Photo: Medan street scenes.

Introduction

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Medan is the most populous city in Sumatra and is the crowded and noisy capital of North Sumatra province, just a stone’s throw away across the Malacca Strait from Malaysia. With a population of slightly more than two million, Medan is a little smaller than the Javan cities of Bandung, Surabaya and Jakarta, but far bigger than most other cities in the Indonesian archipelago and you can really feel that when you arrive.



Lines of traffic clogs narrow thoroughfares, a dull haze is ever-present over the city and there is barely a piece of green space to stop and catch your breath as you wander around town taking in its handful of sights. Unfortunately, seeing these sights on foot is incredibly difficult due a distinct lack of walkability which is sadly more and more common across Indonesian cities. Where there are footpaths, they are often blocked by parked motorcycles and makeshift stalls. This means you’ll quite often have to walk on the road as masses of traffic passes you -- it’s rather unpleasant.

Most tourists will choose to rent a becak for a day, which in these parts means a motorbike with a sidecar fit for two people plus driver. With a becak, it’s quite easy to visit all of the sights that Medan has to offer in the best part of half a day, with Tjong A Fie Mansion being the best of the bunch.

Medan is known throughout Indonesia as being one of the best places to visit for those interested in culinary tourism. The problem is that for the average visitor, the best places are extremely difficult to find. That said, we’ve listed a number of top picks such as Soto Kesawan, one of the best soups we’ve eaten in Indonesia.



Orientation
The central part of the city is best described as the area surrounding the main train station. Across from the station is the independence field, Lapangan Merdeka. From the field, you can easily walk to Tjong A Fie Mansion, Soto Kesawan, Jalan Perniagaan and a bunch of other great food establishments.

Another problem is that most accommodation is located some distance from here on and around Jalan SM Raja. From Jalan SM Raja you can catch a becak for around 10,000 to 20,000 rupiah to Lapangan Merdeka.

ATMs are located all throughout town accepting Mastercard and Visa. If this is your starting point in Indonesia, you may also want to visit one of the multitude of telephone shops scattered around town, which can assist with setting you up with a 3G enabled SIM card -- Telkomsel has the widest coverage in the country and 1GB of data will set you back 50,000 rupiah or less.

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Medan.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Read up on where to eat on Medan.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Medan.
 Read up on how to get to Medan.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Medan? Please read this.





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