Medan : Entry Point to North Sumatra

The booming city of Medan, capital of North Sumatra, is an economic hub and commercial centre for the region. This is the largest city in Sumatra attracting residents from all over Indonesia who come here to do business.

For visitors, Medan is best known as the gateway to North Sumatra with many travellers flying into the city and setting off from here for adventures in the cool highlands of Lake Toba or the wild Sumatran jungle.

This is a busy and sprawling metropolis so you’ll need to be patient as noisy minibuses and becak compete with taxis and motorbikes for space through the crowds and heat.

The population of Medan is diverse. Citizens here represent virtually every ethnicity in Indonesia including Batak, Malay, Javanese, Minang, Acehnese, Indians and Chinese.

In it’s earliest days, the area which is now Medan was home to a community of traders and seafarers, under the rule of Islamic Malay leaders. This was until the Acehnese finally conquered the area after years of battling in the early 17th century. During the period of conflict, the plains were used as a battlefield between the two kingdoms which is why Medan translates literally as field or battlefield.

The modern history of the area begins in the 1860’s when entrepreneurs recognized the potential of the rich volcanic soil here and began plantation agriculture. In 1865 an adventurous Dutch entrepreneur introduced tobacco to the area ushering in a new era of prosperity. This led to an influx of foreign investment and a steady stream of European capitalists. Crops of tobacco, rubber, oil palms, sisal and tea were all planted here. Thus from a small village, Medan grew into a prosperous colonial city.

In 1886 the Dutch made Medan capital of North Sumatra and by the end of Dutch rule the population had swelled to about 80,000.

After independence in 1948, the population of Medan exploded and it is now the third largest city in the country. Today the influence of Medan’s colonial plantation past is reflected in the European architecture of many of the cities biggest buildings. Medan has become a blend of the modern and the ancient.

See some of natures most terrifying creatures at the Crocodile Farm at Asam Kumbang, located about 10 km from the heart of the city. This farm has nearly 2,000 crocodiles of different sizes and species. Come here during feeding time to see these fierce reptiles use their sharp teeth to cut their lunch to shreds. Learn more about these animals and follow their stages of development. Souvenirs made of crocodile’s skin are also sold here. The farm is open from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm.

Soak up some culture and educate yourself about Indonesian traditions with a visit to Museum Negara. Here you’ll find a fascinating collection of archaeological relics from 12th century South Indian statues to remains of an Islamic nisan or gravestone.

The Grand Mosque of Medan is an impressive sight complete with Arabesque domes and crystal chandeliers.
At the Palace of the Sultan you can see photos and memorabilia from the days of royalty. The building’s design reflects Malay influences, painted in a yellow trim (the color of Malay royalty).

Medan is the ideal place to arrange a tour into the wild jungles of North Sumatra. Contact tour operators in Medan to arrange a rafting or trekking tour that will surely leave you awestruck over the natural beauty this region has to offer.


Polonia International Airport in Medan has daily flights to all major cities in Indonesia such as Jakarta, Batam, Padang, Surabaya, Pekanbaru, and Bandung.

Polonia International Airport in Medan has also daily flights for  international destinations including Singapore and Malaysia.

In Medan you can choose from public bus, taxi or becak to get around.
The local minibuses or sudako are basic and cheap. Only use these if you have a bit of bahasa Indonesian up your sleeve as they can be difficult to navigate otherwise.

The noisy becak is a tiny two stroke engine vehicle which is a cheap, though often nerve racking way to get around. Decide on a price with the driver before you get in.

Taxi’s are a cheap and convenient way to get around. Make sure you use a metered cab or if not, agree on your destination and price before getting in.

Source: Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, Republic Indonesia

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