From Pekanbaru towards Lake Toba: Camping at the highest waterfall in Indonesia - Curug Ponot

Curug Ponot - stunning 250 meters high

Underwhelmed in Pekanbaru

I am going to be honest, we did not really do anything exciting in Pekanbaru. Partly because we did not find exciting places to explore and partly because we were just too tired. To be fair, we arrived in the dark, after a bumpy and tiring 280km on Lintas Timor. We also did not start off on a good foot. The campground I found on Google maps turned out to just be a park which was closed at night and Danu felt asleep pretty much right after we arrived at the hotel. So, no more energy to hang out at any asik places with the cool kids.

In the morning I was motivated to drive around the city a bit and visit some places. We went to  Masjid Agung An Nur which was described as the Taj Mahal of Indonesia. It was pretty, but not pretty enough to convince me that Indians would agree with this comparison.

Another place I read about are the Rainbow Hills just outside the city. The pictures I had seen before looked pretty cool, but the reality was far from it. It turned out to be a construction side for a new housing compound with slightly reddish and orange soil. Oh well, sometimes you get lucky and find amazing spots in unexpected places and other times you just got to move on.

Yeah, that was our experience in Pekanbaru. Would love to hear in the comments if we have missed out on anything amazing to do there.

Masjid Agung An Nur - The Taj Mahal of Indonesia

Speeding on the toll

It’s hard to describe how excited Danu and I were to enter the toll road in Pekanbaru. For most people, a toll is just a toll, but to us it was so much more. Believe me, after braving the crazy traffic, hitting countless potholes, driving down into ditched to save us from getting crashed by huge, overloaded trucks on hills, and an average driving speed of around 50km/h, entering the toll was such a treat! Those 100km of smooth, empty road were pure bliss!

I also got to finally drive for the first time in Sumatra. Everywhere else so far, I felt like I would need a few extra pairs of eyes to survive driving on the Lintas. There are obstacles everywhere, in the front with holes and trucks coming your way, in the back with trucks getting ready to take over, and on the side with people walking and motorbikes passing. So yeah, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I loved driving on the toll.

We joked that we’re probably 10 years too early for this trip around Sumatra. By then, more parts of the huge Trans Sumatra toll project should be completed. But then again, we’d have less fun stories to tell you.

A few tips when driving the toll 

Make sure you have an E-Toll Pass with enough money on it. You can buy a new one at many minimarkets, such as Indomaret of Alfamart. Flazz cards also work. You can top them up at ATMs or at one of the many small Warungs before the toll. 

The fee from Pekanbaru to Duri was less than 100.000Rp. 

Until now, only few parts of the Trans-Sumatra Toll have been completed. It’s a mammoth project and my guess is that it will take many years until it’s all operational.

Stop over between Pekanbaru and Medan: Bahtera Makmur

If your find yourself driving from Pekanbaru to Medan or other places in North Sumatra, you’ll probably need a place to stop-over for a night. Bahtera Makmur might seem like any other transit down. It’s dusty, noisy, and has a lot of traffic but I have to say that it surprised us. We had a delicious dinner at Warung Nasi Uduk Ummu Afkar. I highly recommend stopping by if you’re ever in the area. This is the location. After dinner Danu even had energy left to stop at one of the asik place we found to hang out with the cool kids and listen to some live music. Another weird feature of this town are the seemingly endless empty shop fronts in Greek and Roman style.

Learning how to behave like a local from the little posters

Asaahan River Valley: Camping at the largest waterfall in Indonesia

Heading towards Asaahan River Valley

The next day it was finally time to say goodbye to the Lintas Timor for good and to heads towards Lake Toba. We took a left turn off the Lintas at Ulakmedan and a few hours later found ourselves surrounded by rainforest in the stunning Assahan River Valley. It’s a narrow valley, famous for its rafting and several dams with hydro power plants.

The campground in the valley was once again no longer open, but we got the tip from a local to head a bit further up the road and stay at Pinot waterfall. What a sight! It’s the tallest waterfall in Indonesia which drops down 250 meters from a steep cliff. I couldn’t believe this place was almost empty. We spend the night in the parking are just below the waterfall. It doesn’t sound great, but the place was quiet, we felt safe, and what a stunning view we had to wake up to!  

Our camping spot 

Hiking up closer to the waterfall in the morning 


Camping Tips 

Always make sure to ask permission before you camp somewhere. It’s respectful and it will make you feel safer at night. 

In most places we were just charged the usual parking fee, even when staying the whole night. 

It’s also good to visit nearby Warungs for a drink of some food. It supports the locals and once they know you, they won’t mind letting you use their toilet and shower while you’re camping nearby.










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