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Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, is on the northern part of Sumatra.


Medan is the fourth largest city in Indonesia after Jakarta and Surabaya and Bandung. With a population of about 2 million people it is the largest city outside of Java. There is no single ethnic group forming a majority; the largest ethnic groups are the Chinese, Javanese, Toba-Batak, Minangkabau, Mandailing Batak, Karo Batak, Southern Indians , Northern Indians, and many more ethnic minorities.

Each ethnic group contributes to thousands of tasty, mouth-watering dishes found in every corner of Medan. They offer to locals and tourists alike dozens of food streets and hawker centres to suit their appetite at any time of the day. From the sweet Javanese cuisine, to delicious Batak grilled pork, to hot Padang dishes, from savoury Chinese noodles, to spicy Indian curry, this varied cuisine is available 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. It is obvious why the locals are so into food. The city itself is quite well known for "food-tourism", especially amongst other Indonesians.

It's interesting to contrast the old, Dutch style green areas, with parks, lawns, and huge old Dutch houses (now turned into government offices or commercial business) and the hundreds and hundreds of newer, shoddy shophouses sprawled together by the hundreds in the commercial areas along with a few modern style malls.

Look out for the motor becaks! A sort of motorized rickshaw, they are a common site throughout Medan, spewing black smoke everywhere.

Overall, Medan isn't really a tourist destination, but it's a convenient stepping stone to other places like the 'weekend getaway' Brastagi, the island of Penang, Malaysia and, of course the ever popular, beautiful crater lake Lake Toba.

Get in

Medan's Polonia International Airport and Belawan sea port are both visa-free and visa-on-arrival points.

For more visa information, see the Indonesia page.

By plane

Medan's international airport is known as Polonia International Airport (MES) and is located about 15 minutes from the city. Domestic departure taxes from Medan is Rp25,000, while international departure tax is Rp150,000.

Medan currently is in progress to finalise the new Bandara Udara Kuala Namu Internasional Airport due to open sometime in 2009, although as of July this year there was still no official word as to when this might happen, most locals suggest later in 2010 if they are lucky. Be prepared though as this new airport is a long way from the middle of the city and taxi transfers will be much more expensive.

Getting there: A Taxi into town sets you back around Rp40,000, unless you walk past the taxis in front of the terminal and proceed towards the exit. There are more taxis towards the exit, and if you bargain well, you can get a taxi for only Rp.20,000. (although this is not easy to do as the road is quite bumpy and you are likely to get run down walking along the exit road, strongly suggest you negotiate with the taxi drivers at the terminal). If you know the public bus number for your destination, it is Rp.3500 per person, but those unfamiliar with the Indonesian language are encouraged to get taxis for their first transportation.

There are direct international flights to/from Penang (for only around $70 return), Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru and Ipoh in Malaysia, Singapore and Phuket. Several discount airlines service Medan, Air Asia, JetStar Asia, Firefly to name but three. All of them are LCC so you get what you pay for.

Silk Air flies twice daily from Medan to Singapore, as does JetStar (trading in Indonesia as ValuAir). ValuAir is usually cheaper, though you have to pay for checked baggage, and if you have a connecting flight in Singapore, they won't forward your luggage.

For those flying from outside Asia, both Malaysia and Singapore Airlines sell through tickets to Medan, transiting in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore respectively. These tickets are typically little more expensive than a ticket to KL/Singapore alone; it's worth considering also 'open-jaw tickets', for instance Singapore Airlines flying in to Medan and out of Bali (or vice versa).

For destinations within Indonesia, there are direct flights to/from Jakarta, Pekanbaru, Batam and other cities.

By bus

Larger, non air-conditioned buses and large luxury buses (often Mercedes) that are air-conditioned (some have toilets on board, though they are squatting toilets that are difficult to use when the buses are moving, given driving habits and road conditions throughout Sumatra). The central station for all larger buses in Medan is Amplas Station Central (not located in the center of the city though). This is where a lot of the smaller minivans go as well, and where travellers need to go to make connecting buses to further cities. Many of the large air-conditioned buses perform overnight routes, with prices varying by location served. As an example of prices from August 2005, expect to pay around Rp.50,000-80,000 for an 8-10 hour overnight luxury bus (without toilet saves about Rp.10,000+) trip, as in to Duri, Bukit Lawang, or Lake Toba (Danau Toba). Such buses provide a small snack and sometimes have televisions on board. While seats are very comfortable by Sumatran standards, all rides are swervy/bumpy and drivers often play stereos quite loud during the entire trip (unless a movie is available). Also, many buses have smoking sections in the back, and sometimes, smoking occurs in the front of the non-smoking section by the driver if the driver is so inclined. Earplugs are good accessories. Furthermore, while the large luxury buses have ample stowage above seats, keep valuables safe while you sleep.

By boat

Medan is not located by the sea but nearby Belawan is a major port with domestic and international boat and ferry services. Belawan is listed as a visa-free and visa-on-arrival entry point (see the Get in section of the Indonesia page).

