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Sulawesi - Tanah Toraja, Lake Tempe and Ramang Ramang


Aug 17th, 2017, 06:08 PM
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Sulawesi - Tanah Toraja, Lake Tempe and Ramang Ramang

Just returned from a superb 7 day trip to Tanah Toraja, Lake Tempe and Ramang Ramang. I struggled to find information on the logistics of travelling to and around Tanah Toraja and so thought I would post a little of our experiences in organising the trip which may assist others considering such a trip

I considered a number options:

Bus and guide
Car and guide
Makassar Travel Agencies
Dodo the Penman

BUS AND GUIDE - the cheapest option. However this involved a long bus journey - 10-12 hours. Most buses seemed to go overnight. Having seen the roads and experience the appalling driving standards, we were very glad we discounted this option. The buses however, did look comfortable and spacious.

CAR AND GUIDE - the next most expensive option. I contacted several guides by email. All were responsive but it was a little bit of a hassle explaining what we wanted and trying to get any sort of commitment, information and even prices. Most responded relatively quickly but completely ignored ten questions I asked. In the end, when I had decided on a guide who would also organise a car, he decided that, at the last minute, he already had a client for those dates. A lucky escape I feel!

Although most of the guides seem to speak English, written communication seems to be a bit of a problem.

MAKASSAR TRAVEL AGENCIES - hugely expensive, more than double the cost we eventually paid. Some responded quickly, some not at all. Most ignored the questions I asked and just responded with what appeared to be pre-packaged tours.

DODO THE PENMAN - I had read good reports about this tour organiser/driver-guide and a TA member in a private message to me, suggested that he would be worth contacting. We exchanged a lot of emails (mostly down to me changing my mind) , but Dodo responded quickly and clearly every time. A refreshing change! He listened to what we wanted and came up with suggestions and an itinerary which suited us perfectly:

OUR ITINERARY- 6 days in total with a driver, 3 days with a guide in Rantepao to explore Torajaland and one night each in SengKang (for Lake Toba) and Ramang Ramang on the way back.

We had already arranged accommodation in Rantepao, Dodo arranged the accommodation for last two nights on the way back. Bering mind the standard of the hotel I booked in Rantepao, I really wish I had asked him to book that too!

He provided the excellent Eddie as our driver in a very nice spacious car. Eddie spoke a little English which was an unexpected and welcome bonus. He was a very careful driver which, again was very welcome considering the many lunatic drivers we encountered on Sulawesi roads. The car was spotless every day and Eddie was always on time.

We felt that we had just the right amount of time in each place. We had originally planned longer in Tanah Toraja but Dodo advised against it saying he felt we would see most of what we wanted to see in three full days. He was right although we would have stayed longer if we wanted to incorporate more hiking - there are some terrific walks in the area.


Dodo arranged for our guide Rita to meet us on arrival at our hotel. One of only five female guides amongst the one hundred or so registered guides operating out of Rantepao. What can I say? My wife was delighted by some female company for a change! Rita was incredibly knowledgeable about the Torajan culture, the area and where to explore. One of the best guides we have had in many years of traveling.


The first day we spent north of Rantepao, the second to the south of the town. Both days we saw a huge amount, far more than we expected. Ritha incorporated some great hikes amongst the villages and rice paddies which allowed us access to some stunning scenery and, of course an overdose to the incredible Torajan architecture.

She helped us out with places to eat in the evenings and loads of other stuff. Our final day, a Monday, she took us to a funeral procession, an incredibly interesting experience to say the least, but not for the squeamish.

Sound bizarre to travel to go to a strangers funeral, but these really are something to behold! When someone dies their bodies are re embalmed and kept in the house, sometimes for several years, until enough has been saved to conduct the funeral which involves, the building of houses to accommodate the people from far and wide who will attend. There were probably 5/600 at the one we saw. They also have to save up for the many buffalos and pigs used in the ritual slaughter and to feed the attendees.

As guests it is usual to make a gift to the hosts of cigarettes or palm wine, both of which are consumed in huge quantities in Sualawesi!

The ceremony commenced with the moving of the coffin from one house to another. This was followed by a whole bunch of pigs being carried around on poles before being dispatched, and then butchered to feed the attendees. The "highlight" of the day was the ritual slaughter of the buffalo ( as many as 100 can be sacrificed for VIP funerals! Albino buffalos are the most prized. On the day we were there, the incompetent slaughter-man took a very long time and several attempts to kill the poor buffalo. Eventually someone else took his knife and did it properly! Not a place for the squeamish!

We travelled at the end of July/beginning of August. The weather was just about perfect. The rice paddies were beautiful and so varied. In some places they were a mass of verdant green, in some a ripening yellow. In other parts the rice was being harvested so we got to see the whole process.

On the way back when we stopped in SengKang, Lake Tempe’s waters were quite high as they had just had a lot of rain in the previous month. The floating villages were something to behold and very much working villages, they were a lot less contrived than some around Tonle Sap lake in Cambodia.

The scenery, the hiking and the culture in Tanah Toraja were just stunning and bearscomparison with anywhere we have been on our travels throughout Asia.

For anyone travelling to Tanah Toraja, regardless of whether you are looking for a private driver, a guide, accommodation or a combination of all those, I do recommend contacting Dodo. I believe he can also arrange transport by bus as well.

