Medan is the capital of North Sumatra and the fourth largest city in Indonesia. It cannot be called a tourist destination: rather, Medan is used as a transshipment base or a launching pad for traveling to Penang Island, Malaysia, Berastagi or, of course, to the beautiful lake Toba in the crater of a volcano. In addition, Medan is famous for its cuisine, colorful and diverse, like Indonesia itself.
Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world. And the island of Samosir in the lake is at the same time an “island on an island” (in Sumatra).
How to get to Medan
According to Wholevehicles, since 2013, Medan has been served by the new Kualanamu International Airport. It is located about 40 km from the city, and you can get to Medan from it by direct train in half an hour. The airport receives flights from Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hat Yai and Bangkok.
Officially, the city was founded in 1590. Until the second half of the 19th century, it was just a large village, but in the 60s. colonists from Holland came here and began to grow tobacco in the vicinity. This gave a strong impetus to the development of the city: Medan became a major commercial center in the west of the country. Nevertheless, Medan officially became a city only in 1918.
Entertainment and attractions in Medan
Medan is a little more chaotic than Jakarta or Denpasar. Not many locals speak English here, but the atmosphere is more traditional. The city has many Dutch heritage sites, including beautiful colonial-style Art Deco mansions. And next to the old green Dutch squares and parks with large residences (which now mostly house government buildings and commercial institutions), you can see hundreds of new houses and modern stores, combined into entire shopping areas.
There are two types of becaks in Medan: traditional cycle rickshaws (cheap and slow) and motor rickshaws (fast and expensive). Beware of auto rickshaws: they rush around the city like catechumens, spreading black smelly smoke in the air.
One of the must-see sights is the main mosque of the city of Masjid Raya, a beautiful gray and white building, built in 1906 in the Moroccan style. It boasts high ceilings, carvings, stained glass windows from China and Italian marble; a donation is highly recommended at the entrance. The palace of the sultans of Istana Maimun, built in 1880-1890, is also interesting. for the Sultan of Delhi. The architecture of the building, which has 30 rooms, shows the influence of both Malaysian and Italian architectural schools. The main hall with a luxurious throne for the inauguration is open to the public (members of the Sultan’s family still live in the back wing of the palace). Also beautiful is a small, but richly and intricately decorated Hindu temple, Pura Agung Raksa Buan on the street. Polonia.
3 things to do in Medan:
- Take a look at the old Chinese mansion Tiong-a-Fai on Kesavan Street or even explore it from the inside with a guided tour.
- Go to the cafe “Sputnik” (that’s how it is read) on the street. Tenga, try the traditional gado-gado vegetable salad.
- Buy betel leaves, paste, cigarettes or nuts from the market in Berastagi. Roll up and chew.
In addition, there are several significant Buddhist temples in Medan. The main one is the Maha Maitreya Temple, located on Semara Street; a low terracotta building with a wide façade. It is the largest Buddhist temple in South Asia. Behind it is a beautiful bird pond, and in the temple itself there is a vegetarian dining room where anyone can eat. Another Buddhist temple, Vihara Borobudur, stands on Imam Bonjol Street. And another one – Vihara Gunung Timur – can be found on Hang Tua Street. The main shrine of the Tamils is the temple of Sri Mahamarriaman in the area called Little India, it is easily recognizable by its beautiful gilded gopuram.
One of the extremely ugly symbols of Medan City is a contrasting white and red water tower on the street. Pandu, built in 1908. The sounds of a siren are carried far from the tower: you can usually hear it in the month of Ramadan. And next to the main entrance there is a small faucet with free drinking water, and a lot of people usually fill bottles here.
The Catholic Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary stands on the edge of the city and is visited mainly by Tamils. It was built only in 2005 and looks completely un-Christian, but very interesting. This is a two-story building in a traditional Indonesian style, richly decorated and surrounded by well-kept grounds. The church is called Annai Vilangkanni, after an Indian temple near Madras in the village of Vilangkanni.
A separate topic in Medan is the markets. There are a lot of them in the city, and they are truly worth a visit. The central market, which the locals call Pusat Pasar, is the largest, located on Sutomo Street. It opens at 4 o’clock in the morning, and at this time you can buy the freshest fruits, vegetables and spices from the high mountain plantations of Berastagi. Rame Market (Pasar Rame) is located on Tamrin Street, and here you can overstock ready-made Indonesian or Chinese food and dried fruits; he works from 9 am. On the second floor of the Sambas market, fish are sold from 6 a.m., and meat is also sold on the Petisah market (it opens at 8 a.m.). But it is best to come for fish to the Old Fish Market (Payak Ikan Lama), which is on a small street near Kesavan Street: on the same street you can buy clothes and other small things.
In addition to exploring the city “outside” in Medan, try organizing a cultural and entertainment program for yourself. Tondi Modern Art Gallery showcases the work of local artists. In addition, the city has a small military museum (Pemuda Street), dedicated to the Second World War and the war of independence, as well as the uprising of 1958. The local history museum of North Sumatra is richer in terms of collection, where you can see a collection of artifacts related to both early civilizations, and with the Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic periods in the history of the island – and further, to the centuries of colonization and military history. Among the interesting exhibits are samples of elegant stone carvings and elaborately decorated wooden sarcophagi. And the Pantai Sermin theme water park is the first and only on the island, it is located on the beach of the same name.
Medan is a multinational city: a decent number of ethnic groups live here, including Javanese, Chinese, Indonesians, and Bataks. Every nationality is famous for its own national dishes, and literally on every corner in the city something is fried that spreads a breathtaking smell. In Medan, there are entire streets where they serve hot food from stalls: sweet Javanese dishes, grilled pork made by bataks, hot Padang dishes, Chinese noodles, and spicy Indian curry. All this is available to tourists 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Thanks to such an abundance and variety of choice, the city is very popular among lovers of gastronomic tourism.
The unique Tip-Top restaurant was once the only one in the city. It appeared here during the Dutch colonization. The restaurant is located on the street. Ahmad Yani still keeps nostalgically unchanged dishes on the menu. However, “Tip-Top” is popular not only because of the cuisine, but also for the spectacle of the bustling Kesavan Square, which can be observed from the wicker chairs of the veranda.
The city’s oldest Chinese eateries are located on Selat Panyang, Semarang and Sumatra Streets. Here you can gorge yourself on a wide variety of noodles and wok rice. And in Little India, tourists will find excellent satay and fried rice.
Neighborhood of Medan
You can get to the city of Berastagi from Medan by bus in about one and a half to two hours. And you need to go here then, first of all, to climb Gunung Sibayak. Mini-vans run from the city to the foot of the mountain, and you can be driven right to the beginning of the hiking trail. The ascent to the crater itself will take about three hours, and for it you will need basic physical fitness, good shoes, water and food. But you can go back through the village of Semangat Ganung with hot springs, and from the village you can get to Berastagi by any bus.
Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world. And the island of Samosir in the lake is at the same time an “island on an island” (in Sumatra). The area of the lake reaches 1700 sq. km; it was formed about 70 thousand years ago, and today it is perhaps the largest surviving caldera on the planet. Stunningly beautiful and majestic today, Lake Toba is not as popular as a tourist destination as it used to be, but even now, during the Chinese New Year, many tourists from China still flock here. The island in the center of the lake can be reached by a small jumper-bridge. Today the island is the cultural center of the Batak tribe.
You can get to the lake from Medan in 4 hours by car or by public bus in 4-6 hours. You can also try to get there by train from Medan: it is much more colorful, but it also takes about 4 hours with all stops, and from Siantar, where the train stops, you will need to take a taxi or bus to Perapat.