Hi guys, thanks for coming here. Before you read this guide, please note that I am just a private citizen and I am not affiliated or working for any of the attractions or services or tourism boards for any of the places I listed below. This guide is simply a “how-to” that recounts how we plan our holidays; it will not be able to cover all aspects of travel planning.
I appreciate all the comments and feedback; however I’d like you to know that I may not be able to answer certain questions – especially those that are better directed to the theme park operators or the public transport service providers themselves, or even the tourism board. For these, I urge you to click on the links I have provided inside the guide(s) and look for the information you need in there; and if you can’t find them to contact the appropriate customer support personnel to get assistance. I try as much as possible to answer any questions that readers post in here as I know how stressful planning for a holiday can be. However, lots of these questions are repetitive and are already answered in the guide or in the comments section. So, please take the time to read the guide and comments sections first as chances are your enquiries would have been covered in there somewhere.
All information and prices are correct at the time of writing.
This trip was a 3D2N stay planned for a group of 4 adults (all females) and two kids aged 3 and 19 months respectively.
All photos are (c) Cik Lina Bee unless otherwise stated.
How to get there
Firely (fireflyz.com.my), Malysia Airlines and AirAsia fly to Medan (Kuala Namu Airport or KNO). Check their websites to see flight times and prices. We took Firefly; tickets were on sale so we got them for RM49nett one way per person. Super cheap. Firefly flies out of Subang Airport (also known as Skypark Terminal) so it was easy and convenient; it also provodes 20kg luggage allowance so between the four of us we had possible 80kg worth of luggage that we could check-in. Medan being a shopping city, this is very important. The flight takes only about an hour.
Kuala Namu Airport is about an hour from Medan city, the distance is almost similar to KLIA to KL. It is a modern and brand new airport, so it is clean, relatively easy to manouver and it has lots of shops to kill your time if you find yourself stuck at the airport.
There are several ways to get to the city:
a) Railink Express Train
This is the fastest way to get to the city. It takes about 30 mins and you will arrive at the train station right in the middle of the city. A ticket costs Rp80,000 (approx RM22) per person. If you travel in a group of 4, you may get group discount. Ask for it at the ticketing counter (located right at the exit of the airport).
b) Taxi/Private Hire Vehicle (PHV)
Travelling by car takes about 60mins, depending on traffic. Go to the official taxi counters to get one, it will cost you approximately Rp150,000 (RM41). Make sure you get one with meters or coupon, DO NOT take any that haggles the fare with you as these are illegal cabbies. Safety first, folks.
We took a Private Hire Vehicle (PHV), essentially a rented car with driver, which we booked for the entire duration of our stay including airport transfers. Since we have 2 children with us, using PHV is the best option as we don’t have to worry about flagging taxis by the roadside as we travel around Medan.
After checking the price from a few service providers, we decided to go with Yoga Rent A Car (http://www.yogarentalcars.com/) as they responded quickly to all enquiries and the cost was the cheapest for an Avanza + driver + toll/fuel/parking/driver’s meals etc (an Avanza can fit 5 adults + 1 driver comfortably) . The total cost was Rp1,650,000 (RM450 or RM150/day) for a block of 12 hours, so we basically had a driver at our beck and call at all hours. The driver will wait for you at the arrival hall with your name on the placard that he holds, and it’s smooth sailing from there. The driver can also act as your tourist guide at no extra charge but we decided to hire a proper tourist guide for this purpose (see below Day 2).
You can book your car from Yoga Rent A Car online. A deposit is not required; and you pay directly to the driver at the end of his service. The company will provide you with the name and phone number of the driver assigned to you.
There are several buses that can take you to Medan City and other places like Danau Toba etc. Click this link to see available services: http://www.kualanamu-airport.co.id/en/guides/transportation.
I have never taken the bus so cannot share with you the experience.
There are many hotels to choose from that suits all budget. As always, I used www.booking.com for all my hotel needs — it is the best website for hotel bookings, I have been using it for 7 years. Check it out yourself.
I chose Hotel Aryaduta Medan (which is considered a splurge by Medan Travel Guide Wiki). It costs me RM780 for two twin-share rooms for 2 nights, so that worked out to about RM200 per night. The hotel was chosen due to its location and the fact that it is adjacent to a shopping mall (Grand Palladium Mall). The Mall itself is nothing remarkable, but it provided us easy access to cafes, pharmacy and hypermarket — when you travel with kids inevitably you need to go to the pharmacy or hypermart to buy more diapers, milk, lotions and potions, snacks etc. Our room faced the pool, which looked very nice, but our tight schedule meant we were unable to use any of its facilities. There is another more upmarket mall across the street, about 5-7mins walk away, I think it is called Medan Fair Plaza, but we didn’t have time to check it out.
