Category Archives: Indonesia

I was greeted by occasional drizzles while at the top of Borobudur, Indonesia, but nevertheless it turned out to be a golden opportunity to take photos. Why?

10 Awesome Things to Do in Berastagi, Medan

This entry should have been written and posted eons ago, but it took me until now to finally have the chance to publish it.

I did this solo trip to Berastagi, Medan about a year ago and it was a spontaneous one that took place over the course of just two days. Surprisingly, it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable trips I’ve had despite my very short stay there.

If you don’t know, Berastagi is akin to Malaysia’s Genting Highlands or Cameran Highlands, sitting at an altitude of 1,300m in the super picturesque Karo highlands of Nothern Sumatera. That also means it has cool temperatures all around the year, especially during the rainy season.

It’s about 3 hours away from the Medan Kualanamu Airport by car. But if you travel in the day, the trip may be cut short as heavy transports are prohibited from going up the highlands during daytime.

Below I put together 10 amazing things you must do when visiting Berastagi.

1. Hike the famous Mount Sibayak

Mount Sibayak, Berastagi, Medan

Unfortunately I didn’t get to hike Mount Sibayak while I was there due to bad weather, but in return I was blessed with the opportunity to see an awesome site, which I’m going to talk about later.

I was supposed to be hiking it early next morning after my arrival in Berastagi, but it was drizzling throughout the night and Mary, the wife of Abdy who runs the guest house I was staying at – called the Nachelle Homestay – advised me against hiking it due to safety reason.

Given another chance to visit Berastagi I would so gracefully put this back on my itinerary.

The reason why Mount Sibayak remains one of the top mountains in Indonesia is because it’s an active volcano, though I read the last time it erupted was dated back to a century ago. It produces crystalline sulphur (hence the formation of yellow sulphur stones) and hot springs around the mountain, which makes it characteristically distinct and one of a kind.

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On top of that, the mountain top overlooks the beautiful town of Berastagi.

Mount Sibayak, Berastagi, Medan

These beautiful photos have to be fetched from Nachelle Homestay’s Facebook page as I didn’t get to visit this site. Abdy always takes awesome photos by the way.

2. Catch Mount Sinabung erupt

If you’re lucky, that is.

Situated not far away from Mount Sibayak, Mount Sinabung has experienced several eruptions in the recent years, including ones in August 2010, September and November 2013, January, February, and October 2014, as well as the latest one on 3 January 2015.

In the photos below, also taken from Nachelle Homestay’s FB page, you can see ash being spewed thousands of meters into the sky as the volcano erupts.

Mount Sinabung, Berastagi, Medan

Mount Sinabung, Berastagi, Medan

I believe Abdy took these photos from the top of his guest house (it’s a four-storey building if I remember correctly) and trust me, it has an amazing view of Mount Sinabung and its surrounding!

 3. Climb Gundaling Hill

If you don’t feel like hiking a mountain, and want a relatively more relaxing “adventure”, then this hill is for you. The Gundaling Hill is situated within the vicinity of the Berastagi town and the site is accessible by angkot (mini passenger van) or foot.

Gundaling Hill, Berastagi, Medan

It took me about an hour to reach the top. But the reason why it took me this long was because I kept stopping along the way to enjoy the view and take some photos. I also visited a few churches and viharas (Buddhist temples) at the foothill.

Gundaling Hill, Berastagi, Medan

At the top of the Gundaling Hill is a recreational park with covered tents conveniently available for rental if you want a picnic. The downside is that there are mosquitoes and other insects, so bringing some insect repellent would help.

I texted my father from atop the Gundaling Hill and told him if I had more time, I wouldn’t mind napping there for two hours. I was feeling utmostly relaxed and at peace.

Gundaling Hill, Berastagi, Medan

The Gundaling Hill overlooks the picturesque Mount Sinabung and its surrounding. If you manage to catch this active volcano erupt before your eyes, I’m sure the view will be a spectacular and unforgettable one.

Berastagi, Medan

Berastagi, Medan

4. Ride a horse at the foot of Gundaling Hill

I can’t remember how much this cost, but it wasn’t that expensive. It was definitely an experience for someone like me who had never ridden a horse before.

Berastagi, Medan

 5. Visit ‘Taman Alam Lumbini’

Taman Alam Lumbini, or the Lumbnini Gardens houses what people call as the “Shwedagon Pagoda Replica” or “Burmese temple” because it is a Buddhist temple with a structure and design that resemble very much those of Yangon‘s famous Shwedagon Pagoda.

Berastagi, Medan

At first I thought it was a Theravada temple due to its exterior characteristics, but I was surprised that upon entering the building, it had statues and other items which I would usually see in a Mahayana temple. Yet surrounding the temple were rows of Tibetan-style prayer wheels.

Such a unique blend indeed!

If you are curious how I got there, I took an angkot from Berastagi town centre, with the journey taking less than fifteen minutes. Once the driver drops you near the site, just ask around for directions to the temple since you can’t see it directly from the outside.

There is a beautiful park/garden next to the temple where one can take a stroll. It’s definitely worth checking it out.

Berastagi, Medan

6. Visit Sipiso-piso Waterfall

I might not have the chance to hike Mount Sibayak, but fate brought me to this amazing waterfall about 45m away from Berastagi.

I took an angkot from Berastagi to Kabanjahe, then from Kabanjahe to Siantar and ask to get off at this waterfall called Sipiso-Piso. Being one of the tallest waterfalls in Southeast Asia, Sipiso-piso really did not disappoint one bit.

