Category Archives: Adventure Travel

And the Sumatra journey begins…

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Crossing Bohorok River on wooden bridge, entering Bukit Lawang, the gateway to Gunung Leuser National Park, natural habitat of the Orang Utan. [Photo: Dian Hasan]

Medan, the colonial city with a storied past

Monday, May 21, 2012. Medan, North Sumatra.

We embark on our Sumatra Adventure Trip via Medan, the capital of North Sumatra Province. A teeming metropolis, Indonesia’s third largest city. We were pleasantly surprised to see a relatively compact city, with a big urban feel, greeted by an antiquated airport that is literally smack dab in the city center. Our hotel, Aryaduta, was a mere 10 minute drive from the airport. A stone throw away from the old colonial downtown, a treasure trove of art deco and classical architecture, witnesses to Medan’s bygone era as an important trading city, built on the riches of rubber, palm oil and tobacco plantations.

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Art Deco curves that have withstood the test of time.

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Remnants of the past in Medan’s old colonial heart.

Medan is the gateway to the Northern part of Sumatra, and her major tourist attractions such as Lake Toba, Gunung Leuser National Park (one of only two natural habitats of the Orang Utan), the Highlands and Palm Oil Plantations, as well as Aceh Province (Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam), further afield. Aceh’s claim to fame was the unfortunate site of 2004 Boxing Day Earthquake and Tsunami, which was the worst Tsunami disaster in the 21st century.

Anytime a discussion ensures over Indonesia, it’s always relevant to mention her staggering stats and figs, for many around the world still fail to realize Indonesia’s size. Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago, with over 15,000 islands (the exact count really depends on who’s counting, but a few hit and misses are irrelevant). With a population of about 238 million, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country, and is situated on the “ring of fire”, the proud owner of the world’s greatest number of active volcanoes.

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The ornate interior of the Tjong A Fie Mansion and Museum.

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Tjong A Fie Mansion, built in 1899, an excellent reference on Medan’s rich history.

Indonesia has had her share of image problem and misconception. In recent memory it drew global attention for all the wrong reasons; natural disasters, bombings, terrorist attacks, political unrest, and economic turmoil. Her brightest spark has always been Bali, but one little island in her collection of many, renowned for her natural beauty, world-class surf, unique culture and gracious and artistic people. Her other islands are probably still deeply embedded in people’s minds – most notably in the West – as exotic remote isles, home to a plethora of strange fauna and flora, head hunting tribes, and impenetrable jungles, where the wild roam free, and the birds of paradise decorate the skies. Sumatra and Java are probably better known as coffee variety, but they’re also two of the better known islands. The others, such as Borneo (Kalimantan in Indonesian); Celebes (Sulawesi in Indonesian); and Moluccas, are known as resource rich islands that gain Wall Street mention for all the oil, gas, timber and coal that oozes out of her soil. The latter, Moluccas, is known in history books as the original Spice Islands, a collection of small islands that have single-handedly changed the course of world history more than any since the Ancient Greek and Roman times.

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Tjong A Fie’s personal barber. Commissioned all the way from India.

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An old padlock spotted in Medan’s old city.

Some intriguing trivia that makes one ponder upon hearing it includes: The Dutch swapping Manhattan (yes, THAT Manhattan, the long swath that is now the defacto capital of the world) for the tiny island of Run in Banda Sea. This island measures a measly 3 km long and 1 km wide, and in the 17th century was so valued for her nutmeg and mace, a treasured commodity during the Discovery Age that was pioneered by the Portuguese.

We feel it’s important to provide a rather thorough backstory on Indonesia’s history, as this large country deserves to be mentioned in such light. Especially today, amid her economic growth, and growing importance as an emerging nation that is poised to take its place among the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) darlings of Wall Street. Today, Indonesia is a very different place, holding a bagful of hope from a land blessed with such beauty and richness. Tourism is one such hope, if managed properly could propel Indonesia into the world’s formidable travel destination, where sustainability and eco-tourism could potentially be the mainstay, and not an afterthought.

