Sumatra, Tioman and Kuala Lumpur

October 30, 2011 - London Heathrow Airport, United Kingdom

Well late I know, but this is the last blog from the last leg......

After spending a couple of days in the Pan Pacific hotel in KL, we headed off for Lake Toba in Northern Sumatra.  Lake Toba is a super volcano which last went off about 75000 years ago and there are claims that it was the largest eruption anywhere on earth in the last 25 million years, which more or less killed off most of the planet one way or another.  The lake in the volcano caldera is huge - 100 km long, 30 km wide and over 500 metres deep - the largest volcanic lake in the world I believe.  We were heading for an island in the middle, Samosir.

We flew into Medan and found a bus to take us the four or so hours to Parapat.  The bus only had us two and a couple of other people on to start with so we stretched out on the back seat to sleep.  It wasn't long before the entertainment got on, a man with a guitar who stood in the aisle playing and singing - well, singing is putting it kindly, it was about as good as I'd do at a karaoke.  The bus driver waited patiently outside with the two lads who must work with him although exactly what it is they do I don't know, until he had finished and gone round with his hat, then off we went again.  The bus filled up until there were no more seats, then filled up some more til there was nowhere left to stand, then filled up some more - it ended up three people to two seats, not uncommon we've found in Asia or Indonesia.  It rattled along slowly, getting hotter and hotter inside the bus with nowhere to move and Zuby cursing and letting me know that there was no way we were getting the bus back.  And for the whole journey the two lads stood by the front and back doors, hanging out of the windows and shouting, singing and whistling at everything and everyone we passed.

We climbed up mountains and wound along roads until the volcano came into view (breathtaking), then we reached Parapat and the edge of the lake.  It looked amazing.  There are ferry boats which take you across, landing in several places around Samosir and other places nearby.  We took pot luck and climbed off at the second stop and found somewhere to stay, ending up in a little room in a chalet sort of place which was directly on the lake.

We went out exploring and discovered Samosir and Lake Toba are beautiful.  There is rainforest along the edge of the volcano crater, and the island itself is covered with trees and flowers, water falls and volcanic springs, and it even has a mountain in the middle.  Fishing is big time so there are boats everywhere which the locals make themselves, along with their houses.  The people who live on Samosir are Batak and their houses are really eye catching, most with slanting roofs that curl up at one end and which are higher at the back than at the front.  They were well friendly and chatty.  One day were were accosted by about eight different groups of little kids out on a school trip who were trying to learn English, so they spent a few minutes asking us questions like 'what is your favourite food in Indonesia' and 'what sport to you like', writing down the answers and then taking our photos on their phone to show their teacher.  Football seems to be the magic answer everywhere we've been so far on this trip - most people seem to love it and support an English team, and it's not uncommon to find football being shown on the few televisions you find dotted around - great for me, not so good for Zuby of course.

After three days of chilling and walking we drove back to Medan (in a car got from where we were staying, not the bus) to catch our flight back to Kuala Lumpur, from where we were heading to Tioman Island off the east coast of Malaysia in the South China Sea.  We had high hopes for Tioman - from what we'd read and from people we'd spoken to it sounded ideal - small (about 40km long with a population of about 500), quiet, cheap, great diving and beautiful - voted one of the world's most beautiful islands by TIME magazine.  Not easy to get to, but we eventually found a flight which took us to the tiny airport in the middle of the island.

Or so we thought.  We got off the plane and found the airport was much bigger than it had looked in pictures on the web.  None of the advertising anywhere in the airport said anything about Tioman, and Zuby had noticed that we hadn't passed over any water on the plane journey - a bit strange given Tioman is an island.  Yep - I had somehow cocked up and we had flown to an airport down country from KL but still nearly three hours away from the ferry which takes you to Tioman.  No trains, no buses, no planes to Tioman so we had to get a taxi.  Great taxi driver though who did us a blinding deal and we eventually reached the port to get the ferry.

