Made In Medan
Indonesia’s fourth-largest city is usually considered a stepping-stone to pretty much anywhere else rather than a destination in itself. But for the adventurous, it’s worth pausing to soak up the fervour.
It’s particularly worth stopping in Medan if you like food. And by ‘stopping’ we mean ‘immersing yourself in every corner of the city’. From the food courts of central Sudirman Street and the Sun Plaza mall to the noodle stalls and curry hawkers lining Petisah and Kesawan Square, Medan’s vibrant and mouth-wateringly tasty food culture is proof that the black smoke spewing from motorised becaks isn’t the only sensory stimulation this city has to offer. Need some respite? Venture up to one of the many sacred sites – you don’t need to be Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Islam to appreciate the serenity.
Medan’s Top 10
10. HillPark GreenHill City It’s no Disneyland, but at US$1.50 for a rollercoaster ride, you can’t complain.
5. Vihara Gunung Timur Medan’s large Chinese population doesn’t just mean good chow mein. It also means this massive Chinese temple.
9. Shri Mariamman This opulent Hindu temple is only open at certain times of day, but well worth a visit.
4. Pantai Cermin Theme Park Get an adrenaline hit before cooling off in the aptly named Lazy Pool.
8. Annai Velkankanni The ceiling is reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel. Well, not really, but this Indian shrine is stunning nonetheless.
3. Vihara Borobudur One of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world.
7. Tondi Gallery Tondi means ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’, and there’s plenty of that in this contemporary gallery.
2. Maimoon Palace Everything Medan’s streets aren’t – spacious, relatively quiet and unpolluted. It’s even lined with trees.
6. Mesjid Raya Mosque Medan’s largest mosque is a true testament to the city’s multicultural history.
1. Merdeka Walk Medan’s one real ‘must see’. Its footpaths are lined with food stalls and, unavoidably, a big shiny McDonald’s.
- Maimoon Palace – Built by the sultan of Deli in the late 1800s, it is a mélange of Mogul, Malay and Italian architecture.
- Tjong A Fie Mansion – Former residence of a well-known Chinese merchant that displays a mix of Chinese and Victorian styles.
- Grand Mosque – Unusual grand mosque built in the Moroccan style with a black dome, Italian marble, ornate carvings and stained glass brought from China.
- Colonial Medan – Visit the remnants of the colonial mercantile past of Medan.
- Lapangan Merdeka – In its glory days, it was the place for local parades; today, it is surrounded by wonderful art deco buildings, including the Merdeka Palace, the Supreme Court and the Bank of Indonesia.
Medan Art & Culture
- Bukit Barisan Military Museum – Home to a collection of photos, weapons and other artefacts from the Sumatra rebellion of the 1950s, the War of Independence and World War II.
- Museum of North Sumatra – Features a selection of antique historical artefacts from North Sumatra, including superb stone carvings.
- The Library – Contains an excellent collection of novels and reference books, including English classics, where, for a nominal fee, tourists may check out two books at a time.
- Tondi Gallery – Enjoy exhibits of contemporary art by local artists in Medan.
- Rahmat International Wildlife Museum & Gallery – The most complete museum of wild animals in Asia with displays and exhibits of animals from all over the world.
- Jl Ahmad Yani Crafts Shops – Discover local arts and crafts, selections of antique weaving, carvings and pottery.
- Pasar Ramai – Located next to the Thamrin Plaza, it is the main produce market in Medan with colourful and exotic fruits and vegetables.
- Gramedia Bookshop – The place to go if you are looking for English books, reliable maps and travel guides.
- Pasar Burung – A memorable experience in an extraordinary animal-trade market, where even many endangered species can be bought or traded.
- Medan Mall – Find everything from clothing to fine jewellery to groceries.
Gay & Lesbian Medan
- Entrance – A gay disco in Medan.
- Retrospective – Mixed rocking disco, where Saturday nights attract a gay crowd.
- Etalase Boutique – Features a spa with massages and a delightful café.
- Tavern – A local club that is open to all.
- X3 – Friendly disco with great music and dancing.
- Pantai Cermin Themepark – First and only waterpark in the north part of the island.
- Crocodile Farm – Home to more than 2,000 different species of crocs.
- Mereka Square – Join the early-morning walkers and joggers in Medan.
- Hill Park Green Hill City – One of the newest additions to the area, with a scary roller coaster.
- Gunung Leuser National Park – Home to some of the world’s endangered animals, including rhinos, great apes and jungle cats, and exotic plants like the stinking rafflesia.
- A football game in the PSMS Medan or Medan Jaya is a local happening.
- Visit the wushu (a form of Chinese martial arts) training centre on Plaja Street.
- Sorake Beach with its huge waves is ideal for surfing.
- Play a game of golf at the Royal Sumatra Golf and Country Club.
- Take part in taichi exercises at Merka Square.
Medan Jazz Nation in May is a new event, conveniently instigated to promote not only jazz but Medan’s lacking tourist industry.
At June’s Food & Fashion Festival you’ll find tasty food and clothing hawkers lining Medan Walk.
The bright neon lights of McDonald’s are shrouded in curtains for the fast of Ramadan. There’s plenty more to do in Medan during this month, but even many Muslims don’t say no to a sneaky cheeseburger.
Medan locals love to eat, so it’s no wonder they adore Eid ul-Fitr – a three-day celebration marking the end of Ramadan.
In Europe they have the Christmas markets, in Medan they have the Ramadhan Fair (November). It’s just as popular, just as brightly lit and a little grimier.
When To Go
Although May to September is the dry season, that doesn’t mean it’s completely rain-free.
April is the transition month, when temperatures can hit 35°C (95°F).
Medan’s weather is unpredictable during storms on the Indian Ocean. Warm, sunny days go hand in hand with heavy afternoon showers.
Becaks (also known as trishaws or pedicabs) are a good choice if you’re adept at communicating through maps and lots of pointing.
Taxis are common, but stick with the main companies. Most others won’t use meters and many won’t even give you change.
Public transport might be tempting to those who aren’t born negotiators, as it has the advantage of fixed prices. To use them, however, you will need to speak Indonesian, flag them down and have a good sense of direction.
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