I met the group at the hotel in Medan since I made my own way over. Next day we visited the mosque in Medan and Palace but weren't allowed in the mosque because it was Ramadan. Some people in the group felt peeved because Ramadan affected the trip a few times.
I'm glad Explore have changed the difficulty star rating to 2 stars which I think more accurately reflects this trip. For one the walk to the orangutans was a long one with a lot of steep steps to negotiate and there are crowds there, so it's not just you and the orangutans in jungle solitude. It also rains torrentially in Sumatra for one even in the dry season, just less than the wet season. It is all relative.
The hotels we used were adequate though one or two had more ants than is preferable though you are in the tropics. There was a good variety in the types of hotels. Our guide was Indonesian and he was good & highly intelligent if a little difficult to understand at times. Unfortunately Indonesia is not a clean country. Near populated areas, which is often since Indonesia is such a populous country, there are constant eye soars of roadside dumping. This really marred the country though the people themselves are quite hygienic.
The hotel at Samosir Island was like paradise with beautiful flora including orchids but the tribal culture bit was laid on for the tourists. The only place we got to see tribal cultures as they live today was in Brastagi where we visited a Batak peoples house and Bali where Hindu culture, traditions and dress live on.
I loved the private island we visited near Samosir for lunch too, we almost always stopped off in usually nice restaurants for lunch.
There was an awful lot of being bus bound on this tour particularly because we had to circumvent Mount Bromo even though alot of people on independent tours went there. Mount Ijen was substituted but you need to be a lot fitter to negotiate that, I believe the jeep ride was even harder. Some people on the tour felt the bus was a bit small and they did not have enough personal space. It was clean and comfortable but not a luxury coach & not everyone felt that this tour worked because of the amount of time we were on the bus.
The culture, clothes, processions, manners, flowers etc of Bali was definitely a highlight for me on this trip. No sooner had we arrived in Bali than we met a procession and once we had established it wasn't a funeral procession which we didn't want to gatecrash we were able to mingle with it. The clothes, music and traditions made an amazing sight, it is a living breathing culture and not an extinct one put on for the tourists. This in my opinion is the Magic of Bali. Tirta Empul in Bali was very enjoyable, watching the Hindu pilgrims immerse themselves in water. I visited the Monkey Forest in Ubud on my own on the last day of the trip and loved it, we saw monkeys almost across from the hotel in Bukittinggi too which was nice. Seeing some elephants in a concrete sanctuary at Borobudur was a nice unexpected bonus when I took the train around the temple. If you're into temples you'll definitely like this trip because you're going to see tonnes of them in Java and Bali. (SJB -15th August 2011)