The hotel room was okay, bit small by my standard but clean and modestly designed; the bathroom only has a shower and no bathtub, but its location is superb. As we went to Medan during fasting month, breakfast was replaced with Sahur, and they provided an elaborate-enough buffet spread for the purpose. Usually the hotels that I stay in would provide room service, typically some sort of fried rice, with fruit juice and dessert. But here, it was a proper buffet, you can even order your eggs any way you like. Service was good and efficient; my sister accidentally locked the bathroom door and maintenance came shortly after she called them; housekeeping was good too — the housekeeper even straightened out our groceries. Check in-out was painless; per usual the hotel will swipe your credit card as a deposit at the start of the stay. Here it was Rp500,000 (about RM140) and the balance of the bill was to be settled at the end of the stay. Seriously, I have no complains about this hotel at all. It is not as modern and fancy as I’d like it to be but it more than adequately did its job. One more plus point: free wifi and 100++ tv channels.
We tip the bellboys Rp10,000 (RM3) as and when we need to use them. Since there were 4 of us + 2 kids, we had a lot of stuff! Tipping is not required nor mandatory.
THINGS TO DO IN MEDAN
I will only share with you what we did there. If you have more days to spare, obviously you can do a lot more so feel free to check out other Medan guides for further information.
We arrived at the airport around 12 noon. Pak Mada, our driver, was already waiting at the arrival hall, he could speak both English and Bahasa Indonesia so communications was not a problem. The ride to our hotel took about 1 hour. After checking in, we decided to rest for a while so that the kids could refresh and change diapers/clothes so we asked Pak Mada to come back at 3pm.
The only agenda for Day 1 was to go to Pajak Ikan. Again, you must remember that we went there during fasting month so we got tired easily and had to plan our time in such as a way that we would be back at the hotel for Buka Puasa.
Pajak Ikan is not for the faint-hearted. It reminds me very much of Bugis Street in Singapore, and to some extent the shopping lanes around Masjid Jamek/ Chow Kit/Jalan TAR area. Navigating through Pajak Ikan with two cranky kids was a real test of patience and endurance as we had to carry one of them at all times being that we only brought one stroller. And no, Pajak Ikan was NOT stroller-friendly.
Pajak Ikan opens daily from 9am til about 5pm, so we had about an hour and a half to do our shopping. It is a maze of small, interconnected stalls criss-crossing one another selling fabric, batik, cloth, snacks, souvenirs etc. The good thing was, my group knew what we wanted to buy so we didn’t have to waste time looking for the right shop. We’d just just pop our heads in and asked if they have any Kebaya Nyonya or lycra Telekung (prayer outfit); if they say yes we’d ask to see samples, if they say no we moved on. The people are nice and friendly, and lots of friendly haggling went on. I think as a matter of principle you must always ask for a discount or cheaper price; and you should only start the haggling process if you have real intentions to buy. If not, that’s just plain rude of you. There will be a lot of hangers on who will follow you around to persuade you to buy key chains, t-shirts and other trinkets. Just politely smile and say no if you don’t want to buy anything from them. They won’t quit though so just be patient with the situation.
We went to about 4-5 shops, using our judgement by the kind of items they put on display to decide whether we want to pop in or otherwise. Eventually we made our purchases at three different shops — sorry I can’t describe them to you as these shops have no names and there is no way I am able to pinpoint its exact location — lots of fabric for baju kurung and Kebaya Nyonya (for me!). The individual pieces cost between Rp100,000 (RM30) to Rp350,000 (about RM100). They are about 60-70% cheaper than what to could find in Malaysia, and the selection is much wider too. All the colours and gemstones and crocheting in the world.
At the other shop we bought telekung: travel-sized ones at Rp50,000 each (RM15), colourful cotton ones called Telekung Bali, I have no idea why it is called that way, which was about Rp150,000 each (RM41) and elaborately-embroidered one that you usually see people use as hantaran kahwin (wedding gifts) at Rp280,000 (RM77). CONSIDERABLY CHEAPER than what these would cost in Malaysia. All of them come with individual bags so they make nice gifts for people back home.
Lastly we went to a batik shop (actually we went there the next day) where we bought an assortment of cheap and expensive kain batik and pelekat. Prices start from Rp25,000 to Rp250,000 (RM7-RM70) per piece. My sister also bought 2 tailor-made batik shirts for her husband and our father, I can’t remember how much but I think it was about RM80 each. As they were handmade, they looked very nice. All in all, it was a good spree.
Now, 2 hours is not enough to spend in Pajak Ikan. We basically managed to cover just a short distance within one lane; ynot even 1/10 of what Pajak Ikan has to offer.
We had wanted to buka puasa at a famous padang restaurant called Garuda, but decided to go back to our hotel and risk it at the cafe called City, which is essentially an ice cream parlour, in Grand Palladium Mall instead. Nice food but not memorable; but the kids love love love the waffle cakes so that was a plus.