To/from other parts of Indonesia: Pelni [9] boats link Belawan with various ports in Sumatra and other Indonesian islands. The comfortable MV Kelud departs from Belawan every Tuesday. The full sailing schedule is on www.pelni.com [10].

To/from Malaysia: Ferries run to/from Penang, Malaysia. Operated by Langkawi Ferry Services [11], Tel: +62-61-4521666/4527555 in Medan; +60-4-2642088 in Penang. Check the schedule ahead of time as they are NOT daily.

Since March 2007 there is a ferry from Medan to Lumut (Perak/Malaysia). It's RM100 one way and RM180 for a return ticket. The ferry leaves on Friday and Monday at 10:00AM from Medans port Belawan and on Wednesday and Saturday at 10:30AM from Lumut. As schedules changes check the schedule before (Indonesia office: sukma@medan.wasantara.net.id +62-6261-7320421 in Medan, Malaysia office: imn_tsc@streamyx.com, +60-5-6056804000 in Lumut).

Get around

Medan city are swamped by Becak and Taxi (the preferable choice to get around)

By rail

Medan is connected by rail to other conurbations on the eastern coast of Sumatra, such as Tanjungbalai, Rantauprapat, Siantar and Binjai. Executive, business and economy class trains are available, but if your budget allows, take the better class trains, which are faster and more comfortable. Tickets cost between Rp.9,000 (economy) to Rp.70,000 (executive).

By becak

Also known as trishaws or pedicabs. You have to be good negotiator if you want to ride on becaks, with price ranging between Rp.5,000 to Rp.10,000 depending on the destination (near or far).

Very few becak drivers speak more than a few words of English, but a map and lots of pointing will get you to the right place, even if it takes twice as long as you thought.

As you can get a hotel taxi for Rp35,000 to almost anywhere in Medan, paying more than Rp15,000 for a longer ride is probably not a good idea. Local taxis are now Rp30,000 to almost anywhere. They will not bargain much with tourists or visitors (people from Java!). The only difference I could detect between the becak and the taxi was that the taxi kept you dry when it rained, not much difference apart from that.

By taxi

Taxi cost anywhere in central Medan should be 20,000 rupiah (lower than this, the drivers don't want the fare). However drivers may ask for 25,000rp, and it's fine to settle for this. Higher fares are only justifiable for longer distances, such as to Pinang Baris bus station, about 10km, which should cost no more than 50,000rp.

Try to pick taxi from a reliable place such in front of malls, shopping centres or airport. Most taxi drivers won't use a meter and want to bargain. Taxis with meters may put them on, but then say there is a minimum charge, 20,000rp or 25,000rp - the metered fare will usually be far lower. One taxi company that always uses a meter is Express. They are white and can usually be found around Sun Plaza and Tasbi residential complex. Call 4552211 if you want to order. (Agreed that calling Express is a good idea, they will come on time and charge you per meter these days_). There are many Bluebird lookalikes in Medan now too, so be careful and ask the driver if he is using meter or not. Most drivers are pretty reliable these days but it always pays to ask first.

By bus

Public transport is not reliable and not suggested for travellers, though they have fixed price from one destination to other destinations.

Small minivans have painted numbers (1 to 267 in Medan) that signify their routes, which even locals don't have memorized. If you speak Indonesian, just ask where people are standing by the roadsides which "bus" number corresponds to your location and what the price is in advance. When a van with the appropriate number approaches, flag them down as they don't make scheduled stops (just drive along a given route and drop off passengers when told or pick up new passengers when flagged). If you are a westerner, be sure to confirm the price before getting in. This type of transportation should only be braved by those with a point-to-point knowledge of Medan and a working knowledge of Indonesian so they know where to tell the driver to stop, unless you have a local friend who can take you around.

One easy route is Minibus #3 from the great mosque (at the side of yuki mall) to the Medan Mall, which is Rp 2,000

All sudako or angkot (minibus) are now Rp 3,000 per ride.


Being a part of Indonesia, all locals will be able to speak Bahasa Indonesia. However, the ethnic Chinese can often be heard speaking a localised variant of Hokkien known as Medan Hokkien, which is almost identical to Penang Hokkien spoken across the Strait of Malacca.

Medan has a very high level of education and many younger people speak English very well. I have found quite a few older people, those over 50 or 60 also speak English and some even Dutch. If you find yourself stuck just tell the person you need someone who speaks English to help and there will be someone there in a matter of minutes. Speaking English well is a highly regarded skill by the locals so anyone who does so is well known and can be found quickly.

Bahasa Indonesia is also a simple language to learn so get yourself a phrase book and learn a few simple phrases, you will feel more clever as well and the more you try to speak it the quicker you will pick up the basics, its easy and fun and the locals will really appreciate your efforts although they will laugh loudly with you too.


Many tourists choose to use Medan as a quick thru-point to travel elsewhere in Sumatra, but the city offers a glimpse of a large Indonesian city still unfrequented by western tourists, and shouldn't be quickly dismissed. However, Medan is more chaotic and has a bit more litter than Jakarta or Denpasar and open sewers abound. Furthermore, not as many people speak English in Medan as in other large Indonesian cities, but even a short list of useful expressions goes a long way, and Sumaterans are still unjaded by westerners.