Which leads us back to the story, day one of our Sumatra Adventure. Bukit Lawang, 3 hours north of Medan, became our first choice of experiencing Sumatra, her wild side, to be exact. Home to the furry orange man of the forest – which is a direct translation of both Bahasa Indonesia and Malay, Orang Utan (Pongo Pygmaeus). Indonesia is one of only two countries on the planet (the other one is Malaysia) that has the Orang Utan. There are two species – Sumatran Orang Utan (Pongo Abelii) and Borneo Orang Utan (Pongo Pygmaeus).

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Proud Mama Jackie and her offspring, gazing in contentment after finishing the “Nasi Goreng” (fried rice) she snatched from our group during lunch break. Coming in close proximity with Orang Utans in the wilds of a tropical rainforest is an unforgettable experience. [Photo: Max Hasan]

From our research we found that there were two main options of viewing Orang Utans. At the Bohorok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centrein Bukit Lawang, or in the wild. The Centre was established by Swiss Zoologists in 1973 as a place to rehabilitate orphaned orang utans and release them back to the wild, but since 1986 it has been declared closed to receiving new orang utans. We opted for the second – more exciting option – to see them in the wild, accessible only through a choice of 3- or 6-hour trek into the jungle with a professional guide.

Google rescue in the nick of time

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Instant buddies! Trekking into the thick jungle with total strangers means you become close friends in the first few hours of your trip. Our comical guide Thomas is on the right. [Photo: Dian Hasan]

My generation relied on information from books and libraries (if we were lucky to get our hands on them), while my son’s generation lives and breathes Google. Don’t get me wrong, I may be an old fart, but I Google too. The morning of our flight to Medan, we hadn’t found any reliable source for Bukit Lawang trek guides yet. But thanks to the wifi, iPad and Google, we searched for a guide and Thomas’ Jungle Tourspopped up on the first page of our google search. Clean, modern website, visually rich, with clear and updated information and plenty pictures of Orang Utans. Thomas knows Branding 101, no doubt! The email couldn’t be more appropriate – jungleman_thomas@yahoo.com. We were sold. We sent Thomas a brief email and SMS text message. It turned out to be the best decision, helping make this leg of our Sumatra Trip the most unforgettable.

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We team up with Dana, Tomer, and Laura, three adventure travelers from Montreal, and into the jungle we go. In the able hands of our jungle guide, Thomas. Photo: Dian Hasan]

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Bohorok River that flows through Bukit Lawang. The bridge in the background was donated by the Central Government following the 2003 big flood. [Photo: Dian Hasan]

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Kesawan area, Medan’s old colonial heart.

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Kesawan area, Medan’s old colonial heart.

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The minaret at Medan’s Grand Mosque

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Medan’s Grand Mosque

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Art Deco in Kesawan area, Medan’s old colonial heart.

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Art Deco splendor. Kesawan Area, Medan.

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Medan’s unique motorbike-type pedicab

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Scenes of Old Medan.

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Hindu Temple, Medan

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Tjong A Fie Mansion & Museum, Kesawan, Medan

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Sultan Maimoon’s Palace, Medan

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Entrance to Sultan Maimoon’s Palace, Medan.

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Tjong A Fie Mansion & Museum, Kesawan, Medan

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Gate at Tjong A Fie Mansion & Museum, Kesawan, Medan

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Aryaduta Hotel, arguably Medan’s best 5-star hotel.

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Remnants of the past. Tip Top Restaurant (est. 1934), in operation since the Dutch Colonial era.

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Witness of a bye gone era. Tjong A Fie Mansion & Museum, Kesawan, Medan

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The ornate ceiling decoration at the splendid Tjong A Fie Mansion & Museum, Kesawan, Medan

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Surfing in Bali

Many die-hard surfers have a similar item on their bucket list: a chance to surf in Indo!! This comes as no surprise as Indonesia is the world’s largest Archipelago and it has more islands than any other country in the world.

Bali, Indonesia’s crown jewel travel destination, is an important part of the surfing scene. Although not home to the most challenging of waves, Bali has the whole package of sun, sea, sand, cuisine and culture. And when you throw in surfing for all levels, it makes it more complete still.

Here’s a look at surfing in Bali, courtesy of Best Destination TV Travel Guide.

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Eco fans should head to Costa Rica!

