Medan is the biggest city in Sumatra, the fourth biggest in Indonesia. It’s an important economy, commercial, and administrative center in the area. Medan is first and foremost known for its ethnic diversities. Centuries of interactions between many cultures creates a unique melting pot to this part of Sumatra.
This city is an interesting and eclectic mix of Malay, Batak, Java, European, Chinese, Indian, and Arabic cultures. That reflects in almost any kind of aspect in the lives of Medanese. The architecture, culinary, languages, and many other aspects clearly shows how rich Medan is.
Being the biggest city outside Java also makes Medan becomes the most accessible one. This city has the best access among all other cities on the island. The relatively new modern airport, a big seaport, two inter-province bus stations, and a train station connecting with other areas.
Its proximity to many Southeast Asia’s biggest cities makes Medan as a popular destination for travelers as there are flights from Medan to India, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Medan is truly a unique blend of Asia.
Istana Maimun is royal palace of Sultanane of Deli, built by Sultan ma’mun Al Rashid Perkasa Alamsyah from August 26th 1888 and was officially inaugurated on May 18th 1891. It was designed by Dutch architect Theodor van Erp. Overall, this palace covers 2,772 m2 with 30 rooms under its roof.
The palace is a unique blend of Islamic, Indian, and Malay architecture. The fusion gets even richer with Spanish and Italian furniture and fittings. The dominant yellow represent Malay color as well as royal color of Deli Sultanate. The Persian arches (upside down boat) is a clear reference to Middle East and Islamic architecture. Lamps, chairs, table, wardrobes, and some chairs adopted Mediterranean style.
Today, Maimun Palace is a popular museum. With an entrance fee of only IDR5000, Maimun Palace can be really crowded during high season or holidays. Within the palace, you can see not only the throne but also several rooms, including the royal bedrooms and halls.
There is a legendary canon called Meriam Puntung; an old cannon with its barrel destroyed. Legend says that the Princess of the Deli, Mambang Khayali, declined the marriage proposal from Sultan Aceh. That made Sultan Aceh angry and attacked Sultanate of Deli. The princess then magically turned herself into a cannon to defend her land. The cannon was used so excessively that the barrel became too hot and then destroyed.
Fun fact, the current Sultan of this palace is crowned in 2005, when he was only eight years old! Sultan Mahmud Lamanjiji Perkasa Alam was crowned after his father, the previous Sultan, died in an airplane accident.
Tjong A Fie Mansion
Tjong A Fie was a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. Born in 1860 in Meixian district, Guangdong, China, Tjong A Fie got his success in Labuan Deli, Sumatra. At that time, Sumatra was still under the control of Dutch East Indies government. Came as a poor immigrant, Tjong A Fie found a massive success through hard work and dedication.
As his businesse grew, Tjong A Fie’s influence in the area were also growing fast. He manage good relations with all important figures in Medan and the surrounding area. He was very close with Sultan of Deli, Dutch rulers, Chinese business community in Sumatra and beyond. He left behind a business empire that covered mining, banks, real estate, railroads, tobacco, sugar plantations, tea, rubber, coconut, and palm oil. The most popular legacy of Tjong A Fie is of course his mansion in Medan.
Located on Jl. Jenderal Ahmad Yani No.105, Kesawan, Medan, this two story mansion is mainly a Chinese piece of architecture with a touch of European, Malay, and Art Deco style. Built in 1895, this mansion covers an area of 8000 m2. Today, most of this mansion has become a museum with an entrance fee of IDR35000.
This mansion was built as a gift for his beloved wife. Strictly observing feng-shui principles, this building has the unique well of heaven, an open air courtyard in the middle. All of the ornaments and furniture are of the highest class. There are rooms built specifically to receive special guests like Sultan or Dutch rulers. Tjong A Fie also often held European-style dance parties at his large ballroom in second floor. It’s no wonder that this mansion earns the reputation as a historical jewel in Medan.
The Many Magnificent Religious Buildings
Medan shows off its rich cultural and religious heritage in many ways, one of them is by the many wonderful religious buildings scattered in the city. Known as a melting pot of so many cultures, Medan is home to many unique religious buildings. They are so unique many people actually come to not only pray but also to admire the buildings.
