Madness in Medan

Trip Start Apr 10, 2005
Trip End Dec 09, 2006

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Friday, September 29, 2006

After being rained on for 2 days in Khao Sok we headed back to Surat Thani to catch the sleeper train down to Malaysia. We arrived at the station at around 1pm to be told that the train was at 00:51, only 12 hours to wait then! There is absolutely nothing to do in Surat Thani, so for a couple of quid we checked in to a guesthouse, well it was more like a prison cell but it meant we could dump our bags and have a kip. Our train didn't end up coming till 2am but at least we were able to jump straight in to bed. We had a smoother border crossing this time, no dodgy men or parcels!

We ended up spending a night in Penang, Malaysia before jumping on the boat to Sumatra in Indonesia. The journey was 5 hours of hell! The sea was really rough and almost everybody on the boat was sick, except for Matt, although even he went a shade of green at one point. It felt like the journey was never going to end, we almost jumped for joy when we saw land! We have vowed never to put ourselves through that again and will be flying out of Indonesia.

On arrival at Belawan port, we were escorted straight through the crowd to the customs desk to buy our visas, then escorted through the x-ray machine and straight on to a bus to Medan, now that's service! We were the only Westerners on the bus and it wasn't long before a tout spotted and 'homed' in on us. According to him the losmen (guesthouse) we had wanted to stay in wasn't safe, even though it was recommended in the Lonely Planet and that he knew a much safer one. He offered to take us there, so for the convenience thought there was no harm in looking. No surprises he took us to the most expensive in town and it was rubbish. We were too drained at this point to even try and get to another losmen, so we just stayed - one night only. Just to give you an idea of the standard, the bathroom consisted of a big bucket with which we had to wash from, no sink or shower, the bed sheets had cigarette holes in them and the walls were covered with splattered mosquitoes!!

Medan was mental!!! Walking just 5 minutes from our guesthouse was enough to make our heads throb. We will never complain about the traffic in London again after witnessing the jams that clogged Medan's streets, it is literally bumper to bumper anywhere you go, any time of day. Things aren't much easier for pedestrians either with no proper pavements and death defying crossings! We were instantly hit with the pollution, it was hard not to breathe anything but carbon monoxide in, probably not helped by the burning piles of rubbish on the street. We were certainly an attraction to the locals and were shouted out from all directions, "hello mister" or "how are you". We just smiled and waved. We managed to get roped in by a moto driver (Herman) who insisted on taking us to a place for dinner, as a friend he said but we knew he'd want money. We were starving at this point. He whizzed us across town squashed in to the little side car attached to his motorbike and gave us a mini tour of Medan, not that there's actually much there. He took us past some huge mansions saying that Chinese lived there and he actually believed that everyone in Europe lived in houses like that!! If anything Medan was a good eye opener, you can't enjoy every place you visit.

Herman ended up dropping us back to the guesthouse after dinner and made a huge point about what a favour he had done us. He had done us a favour to be fair, as I think we would have lost the plot walking along the streets of Medan and we were happy to give him some money. He wouldn't give us a price and said we could pay him what we wanted but when we handed over the money the cheeky sod complained that it wasn't enough and got really annoyed with us! And I thought we were friends Herman he he! We should know by now to always agree a price first and to watch out for con men.

The Indonesian money is going to take some getting used to, they have notes worth 5,000; 10,000; 20,000; 50,000 Rupiah and 1 is equal to about 17,200 Rupiah. We're struggling to even shut Matt's wallet at the moment from all the notes squashed inside!!
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