By Helen Cross | December 14, 2010

Any true eco enthusiast should make Costa Rica the top of their travel wish list. One of the most ‘green’ countries in the world, Costa Rica has unparalleled eco credentials and is doing the upmost to protects its ‘rich coast’. This is a country that:

  • Was named the best country for eco-tours in Treehuggers ‘Best of Green’.
  • Is ranked 3rd in the world in the 2010 Environmental Protection Index
  • Aims to become the first carbon neutral country by 2021
  • Is ranked 1st in the Happy Planet Index.
  • Contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity
  • Has 25% of its land protected in National Parks

However, as with anything that makes money, the term ‘eco’ can be subject to abuse and has been used to justify charging inflated prices for underwhelming experiences. $50 eco walk anyone?! Here are the crème-de-la- crème of environmentally conscious activities in the country:

  • Ziplining and sky walks

The best way to get up close to the cloud forests of Costa Rica; ziplining provides an adrenaline fuelled trip through the canopy for those who wish to fly through the trees a la Tarzan whereas sky walks provide a more sedate experience from bridges suspended at dizzying heights.

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Calling all goofy-footers! Meet T-Land, G-Land’s cousin on Timor Island.

By Dian Hasan | July 6, 2010


Avid surfers the world over have managed to put a lid on the world’s best-kept surfing destination secret, Indonesia. But with the explosive spread of of social media, Indo’s secret is out on the internet.

As home to the world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia is spoilt for choice for surfing destinations, and new surf spots are still being discovered, as surfers venture further afield, exploring outer-lying islands along Indonesia’s western and southern islands.

Timor Island, east of Bali, is one of the new finds, home to the famed T-Land that is fast gaining the accolade as among the world’s best left-hander.


Goofy-footers rejoice! Your perfect wave awaits at T-Land (known to locals as Besialu)

Until recently, Timor was far too remote, with limited infrastructure and lodging. This has now changed with the opening of Australian-managed Nemberala Beach Resort has made the trek more palpable. Attracting a new crop of surfers, pioneered by the Aussies and closely followed by surfer dudes and dudettes from other countries.

Indisputably the crown jewel of Roti, Nemberala’s “T-Land” was actually named after G-Land, although T-Land is much more user-friendly than its famous Javanese cousin. T-Land is similar in that the long, flat reef is broken into four sections: the Point, the Steeple, Magic Mountain, and Inner Tubes. Because of this, T-Land has a huge take-off area, able to accommodate several surfers. When big the wave can get fairly top-to-bottom, but generally it is a very long, steep, wally face, with the barrel being more “top-to-middle” or almond-shaped or a top-to-middle wave. T-Land is just as epic as anything else in Indo. Goofy-footers rejoice!  ~ Michael Kew




Although Nemberala’s main break , “T-Land”, known by locals by the name of Besialu, has been surfed since 1979, it remains uncrowded, it is a top world class lefthander comparable to a softer G-land that holds up to a very manageable 15ft faces, and it can handle as big as gets (the bigger the more perfect it gets.)
It breaks with great shape at any size of swell and on all tides, making it very consistent and enjoyable for all levels of surfing. Continue reading

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Eco Rustic | Seraya Island Huts, Off Komodo Island, East Indonesia

By Dian Hasan | July 6, 2010

When an area’s primary inhabitant is the world’s largest monitor lizard that is touted as the dinosaur’s last descendent, you know that this must be a very unique destination indeed. Rugged and remote, to say the least, with untouched natural beauty that belies its picture postcard image. For intrepid adventure travelers who are game for a true Robinson Crusoe-like experience, this setting can be enjoyed even further with a stay in traditional thatch-roof huts that sit on the beachfront.

Welcome to your own paradise isle: Seraya Island, just off of the famed Komodo Island, east of Bali, Indonesia. A true escape from the ordinary!

Seraya Island - Pano
Seraya Island – aerial view from the hill overlooking the peninsula.

Seraya Island is located off West Flores, 11km from the small port of Labuanbajo, and takes approximately one  hour to reach by boat. Accommodation and transport to the island can be booked through the Gardena Hotel in Labuanbajo.

