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For most visitors, this is the sole slice of Sumatra they’ll taste. And with good reason: ogle the orangutans in Bukit Lawang, veer over the volcanoes of Berastagi and laze away on the shores of Danau Toba. Overall, North Sumatra is a well-trodden and worthy circuit that centres on gateway metropolis Medan.
North Sumatra stretches from the Indian Ocean to the Strait of Melaka. From sea to shining sea, it is anything but homogeneous. The rolling landscape varies from sweaty plains to cool highlands, while the houses of worship switch between the metal domes of mosques to the arrow-straight steeples of Christian churches. The coastal Malays, relatives of peoples from mainland Southeast Asia, live along the Strait of Melaka and are the largest ethnic group. In the highlands around Danau Toba are the delightful Batak, and then there’s the megalithic culture of Pulau Nias.
North Sumatra has a population of almost 12 million and is an economically robust province, producing more than 30% of Indonesia’s exports. Oil, palm oil, tea and rubber are produced in large quantities, and fine tobacco is grown in the rich soil around Medan.