Berastagi, Medan

At Sipiso-piso, I was blown away by the magnificent view with the stream of water from the upper land – called the Karo Plateau – plunging some 120m down the waterfall.

Berastagi, Medan

Because it was drizzling and cold when I arrived, a patch of fog was formed around Sipiso-piso, thereby creating a mysterious yet phenomenal scene.

Take a look at the difference it made after the drizzle was over:

Berastagi, Medan

Berastagi, Medan

7. Visit Lake Toba

Connected to gorge downstream of Sipiso-piso is none other than the famous yet equally beautiful – if not more beautiful – Lake Toba. Unfortunately I didn’t have the luxury of time to get down to the caldera area of the lake but I heard it’s just an hour’s walk from the foot of Sipiso-piso.

Berastagi, Medan

8. Travel by ‘angkot’ (mini van)

Because why not? You get to interact with the locals and experience the way they live their daily lives. And the fare is also very cheap.

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Berastagi, Medan

9. Fly a kite at Bukit Kubu

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10. Visit St. Fransiskus Asisi Catholic Church

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The majority of people in Berastagi are known as “Karo’s”, who are mostly Christians. On a Sunday morning while I was there, parents and kids alike were all well dressed up for and attending Sunday Masses. They were such a devoted lot!

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At the side of the St. Fransiskus Asisi Church was a hut-like building. When asked what it was for, one of the boys there told me it was a dwelling for the pastor.

Borobudur in Beautiful Morning Mist

Before my gateaway to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, I did a bit of research online and read that one could catch actually sunrise at Borobudur.

Borobudur used to serve as a Mahayana Buddhist temple that was built around the same time as Prambanan – in the 9th century. These two UNESCO-endorsed ancient sites are approximately 52 kilometres apart.

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I was very much intrigued by the idea of enjoying sunrise at Borobudur and had thus quickly made an arrangement with the receptionist at my homestay – Delta Homestay – so that someone would fetch me to the site at 5am.

Unfortunately it was pouring when I woke up to get ready for the visit, and I thought my plan to visit Borobudur would be ruined. Thankfully by the time I arrived at the Borobudur entrance – it was 10 minutes before 6am when the site was opened to the public, the rain had subsided! But that was also when I realised the sun had already risen.

Sunrise at Borobudur? I don’t think so.

Not unless you book with Manohara Hotel that provides tickets for a special sunrise tour and pay a whopping fee for a tour that is solely monopolised by the said hotel.

Either that, or unless you bribe the guards at the entrance. Which I personally find is a shame to be happening.

Nevertheless, I was still satisfied with the “normal” ticket that I purchased, which cost me some 215,000 rupiah (approx. RM60) if I didn’t remember wrongly. Also, I didn’t regret to have woken up and gone there early.

My driver Pak Man and I were among the earliest persons to arrive, so once ticket office opened, we immediately went in to purchase my ticket and enjoyed ourselves a cup of free coffee before other visitors gradually arrived. Pak Man then showed me the way into the Borobudur compound, and from that point onwards everything was on my own.

At the park entrance leading to the Borobudur temple:

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The monument consists of three levels, namely the lower, middle, and upper levels that respectively represent Sphere of Desire (greed), Sphere of Form (free from greed), and Sphere of Formlessness (liberated from all earthly things).

At the lower level:

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I believe this was taken at the middle level (kindly note the carved stone panels behind me that illustrate the life and teachings of Buddha):

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At the upper level, the sight gets more and more interesting. Though no elaborate stone carvings, you can see statues of Buddha everywhere, sitting in various positions. It is said there is a total of 504 Buddha statues!

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Surrounding the main dome at the center of this monument are 72 Buddha statues seated inside their respective perforated stupas.

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The view from the upper level of Burobudur was awesome – the morning mist that shrouded the park and view of the nearby mountains was really tranquil and one of a kind, something I think I can never easily forget!

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I was greeted by occasional drizzles while at the top of Borobudur, but nevertheless it turned out to be a golden opportunity to take photos. Why, when the rain is absorbed into the surfaces of the stone panels, it only enhances their details!

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Thought not being able to see Borobudur during sunrise, my overall experience was still a positive one. The entrance fee if RM60 may sound a little costly, but I think the effort that UNESCO and the Indonesian government put into restoring and maintaining the ancient monument really does it justice.

There is a museum within the vicinity of the monument and I got to witness in it a picture depicting the ruins of the ancient temple before it was restored. I was totally stunned to see how well the temple had been restored and the vast difference the restoration work had made to the monument.

I hereby declare Borobudur to be one of the great monuments to see before one dies!

Before I end my post below are some pictures of the Delta Homestay I stayed in during my time in Yogyakarta. It actually belongs to a group of hotels that also operates Duta Garden Hotel and Duta Guesthouse and is the most budget of the three.

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I especially like Delta Homestay’s Javanese tropical style. There were plants throughout the surrounding, which made it cooling. At night, there was no noise and no disturbance and it was an ideal condition to have peace of mind.

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The room at the corner (right hand side in the picture below) was my lodging – it was so homely I didn’t want to check out!

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There was a small table with chairs right outside each room, so when having nothing to do at night, guests got to chit-chat while enjoying the night view and sipping on the coffee.

Also, there was a pool in front of my room. It was a shame however that I didn’t get to use it due to my short stay there.

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With that this second blog entry on my Yogyakarta travel has come to an end. To read the first entry on Prambanan, click here.