The collection of just 10 huts built on the beachfront with unrestricted views of the sea… and your neighbors, though everyone tends to keep to themselves. Each hut has a bed wrapped with mosquito netting, a cupboard to store any belongings and an attached bathroom. Since water is only available when the generator is turned on in the evening, you’ll have to make do with using a bucket (and a quick trip to the sea!) to flush the loo. There’s only one restaurant on the island, managed by a small family who also take care of the island. You’ll need to order your dinner earlier on in the day and for certain items, at least one day in advance. It couldn’t get any more adventurous than that!

Seraya Island - Huts
Seraya Island – Huts

Seraya Island - Beachfront
Seraya Island – Beachfront

The entire island can be explored just under two hours. For the best views, simply trek uphill to the small peak behind the huts for a stunning view of the entire island. And a favorite spot to watch sunsets.

Seraya Island - Sunset
A landscape that is more akin to Greece’s, with manicured tall grass billowing in the wind.

The crystal, clear water and shallow reef stretching 60m around Seraya is ideal for snorkeling. At any given time, you’re guaranteed to see some starfish, silver dollars or even sea snakes! Don’t worry if you’ve forgotten your gear, you can rent out fins, mask and snorkel directly from the restaurant. Continue reading

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Green & Chic | Nemberala Beach Resort, Roti Island, Timor, East Indonesia

By Dian Hasan | July 6, 2010


Timor’s famed T-Land, a haven for Goofy-footers.

If the word “Roti” makes you think of the words “round”, “flat”, and “Indian” you are two-thirds correct.

Roti is a small island in the Nusa Tengarra region of Indonesia, southwest of Timor and a very different world away from the increasingly overrun surfing areas of Bali, Sumatra and the Maldives. On the southwest side of the island, the Nemberala Beach Resort is offering thoroughly modern tropical lodging with access to a half dozen, top-quality reefs – classically Indonesian waves where, even in this crowded, modern world, the surfer can still seek the perfect wave on the perfect day and be alone with the surf and his thoughts.


Nemberala Left is the main break fronting the resort and the premier wave in this region of Indonesia.  The break is also known as T-Land by some given its similarities to the  famous wave on Java G-Land.  Nemberala is definitely a softer and more “user friendly” wave then its namesake.

The nation of Timor has a long, interesting and sometimes troubled history. Timor is where Captain Bligh ended his impossible, 3600-mile crossing in a small boat after the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789. (If the photos have already sold you and you are packing for Roti and need a good book, the Bounty Trilogy is fascinating, and appropriate to the area.)

Timor had been divided between the Dutch and the Portuguese for many centuries. Japanese forces occupied the whole island from 1942 to 1945. In 1975, the nation of Indonesia annexed East Timor and was proclaimed Indonesia’s 27th province. After a prolonged guerilla war East Timor won independence in 2002.

Trouble and strife but there is no reason to be timorous about this corner of Timor. Roti is only 20 miles from the mainland but far removed from the past violent nation-making on the main island. Roti is southwest of Timor and the Nemberala resort is on the southwest side of the island, facing into all that world-famous, well-traveled swell which starts in the turbulent storms of the Southern Ocean, organizes itself as it crosses into the Indian Ocean and arrives 4000 miles later on the reefs of Roti, falling gracefully on a half dozen perfect reef setups. Continue reading

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Eco Rustic | Awera Island Guesthouse, Awera Island, Mentawai, Indonesia

By Dian Hasan | July 6, 2010

Surrounded by world-class waves, rainforest and coral reefs, the Awera Island Guesthouse is a small, comfortable and affordable accommodation option for surfers who just can’t wait to get their hands on the waves of the Mentawai Islands.

Awera Island is located within 30 minutes longboat ride of more than 10 quality waves, including the world class Telescopes, which is only 10 minutes away.

With a maximum of 5 or 6 guests at any one time we offer an unmatched opportunity to surf these waves with the fewest possible people.

Larger groups of 4 to 6 also have the option of upgrading to a faster speedboat with a much greater range, this allows guests at Awera to access every wave in the Playgrounds region right down to Lances and beyond. With a top speed of well over 40 knots “Lina” can have you surfing anywhere from Lances to Bugerworld in as little as 45 minutes.

For those who aren’t into surfing, can always resort to fishing, snorkeling and spearfishing. Continue reading

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