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Flying Into Medan – First Impressions of North Sumatra
Leaving from Bali, on a short flight via Singapore, we decided to kick off our Sumatra trip with a visit to the capital of North Sumatra – Medan. It’s a city that is usually skipped by most people on their way to either Bukit Lawang or Lake Toba, but that is exactly why I wanted to see what it had to offer. Here are my first impressions of Medan.
Firstly let me just say that I’ve always wanted to visit Sumatra, even before I first came to Indonesia over 4 years ago and it’s just taken me this long to finally get there. It always seemed like such an untouched, jungle destination and the idea of walking amongst wild Orangutans, Elephants and Tigers is something that was firmly on my bucket list.
When we first arrived to Medan however, that idea of being in the middle of the jungle quickly disappeared. For those of you that don’t know, Medan is the fourth largest city in Indonesia and has a population of over 2 million people. Straight away after getting there, I realised this isn’t really the beginning of a Sumatran adventure that most people would have in mind. That being said, we were going to stick it out anyway and explore the sights of Medan no matter what. We weren’t disappointed.
Maimun Palace & The Grand Mosque
This was one of the first places that came up in our research to visit and one that also looked the most interesting. It was previously a Royal Palace of the Sultanate of Deli and has some unique architecture. But the bit that really interested me – mainly because I thought it would be good for the vlog if I’m honest – was the fact that it’s now a place to dress up in traditional clothing and take some classic touristy photos. If you want to see what I mean, just check out the cringey picture below…
The best part about this place though was getting to interact with lots of local people that perhaps aren’t accustomed to seeing many foreign tourists in Medan. People were asking us lots of questions and practicing their English with us which, as we were in no rush at all, I was more than happy to help out with. There was also the occasional (fairly often) photo op too, but that’s something you get used to when traveling to the lesser visited parts of Indonesia.
After leaving Maimun Palace we made the short walk over to the Great Mosque of Medan or Masjid Raya Al Mashun. It’s actually only a few hundred yards away and although there are local taxis waiting outside the palace, just walk yourself since it’s so close.
I have to say that the Mosque was pretty impressive and I can see why it’s a landmark, but again it wasn’t the architecture that I loved – more the welcoming people that greeted us as soon as we got there.
Inevitably, as it’s rainy season, this is also when the sky opened up and the torrential rain began. We hid under a raincover with a group of people and watched as a bunch of kids started sliding and diving through the puddles of water appearing. We decided to order a Grab Taxi and call it a day, reserving our energy for another day of exploring tomorrow (actually we also went for lunch, but you can see that in the video above if you want).
Trying The Famous Local Durian
From everything I read beforehand, it seemed as if I couldn’t leave Medan without trying the local durian from the two durian ‘institutions’ in town. If you don’t know what durian is by the way, then you just have to smell it to truly believe it. It’s a fruit that is banned in lots of hotels and public transport because of how strongly it smells and it’s normally a love it or hate it kind of thing. Luckily for me, I love it.
There are two main options when you’re thinking about getting durian in Medan – Ucok Durian or Si Bolang Durian. We chose the latter, simply because it was recommended to us over the other one – though I’ve seen a lot of dispute about which one is best in my YouTube comments since! While I loved it, which again you can see in the YouTube video above, Olivia was less of a fan and summarised her thoughts in the video below.
It’s definitely an acquired taste and don’t worry if you don’t like the smell or taste the first time you try it. It will grow on you – I promise!
Trying Nasi Padang at Garuda
After this we visited the most famous Nasi Padang place in town – Garuda Restaurant. Nasi Padang is a dish that is fairly common throughout Sumatra and originates from another city called Padang. Already knowing that we wouldn’t be visiting Padang on this trip, I decided to try it here instead.
For those of you that don’t know, it basically works like this – the waiters bring out every dish that is available within the Nasi Padang restaurant and you choose which dishes you want to eat and then only pay for the dishes you choose. You end up with a table full of colorful food and a huge appetite – smart idea really.
While it is the most famous and perhaps one of the nicest settings to try the traditional dish, it also felt way over priced in my honest opinion. We only sampled 4 or 5 of the dishes that were bought to us and although I can’t remember the exact price, it was close to 200,000 IDR ($14 USD) for the two of us. This is pretty pricey considering you can get most Indonesian meals for between 20-30,000 IDR ($2 USD) each normally.
My First Impressions
So after our few days of exploring the Northen capital of Medan, what did I think in the end? Well, it’s safe to say that it’s not the most beautiful city in the world and there aren’t that many (if any) must-see tourist attractions. For example, it’s very unlikely you would come all the way to Medan to see Maimun Palace on it’s own.
What it does have going for it though is the wonderful people I encountered. Everywhere I went people were welcoming, helpful and kind to complete strangers like us. This made the few days genuinely enjoyable and although I wouldn’t come back to see the other sights (which I am told there are) I would come back to interact with more of the local people and of course try more of the local dishes too.
So in conclusion, the city is hardly the most spectacular place to visit in the world but the city’s people made the few days there more than worth it.
After this we got the bus directly to Lake Toba and stayed there for a week, which you can read all about here.