“What’s On Penang” decided to take its first venture into Indonesia the other day but only had 24 hours spare to take the trip in. 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 237 return and went to tripadvisor.com to book my Hotel for RM 67, all of which took a mere 50 minutes from start to finish. Wikitravel gave me the background on travel to Medan with suggestions on what to see and do when I arrived. With such a short time all I wanted was a restaurant to eat that evening and an overview of what the place was like.
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, and the official chided me for not staying longer or visiting before now. As I was the last through the gate I think he enjoyed practicing his English on me for ten minutes. 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.
After spending Rp 250,000 on my visa it left me with very little cash so needed to find a money exchange and no sooner had I gone through than I was approached by a tout for exactly what I was looking for!!
The first exchange rate offered was low but when I said I had just changed money in Penang for higher then they agreed to match the rate. They then offered to show me where to get a taxi and after being told in weikitravel that a journey into town should be about Rp 30,000 haggled for that fare but to no avail. Rp 50,000 was the price and no one would budge. After some quick mental arithmetic and working it out to be RM 20 or less decided it wasn’t worth the hassle and agreed to the fare. I must admit to feeling unsafe here compared to Malaysia or Thailand and was very wary of the route the taxi was taking, down alleyways and through dodgy looking streets to avoid traffic, but decided there wasn’t much to be done about it at this stage.
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 was my receptionist and she was a true ambassador for the hotel and indeed for Indonesia.
She informed me that the policy for the hotel was to take a Rp 200,000 deposit on the room or a credit card. After only changing enough for the meal that night and the taxi to the airport the next morning I was not going to be handing over the cash. After being charged a deposit on my visit earlier in the year to a resort in Langkawi and not receiving the refund for over 6 weeks I did not feel inclined to go down that route either. As they had taken my passport and photocopied it I really did not see the need for doing either so protested in a friendly way and Josefin decided to waive this without a second thought or huff but with a smile and proceeded to help me out with directions to the restaurant I had found online earlier.
She advised me against walking at night as it was not safe and offered to book me a taxi. I asked her how much the fare should come to and she said about Rp 10,000 as it was only around the corner.
She then booked my early morning alarm call and told me about the hotel shuttle bus which was complimentary (a pity I had not been informed on the way in by agoda.com the booking agent!). Excellent staff and could not praise the hotel more highly.
Tip Top Restaurant
30 minutes later after a quick unpack and a clean up the phone rang and Josefin informed the taxi was waiting downstairs. I went down and got into a modern and very clean white taxi which I immediately saw had its meter running and thought that this was a very good sign indeed. In under 10 minutes we arrived at Tip Top Restaurant and the taxi driver said that it was Rp 25,000 despite the meter reading just over Rp 6,000. I started to argue the point when he politely informed that there was a minimum fee of Rp 25,000 – end of argument when he showed me the sticker on the passenger visor – so much for the meter!!
Tip Top Restaurant has been operation since 1929 and was originally called Jang Kie after the owner, back in the day when colonial rule was under the Dutch and the restaurant served cakes baked on the premises. After an address change in 1934 and a widening of the restaurant to full meals the place hasn’t changed much since then. They still use the original cooking range and much of the original furniture and piano as well. Do not expect something out of Somerset Vaugh’s novels as this is housed in a shophouse on a busy street but the place has a certain charm still and is very good value as well as having very tasty food.
I opted for meat rending with steamed rice and a beer or three. The entire bill came to Rp 63,000 (RM 23) and as they still were famous for their cakes (many locals were stopping by to pick up a few boxes of delicious looking confections) I decided to take one back to the hotel for dessert and one for breakfast in the morning which cost just about RM 3 for them both.
They flagged down a taxi for me and arrived back at the hotel a few minutes later to be asked for 3,000. I thought well that was half the meter price on the outward journey so handed over Rp 5,000 thinking this guy deserved a tip of the change only to be met with a confounded look. He called over the doorman of the hotel to translate and it turned out he wanted Rp 30,000! I told them that the meter reading on the outward journey had been Rp 6,000 and that there had been a minimum fare of Rp 25,000 and told the driver to take Rp 25,000 and be happy and left him to it!!
Went to my room, watched a movie and then slept.
Awoke before the alarm, got ready to leave and then checked on the shuttle bus. The driver wasn’t there and they didn’t know what time he would be back. I went down, checked out and during this process the bus arrived and I promptly joined it and went straight to the airport.
On arrival at the departure hall it was all a little chaotic but found my Air Asia check-in counter and queued up to go into immigration to be met at the door by an official who informed I had to go back and pay for an exit visa/tax. I then went to one counter where the stamped my boarding ticket and then went to another counter to pay for my exit tax (Rp 75,000) and then went back to the first desk that had stamped me and then back to the queue for immigration.
Now the immigration hall was over flowing and I only had 1 hour for the flight – I began to sweat whether or not I would be late. The queue moved quickly and within 15 minutes was through. Very little signage, no screens to let you know flight information and no idea where to go. So, if in doubt follow the crowd! From immigration go around to the left, up the stairs and then through baggage checks into the final waiting area.
Still no screens, no clocks and no idea when the flight was to be called. After waiting until ten minutes before my flight and not hearing any announcements on my flight I approached the Air Asia staff and asked about my flight to be told they were not sure but thought it had been delayed by 30 minutes.
I needed the toilet and had to go back through baggage control to find one and then afterwards back through baggage control for a third time to get back into the waiting room.
The flight was eventually delayed by one hour and not one single announcement to inform passengers of this delay until the flight was eventually called. No apology for the delay or anything. My advice is to make sure you take a good book with you or it could be a very boring wait.
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