Welcome to North Sumatera In contrast to the small island of Bali, the province of North Sumatera is large with one of the biggest lakes in the world, Lake Toba, at its navel. The continuous mountain of Bukit Barisan, which extends from Aceh at the tip of the island of Sumatera to Lampung at the bottom of the island, guards the province on the west side, providing home for thick, tropical jungles and lush vegetations. As you go down the western mountains towards the beaches of the east, mountain streams, strong rivers, and gorgeous waterfalls will accompany you. Relative to Bali, North Sumatera has very heterogenous ethnic groups, and thus, cultures. The people of the eastern coasts, also known as the Malays (Melayu) have markedly different traditions and culture from the Batak highlanders who live around Lake Toba and Samosir Island. Further south, the Mandailings and Angkolas, and the Island of Nias, have yet more flavors of traditions and culture. There are many places to see in this cultural salad bowl: Medan The capital of the province of North Sumatera, Medan houses the government offices and business centers, effectively making it the largest city outside of the island of Java. Medan owes its cultural heritage to the kingdom of Deli, whose place of worship, Mesjid Agung (Grand Mosque), and palace, Istana Maimun (The Maimun Palace) undoubtedly show its past greatness. Lake Toba Lake Toba, the crater lake in the middle of the province, is a popular tourist resort, especially the town of Parapat on its shore. Its cool and dry mountain climate makes it the perfect place to relax. The Batak Toba and Batak Simalungun people live around Parapat. The Batak people, composed of Batak Toba, Simalungun, Pak-Pak, and Karo, are known for their expression, which is often materialized in lively and sentimental love songs. If every person in Bali can carve, every person in Batak can sing or play the guitar. The Karo highland As you drive south from Medan into the Karo highland, the Great Bukit Barisan Forest Park greets you with its distinctive Karonese gazebo decorated with ret-ret, a two-headed, lizard-like animal that is carved on the walls of traditional Karonese family houses. Along the windy, mountainous road to the Karo highland, as you pass the Sibolangit National Garden, chants of monkeys and possibly orang-utans will accompany you, mysteriously appearing and disappearing from the thick jungle. The town of Berastagi, located at the foot of Mount Sibayak, will greet you with its lovely flowers. The smell of fresh vegetables and the colorful and aromatic arrangements of fruit will etch their place in your memory. Try markisah (Passion Fruit)... Sipiso-piso Waterfall and Tongging Further south from Berastagi and Kabanjahe, the Karonese portion of Lake Toba is marked with a thin yet tall waterfall. Nias Island Off to the west of the island of Sumatera, the island of Nias provides another item in your cultural plate with its distinct culture. The water surrounding the island is a great place to surf and to scubadive.