Thursday 3 January 2013

Holidays in Tangkahan - Part 2: Money, money, ...

I wish to think that it was my wonderful writing style of the previous post that made you decide to come back and wanting to know more about visiting Tangkahan. So, what's next? I guess the most important thing to know about is the money: Which cost would this trip run up?

Here is what I found out: You need a currency converter and a list of the cost as they occur!
- Flight
- Visa on arrival for European countries and Australia, all others please check Visa regulations
- Taxi from airport to hotel
- Hotel in Medan
- Food in Medan
- Tips (taxi)
- In RAW package
  • Transfer from Medan to Tangkahan
  • Lunch on the way
  • Accommodation in Tangkahan
  • Food full board
  • Activities
  • Transfer from Tangkahan to Medan (possibly lunch) 
- Tips staff at Tangkahan
- Hotel in Medan on way home
- The odd lunch or dinner
- Transfer from Hotel to airport

However, the most important thing to know is that are no ATMs in the jungle, so Medan is the last time you can draw money. For my last trip I travelled with a big pile of banknotes in my bag, because I had to pay for my entire stay in Tangkahan in cash.

If you are travelling to Tangkahan from abroad, then Medan Polonia airport will be your entry point. Medan is the capital of Sumatra, a sticky, dusty place, stuffed with motorcycles and noise, and I love it! On my first trip it scared the hell out of me, but since I dare leaving the hotel it really grows on me. To get there, you will have to book your own flight even if you book the tour with RAW Wildlife Encounters. They however are always happy to help and they are expanding their services all the time, so just check with them.

Visa on Arrival
Guests from European countries and Australia buy a visa on arrival, all the others please check the visa regulations. In the air plane already, or even at the gate before boarding for the flight to Medan, you will get a customs declaration and an entry card. Best fill it in straight away, it would be a hassle wanting to do it on arrival, although Medan airport is amazingly organised. Staff sometimes looks a little bit 'important' but they are actually quite friendly. In a far corner of the arrival hall are two counters for Visa. On one you pay, on the other you get it stamped into your passport. Visa cost US$ 25, but I saw somebody pay in Indonesian Rupia (IDR) - yet, better check that information if you want to do that, the dollars definitely work!

After that you go through Immigration. I never know what sort of paperwork they want, so I drop passport, custom declaration, Visa stuff and sometimes even the boarding pass on the counter and put a silly smile on. So they patiently select what they need and send me off to collect my suitcase.

There is only one conveyor belt from which everything plonks on the ground. Before you leave the building to enter the steamy heat of Medan you give the customs form to somebody in front of the door, you will know to whom as they already have piles of those in their hands; nobody seems to be really bothered what is written on it as long as they get it.

Taxi and Hotel
Taxi from the airport: If you are travelling with RAW then the tour officially starts with the transfer from Medan to Tangkahan, but usually somebody from the team will be in Medan to pick you up from the airport. The way forward is to stay a night in a hotel. Tangkahan is a four hour drive away and rain usually kicks in in the afternoon making the road a bit of an adventure ride, so starting fresh the next morning makes sense.You will have to pay for taxi and hotel, though. 

Hotel: I usually stay in Swiss Belhotel Medan, a 5-star hotel, which is very nice. It can be booked online and you can book airport pick-up and drop-off with them, too. Those are 5 stars of European standard.
My boys Ika and Bimbim
 The breakfast buffet is amazing, and a mall can be reached through a side entrance of the hotel, so ATM, a store for Indonesian SIM cards and so on are easily accessible.

Christmas decoration, Swiss Belhotel lobby
The transfer between the Swiss Belhotel and the airport lasts about 20 minutes and cost approximately IDR 50,000 if you use a bluebird taxi, they are the safest, a choice I nevertheless only take when I get picked up by RAW tour guides. If I travel alone I arrange pick-up by the hotel taxi, which then cost IDR 70,000. In any case I tip something like IDR 10,000, which is about 50p. I have been tipping in US$ as well because I did not have small IDR bills. All this will change in the future as they are building a new airport outside Medan, so cost and travel time will rise.