Medan hosts a great lot of very nice Art D├ęco buildings from the Dutch colonial era, like the Old City Hall, the Post office, the Great Mosque and many business buildings in and around Jl. Ahmad Yani. Some of them are in horrible shape, but most of them maintain their old splendour.


There are several Club, pubs and Karaoke to visit at night in Medan. There is an entertainment complex located in the heart of the city in Medan, call Capital building located close to the Post office at Jalan Putri Hijau. Capital Building's activity

These are the well known clubs in Medan, such as :


Although Sumatra does not have the same international reputation as Bali or Thailand for massage, it still forms a significant part of local culture. In rural areas, there will usually be a massuese available for low cost, if you ask around, while Medan itself offers true 'spa' facilities, which are highly recommended for anyone seeking a spa experience away from the hustle and bustle of the city at a fraction of the cost elsewhere in the world.

Quan Spa[12], located on the 17th floor of the JW Marriott has full 5* hotel spa facilities, with a one hour massage from 250,000rp++ for 1 hour massage, more for more elaborate rituals. Prices are half what you would pay in a 5* hotel in Thailand.

There are two branches of Eucalyptus Spa in the city, one at the Travellers Suite hotel, prices here are lower, at 120,000rp++ for 1 hour.[13]

Another spa is de'spa. [14]

The Aryaduta and Grand Angkasa hotels also have spa facilities.

or you may try the unique Fish SPA in Medan [[15]]


Modern malls

Older malls


Dewi Plaza Bakery located at Jl.Lampung No.8B. One of the best cakeshop in Medan.



Durian is one of the most famous fruit in Medan and North Sumatra. Get the best price and taste when the season comes, which on July and December. North Sumatra has a lot of durian fields like; Sibolangit, Brastagi, Langkat, Sidikalang ,Siborong-borong, Tarutung, Sibolga, Nias, Padang Sidempuan, Lima Puluh, Perbaungan, etc. Get Medan Durian at Jalan Sumatera, Jalan Semarang and Jalan Adam Malik.Price start Rp.5000,- to Rp.15.000,- per each







Some countries maintain consulates in Medan, and the addresses of some of the consulates are listed below:

Get out

Airport Alert: If you are a foreign tourist, you are required to fill in a form at the Fiscal Check counter stating that you are not an Indonesian citizen or KITAS holder. This necessity because unlike Jakarta, Surabaya or Denpasar; where locals are required to pay Government Fiscal Fare when they're travelling abroad, Medan did not charge this fare. Thus this is not required at Jakarta or Denpasar. Starting 2009 though, all Indonesian citizen with tax payer number (NPWP) are released from paying this Government Fiscal Fare. So be prepared to fill in a very small form with your name and passport details stating that you are not a citizen or holder of KITAS.

Also be prepared to have your passport and boarding pass checked by any number of people, many standing right next to each other, and not letting you pass until they have all had a long look at your passport. Do not expect any friendliness from the airport officials here either, listen carefully to all announcements, and then ask a local what is going on, it is the only way to find out how many hours your flight is being delayed.

Also be very careful with your check in luggage, there seems to be a gang of thieves working at the airport and they will break into your suitcases regularly (6 times for us in 6 months so far this year) even if there is nothing of value in them. Another good reason to check in as late as possible. The police will refuse to do anything about it, as have the airlines involved so far, although one has promised to look into it, the other refused to take our complaint saying its not their problem, so good luck with your luggage especially if you are flying to Singapore.

The departure area has now been vastly improved. Originally there was absolutely nothing to do, yet now there are plenty of shops, cafes and entertainment. If you have a morning flight on the weekend there will be no traffic so allow 10 minutes from your hotel to the airport. Check in and passport control is 10 minutes. Feel free to leave as early or as late as you please. ( I am not sure who put the information about there being plenty of shops, its kind of true but they all sell the same old souvenirs that you can buy anywhere that are mass produced and as for cafes restaurants and entertainment, I have no idea what this person is talking about because as of last week there was a Dunkin Donuts and a local warung there, nothing inside the terminal worth looking at).

It seems that flights into and out of Medan are delayed more than any other airport I have been to in Indonesia, and those with international connections seem to be the most delayed. If you are taking the Silk Air flight any evening back to Singapore it is strongly suggested that you call the airport and check how many hours the delay. My record to date is 6 hours, although my friends tell me they have had delays of up to 24 hours just to get back to Jakarta on a domestic flight.

The village was devastated by a flood in 2003, making it a little less pretty than it once was. I suggest you take a look at the SOS (Sumatra Orangutan Society) webpage if you wish to head out to Bukit Lawang, they will be very happy to discuss what is the best way to get there and arrange a tour for you or give you some pointers about responsible tourism.

Related Information

A list of contributors is available at the original article on Wikitravel. Additional modifications may have been made by users at TRAVEL.COM [26].

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply.

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