The Grand Mosque of Medan (Masjid Al Mashun) is the most beautiful and historically important mosque in North Sumatra, or so claimed by people from this city. This Majestic mosque was built in 1906 by Sultan Makmun Al Rashid and is part of the Maimun Palace. The project was financed by the Sultanate, Tjong A Fie, and Deli Maatschappij. Designed by JA Tingdeman, this mosque has a capacity of 2000 people.
Shri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu’s worship place in the city. It was built in 1884 by the Hindu community of Medan for the worship of Goddess Mariamman and her children; Ganesha and Murugan. The temple is located in the area known as Kampong Madras, the Little India of Medan. The temple is decorated with a tall gopuram, an architecture that can be found mostly in southern India.
Graha Maria Annai Velangkani is a unique church and pilgrimage, dedicated to the Blessed Mother Mary who is known in India as Annai Velangkanni Arokia Matha (Our Lady of Good Health). This seven story building was built in 2001 and located on the outskirt of Medan. The architecture is so unique and imposing. The Indo-Mughal building dominantly look like a Hindu temple with tall roof. This shrine was built for all people of all races and religion who seek peace, which is why there are not many Catholic symbols on the exterior of this church.
Two Colored Waterfall at Sibolangit, a surprisingly great natural trek
The two colored waterfall is located in Durin Sirugun Village, Sibolangit District, Deli Serdang Regency. This waterfall is a true natural phenomenon and only two or three hours away from Medan. The route, however, is not the easiest one.
The Sibolangit Waterfall is surrounded by rain forest and the trek to get there is quite challenging. You will need to hire an experienced guide that will cost you IDR100,000 to IDR300,000. One guide is enough to lead the way from SIbolangit Camping Ground to the waterfall. There is an entrance fee of IDR25000 per person.
There are not many facilities here, as everything is as natural as it can be. The multicolored water is the one in the pond below the waterfall. The upper part of the pond is sky blue and refreshingly cold while the lower is greyish and warmer. The differences is caused by the sulfur content of phosphorus and sulfur in the water. One of the springs that feed this waterfall is from Sibayak volcano that produce hot water.
The volume of the water is not exceptionally high, but that’s not the point of this waterfall. Tourist come here to enjoy not only its 100 meter water drop, but also to splash on the pond. Be sure to bring your own water because the water here, even unpolluted at all, are not safe to drink.
Colorful Medan Carnival, a Celebration of Medan’s Diversity
Medan celebrate its anniversary every first of July. Thjs city was founded in July 1st 1590 by Guru Patimpus Sembiring Pelawi when he turned the forest area between Babura and Deli River into a village called Kampung Medan. Today, the anniversary is celebrated lavishly every year by the city.
The celebrations starts with Pesona Colorful Medan Carnival that begins from June 30th to the first July. This carnival brings together all communities in Medan, from hobbyists to traditional performers. The carnival is a celebration of people with everyone is given a chance to express their best in an eclectic show. The party begins with traditional dance from several ethnics and then some communities like BMX and Parkour clubs are also showing their skills.
The next morning, the city is bustling with a celebratory mood as a massive fashion carnival as well as traditional music shows. There are Medan Batik Fashion festival, Fashion Carnival from Medan, and Fashion Carnival from Jember (designed by Dynand Fariz).
Lontong Medan is extremely popular as a breakfast menu in the city. You can find many vendors in nearly any street of Medan. The main ingredient of the dish is of course lontong, a compressed rice cake. Lontong is served with coconut milk vegetable soup, spicy peanut and anchovy sauce, tauco, noodles, and crackers. Sometimes the vendor add boiled eggs and perkedel (fried mashed potato) to add the flavor.
There are many variations of lontong Medan. Some vendors make it similar to lontong sayur Betawi with tempe and tofu. Understandably, everyone has their own favorite vendor to eat this dish.
Best place to eat Lontong Medan:
- Lontong Kak Lin – Jalan Teuku Cik di Tiro No 76
- Lontong Malam Bu Enny – Jalan setiabudi No. 98B, Tanjung rejo
- Lontong Bang Iwan – Jl. Teuku Cik Ditiro No.9B, Madras Hulu
- Lontong Malam Apun – Sei Putih Barat, Medan Petisah
Soto is Indonesian national dish and every part of the country has their own unique style of this dish. You can find soto in almost every city in the country, from a street food stall to high end restaurants or luxurious hotels.
