Budget Travel in Sumatra, Indonesia
Thanks to the actions of Islamic militants in neighboring Bali, Sumatra remains largely unvisited by travelers to Southeast Asia. Those who come find delicious and inexpensive food, incomparable outdoor adventure, and people who not only are very kind and hospitable but extremely curious and eager to meet strangers
From the Asian mainland the best route to Sumatra is by way of speedboat from Penang in Malaysia. The boat ride takes around five hours, and a 2-way ticket to Medan costs around $18. The gateway to Sumatra and its natural treasures has its own appeal: outgoing people eager to speak English and some of Indonesias most revered mosques. Travel guidebooks fail to mention that non-Muslims may visit many of the mosques if they are willing to wear a sarong, usually offered at the front gates. The caretakers are more than willing to show the building and explain religious practices and traditions.
Tobali, a popular minibus transportation service used by visitors to reach destinations outside of bustling Medan, is a cheap and reliable way to see the rest of the island.
The town of Bhukit Lawang in Gunung Leuser National Park, one of the largest jungle parks in the world, is the site of the Bhukit Lawangs orangutan rehabilitation program. Visitors have the rare opportunity to view these amazing creatures in their natural habitat. The naturalists are underfunded and immensely overworked (donations are greatly appreciated and can help win the battle to save the orangutan). Jungle treks can also be arranged through guesthouses.
To learn something about the rich and intricate designs of Batak art I took a class under the tutelage of a local woodworker in Bhukit Lawang. In a week I had learned to carve a Batak statue of my own.
It is regrettable that small groups of extremists have distorted Western opinion of Muslim countries such as Indonesia. A chance to find common ground and brotherhood in Sumatra is of immeasurable value.
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Sumatra is one of the cheapest places in the world to travel. Expect to spend around a $1 a day for accommodations with all the necessary amenities; you can eat heartily and healthfully spending $3 a day for three meals. Transportation between towns and cities is also inexpensive (around $5) and activities such as treks and classes cost in the neighborhood of $10-$12. Those who seek them can find most of the Western amenities. For more information regarding travel and attractions in Indonesia go to www.tourismindonesia.com.
The Lonely Planet South East Asia on a Shoestring is accurate about transportation, accommodations, prices, etc.