Author: admin
• Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

posted October 27th

Lonely Planet puts it well:  Don’t come here looking for a holiday –that’s Bali. Sumatra is an adventure; the kind of demanding ride that requires a dusty knapsack & tough traveling skin…

The adventures started as soon as we exited Medan airport. Our accommodation host had told us in advance that the correct taxi fare was IDR150,000, (about $10). The taxi desk at the airport agreed with this & gave us a written invoice showing that this was the amount to pay on arrival.  We showed our exact address to the taxi driver, along with a phone number to call, in case he needed any clarification. All appeared to be well, except that the journey was apparently longer than the driver expected, & he needed to phone 2 times to ask directions….  By the time we arrived at our destination, the taxi driver had evidently decided that the agreed price was too low & forcefully demanded a tip! We explained in English that it was a fixed price & he argued in Indonesian that we have to give a tip! He saw that we weren’t going to  back down & so ended up by swearing at us & driving off in a huff! Welcome to Indonesia.

We found that our AirBnB accommodation was so-so but not really as expected. Usually AirBnB means you’re staying with a local family in their home; however this place was nothing other than a cheap hostel pretending to be a family home. On top of that, it was located quite far away from the centre.  Restaurant options in the area were very limited & despite our explaining in broken Indonesian that we needed to eat ‘tanpa pedas, tanpa sanbal’ (no chillies & other hot spices!), every meal we had burned our mouths & stomachs. Fortunately we would only be in this place 2 days.

Medan's impressive Grand Mosque

The next day, we managed to find a crowded & very local minibus, (called ‘Mr X’!), to get us into town, where we could visit the main sites: the Grand Mosque & Maimun Palace. We arrived at Mesjid Raya, Medan’s oldest & grandest mosque, just after several sheep had been butchered right next to the main entrance. Full-scale skinning & meat cutting was going on, right in front of a crowd of visitors, (& with the poor sheep still slightly alive, according to halal tradition!), as apparently we had arrived on a public holiday & the meat was later on going to be donated to the poor.


halal butchery


photo shoot at Maimun Palace!

Leaving the rather gory scene, we moved on to Maimun Palace where we encountered many local families, all dressed up in beautiful matching outfits for Hari Raya — one of Islam’s main festivals. Amazingly, we found that as foreigners we had a kind of ‘celebrity status’ as a lot of the locals wanted to have their photo taken with us! For the next half hour we posed with different families as they took a variety of photos with different mobile phones & cameras. It grew to be quite a lengthy process as there were group photos to be taken, photos with the children, photos with females only, photos with males only, standing photos, sitting photos….

the Hari Raya photo-shoot continues!



Eventually the photo-shoot came to an end & we proceeded to the last item on our list of things to do in downtown Medan: find a money changer. It was a half-hour walk to the place, through a nice area with good hotels & embassies. However, as we were crossing a small road, a scooter with 2 young teenagers came towards us. It looked like they were going to pass behind us, but then they changed their minds & decided to pass right in front of us, almost colliding with us in the process. They came to a halt & just as I was about to shout at them for their bad driving, one of the boys reached out & grabbed Sue’s silver necklace! The scooter shot off with the boy on the back of the scooter triumphantly laughing & showing off the stolen asset! We were shocked as although we’d heard about drive-by robberies, we’d never experienced one before.

We left Medan the next day, happy to move on to the volcano town of Berastagi, which we liked a lot better….more about Berastagi in part 2!

Category: Weekly Blog
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