If travelling independently, there are plenty of guides hang around the hotels in Rantepao looking for clients and if you arrive there under your own steam, it won't be too long before you are approached by several. As with everywhere some will be great, other perhaps not so good.

I can heartily recommend contacting Ritha. She speaks excellent English, is totally reliable and is an wonderful guide.

Contact details are:

Dodo the Penman - http://dodopenman.blogspot.co.id

Ritha - [email protected]
crellston is offline  
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Aug 17th, 2017, 07:22 PM
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What a wonderful report, as always, Crellston. You have embarked on two interesting places on this journey, Sulawesi and Taiwan. That's so cool that you had a female guide. We met a fabulous one in Burma, but I have rarely seen them in SEA.

Now for my usual questions:

1. I remember reading that the funerals are seasonal--is that true? If I travel to the region in September, will I miss out on all the "intrigue"?

2. What are the cost estimates for a car, driver, and guide in the region? I assume hotels are reasonable?

3. Was the guide critical to your experience, or can one get by with just car and driver?

4. Assuming that you began in Makassar, from which airport did you leave Sulawesi?

5. Did you consider going farther north? IIRC, there's some fabulous wildlife up there.

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Aug 17th, 2017, 09:45 PM
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Glad you found it useful CaliforniaLady.

In answer to your questions:
1. June to Sept is the "peak" funeral season but apparently they still go on outside of this time.

2. Cost estimate - a bit less than $100 per day for driver, guide accommodation and breakfast ( no other meals). The hotels in Rantepao can be expensive due to supply/demand issue. Elsewhere pretty cheap. Avoid Hotel Pison in Rantepao - booked by me, not dodo. An absolute dump! Hotel Pia Poppies next door looked far better. Ibis Style Sam Ratualngi in Makassar was absolutely excellent!

3. I would say yes. I am sure it would be possible to just turn up and visit a funeral but the guides have a network to share where and when they are going on. Some people we met on our travels around the area seemed to be doing that but spending a lot of time asking other peoples guides how to get from A to B, where the funerals were. Good detailed info on the area I found to be scarce.
Our driver picked us up in Makassar and drove us up to Rantepao stopping at a couple of places en route, the "erotic mountain" for one. We met the guide in Rantepao and she took us around. Some people in the hotel were hiring guides with motorbikes which seemed to work too and may have been cheaper.

4. We did a round trip from arriving and departing from Makassar on Air Asia.

5. I did consider going further north, not so much for the wildlife ( which I didn't know about) but the diving. The Togean Islands intrigued me but the more I read the less I was inclined to go as apparently the reefs have suffered in recent years and there is apparent I big problem with rubbish on the beaches. Manado, again for diving was on my radar, some of the best in the world apparently. However, it is a long old slog overland by bus, requiring a couple of overnight stops. Flights sometime run from Rantepao to Manado but they didn't seem to be happening when I looked.

One thing I liked about Sulawesi is that the people are incredibly friendly, more so than any other Asian country I can recall. There didn't seem to be many western people around in Makassar and so we were being stopped every 10 mins or so for selfies with people. The seafood is excellent there and there are some nice beaches a few hours away but we didn't go. The town itself is worth a couple of days as a transit point but doesn't have a lot by way of sights to see.
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Aug 18th, 2017, 05:52 AM
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Thanks for a most useful trip report, crellston. It sounds like a fascinating trip!
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Aug 18th, 2017, 06:31 AM
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Thank you for the detailed response, crellston. It was extremely helpful.

I just watched a National Geographic video on the funerals. It is quite an elaborate undertaking, if you pardon the pun.
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Aug 19th, 2017, 04:14 PM
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Thanks for a fascinating report, Crellston. This is an area that intrigues me, too, and I would love to visit it someday. Whether or not I succeed, I've enjoyed reading about yor trip!
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Aug 19th, 2017, 08:05 PM
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Thanks, Crellson. I need to get back to Sulawesi, both north and central.

California Lady, Outside of the well touristed areas like Toraja, Bunaken and Lembeh ground transportation in Sulawesi is woefully underdeveloped. There are however several airports in addition to the main ones in Makassar, Gorontolo and Manado with regular commuter flights. There are also lots of ferries, but I don't know that I'd recommend sea travel.

Tangkoko National Park near the Lembeh Strait is a wonderful experience.
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Oct 4th, 2017, 11:33 AM
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Finally got around to posting a blog entry re Tana Toraja. Here is the link for anyone interested:


Another post from my wife re the actual funerals will follow in a day or two. If I can tear myself away from New Zealand’s amazing scenery, more about Lake Tempe and RamangRamang will follow that.
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Oct 4th, 2017, 02:06 PM
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Fascinating! It's certainly an island I know little to nothing about; thanks for educating me. Hope you're having a good time down under.
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Oct 4th, 2017, 06:59 PM
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What a wonderful and helpful report, crellston -- thank you SOOoooo much. I don't know if I'll ever make it there, but I certainly would love to do so, and you just made the prospect seem infinitely more do-able.

What adventures you have had!
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Oct 8th, 2017, 03:02 PM
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Hi, I'm Indonesian.
Tana Toraja is one of the best cultural villages in Indonesia and in this place you can watch one of the best festivals in Indonesia (Toraja's farewell ceremony).

If you want to read about Tana Toraja or Torajaland you can visit my article here: https://captureindonesia.com/destina...toraja-island/

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