North Sumatra & Aceh in 10 Days (1): Sipiso-Piso Waterfall

In January, I had a backpacking trip in North Sumatra and Aceh for 10 days straight. It was a fast-paced trip, I never stayed for more than a day in each place. From a remote, legendary city Barus to the top of Goh Leumo mountain in Aceh, I only carried one camera: a Nikon F-2 with plain prism finder (very dependable, hard-working, tough meterless camera); a 28mm lens and 14 rolls of black & white films and no colors. Too few films? That was part of the plan. Due to the hastiness of the trip, I tried not to take too many photographs so I could remember the detail of the trip in my head and wrote it in a comprehensive journal later. So, here we go…


It’s the beginning of my 10-day trip exploring North Sumatra & Aceh. First, I have to meet my trip buddy, El, at Polonia airport in the morning. Actually I never met him, he was looking for a trip partner and posted it online, so I responded and we were communicating only by email prior to this trip, coordinating schedule and itinerary . We meet for the very first time at the Polonia airport.

The Public Transport Chronicle

Our first destination is Sipiso-Piso waterfall. To get there by public transport isn’t quite easy according to some people. After gathering enough information about the route, we’re heading for Simpang Pos to catch a bus to Kabanjahe, the first stop. People in Medan call it “bus cepat” or express bus, but it’s actually just a minibus, modified to fit as many passengers as possible. It’s cheap and uncomfortable, but really really fast.

The minibus is filled with smoking-frenzy passengers, blowing their kreteks like there’s no tomorrow. Thank God I take a seat next to the window so that I don’t have to choke inside the smoke-infested bus. We arrive in Kabanjahe at midday. The schedule is tight so there isn’t much time to rest. Without any hesitation, we catch a minibus to Merek, our second stop. This time, the ride is worse than Medan-Kabanjahe. It’s pure chaos. The driver just keep on going, consuming every holes, turns and small ditches in high speed. I swear if there’s any passenger with weak stomach on the bus, it’d become a jackpot party.

It takes 1.5 hours ride to simpang Merek. It’s a miracle that I’m still in one piece due to the driver’s daredevil driving style. We ask a few people how to reach Sipiso-Piso and all of them tell us to go by betor (becak motor), a hybrid of a three-wheeled cart and a motorcycle, it’s ugly but it gets the job done. The trip by betor only takes 15 minutes, a cool wind breeze forces me to put my jacket.

The betor driver stops on the parking lot. El and I begin to search for a restaurant, a kosher one. It’s North Sumatra in Karo region where almost every restaurant serves pork or “babi panggang karo” in the menu, so looking for a kosher or halal restaurant is mandatory. Yes we are Jewish……just kidding. No, seriously we’re Jewish……yeah right. We pick one among few restaurants that still open in this gloomy low season: “RM Muslim Putri Minang”. After a not-so-tasty-meal followed by taking photographs around the viewing site, we walk down toward the waterfall. According to the restaurant’s owner, the distance from the parking lot to the bottom of the waterfall is approximately 1 km with hundreds of stairs.

I really enjoy the view, especially in one particular spot where I can see the whole Tongging village below. I decide to post a tweet along with a picture of Toba lake and waterfall from the viewing site, making my friends in Jakarta envious. Well, I know Jakarta is now being surrounded by flood, but my insensitive-attention-whore self just can’t help it.

At the bottom, 100 meters away from the waterfall, there’s a small shelter where I can take pictures of the waterfall from low angle, it’s quite challenging since the tiny water drops keep splashing into my lens. After spending 1/2 hour, now it’s time for the real deal: Climbing up the stairs. I prepare myself for pain and agony. Not dead with fatigue is good enough for me as a price of reaching the top again.


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