In Medan, the soup is especially viscous because it uses lots of coconut milk. Soto Medan also offers more meat piece variations. You can choose chicken, beef, innards, or pork. The dish is usually served with perkedel. In Medan, the meat pieces are fried before being mixed in the soto.
Best places to enjoy Soto Medan
- Sinar Pagi – Jl. Sei Deli No.2D/1, Silalas
- Soto Kesawan – JL. Ahmad Yani, Kesawan
- RM Nasi Soto Medan – Jl. Gatot Subroto No.8, Silalas.
Bihun Bebek is quite simply a dish that combine duck meat and bihun (rice vermicelli). The two ingredients are treated differently and cooked separately. Bihun is boiled until it is soft enough for. The duck is slowly boiled in its own broth until it is ready and then the slices are put on top of the bihun with leek, fried garlic and onion, as well as several condiments.
Bihun bebek is usually served in a huge portion, with the soup served separately in different bowl. The dish is clearly influenced by Chinese culinary legacy of this city.
Best places to enjoy Bihun Bebek
- Bihun Bebek Asie (Kumango) – Jl. Kumango No.15, RT.02, Kesawan
- Bihun Bebek Atak – Jl. Semarang No.78 / 35, Ps. Baru.
- Bihun Bebek Akien – Kompleks Sekip indah No.101R, Sei Putih Tim. I.
How to get to Medan
Medan is the probably the most accessible city in Sumatra. As the fourth biggest city in the nation, Medan is served with huge and modern airport as well as bus and train stations. Medan also has a big seaport in Belawan.
By Air – Kualanamu International Airport is a modern hub connecting Medan with most big cities in Indonesia as well as several neighboring countries like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Chennai, and Hong Kong.
By Train – Stasiun Medan today is mainly connecting the city with Kualanamu Airport that is located in Deli Serdang Regency. There are also trains linking Medan with Rantau Prapat, Tanjung Balai, Siantar, Binjai, Tebingtinggi, and Belawan.
By Bus – Medan has two big bus stations; Terminal Pinang Baris and Terminal Terpadu Amplas. Buses from the east, especially from Aceh, stop at Pinang Baris. Terminal Terpadu Amplas, meanwhile, is the final destination of buses from the west and south.
By Sea – Belawan is the busiest port outside Java. There are passenger ship from this port to Batam and Jakarta. There are sometimes also ferried from Belawan to Phuket (Thailand) and Langkawi (Malaysia)
What to do in Medan
Getting around in Medan is a bit challenging simply because of the size of the city. Exploring the city on foot is next to impossible but Medan has a quite good public transportation in place. You can choose several options to travel within the city.
Minibuses or Sudako will get you from one place to another within its route. It is basic and cheap but you must make clear where you want to stop so that you won’t miss your destination. Betor or Becak Motor is a popular choice. It’s basically a motorized pedicab taxi that will get you anywhere in the town. The ride could be a bit scary if you are not used to it. Also make sure you make a deal about the price before getting in on one of them.
Taxis are also abundant here. This is one of the most comfortable way to comb the city. Just make sure you are on a metered cab or if not, you agree about the price. Haggling about the price of transportation is allowed in this city.
Maimun Palace is in the center of the city, so is the Grand Mosque Al-Mashun. Tjong A Fie Mansion and many good Chinese restaurant are located in the Chinatown near Lapangan Merdeka.
Medan is also an important entry point to explore even deeper in inland Sumatra. It takes four to five hours drive from Medan to reach Toba. There are also many other places such as Sipoholon and Tinggi Raja hot springs.
Best Hotels in Medan
- Aryaduta Medan – Jl. Kapten Maulana Lubis No.8, Petisah Tengah. – Starts from IDR786,563.
- Santika Premiere Dyandra Hotel & Convention – Jl. Kapten Maulana Lubis No.7, Petisah Tengah. – Starts from IDR671,096
- Grand Aston City Hall Medan – Jl. Balaikota No.1, Kesawan – Starts from IDR957,000.
- Travellers Suite Medan – Jl. Listrik No.15, Petisah Tengah – Starts From IDR831,025.