I haven’t written a lot about coming home to Singapore after my 2 years of globetrotting. If you follow me on Instagram, chances are that you’ll still see me all over the world. Jumping from mountain tops, riding cable cars and hanging out with animals. But in reality, I’ve finally unpacked, stowed away the backpack and started my internet bookmarks afresh for new places to dream of.

The internet doesn’t tell you this, but coming home is tough. From re-adapting to Singapore’s humid temperament, to catching up with people who’s lives have moved on from you 2 years ago. Plus, growing societal pressures to ‘settle down and get a real job’.

You’re hot property for a month, with texts from friends, family, acquaintances and people from the internet. Everybody wants a slice of your time to listen to your adventures and to tell you it seemed so short that 2 years has passed since we last met.

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Then, like everything else, with a swipe of a thumb, life scrolls away. When the dust settles and the surprised remarks go away, you’re left with yourself. The person whom you’ve grown so comfortable to be around with in the ever changing landscape of travelling – now feels like a stranger in her own country.

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It still feels surreal to roll around in my bed. From wearing the same ratty sleeping shirts to having clothing options. I don’t need Google Maps to get around my island. My favorite hawker dishes are literally a stone’s throw away. Plus, I get to meet up with my nearest and dearest within the hour instead of having to schedule a video call.

Being home feels nice.

Being home also feels scary.

I had all this time alone to think, to decompress, to reflect, to make sense of the last 2 years. But somehow I just couldn’t. Instead, I was doing a million and one things on the internet. From helping my new clients improve on their businesses to answering questions across multiple platforms about travel, blogging and whether I regret quitting my finance job 2 years ago. There was no time scheduled for any sort of reflecting for myself. And I craved the me-time that I had an excess of when I was travelling solo. Travel has taught me so much, but one of the most important things I’ve taken away is the importance of being still. Learning how to appreciate the moment you have right now, not 5 minutes ago, not 2 hours later – now. My schedule in Singapore did not allow for it with things consistently needing my attention and replies

That had to change immediately.

I guess I would call it a sign from the universe when I was invited to check out Lake Toba and its surrounding regions in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. It was also the world’s largest volcanic lake. This I had to see for myself.

I did not know it then, but visiting Lake Toba was exactly what I needed – A short reflective retreat which wasn’t too far of a flight away. Delicious food (always), cheap everything-you-need-for-a-quickie-getaway, and zero layovers in transit!

For the past 2 years, change was the only constant. Snapping into traveler mode once again made everything fall back into place. It halted my constant overthinking, increasing anxiety and incessant Google searches to solve my first world problems of reverse culture shock. I was ready to get my mind off them and do some easy exploring. Combined with good ol’ feasting without worrying that 3 meals a day was going to break the bank. With a spot of hiking over at Lake Toba in the next 4 days.

#1 Sampling Local Delights

Being away for so long, I have missed the taste of keropok. I was in between stuffing handfuls of crispy air into my mouth and dusting off the flakes that seem to get everywhere. When I quickly realised that I have neglected the goreng pisang, the Andaliman pizza and my favourite, the Kueke Lapa (first pic), which is a rice cake thing stuffed with coconut and wrapped in banana leaves. We were fed ridiculously well over the course of 4 days from local delights to freshly caught seafood. For the price of a sit down dinner here in Singapore, you’ll feast like a king there.

Lake Toba Local Food
L:R from top left: Kueke Lapa (ombus ombus), Seafood, Rendang, Keropok delights, Goreng Pisang, Andaliman Pizza

#2 Chasing Waterfalls

Even after visiting the holy trinity of waterfalls around the world. I still get irrationally excited with the mention of a waterfall to be seen. There’s just something special about endless cascades of water. I don’t know what it is, but I do know that, if there’s a waterfall – I will be there. There are probably thousands of waterfalls in Indonesia, but definitely not one with a hipster coffee shop attached to it like this one in Taman Eden 100.

#3 Tasting the Best Coffee (Sidi Kalang) in Indonesia 

Ever since taking a fast track in my writing career over here, the amount of coffee drunk has increased exponentially. While I’ve grown to love Nescafe machines and instant frothy lattes. Sidi Kalang was the cup of coffee after my own heart. Don’t be fooled by its inky exterior, this is before the addition of milk and condensed milk. Oh condensed milk – you make everything amazing!

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If you’re a coffee drinker lover like me, definitely make it your mission to track down Sherwood Coffee hut in Taman Eden 100 – the most unassuming hipster coffee shop ever. Cash only.

#4 Reflecting/Chilling out by Lake Toba

Not going to lie, I have sat and stared out at large bodies of water in many countries across different continents. You’d think that I’d be less impressed by now. But I somehow seem to fall more in love with it every time. From my one amazing week on the banks of Lake Malawi in Africa, to many hikes around the Lakes of Switzerland. And now, the largest volcanic lake in the world – Lake Toba. I should be so lucky. There’s just something calming about gazing out at large bodies of water, and I absolutely love it.

lake toba direct flight

#5 Understanding the Batak Culture

While still part of Indonesia, the Batak people have a distinctly different culture from the rest of the country. Predominantly Christians, they do not have the same dietary restrictions as Muslims. From delicious local delights to colorful dance ceremonies. It was a delight to mingle among the people to get a sense of their day to day lives. While tourism still has a ways to go in this region, it makes the entire experience much more authentic. For someone who loves the off-the-beaten-path adventures, the town of Parapat is a great place to start exploring Lake Toba and its surrounding regions. Don’t forget to eat some Andaliman pizza or the ombus ombus dessert!

#6 Enjoying the Simpler Things in Life

One of my favourite days at Lake Toba, was when we actually were on Lake Toba. You could very easily hop on ferry boats which go between the mainland of Parapat town and Samosir Islands and take a leisurely cruise on the Lake. The waves lapping gently at the sides of our boat and while we did not move very quickly at all, it was one of the best commutes I’ve had since getting back into Asia.

Big city getaway or island life retreat?😫 🌴🏪

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How to Get to Lake Toba

Thankfully, this idyllic lakeside getaway isn’t that difficult to get to. In the past, Singaporeans had to fly into Medan, followed by another 3-4h overland transfer to Lake Toba. Since 28 October 2017, Garuda Indonesia has commenced direct flights from Changi International (SIN) to Lake Toba, Silangit Airport (DTB).

Many thanks to Garuda Indonesia and Ministry of Tourism Indonesia for organizing this trip. All opinions, musings and bad puns are as always, my own – like you could expect any less. 

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3 Comments on The Travel Experience Nobody Talks About

  1. “Then, like everything else, with a swipe of a thumb, life scrolls away. When the dust settles and the surprised remarks go away, you’re left with yourself. The person whom you’ve grown so comfortable to be around with in the ever changing landscape of travelling – now feels like a stranger in her own country.” I love and relate to this (:

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