“What’s On Penang” decided to revisit Indonesia the other day but yet again limited our trip to only 24 hours. Not much time to see the place we knew but also we had been told that there wasn’t much to see either.
We booked our ticket on Air Asia for RM 232 return and went to Agoda.com to book my Hotel for US$31, all of which took a mere 50 minutes from start to finish. I had requested a courtesy bus from the hotel but as my flight was delayed by over 1.5hrs (a frequent occurance on this journey by all accounts) was not that surprised to not find it waiting for me on arrival.
On my previous trip I remember trying to haggle for a cheaper fare when I suddenly realised that I was arguing over a few Ringgit so decided not to make the same mistake all over again. Last year I had paid IRP50,000 for the same trip so knew the benchmark, however all I could find were taxi drivers who wanted to charge IRP70,000 so haggle mode came out but the best I could manage was a drop to IRP60,000 (MR22). It is not just the money but the principle I hate being overcharged wherever I am but it seems as if the cost of transport has risen by over 20% in Medan.
The Internet saves you time and money
The internet not only saves you time in research but money as well. The information given was pretty accurate and in-depth.
The trip itself was uneventful but the process is well worth noting as I came across things that travellers should know that I didn’t find online. On arrival in Medan the first thing that a traveller needs to know is to head straight for the visa on arrival booth in the far left hand corner of the arrivals hall. First pay your US$ 25 for the visa (make sure you take US dollars for this purpose as any other conversion including either Rp or RM is expensive) then take your receipt to the immigration official next door for the visa itself. Wait the 15 minutes for the computer to warm up and then proceed to queue up for the immigration counter.
Immigration Indonesian Style
Immigration was thorough, all be it friendly, As before I was the last through the gate but this time sailed through without a snag and most comment on how polite the immigration officers are here and I am sure that they take their cue from the Malaysian immigration officers who are amongst the politest in the World. You have your finger prints and photograph taken upon entry so be prepared to take time going through immigration as this process is for every entrant, wherever they are from.
This time I came prepared with money already changed at Penang airport and headed out into the taxi area and as mentioned above eventually was shepparded off to My Dream Hotel. See my original post to get a slightly different perspective.
My Dream Hotel
We arrived less than 15 minutes later at My Dream Hotel, Not ‘my dream hotel’ but that was the name of the hotel I had booked online. A modern, clean and inviting lobby with 3 very busy but efficient staff behind the counter. Jospfin, my receptionist from last time I was pleased to see was still here and had my booked in in no time at all. The Hotel is now under the management of Swiss-Belinn which took over on December 1st, 2011 and other than the name change saw little to no diference to the 3-star hotel in name but top rated service I had received on my first visit.
I did mention that I had requested the courtesy airport shuttle and they told me that they did not offer the service for free. I explained about my earlier visit and that the last time I stayed it was free and they could read about it on ‘What’s On Penang’ if they didn’t believe me. They said they would let me know what they could do about it later.
On passing the cafe I noticed that the changes were to the prices of the food and drink. On my last visit I had gone out to a nearby restaurant (TipTop – See previous post) but had noted how good the food looked here and how reasonable – this does appear to have changed considerably.
Street Food Of Medan
30 minutes later after a quick unpack and a clean up I went down and after a cursery glance at the menu in the hotel cafe decided to venture out into the night. The small street (alley) to the rear of the hotel caught my attention as I could see a couple of street vendors through the window. Stepping out into this narrow alley took me to a scene out of Indiana Jones, SUV’s inching passed parked carts and pedestrians as the rain started to come down as more of a mist than a downpour. The night air was full of the noise of food cooking, vendors calling out orders and Indonesian customers shouting out their requests. The food on offer looked good and the scene was pure excitement. I enjoyed the dice with death as the SUV’s relentlessly edged down the alley way taking not a blind bit of notice to me or any of the locals for that matter.
Cakes in Medan seem to be everywhere. Sweet cream cakes of every description and at only RM2-3 each well worth the death defying walk to get there. I met a very interesting old man at the Pao stall that worked for a local British owned Pharmeceutical company and spoke perfect English. He took pride in helping me select a couple of Pao for my dinner from his families stall.
After this brief bit of excitement I went to my room, watched a movie and then slept.
My return flight wasn’t until 2.30pm so did not rush my departure. Checked out and chased up the airport transfer and the management had arranged for one of the staff to drive me as the shuttle was being used already by a large party of Chinese visitors and yes they did me a special favour as a returning guest and made it with their compliments but I must warn you that this service is not available to future visitors to the hotel unless they tell you diferently.
On arrival at the departure hall I was met by what I understood to be an AirAsia employee who was very helpful and showed me the ten feet to the checkin counter and then after checkin took me twenty-five feet to the immigration exit visa counter which I did not really need as I knew my way. This guy was now I could see offering a service of guide for a fee. He was very polite and asked for me to donate whatever I felt like giving and if I didn’t want to give that was OK a very good ploy as I am sure most people will comply but unfortunately for him I had given my last local money for the exit visa IRP75,000.
Quickly went through immigration and strait upstairs to the departure lounge. I had over 1.5 hours till the departure time and knew that we were delayed last time by over an hour so settled down with a good book for what I was sure would be a long wait. This time the flight was perfectly ontime and we departed without a single delay.
As before, Medan is an industrial/commercial city without a lot of character but definitely worth a short visit to experience the little it does have to offer. With more time and trips out to see Orang Utan and the vocanic lakes of Toba – one of biggest fresh water lake in the world. Formed by volcanic eruption. Has a large island, Samosir, in the middle. Danau Toba is an absolute must see, its a really magnificent place full of Batak culture on the shores of a mesmerizing lake. The food is wonderful, accommodation is cheap and the climate is totally perfect, it seems to be 25’c 24/7. Rent a scooter and explore Samosir, you won’t want to go home.
Book everything you can online
Check to see if your hotel has a shuttle bus and make sure you arrange it there to collect you from the airport
Take sufficient cash with you or be prepared to negotiate the exchange rate – at least know what rates are available before travelling
Take US Dollars for the visa on arrival if you need the visa
Be prepared to wait and be thoroughly examined at immigration on the inbound journey.
Tip Top Restaurant for a piece of local culinary history, good food, cakes and value for money.
Be prepared for the minimum Rp 25,000 taxi fare and accept with good grace.
My Dream Hotel for excellent value for money and friendly, efficient service
Tripadvisor.com for hotel recommendations and trip advice
Wikitravel for detailed Medan information
Agoda.com for booking of accommodation via tripadvisor.com
Air Asia for good value flights