Yoga in Sumatra, Indonesia

Not long after getting my yoga teaching certification, I looked for roles to volunteer teaching yoga around the world. Sumatra was my first role teaching yoga and I was super excited to fly there (at my own expense) to see Medan and teach. I taught yoga for 1 month at a beautiful resort called Taman Simalem. My role was voluntary, receiving room and board (food) in exchange for teaching yoga to the guests (as well as other volunteer duties).

The resort is huge, sitting on over 500 acres at the top of a mountain. The draw is the view of Lake Toba, over 1,000’ (300 m) below. It was so beautiful, that if it the cloud formations weren’t different every day, I would not have believed that it was real at all! I would have thought it was a stunning painting. But it is real. If you’ve never seen Lake Toba, I higly recommend staying here (and doing yoga…LOL). I think I took photos here daily.

Breathtaking Lake Toba

Taman Simalem

An Eco Resort

Taman is an eco resort that grows most of their own fruits and vegetables using their own organic compost of lemongrass, ginger, coffee skins and animal waste. They also make their own coffee (which is delicious), several teas and use solar power to heat water for showers.

The property is very large, with much of it left preserved as natural rainforest.


The employees work long days. Many worked from 7AM to about 9PM, lived in dorms and only had 5 days off a month to visit family or significant others. They were not always busy, and nothing happened fast, but their days were long. The people that work here are very kind and very social, so were often in groups talking and always posing for photos. 🙂

Teaching Yoga At Taman Simalem In Sumatra

My main goal in coming to Sumatra was to gain more experience teaching yoga and I loved it! Two classes were offered to guests daily. It was a challenge teaching students that didn’t speak english, but somehow it all worked out. IF you’re considering this, don’t be shy. The teaching is here to work with you and your ability, not to force you into complicated poses.

Yoga Studio And Amphitheater

Yoga was held in one of two locations. Either the amphitheater you see down below, or the room above it where the photo was taken. Both are fantastic places for yoga with the stunning view of Sumatra and Lake Toba in the distance!

One Tree Hill

While I was there, management was in the process of determining a specific yoga space, and asked for suggestions. I suggested that they build a simple hut on a hill above the resort called ‘One Tree Hill’. They really liked the idea, although I’m not sure if they followed through with it. My guess is that things were delayed due to COVID, like they were everywhere in the world.

During my stay, the only thing at One Tree Hill was a spectcular view with a boat perched there for photo opportunies.


In addition to yoga, I volunteered to spend 1 day a week teaching English to the massage staff. Happy to help, I wasn’t sure where to start at first, but ended up writing down a series of phrases in English that they would use to greet and massage a guest. reviewed the names of body parts in English, in case a guest requested a focus in a specific area.

I also decided to teach them to ask if someone was pregnant, as I thought this would be important to know when giving a massage. The employees thought this was hysterical and kept asking each other if they were pregnant (LOL). Glad to be a part of making people laugh…even if it was unintentional!

My English Students

Sumatra And Medan

Sumatra is the largest of the 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia and the 6th largest island in the world.

I flew into Medan, in northern Sumatra. Although I had never heard of the city before, I learned that it’s the 4rth largest city in Indonesia.

Getting My Visa

I was supposed to get the extended visa when I landed, as I was staying 3 days past the free 30 days to teach yoga in Sumatra. When I landed, I was surprised when they told me that immigration was closed. I insisted and someone finally walked me back to immigration, where several guys were sitting around looking at their phones. They walked me to the head guy and he explained to me that paying the fine for overstaying the 30 day visa would less than the cost of the extended visa. He smiled and said I could leave the country as long as I could pay my fine.

It seemed really odd that this was his suggestion, and it felt like he just didn’t want to be bothered, but what he was saying made sense, so I decided to trust him and went with it. When I left, my fine was $67, which was less than the extended visa.


The night I arrived, I had to stay 1 night in a hostel in Medan as the resort picks people up from the city at 6:30AM. It was late when I arrived, but needed to go to the ATM since the hostel only accepted cash. The area I stayed in was pretty chaotic. Even at 10PM there were a lot of cars, motorbikes and people on the streets. The lady at my hostel told me not to carry my purse on the street, but my only other option would have been to leave it with her, or the others guests in the hostel, so I ended up bringing it along.

Using the ATM was a disturbing experience as there was a woman that had her children sleeping on the steps in front of the 3-4 machines. There were also a lot of people standing around them. I felt horrible walking away without giving her anything, but all I had were large bills when I left. I told myself that I would stop by at the end of my trip and bring her food, but the resort ended up giving me a ride directly to the airport, so I didn’t have a chance. It’s disheartening that there are so many desperate people in the world.

Lake Toba And Surrounding Volcanos

Lake Toba

This lake is a caldera formed by a super, volcanic eruption over 75,000 years ago. According to Wikipedia, it was the largest volcanic eruption in the last 25 million years and possibly resulted in a volcanic winter that killed most of the people, plants and animals in Asia and surrounding areas. The lake is also the largest volcanic lake in the world at 62 miles by 19 miles. It has an island in it (Samosir) that is the largest island island within an island. It’s the size of Singpore!


Today, there are 4 volcanos surrounding Lake Toba. After being inactive for over 400 years, there have been several eruptions from 1 of the 4 (Sinabung) over the past 6 years. Several times these eruptions resulted in evacuations of the surrounding area. In fact, it erupted the day I arrived. As we drove through the area, I could see ash on the ground/on cars and smell the smoke. A news report from Jakarta stated that ash spewed as high as 2.6 miles that day. The other 3 volcanos here are inactive.

Batak People and Culture

The people in this area are referred to as Batak people. There are actually 5 different, but related groups that make up the Batak people. Wikipedia states that they are most likely descendants from people who arrived from Taiwan and the Philippines over 2,500 years ago.

They are lovely people that are very social and love music and bright colors. It was not unusual to see a home or business painted bright pink, orange, blue or green. The women also wear bright colors for their weddings. A few couples came to the resort for wedding photos while I was there, like this woman in her brilliant pink wedding dress.

They eat a lot of rice, spicy food and sweets. At the resort, there were usually buffets set out for guests. Fried chicken, fried rice, fried noodles and curries were popular on the menu, along with BBQ shrimp or chicken, and lots of their organic fruits and vegetables. I think I ate my weight in bok choy and spinach on this trip. It was good, and good for me, but I will never be able to eat bok choy again without thinking of Sumatra. 😉

They also served fantastic fresh organic juices including bok choy/pineapple, beet/pineapple and passion fruit/pineapple….that I will also miss forever.

For more on Sumatra, see my post on Tuk Tuk and Tomok on Samosir Island.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

One Comment

  • jw

    Your summaries including cost/day are so helpful, thank you! I came across your CS profile looking at worldwide tourism. Just curious, how did you learn about this work/live opportunity at the resort?

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