Later that night we decided to roam Grand Palladium Mall; and then go to the hypermarket to buy groceries. My sisters discovered that Hada Labo (the Japanese skincare range) was sold at almost 50% cheaper that they are in Malaysia so they spent a lot of time in the pharmacy browsing for it. They bought some daywear for the kids and blouses and dresses for themselves. Yes, cheaper than Malaysia too, or else they would not have bought them.
Day 2 started at 1030am. I had arranged for a private tour guide to assist us during this portion of the holiday. His name is Fauzi, you can get in touch with him here http://bit.ly/TYzDeM. He is very nice and knowledgeable, a half-day Medan City Tour cost Rp350,000 not inclusive of meals and entrance fees (about RM100). I highly recommend him, you can also arrange your transportation with him if you’d like. In our case, since we have hired a private car, Fauzi simply came to the hotel and hopped in.
We visited the following:
1) Shri Mariamman (Tamil Hindu Temple)
2) Istana Maimun (where we rented costumes and posed for photos in front for the throne for Rp30,000 ie RM10)
3) Masjid Raya Mosque (grand mosque. p/s: they will loan you a headscarf and kain batik if you are not properly attired); and
4) Tjong A Fie Mansion
You can read detailed tours about these places elsewhere. But personally for me the visit to Tjong A Fie mansion is a must; the story behind it fascinated me so much and the architecture is amazing. You must see it to believe it. I regret not buying a copy of Memories of a Nyonya by Queeny Chang, Tjong A Fie’s daughter while I was there. I intend to buy a copy of it online later or check out Kinokuniya in KLCC to see if they carry it.
For other tour options, you can browse here: Medan Holidays.
Again, you must remember that we travel with little kids, so while we originally intended to go shop at Centrepoint (the latest shopping mall in Medan) after the tour was over, we decided to skip this and went to Jalan Majapahit instead to buy some Medan goodies to bring home. Fauzi and Pak Mada took us to Zulaikha, apparently one of the best baker of the local delicacy known as Bika Ambon — which is essentially honeycomb cake made with tapioca flour and comes in a variety of flavours like original, pandan, banana, durian, cheese and chocolate. While there, we also picked up some Lapis Legit (spiced layer cake) and cheese brownies; the sisters also bought some pisang salai with cheese (cured, banana slices which are fried in batter and then smothered with grated cheese — it’s an acquired taste) and passionfruit juices. The price for Bika Ambon and other types of cakes starts at Rp80,000 per box (RM22), while pisang salai goes for Rp20,000 per packet (RM6).
How to make Bika Ambon at home
We went back to the hotel to rest and refresh and went out again at 4pm (this was when we went to Pajak Ikan again to buy the kain pelekat and batik). We had intended to buka puasa at Restoran Tip Top, one of the landmark restaurants in Medan made famous by its handmade ice cream. But Pak Mada convinced us to go to Garuda (the restaurant that we wanted to go to the day before) and since all of us love nasi padang/minang food, we readily agreed.
Garuda is very nice (not the one near Pajak Ikan, we went to the big one on Jalan Pattimura); you can check out the website and menu here http://www.restorangaruda.com/
Buka puasa set us back about Rp571,000 (RM160) or about RM40 per person. Well worth it. Go try.
Our flight was at 12pm so we didn’t have much time to spare. After checking out at 8am, we went to the airport and walked around to shop (we reached there at 9am, fed the kids, then checked-in at 10am; which left us with about 1 hour to kill before we have to board). There are some decent brands like Swatch, Cotton On, Kipling; the usual suspects are also there like Starbucks, Rotiboy, A&W, Dunkin’ Donuts, bookstores etc so you won’t be bored. Lots of money changers there too, so if you need to exchange some money for airport tax ie Rp200,00/pac (RM55), go there before you check in. Souvenirs here are a lot more expensive than Pajak Ikan, obviously.
For more information about Kuala Namu airport, go to http://www.kualanamu-airport.co.id/
Wifi is easily and readily available everywhere. Free wifi was provided at Kuala Namu airport and throughout the hotel. I decided NOT to get a sim card and used my local maxis number; then purchased the daily data plan pass at RM38 for all my internet needs. This pass expires at 12 midnight every day so if you reach Medan very late, no point in getting it. The best and cheapest way, especially for extended stays, is to buy a local Telkomsel prepaid card as it comes with voice and data plan. The starter pack costs Rp75,000 (around RM20). You can read more about it here: http://abt.cm/VzxWWh
All in all, I spent about RM1,000 for the trip to Medan (including flight tix, hotel, food, car + driver and shopping). It is a very affordable shopping city for those who like quick getaways. You can include little treats like going to the spa, hanging out in speciality coffee shops (I hear Otten Coffee is good), go to theme parks or eco-parks or go to out-of-city locations like Berastagi and Danau Toba if you have the time.
I will be going to Medan quite frequently for work, but I don’t know if I will go again to shop. It is a charming little city; but personally for me my shopping city of choice is still Singapore. It is a very nice trip though, I enjoyed it and so did the rest in my group.