Sumatra's major metropolis, and Indonesia's third-largest city, has a bad rep in Southeast Asia backpacker circles and it frequently pops up in 'What's the worst place you've ever visited?' conversations. Question the city’s detractors a little further though and you'll find that most have merely rushed straight through without giving the city any time. It’s true that physical tourist attractions are somewhat lacking, and that, compared to squeaky-clean Malaysia, the pollution, poverty and persistent catcalls of 'Hello mister!' could be an unnerving jolt of dirt-under-your-fingernails Asia. But it would also be fair to say that this is a city with real Indonesian character, something that can be lacking in many of the more popular North Sumatran tourist towns. So get over the culture shock, give Medan a bit of time and discover an amenity-filled, leafy and modern town with more than a hint of crumbling Dutch-colonial charm.
Medan destination guides
Indonesia in Depth—Sumatra, Java, Bali
Get ready to hit the ground running in this 28-day whirlwind tour of Indonesia’s top sights. We mean that literally, too – you’ll stay active as you hike and explore Berastagi, Sipirok, Tangkahan, Bukit Lawang and more. Recharge with street food crawls and coffee plantation tours, and take the time to get up close and personal with orangutans and elephants.
Indonesia is a busy place, and not just because it’s one of the most densely-populated places on Earth. Blessed with rich jungles, imposing volcanoes and mile upon mile of gorgeous beachfront, it’s not surprising that 135 million people live here full-time.