Route from Lake Toba to Lake Takengon – Staying at an amazing hidden camping spot

Somewhere in the mountains in Aceh - one of my favourite camping spots

Lake Toba to Lau Baleng: Camping at a hot spring

We left Lake Toba behind us, filled with energy and enthusiasm about the adventures that lay before us, heading towards Aceh.

Our first stop was in Sidikalang to look for some new cookware after leaving half of our stuff behind at Curug Ponot. But yeah, that’s a whole other story. Hopefully someone else is now using them to make delicious pancakes under Indonesia’s highest waterfall.

After asking around we found a narrow shop filled from top to bottom with stuff. It was a perfect example of organized chaos and amazingly the seller was able to find almost everything we needed. Anyway, Sidikalang is the largest town in the area and its market is a good spot to stock up on supplies before heading into the mountains.

Sellers on 4 wheels - another great way to stock up on supplies 

The landscape in this area is very different to lake Toba. The hills are covered in farmland, growing all kinds of vegetables such as chilis and corn. The road passes through many small villages and it’s fun to watch the kids playing on the side of the road and the locals go on with their daily tasks. It’s common for farmers to dry some crops such as coffee beans and rice on plastic sheets on the side of the road or even on the road. Be careful not to drive over them.

We stopped for the night in Lau Baleng to spend some more time with my friend Octa who has been transferred here by his company. He’s been trying to find a great camping spot for us but told us that every free square meter of land gets immediately filled with corn crops. So, the only place to camp is by a little hot spring. That sure sounded great to me.

We followed Octa off-road through corn fields to what seemed the middle of nowhere. However, suddenly we were in the middle of a village again, driving on very narrow lanes through people’s back yards. There is no way we would have been able to find this spot on our own and I doubt Google maps will lead you there correctly. So, if you want to check out this little hidden gem, ask the local for directions to Pemandian Alam Lau Timah. This is the location on Google maps to give you an idea of the area it is in.

Pemandian Alam Lau Timah is a swimming hole with warm and crystal-clear water surrounded by fields. There is a simple warung right next to it. They charged us their usual parking fee of 25.000Rp. and allowed us to camp there for a night. It was pretty busy with locals when we got there but later at night, we had it to ourselves. It was a great spot to camp for a night and awesome to soak in the warm water under the star. Thanks for the fun night together, Octa!

Lau Baleng to Ise Ise: Remote camping spot in the mountains of Aceh

The next day we finally made it to Aceh province. Aceh has been on my bucket list for many years, mostly because of stories I have heard about its stunning beaches and the underwater world on Pulau Weh. I was also always curious to find how the Sharia law, which is followed in this part of Indonesia, influences the daily life of people.

However, after spending some time in Aceh, I have to say that the stunning landscape in its interior and the beautiful but challenging mountain roads are what I enjoyed most. I did not expect to find such places here and they just blew me away.

On our way towards Lake Takengon we passed by Ketambe. It’s one of the entrances to Leuser Nation Park and starting point to many trekking tours through the national park in search for Orangutans. The road after Ketambe felt very remote but was in great conditions. It follows a long narrow valley and then climbs with very steep turns further and further up into the hills. We passed through long stretches of rainforest to then suddenly find ourselves surrounded by pine forests. Needless to say, the views were just breath-taking, and I had a lot of fun driving on this road.

On one of the highest points, we found Café Pantan Cuaca. This simple coffeeshop is the perfect spot for a little break. They also have a simple hut for rent and I can imagine that they don’t mind you camping for a night on their property if you arrive there late and ask. We thought we would have a great view from this spot, but when we arrived there the mist was so thick that we could not see anything other than white clouds. A bit of patience paid off as just a few minutes later the sky cleared up and the mist gave way to fantastic views over the surrounding hills.

In the late afternoon we realized that we won’t be able to make it to Lake Takengon before night-time. For safety reasons and to avoid missing out on the beautiful landscape we did not want to drive this road in the dark. Instead, we followed Octa’s suggestion to stay at the Restarea Jamur Kulit. “Restarea” and “jamur kulit” which translates to fungal skin does not sound glamorous at all, but let me tell you, don’t judge a place by its name, or in this case probably some kind of translation error by Google maps. This spot is amazing and was one of my favourite camping spots throughout the whole trip.

The rest area turned out to actually just be two small simple warungs on the side of the road. The true gem is hidden behind them where a narrow path leads to the top off a hill. From there you have 360° views over the rainforest and down into the valley. It felt like a long way from civilization, especially at night when we could not see any lights at all. It was such a nice feeling to just sit, enjoy some wine, and listen to the sounds of the jungle.

Please note that this place is not a campground, but the owners of the warung nearby told us that they don’t mind if we camp there for a night.  

The path to our camping spot

All set up to cook dinner

Heading towards Lake Takengon

What an awesome place this was to wake up at. Watching the dark slowly making space for the new day made me want to get up at a time way before I ever thought possible. Unfortunately, it was too cold and windy on the hill for some breakfast so after looking around for a while we packed up and decided to head downhill.

Once back on the road, we were even happier than before that we did not continue driving in the dark. The road was extremely steep for long stretches and had some narrow and challenging turns. Make sure you have very good breaks before driving on this route.

We stopped for some breakfast at Panglima Moedak, a restaurant with some very cute huts for rent. It’s another option to spend the night should you find yourself in the area at night-time. We had some delicious MieSo, a typical Indonesian noodle soup, some Cendol, and of course coffee. I had never seen a place like this in Indonesia before. This wooden building looked like a typical “Almhuette”, which are simple restaurants in the mountains in northern Italy. It made me feel like I had suddenly been transported back home. Just the bottles filled with sambal and kecap manis on the tables did not fit the picture.

And then we finally reached Lake Takengong. We could already see its water shimmer in the sun from far away. We first arrived on the eastern tip of the lake around Pante Menye. There is a nice-looking resort if you feel like treating yourself a bit. We were however looking for a more laidback spot and continued to drive along the lake shore. Takengong is famous in the campervan community, and we heard that there are many great campsites on the lake.

We stopped at Gayo Camping ground. It’s right on the lake below a small coffee plantation where they grow their own coffee Gayo. It’s a simple campground but has everything you’ll need: a small warung, showers and toilets, electrical outlets, and even some shade to put your car or tent under. I think we just paid around 25.000Rp. to enter. It was a great place for us to relax, have a swim, and freshen up before continuing our trip.

Lake Takengong is a beautiful spot with a very chilled vibe. The lake is surrounded by mountains and the water is refreshing and clear. We would have loved to stay there for a night or two, but we needed to keep an eye on our remaining days and decided to continue driving to Melabou.

More about that in the next blog. See you there.



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