Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Medan, Northern Sumatra, Indonesia

Siem Reap to Medan, but we went via Kuala Lumpur

A new country, a new culture and we survived the Air Asia flight! Actually the Air Asia flight was pretty good, the planes were quite new and efficient and the whole experience pretty good (just a bit irritated over their $48 credit card booking fee – they are even worse than Ryan Air in that respect!).

The new RailLink terminal at the airport
And spangly new trains!
Siem Reap International  Airport was in-keeping with architecture in the area with tiled low roofs and plenty of marble, the departure monitor displayed only our flight, there apparently were no others leaving, so we departed about 10 minutes early, at about 08:20am, since everyone was onboard and there was no queueing for take-off clearance. A 1.5 hour stop in Kuala Lumpur, a further hour flight to Medan in Northern Sumatra to their brand new airport, a 30 minute transfer into the centre on the brand new Railink train and we were in amongst it all by 3:30pm. 
The Mesjid Raya (Great Mosque) in Medan, built in 1906
We haggled from 40,000Rp for a 30,000Rp (£1.50) Becak (motorbike with sidecar for two) that was probably still overpriced and got to the Grand Sakura Hotel to find they hadn't got our booking, but they eventually found it and we were in a large, very nice room. It's a nice enough hotel, but it's more of a business hotel than tourist hotel, so everything is formal with staff in uniforms and everything correctly done.

Mederka (Independence) Square. Formerly a parade ground in Dutch Colony times, now a running track with various pieces of gym equipment scattered around and surrounded on one side by night food stalls

PT London Sumatra building, formerly owned by an English plantation company
Medan is our first taste of Indonesia and we're a bit disappointed here, it's a strange place, a busy and seemingly quite wealthy city of 4 million people, but it doesn't seem to have a centre or a 'soul'. The streets are crammed with vehicles, many more cars than motorbikes all vying for that little opening in the stationary or slow moving traffic and the pavements where pedestrians seek refuge from this mele are the usual in SE Asia, non existent, full of parked vehicles, used for storage of building materials, used as an extension of shops display area or, where they are available uneven with plenty of trip hazards and often with missing manholes with huge, deep holes to catch the unobservant. In short, its not very pedestrian friendly! The walkways are also over the open sewer like in Malaysia, welcome back to a familiar smell!

The Tip Top Restaurant
Inside the colonial Tip Top
Indonesia is, of course, the old Dutch colony of the Dutch East Indies and there are quite a few old colonial buildings to look at, which gives a bit light relief, but really the 3 nights we booked here was one to many, we'll be glad to leave tomorrow morning! We may, however have to come back here again as its a bit of a central hub for the different journeys we want to make, we'll see!
One thing to add, while walking around, we came upon a group of young girls taking a selfie so we snuck in the back. The giggles were infectious they thought it was so funny, and when we saw them again later, same again. Everyone so far is very friendly, we've been shouted at by people of all ages asking our names and how we are. We got the girl in the phone shop to add the credit and do whatever needed doing to my phone when we put in the new SIM which she did, good as gold, as I say, all so helpful.

The Tjong A Fie Mansion. He was the first Sumatran millionaire and philanthropist, building many important buildings in Medan. He died in 1921, but his descendents still live there. He was Governor of the town under the Dutch
Inside the house
Tomorrow we intend to catch a bus and head 4 hours west to a place called Bukit Lawang, which is on the edge of jungle and a great place to see semi wild orangutans, so we're keeping our fingers crossed for that. However, bus traveling these parts is not easy, no-one sells bus tickets or seems to know anything about them, the travel agents only sell air tickets, so we even took a very uncomfortable becak ride out to the bus terminal yesterday to find out. Its chaos there, touts tried to hurriedly get us onto a bus for 70,000Rp each when we think it only costs 30 or 40,000 each and it was impossible to get any information from anywhere. Additionally there seems to be confusion as to whether you get the bus from here or a bakery nearby and there's lots of advice and discussion on internet travel forums about this confusion. 

Jackies first Sumatran kitten encounter - one of six!
Hopefully we'll get there tomorrow and get sorted, but even once we're on one they apparently frequently break down and if this happens you have to flag down another passing bus and pay the fare again! Oh joy, this could be great fun - wish us luck!
Indonesian trains. The barrier at the level crossing came down, he pulled out of the station and we waved at the driver and guard as they came past smiling, then the train stopped and then reversed back into the station. We waved again at the laughing guard and the driver waved, smiled and shrugged his shoulders as he went past!
Jackie can anorak too, it's a tv satellite van like she used to use at the BBC!


  1. But at least there's no sandflies!!!!! Hope you managed to get the bus OK

  2. Phew, caught up on the last couple of blogs before I take Monty out. It's Friday afternoon 6th 'arch and Ian is on his way back from Italy hopefully.
    Fab posts as usual! The temples are fantastic, but I agree you can get temples out!
    Only a month till we see you!
    Lots of love and take care on those scary roads in Sumatra! Xxxx