The ferry crossing took almost an hour and as Tioman came into sight it looked brilliant - almost entirely covered in jungle, mountainous, and with a few little bits of beach dotted along the coast which is where the little villages are.  We headed for Salang, relatively big for Tioman and located at one end, and got off to find a beach in a cove, one street lined with dive schools, rooms and places to eat, and no cars or roads.  But it was busy - public holiday for Singapore as it turned out so shed loads had gone there for the long weekend break.  It also wasn't as cheap as we'd been led to believe, with rooms coming in at at least a score a night for not a lot.  We eventually found somewhere to spend the first couple of nights, a stones throw away from the sea, but it wasn't a good move.  There were parties through the night right outside on the beach, and the walls were so thin we could hear the man next door fart and snore all night.

We found a place to stay up on the side of the cove overlooking the sea and in the forest a few days later and moved there, which was much quieter except for the monkeys, which jump onto and run across the metal roofs early in the mornings and evenings, which was brilliant to watch.  We were next to a resort which we could not find the way into, and which never seemed to have any lights on at night or any sign of life.  Turned out it had been built a few years before but had never opened - never did get to the bottom of why - and had just been left to rot.

Salang didn't really have a lot to offer apart from the natural beauty of the place and the animal life.  Food left a lot to be desired and was generally bland and there isn't much walking due to the very small size of it - the jungle is more or less untouched and there are vitually no paths into it or through it.  So we took a boat round the island which gave us the chance to get off and explore a bit more - there is only one road which goes across the middle of Tioman from one side to the other basically to the airport, and the rest of it has to be reached by boat.  All of the villages were tiny, with a beach and places selling beds, food and diving.  There is a waterfall which people bathe in for good luck but which frankly was bloody freezing, so only my feet got wet.  The trip included snorkelling at various places, but the water was murky and the coral had all but been destroyed by dynamite fishing, so there wasn't a lot to see in the way of fish life - Zuby found that to be the case as well when he went diving away from the island, so I'm not quite sure why Tioman has earned a reputation as a great diving resort.  There was more life on the island than in the water surrounding it - in addition to the monkeys there are a million cats and kittens (one of which I adopted while I was there, a four week old ginger kitten which got more of my food than I did), huge monitor lizards which walk along with you and sleep under your rooms, big insects, masses of birds including frigates, flying squirrels, lorises, and a turtle which is only found there.  We were lucky and saw a whopper one day when we were on the jetty.

We moved along the island to Paya after four days following a visit there as part of the boat trip we'd done.  Again we had trouble finding somewhere to stay - school holidays for Singapore had also just started as it turned out - but found a room on a resort where at least the food was ok and a bit more varied than what we'd been eating in Salang.  But our plans to stay for at least a couple of weeks didn't come off.  Tioman probably was a great place to go not so long ago, and it really is beautiful and mostly untouched.  But all the bits which can be touched - the beaches - have been pretty much overdeveloped and not to a very good standard.  It is not a cheap place to go, the food isn't up to much, you get badly ripped off by the locals, the diving leaves a lot to be desired, and you don't get a lot for your money - we paid much less and got a whole lot more in so many other places.  By day six we had more than had enough and took a boat back to the mainland, where we got a coach back to KL.

We spent our last days there, staying in different hotels inside and outside the city.  We found some amazing places to eat including an amazing Pakistani restaurant where you could eat tons of delicious food for a couple of quid, met some great people, explored and generally took advantage of what cities have to offer.  Then a plane back to England, where we found everything had gone up big time and pretty poor weather for the time of year.

We have been back a while now but at last the next leg is round the corner.  We fly out to Bangkok on 17 November - depending on the floods of course....... 


Paya equivalent of the golden arches
Paya shopping centre and high street
Sky at Salang
Monitor lizard


October 30, 2011
Great to hear from you again. What fab pictures. What amazing times you have had. Jealous or what. Hope you get to Bangkok so I get to read more of your trip and see more pics. Its been great following you around. You will find it so boring once back to work.
Steph x
October 30, 2011
im confused thought you both were home thought saw zubie yesterday must of been mistaken sounds like your having fantastic time
love jill
October 31, 2011
Great photos.. in fact stunning!!.. enjoy the last leg of your adventure and look forward to hearing more tales. Susannah xx
October 31, 2011
so enjoyed reading all your blogs ! sounds fantastic ! glad your having such a fab time , and sounds like your ears are better too ? love to you both , from the Lewis family x
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