1970s but due to natural disasters and other factors, tourism decreased tremendously.I expected to have to¬† speak basic bahasa indonesia (indonesian language) and not just rely on english. But,for heaven’s sake, It was South East Asia, not South or Central Asia, and I always kept saying that travelling in South East Asia was “easy”.

Well, this was not the case this time.And the transportation “system” was to blame. And the lack of information on transportation. The guides are outdated, Internet provides very little information of varied quality, you can’t rely on locals, too. Only a couple of days after arrival in Medan, me and Mr.Himself were stranded in front of a “bus terminal”, surrounded by touts, arguing with them, without a hope to get to our scheduled destination before dawn. These not-so-lovely locals wanted to overcharge us and we always make a point of fighting with this attitude- for the sake of next generations of backpackers and on-the-shoestring travellers,we try to show the locals that foreigners aren’t all naive ,aren’t live-walking-talking ATMs.But this time, it was getting more and more difficult- for some reason they didn’t want to haggle with us.It was not your typical transport mafia, it was worse and some of them were even getting quite agressive- for Asian standards,of course, nothing serious.

We were even more surprised when one of the younger touts took out his wallet and presented us with a 1 US Dollar bill and suddenly turned into a skilled, dramatic, theatrical artist! He dropped the bill on the concrete and seconds later he was jumping on Georges Washington’s face, shouting “I hate America, I hate fucking America!” I have never seen anything like that in South East Asia before. I calmly said” but we’re European and we have nothing to do with America” but he didn’t seem to hear. And all we wanted was to find a local bus to Bukit Lawang and all he wanted was to put us into some 10-seater where they fit 25 people in, so you share your tiny seat with at least 1 other person,and ,of course, It’s Indonesia so most of the male passengers smoke and don’t like the windows open; and maybe all he wanted was his comission afterwards but then he got angry and he realised he hates people who come from more developed countries, and, being not very educated all he could think of was America? The state of his bill, by the way, was a proof that this was not a first time show for him, as it was quite vandalised with black pen already. You can’t blame the poor chap for his emotional outburst though, people like him don’t have too many perspectives and their life is by no means easy.

Anyways, I promised to share some transport information and it is accurate as of late 2012.

Medan- Bukit Lawang

From the city,Take Opelet 64, 3000 IDR, 45mins to Pinang Baris; as of December 2012 no “big bus”; Don’t go to the terminal, you will find minibuses stopping just in front of it. Don’t let anyone tell you to get off near the bakery- the place is filled with comissioners. We were lied to, told “the big public bus will stop near the bakery” and were then showed a minivan (the guy suddenly referred to it as “the medium bus”)and were quoted 50 000 IDR per person so had to walk to Pinang Baris where the local touts were quoting us 50 000IDR again, but we finally found a minivan for 20 000 IDR.

When you arrive in Bukit Lawang, they drop you off at the bus station from where you are supposed to pay 5000 IDR for less than 2km fare, not negotiable. If you are healthy and your bag is not too heavy, you can just walk. Leave the station ,turn left and go straight, following the road. We did this in total darkness at night and it was easy to navigate. If in doubt, ask anyone for directions.

Bukit Lawang- Berastagi

Hop on the minivan to Medan’s Pinang Baris.15 000 IDR only! As of Dec 2012, no public bus.Only small minivans available. Avoid guys near the private stand, they will be quoting you at least 20 000IDR per person.Just wait on the road in front of the terminal, don’t go in! As the minivans pass/stop by, find out who’s going to Berastagi.Don’t let any comissioner stand next to you and later claim he found you and helped you as it will inflate the price. The right price is 10 000 IDR and it gets you to Berastagi in a couple of hours.

Berastagi-Tuk Tuk , Lake Toba without backtracking Medan

From the main road,Jl.Veteran, near the big cabbage statue, take an opelet to Khabanjahe, 20mins, 3000 IDR. From Khabanjahe bus terminal take minibus to Pematang Siantar, 2.5hr, 20 000 IDR. From Siantar take minivan to Parapat, 1hr, 10 000IDR.Get off in Parapat’s Tiga Raja Market as this is where ferries to TUK TUK depart. Ferries operate from 8.30am to 6pm,every 30mins, 10 000IDR.

Remember to stock up in Parapat Market or in Siantar.Not much choice on Samosir Island, food is more expensive and tourist oriented.

(c)matylda

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