A cheaper hotel option is the Pardede International Hotel, Medan. Less then half the price of the Swiss Belhotel, it has wifi as well, the breakfast is decent, sockets for charging appliances are a bit scarce but it is doable if you take a multi-socket extension lead with you, something I highly recommend anyway. This way you only need one power adapter - Indonesia has the European style sockets - and you can charge everything in one go.


The hotel is just around the corner of the current airport. So yes, it is a good hotel, but nothing like the standard of the Swiss Belhotel.

For dinner you either can eat in the mall, which is still very affordable and tasty, or if you are with the team, go out to one of the street restaurants. The food is amazing, but I am still not 'street smart' enough to dare going out on my own.

The Adventure Package
If you are travelling with RAW, then the transfer to Tangkahan, accommodation, food, fees, and activities are included as stated in your bookings and itineraries. If you are travelling individually you will have to consider the individual costs.

Transfer to Medan: I tested the different ways to get from Medan to Tangkahan. When I booked with RAW it was included anyway, the team usually would meet the guests at the Swiss Belhotel the evening before and then share cars to go to Tangkahan as convoy the next day, very safe and organised - and fun, travelling in a group.

For my second trip I book a car via a young lady who usually did the bookings locally for RAW. Everything went well and the car was on time, yet the driver did not speak English. In an emergency we would have had no means to communicate, so I was glad that coincidentally a guide was in Medan who was about to use the bus. So it was a win-win, I had my translator and he had a comfortable ride.

For trip number three I used the hotel to book the transfer and that went horribly wrong. The car just didn't show up. So I got double lucky again that my Tangkahan friends had come to pick me up and they called their own car. This saved me quite some money as well - via the hotel the car would have cost IDR 700,000 and booked directly by the boys I only paid IDR 500,000. Depending on the bills I have I tip IDR 50-100k.

The solution for travelling alone: Get in touch with CTO  (Community Tourist Operator) or the RAW office in Medan (they are only just establishing now, but check the RAW website for details), and ask them to arrange pick-up and drop-off for you. Now, this 'getting in touch with CTO' thing is again showing how remote Tangkahan is: Internet is weak, so email usually is not working well. Facebook turned out to be a fantastic tool to communicate as the mobile application usually works. So either:
  • send SMS or call the CTO mobile on +62 85275605865 (Rilly), or +62 813 61423245 (Darwin), or
  • befriend them on FB and send messages to Rilly or Darwin
Rilly is the lady in charge at CTO, Darwin was running the CTO office and is now taking on the new RAW-Indonesia office in Medan. 

Fees, Accommodation, Food, and Activities: On arrival in Tangkahan you have to stop at the visitor centre to register and pay the entrance fee. In the end all the cost will be paid to visitor centre, except purchases and services arranged with the respective lodge like washing clothes. The picture below gives some guidelines what cost to expect for fees, accommodation, food and activities. I however will not be able to update with the latest version, so please check with Rilly about the actual price. This is really just meant to give you an idea. All the lodges are beautiful, I however can't help but stay in Green Lodge. The elephant camp is right next to it, and it is a bit more remote than the others, I just love it there and it has become my second home.

prices as of April 2011, please check with CTO for current prices.
Tipping Guide - North Sumatra
I took this from the RAW material which I recieved during my first trip. There it says that tipping is not compulsory yet it is generally recommended if you believe the service warrants a show of appreciation. They gave their recommendation in A$ I am using a converter to give you a rough idea:

I hope all of this didn't put you off! Things are quite cheap; going for lunch with seven people to the local open restaurant usually set us back 120 - 200k which is something around £10-15. Those restaurants usually don't look like much but the food is just amazing.

Last lunch in the Lake Toba area before heading home to Tangkahan
Coming up: The Elephants

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for some other informative blog. Where else could I get that kind of info written in such an ideal
    approach? I have a project that I am simply now operating on, and I have been at the glance out for such info.

    Feel free to visit my blog post: internet money making