Monday, May 7, 2012

Medan - Sumatra (Indonesia)

My tolerance with Singapore has been on a downslide right since i stepped in this city country. And, with the current pace of depreciation, I would say, the day is not far when i would spend every non-working day outside this 'Disneyland' (Singapore lovers, Sorry !)

Back to Medan. This was a spontaneous Friday evening decision. Twelve hours before departure, I didn't have air tickets, reservations, a plan of to-dos. Nothing at all. Just booked the tickets and left everything else to unfold in due course. Just made sure i carried a copy of wiki travel guide on Medan - Wiki travel has been my savior on most of my trips.

Also, I seem to be graduating from 'travel for hiking' to 'travel for exploring'. The last two trips have been exploratory trips with no hiking at all - this is a new emerging trend !! Just plain backpacking budget trips...

This was my first trip to Indonesia where I was on my own instincts. All my previous trips were with a friend in Jakarta who knew 'Bahasa' - the language spoken in Indonesia. And, all of those earlier ones were hiking trips.

So, I landed at the Medan airport on time. Two days in hand and no itinerary... I didn't want to take a cab so walked out of the terminal. Negotiated with a becak driver (Pronounced as 'Bechak') for 20,000 IDR and asked to be dropped at the Grand Mosque, which was at the center of Medan. Later, i realized that i could have had that ride for 15,000, maybe even 10,000 if i had known Bahasa. It has been a while since i have negotiated in a place where i don't know the local language. Nevertheless, that was a good first step.

'Becak' - Motorbike with a carriage
I was offered everything from accommodation to girls to Marijuana right in the becak. I politely refused to all of it but apparently these guys have a good network. Well, that was quite liberal for an Islamist nation! So, if you happen to need to any of those mentioned above - give the becak driver a shot ! 'Stay away from drugs' is my simple advice - All South Asian countries have zero tolerance to drugs.

I was dropped at Angel Hotel which is mentioned in Wiki travel. It is a decent place for backpackers - Almost all guests were Caucasians. Got a single room for 60,000 IDR per night. Plain basic bed with an attached bath - Was a bit smelly though ! But, you get what you pay for. If you happen to stay longer, i would recommend staying at a better place. I just wanted a bed to crash at night - so, it was fine with me.

Headed into the city right after checking in. The Grand Mosque (Mesjid Raya) was right next to this hotel. Religious places don't appeal to me so didn't bother to go in. Went out exploring Medan on foot. I always believe that the best way to experience a city is on foot, provided you have time.

Medan seemed so familiar to me. Orderless, chaotic, noisy but full of life. People are nice and so are the becak drivers. It is like any other Tier II city in India, where i have spent almost my entire life till now.
I actually managed to have a mini conversation at a 'Chai ka tapri' (Tea stall) - Some of them are able to communicate in broken English.

After walking throughout the afternoon, I decided to indulge myself at De'Spa. Spent almost the whole afternoon there. It is a good place - Had a 2.5hr rejuvenating session for about 200,000 IDR. Felt really fresh as i came out. Just to warn you, this is NOT one of 'those' massage parlors !! If you would like more information on 'those', we can take it offline...

At about seven, I left for MC&P (Medan Club and Pub), which is supposedly the best place for expats. The Club was reserved for a private party and entry was by invitation only.

However, i noticed something peculiar. There was about a stretch of one km filled with flower greetings for somebody's wedding at the club. Could be a way of 'Medan'ians' showing affection or could be a way of projecting social status. Either ways, I enjoyed the colorful walk.

The next best club was 'The Tavern' at Dhana Toba complex. Took a becak - reached there by eight. Closed !! It opens at 10 - I had no intention of getting sloshed in a foreign country. Went to the cafe at Dhana Toba complex, had Ayam Rendang. It is a spicy chicken dish with steamed rice - a local Indonesian meal. Being an 'Iyer', there is no way i could have skipped a spicy chicken dish !!

Headed straight back to the hotel to catch up with some sleep.

End of day 1...

Day 2 was spent lazily going around aimlessly. Reached Sun plaza for lunch - Spent 3 hours reading Khaled Hosseini's 'The Kite runner' at a cafe. It was getting dark and i could sense thunderstorms in less than 15 mins. Skipped my plan of walking all the way back - took a becak to the hotel. It started pouring just as i entered the hotel ! Had a nice discussion with a Turkish lady who was doing business in India exporting handicrafts to France. We discussed everything from her recently acquired grandmom status to the European crisis to real estate in France to mosquito nets ! Of course, India too was discussed..

The next morning, I had an early flight back to the grind... End of another nice break !

Let's see what's next.

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