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Travelling in Sumatra....the safe way?!

Posted by katieflorence on 9/11/2009 at 21:57

Hi everyone,

I actually posted this same query on tripadvisor about a week ago but not had any response - hopefully you nice travelfish people will be more helpful!

I'm hoping to visit Sumatra whilst travelling through south east asia early next year, and the places we're keen to visit are Pulau Weh, Bukit Lawang, and Danau Toba.

However I'm a bit concerned about how to travel around, as the Lonely Planet seems to suggest that it's dangerous/not recommended for tourists to travel down either the east or west coast!

So my question is - how can i travel south from Banda Aceh (for Pulau Weh)?! I'd really like to avoid flying if possible, but don't want to risk bus travel if it really is dangerous!

Any suggestions/tips would be much appreciated!

Many thanks,


#1 katieflorence has been a member since 23/10/2009. Posts: 11

Posted by Lother on 9/11/2009 at 22:20

Dangerous in what way exactly? As far as traffic accidents go, yeah, it's probably pretty dangerous, but then that's true of most of SEA. But I don't think it's dangerous in any other way really. Maybe the LP is not that recent? I can imagine 5 years ago it still might've been a bad idea to travel around Aceh by oneself, but now it's pretty safe.

I've taken minibuses from Medan to Balai Lutu in Central Aceh (on the humorously named Trans-Sumatran Highway) and back and then from Medan to Banda Aceh along the east coast, and the only thing I was afraid of was oncoming traffic brushing a bit too close to the bus.

#2 Lother has been a member since 12/5/2006. Location: Earth. Posts: 214
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Posted by katieflorence on 10/11/2009 at 17:55

Thanks Lother, that's good to know. The LP was a bit vague - just implied that overland travel in northern Sumatra was unsafe, but I'm glad to hear it's ok really! Are the minibuses expensive? How long is the journey from Aceh to Medan?

Since you obviously know Sumatra well, could you tell me if my itinerary is ok, or if I'm missing out any really great places? I only have about 2 weeks to spend in Sumatra so was just going to focus on the north (Pulau Weh, Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba) - but if you have any other recommendations of places that are "must sees" I would love to hear them!



#3 katieflorence has been a member since 23/10/2009. Posts: 11

Posted by Lother on 10/11/2009 at 21:54

I can't say I'm an expert or anything, only been there once :). Anyway, the minibuses are quite affordable, but for the longer trips you'll probably want to go for the "executive" (eksekutif) class, which means you actually get one seat for yourself, instead of having 15-25 people in a 12-seat minibus. Even those are pretty cheap though. The trip from Medan to Banda Aceh took around 12 hours. There might be direct ones from Banda to Bukit Lawang though.

For 2 weeks, Pulau Weh, Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba sounds like a pretty good plan. Out of those, I've only been to Toba, which I found a great, most relaxing place.

#4 Lother has been a member since 12/5/2006. Location: Earth. Posts: 214
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Posted by SBE on 20/11/2009 at 09:32

I haven't been there since 2005 but maybe I can help too.

Flying is probably considerably safer than going by road... there are (were?) some truly manic mini bus drivers on the trans Sumatran highway, especially the Medan-Lake Toba route! I went to Bukkit Lawang on an ordinary bus and that was a little less hair raising. The buses are cheap but as you have limited time I'd strongly recommend flying to Banda Aceh. Air Asia does that route ...they're cheap and they have an excellent safety record.

#5 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,037
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Posted by Laura_IndoTP on 30/11/2009 at 23:39

I agree with the previous posters, it is possible to get to Banda Aceh by bus but if your able to afford a little more then get a flight! Flights can be very cheap and save alot of hassle! Distances are very decieving in Sumatra as the roads are so bad that everything takes such a long time. My recommendation would be to treat yourslef to a flight for the Medan - Banda Aceh part and then get buses for your trip to Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba. I recently returned from a trip to Sumatra and I loved it! If you have any specific questions then feel free to PM me.

#6 Laura_IndoTP has been a member since 30/11/2009. Posts: 2

Posted by katieflorence on 1/12/2009 at 03:12

Thanks Laura. I'm now thinking of skipping Banda Aceh (unless it's unmissable?!) but any tips you might have of where to eat/stay or what to see/do etc in Bukit Lawang or Lake Toba would be really great!

#7 katieflorence has been a member since 23/10/2009. Posts: 11

Posted by bettylovesblogging on 20/5/2010 at 13:59

I took a nightbus from Medan to Banda Aceh this week on my own as a young woman and had no personal safety problems at all. As for road safety... North Sumatrans do drive a little like nutcases, but the road from medan to banda Aceh is quite good... and being in a big bus, if any incident does occur, its likely the person on the motorcycle will be the one in trouble rather than you.

The ticket was Rp 160,000 for an air conditioned coach. It was a fairly comfortable trip, as far as SE Asian nightbuses go.

#8 bettylovesblogging has been a member since 20/5/2010. Location: Australia. Posts: 4
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Posted by elle1981x on 20/5/2010 at 16:14

Hey there! In Bukit Luwang try and stay in the last guesthouse, next to the entrance to the park... can't remember what it called but the rooms are amazing and the orang utans and other monkeys often come right down into the guesthouse! One morning we had a mother and baby orangutan just chilling on a chair... amazing! Great jungle tours aswell.
Lake toba is a beautiful place.... so peaceful. We stayed on samosir island which is an island in the middle of the lake! A great place to hire bikes and explore.

#9 elle1981x has been a member since 8/5/2010. Location: United Kingdom. Posts: 10
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