October 13, 2019
With more than 17,000 islands comprising the Indonesian archipelago, this neighboring country of the Philippines offers numerous tourist attractions besides its most popular destination, Bali, or even its capital Jakarta.
Sumatra, for instance, has the Toba Caldera GeoPark – a Unesco Heritage Site – which, along with its environs, formed via volcanic eruption 74,000 years ago.
Lake Toba—considered the largest volcanic lake in the world—and Samosir, the biggest island right in the middle of the said body of fresh water, are home to the vibrant and mostly Christian Batak tribe.
Still considered unexplored by foreign tourists, North Sumatra is accessible by plane from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport Jakarta to Silangit International Airport or by land from Medan, the capital of the province.
Samosir, on the other hand, is easily reached by ferry from the Simalungun port, which in turn is a couple of hours drive from Balige, the seat of Toba Samosir Regency.
Similarity to PH language, culture
Besides similar topography, Indonesia and the Philippines share the same Roman alphabet writing system. And Samosir and the whole of Sumatra for that matter have lots of words with the same meaning as those of several Filipino dialects – like kanan, muk(h)a, mata, angin (same as the word “air” in Ilocano), buka, duwa, apat, lima, pitu, walu, nasi (same “rice” in Kapampangan), putih, adda (same “there is” in Ilocano ), pintu, limapulo, among many others. Sabtu for Saturday and Minggu for Sunday also have similar sounds as Sabado and Linggo, respectively.
For all these parallelisms in culture, language and cuisine, Filipinos, particularly nature lovers, will then surely appreciate the scenery and climate of the sixth largest island in the world ideal for a fun getaway.
Upon the invitation of the Indonesian Embassy in Manila through its Ministry of Tourism, The Sunday Times Magazine was among Philippine media entities who went on a familiarization tour of the country’s major attractions in North Sumatra and Yogyakarta in Central Java as part of the government’s “10 New Bali Projects” tourism campaign.
‘Horas’ with vigor
The Bataks who live in these islands are a very warm people, albeit considered a bit loud by other Indonesian ethnic groups. Bataks talk like they are always arguing, but it’s just in their nature to do so. A quick look at them will reveal welcoming smiles, especially to visitors whom they welcome with the “Horas” chant.
Tour guide Johannes “Joe” Sibarani explained that Bataks diligently follow customs and traditions, like avoiding the marriage of two people with the same surname, because they are nevertheless considered siblings.
Farming is also taught to the young, but parents hope the next generation should always be better than the present – the reason why a Batak traditional house’s rear end is higher than the front, and faces the mountain since blessings come from higher spheres. The low doors in turn mean that those who come to the house must pay respect to elder residents living there.
If the parents are farmers, the children are honed and encouraged to take on a higher vocation through education, like teachers, lawyers, doctors or businessmen.
Although the shores of the island are dotted with hotels and vacation houses owned mostly by expatriates from Europe and North America, there are settlements that showcase traditional Batak culture like the Siallagan Village.
Regaling tourists that come to the village, chieftain Gading Siallagan – a 17th generation descendant of the first king and a retired aerospace flight control engineer – explained Samosir’s history and culture imbued with humor, and in English, but asked for pardon for his pronunciation albeit asserted his love for entertaining people.
Lake Toba Festival
The Batak culture is fully showcased in September through Karnaval Pesona Danau Toba – an annual parade and festival mounted since 2016 “to encourage the Batak youth to learn and imbibe their culture and traditions as well as attract the sympathy of local and foreign tourists to come and enjoy the beauty of Lake Toba.”
Other points of interest include Taman Eden 100, an ecological reserve founded in post-logging era where humans, plants and animals live harmoniously side by side with now over 100 endemic species including the andaliman pepper; TB Silalahi Center Batak Museum; Tomok Village in Samosir with its popular shopping center of batik clothing Batak-style, accessories and decors; Huta Ginjang Park where one can view the vastness and beauty of Lake Toba and the Toba Caldera Geopark; and the Sunset Beach in Lumban Gaol, Balige.
Yogyakarta’s unique attractions
Floated to be the new capital of Indonesia in the future, Yogyakarta is unique as it is the only city still ruled by a monarchy, and exempted from elections in choosing its leadership.
Often called Jogja, the city is also Central Java’s capital and the center of Javanese fine arts and culture such as batik-making, dance, literature, music, poetry, visual arts, puppetry and silversmith.
With over a hundred schools and universities including the country’s most prestigious and largest institute of higher education – the Gadjah Mada University – Yogyakarta is Indonesia’s academic hub as well.
While Bataks speak loud, the largely Islamic Javanese population generally talk in lower and softer voice.
Although not the location of the Borobudur Temple, Yogyakarta’s proximity to the famous Buddhist monument hosts a vibrant tourism industry – as the accomodation base of tourists visiting Borobudur and the Hindu Prambanan Temple.
Commercially, Jogja’s most popular attraction is Malioboro, a shopping district that offers all types of merchandise, especially batik and local handicrafts. Adjacent to it is the famous Angkringan – from the Javanese word ngangkring which implies sitting back casually.
The sidewalk is turned into a mat-carpeted floor late afternoon until early morning where people come and eat, just sitting relaxed barefooted – the exotic way of Javanese hanging out. Angkringan Pak Hendrik is known for its jos coffee where a hot burning charcoal is dip in it.
Other notable destinations include Kotagede or silver village, where the PH media contingent learned the process of silversmith – from raw material sourcing to designing to getting the finished product they helped create at the HS Silver factory; Batik Plentong where one can experience actual batik-making when booked in advance; and Yogyakarta Palace, where the Sultan lives.
Another interesting destination is Taman Sari or Water Castle, which used to be surrounded by an artifical lake but got covered by ash and volcanic debris when Mt. Merapi erupted in 2010. It was the bathe place of the Sultan and his family with gardens, water canals and underground water tunnel.
Not very far from it and part of the complex is Sumur Gumuling, an underground mosque that has a circular design with a sumur or well at the center. Its single gate indicates that humans are created from soil and go back to the same form.
The structure has five stairs symbolizing the five pillars of Islam: Shahadah – the sincere recitation of Muslim profession of faith; Salat – performing ritual prayers the proper way five times a day; Zakat – giving alms or charity to benefit the poor and the needy; Sawm – fasting during the month of Ramadan; and Hajj – pilgrimage to Mecca.
‘Unity in Diversity’
With more than 250 million population of five different religious persuasions – Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Buddhism and Hinduism – the world’s largest archipelago embraces the motto “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” which means “Unity in Diversity” or “Out of Many, One” in Old Javanese.
Considering its archipelagic grandeur, with the largest island Sulawesi (formerly known as Celebes) five times more than the size of the Philippines, Indonesia has so much tourism offerings, both for destination and activity options.
Others in the Ministry of Tourism’s “10 New Bali Project” are Mount Bromo in East Java, Morotai Island in the Halmahera Group of Maluku Islands, Mandalika in West Nusa Tenggara, Labuan Bajo in the West Manggarai Regency, Wakatobi National Park in Southeast Sulawesi, Kepuluan Seribu located in the north of Jakarta, Tanjung Lesung in Banten and Tanjung Kelayang in Belitung Island.
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