Medan is a bustling city, being the third largest in Indonesia. Prices are cheaper here than in Jakarta and Surabaya, so if you want a cheap getaway, Medan fits the bill.
Here is an important travel tip for Medan – use Grab for cheap and efficient transport around Medan (should apply to all Indonesian cities as well). For a six-seater car, it cost only 15 to 20k (S$1.50 to S$2) for travel within Medan city, which is quite affordable. For a normal sedan, it is even cheaper.
Grab is the no brainer choice to arrange for your airport transfer, costing less than 150k (S$15) for a six-seater, plus 15k for toll. The journey takes almost an hour. Here’s how you can use Grab upon your arrival – when you exit the airport terminal, go to the parking area A (Parkir A) on the right. The Grab cars are all just waiting there. Book a car and proceed to look for the car when the driver confirms the booking.
There is not much to see within Medan itself. If you’re into history, you could visit the Tjong A Fie Mansion and the Balai Kota Lama (Old City Hall). The largest shopping malls are Centre Point, Sun Plaza and Plaza Medan Fair. Centre Point is the newer mall and i think it has too many familiar looking shops (from Singapore and Malaysia). There is a huge Batik Keris shop though, which is nice for grabbing Batik clothing. Sun Plaza and Plaza Medan Fair are both owned by Lippo Malls, so you get many of the same shops at both malls. If i were to choose one between the two, i would go for Plaza Medan Fair. Albeit looking a little tired, it is slightly bigger, and it appears to be where locals shop.
Here are places where you should probably visit to shop for stuff to bring home:
Bika Ambon is the famous cake from Medan, and obviously they do it best. There are many sellers of course, but you can’t go wrong with Ahun. They also sell Kueh Lapis Legit (thousand layered cake).
Batik comes in a wide price range. There are the ones you could wear at home – you will find them at Pasar Petisah, which is a local market for low-priced wares. If you looked up Google Maps, you will find quite a few shops just south of Medan train station also, selling low to mid priced Batik.
It’s interesting that the Solo Batik style seems to be more popular in Medan.
Coffee, Tea and Kerupuk
During my 5 days in and around Medan, the coffee i tasted were all quite good. No wonder Sumatran coffee is world renowned, and it’s even better when you get it fresh from the source. I wanted to buy green coffee, but no information on such is available. I wanted to go to Sidikalang to search for coffee plantations there, but the driver was not so willing to go there due to poor road condition and long distances. In the end, i bought roasted whole bean coffee as i would normally do when in Indonesia.
You’re spoilt with choice when shopping for coffee beans in Medan (as compared to say Jakarta). You can get them at any supermarket. I felt the Brastagi Hypermarket has good choices, though they don’t come cheap.
Our driver took us to a specialty shop called De room, and it had a very comprehensive collection of coffee from all around Sumatra, with good prices too.
You can also get tea leaves and Kerupuk from the same places.
Moving on to the itinerary.
On our day of arrival, we went to quite a few places, including Petisah market, Koki Sunda restaurant, Sun Plaza and Ucok Durian.
Koki Sunda, as the name suggests, is a Sundanese restaurant. Being a franchised restaurant, you can’t expect fine dining quality, but the overall experience is positive.
We went to Ucok Durian just to check it off the to-do list. It is where you eat expensive durian (by Medan standard). At 100k (S$10) for the large sized durian, it is expensive, because the durian seed is so huge relative to the amount of flesh. The worst part is, the durian was warm (like it was cooked), which made it feel it was not fresh. Simply cannot be compared to Malaysian durian.
Having just durians for dinner wasn’t exactly satisfying enough, so we chose a random restaurant around the area – Chillax, which turned out to be quite good. What’s more, the steaks were under 50k each (S$5)!
The journey to Berastagi was a puke inducing one, making Berastagi a compulsory stop to shake off the nausea. We had lunch at the driver recommended place, Puncak restaurant. According to the driver, not many choices here. Probably true.
Just for the sake of resting, we did a bit of sightseeing at the St Francis Assisi church, one of the many churches built in the fusion style marrying Batak and western architecture.
The Pasar Buah (fruits market) was also a convenient sightseeing spot in Berastagi, where you can sample a wide range of local produce.
We arrived at Sipiso Piso waterfall before 5pm, yet it was getting dark already.
The only logical place within the vicinity to put up for the night was Taman Simalem Resort. It doesn’t come cheap, but at least the service level more than met expectations. It gets really cold at night.
You definitely have to see the lake in good weather.
The driver took us to Hotel Singgalang in Parapat for lunch, thinking that we would prefer to stick with Chinese food. I was more keen to try the local food actually, but we settled for Hotel Singgalang anyway. By the way, you might be interested to know that the Batak people enjoy dog meat, and such eateries are marked with a signage with the label B1.
We took a ferry to Tuk Tuk on Samosir Island. Tuk Tuk is full of guest houses, and you can actually stay in a Batak house if you like.
We began our way back to Medan, stopping for lunch at Siantar. Although i wanted to go to Cafe Kok Tong, my idea was again override by the driver, who wanted to stay safe, and he brought us to a Chinese noodle house. Maybe he had too many customers previously who couldn’t get used to the local food. Oh well, Mie Pansit Awai was not bad. Mie Pansit is basically Wanton mee. I also tried the coffee (both black coffee and with condensed milk), which the driver said would have been the same as what Cafe Kok Tong serves, and i think it pales in comparison to Malaysia kopi.
Back in Medan, we went to Bika Ambon Ahun and De room to grab those stuff we were going to bring home. Dinner at Restoran Garuda turned out to be the best meal of the trip. Finally, good tasting authentic Indonesian food! Don’t miss this restaurant if you’re in Medan!
Did last minute shopping at Brastagi Hypermarket. Final meal of the trip at Restoran Jimbaran. While it was not bad, it was a little pricey, and there were too many flies. They were daring enough to take a dip in your drink!