Lake Toba is a gem of a backpackers destination. Beautiful setting, delicious food, budget accomodation, friendly locals, interesting culture, swimable lake... what more could one want?!?
The only real drawback is the road to get there. From Medan it takes about five hours on a bad windy road with aggressive drivers. I got good and proper motion sickness, not fun. Still, the drive is worth it, and means that what you should do is instead of going to Lake Toba for a couple of days - go for a good long visit. Several weeks if you can. It is a wonderful spot and so reasonably priced that staying there is a dream.
On Samosir Island (in Lake Toba) we stayed at Romlan in the Tuktuk area. We had met travellers in Bukit Lawang that recommended it - and what a find it was. At one point Samosir Island was on the main tourist track so lots of accomodation was built. Strangely, it has fallen from favor so now there are lots of empty rooms and great deals abound.
Romlan is owned by a German woman and her Indonesian husband. I think they said the guest house has been there for like 30 years - but they are maintaining it so it seems much newer than that. The rooms are basic and spotlessly clean. We had a double en-suite ground floor room. It had a large bed, nightstands, a wee table and chairs, and a wardrobe. The very clean bathroom included plenty of hot water. We also had a delightful porch with table chairs and a drying rack for towels and swimsuits. It was everything we could have wanted in a basic room. And the amazing thing about it was it only cost US$ 8. That is right just eight dollars.
Please note that I did not mention a TV - as there is not one. But why would you want one. Take a good book and sit on your deck listening to the water lap the rocks. Ahhhh...
And for those eight dollars, we did not just get a nice clean room, but we also got a lovely lake view and were in fact, lake front. Just a few steps from our door and we could jump in to Lake Toba for a nice swim. It was fabulous.
Romlan also has a nice little resturant - great for breakfasts with very good Indonesian coffee. And for a snack try the guacamole it was DELICIOUS. And there was a great connection to the internet in the restaurant. Wifi a bit spotty at the room, but up here it was fine.
We were at Romlan for Easter so we arranged a special "Rice Table Feast" with the owner. It included beef rendang that takes a day plus advance notice as they rarely get beef on the island plus it needs to cook for over 12-hours. We are so glad we had this magical meal. The Rice Table included something like 20 little dishes that were all delectable. The owner had said we would need a crowd so luckily we had made friends with travellers in Bukit Lawang that came to Lake Toba. In total we had eight people and barely made a dent in all the fabulous food. Yet the cost per person came out to just over US$ 7.
Have I made it clear yet that Lake Toba is a backpackers dream destination?!?
Romlan is in a great location at the head of Tuktuk. The island ferries pick-up and drop-off directly from their boat dock. So when you get on the ferry just tell them Romlan. When you head to the street do take a good look at the route - there is NO SIGN for Romlan from the road. I guess they expect everyone to arrive at thier boat dock, but a street sign would be very helpfull. From Romlan, if you turn to the left you pass through the village of Tuktuk with little shops and such - including a lovely little local run restaurant called Surgary. Do try.
If you turn to the right you go up a bit of a hill, but then you reach a ton of restaurants and bars. Jenny's Restaurant is up here and it has some of the best grilled fish that I have had anywhere in the world. Book a table in advance at Jenny's and she will be preparing your fish when you get there.
You can rent motorbikes or bicycles to explore more of the island and to get a feel for Batak life. The Bataks were once fierce head-hunters that drove fear in the hearts of Victorians, but now they are some of the most welcoming and friendly people we have ever met. Lots of English is spoken and they love to take photos of tourists so put on a big smile and enjoy.
I highly recommend a visit to Samosir Island - and can not think of a better place to stay than Romlan. The only complaint we had dealt with other guests that decided to have a party till the wee hours of the morning. We do wish Romlan owners would have broken up the party. But we stayed there four nights and this only happened once, and could happen anywhere (magic mushrooms are available in Tuktuk). Other than that night, we slept very well.
If you do stay here say Hello to Nickson for us. He was a
great Romlan employee that always had a smile and a pleasant word.
Tuktuk, Samosir Island, Lake Toba
Phone: 62 625 451386
double ensuite - 60,000 Indonesian Rupiah (US$ 8)