Despite their geographical proximity, Samosir Island and Banda Aceh are two very different places. The most obvious distinction is the religious demographic; while many in the Samosir Regency follow the Christian faith, Aceh Province is known for its hardline interpretation of the Islamic doctrine (when compared to the majority of Indonesia’s Islamic population). The energy about the people is different as well, though. Samosir has a very relaxed, almost beachy vibe, despite the mild weather and being located in the inner regions of the Sumatran landmass. It’s carefree and non-encroaching. Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh Province, has an essence of solemnity. The city suffered the worst effects of the 9.0+ magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Sumatra in 2004, creating a devastating tsunami. The consequences of that natural disaster still permeate through Banda Aceh in manifold ways.
Teresa and I spent a lot of time on Samosir Island, upwards of nine or ten days if I recall correctly. We didn’t have this planned, we just decided to do what felt best in the moment. It required a ferry ride back to Parapat to access an ATM and restock on funds for the remainder of our stay in the town of Tuk Tuk. We wanted to upgrade our accommodation as well. Nothing too crazy, but a little brighter and put together than the creaky wooden guesthouse we’d been staying in. We opted for Hotel Carolina, about two minutes away and still along the lake. It was also one of the ferry stops that took passengers back to the mainland.
Some of the rooms along the lake follow the traditional style of home in the region, designed by the Toba Batak culture who are centred on Samosir and the surrounding areas. The Toba Batak speak their own language that is distinct from modern Indonesian and held kingdoms in Sumatra before the amalgamation of the thousands of islands that now constitute the archipelagic nation. In addition to Hotel Carolina, several guesthouses throughout Tuk Tuk have fashioned rooms in this manner as well.
Unfortunately for us, these rooms also tended to be the most expensive so we opted for one a little further back from the lakeside, but high enough so that we were still able to take it all in. We spent much of these last days just driving through the island as we pleased, enjoying all of the cuisine and fresh fruit, and letting our minds and bodies soak in the relaxing vibe. It was the longest we’d stayed in any one place in all of Asia. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.
Next to Carolina was, as far as I know, the most expensive accommodation in Tuk Tuk, a hotel called Samosir Villas Resort. We stopped by there a couple of times for lunch and to enjoy their beautiful pool, close to the edge of Lake Toba. A very chill spot, indeed.
It was difficult to leave but we had to make up our minds and figure out what to do next. We didn’t come all the way to Sumatra for one location, so we decided to head back up to Medan, and from there, further northwest, to the far stretches of Indonesia. When we arrived in Medan, the sky was darkening and the streets were flooding from torrential downpours. We trudged our way to a bus station and bought a ticket for an overnighter to Banda Aceh. It was a relatively eventless ride; I may have fallen asleep within the first hour, in fact, and awoken almost as soon as we’d arrived at around 6 AM.
We weren’t staying in Banda Aceh, though. Not quite yet. The solemnity of the city wouldn’t settle on us until our return from our next destination. Banda Aceh is as far west as mainland Sumatra goes, but a small tropical island rests even further out in the Indian Ocean. We were on our way to Pulau Weh.
When we first travelled through Asia, we took one bus, or train, or motorbike ride, and we stayed in our new destination for a couple of days, and moved on to the next. It wasn’t until Indonesia that we began bouncing all over the place to get from one locale to the next, and wind up staying for days and days. Nearly ten days on Samosir Island after two planes, a cab ride, and a ferry. Now, a week in Pulah Weh after a five hour van ride, an overnight bus ride, and a two hour ferry to what Lonely Planet dubbed “the cherry” on top of Sumatra.
Pulau Weh is indeed a tropical, exotic getaway. An island of jungle inhabited by unique animals. An island whose coast is glistening turquoise with unreal diving options. An island where I could rent a motorbike for a week and explore absolutely anywhere I felt like it.
We’d found paradise once more, in Pulau Weh.