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Medan is the fourth largest city in Indonesia after Jakarta, Surabaya and Bandung. With a population of about two million people it is the largest city outside of Java. There is no single ethnic group forming a majority; the largest ethnic groups are the Chinese, Javanese, Toba-Batak, Minangkabau, Mandailing Batak, Karo Batak, Southern Indians, and Northern Indians, and there are many more ethnic minorities.

Travel Medan
Historic places along the Deli

Medan can be used as starting point for a number of excursions in the refgion. The main roads in the area are in pretty good condition, but the surface of the secondary roads (kabupaten) are kind of rough. Travellers which intend to leave the paved roads, can best rent a jeep. Travel agencies in Medan take care of organised daytrips with car and guide.
Old Deli

Delu Tua or Old Deli (also known ar Benteng Puteri Hijau, the fortress of the green princess) is the location of the former royal court of Aro. It gives a view over the western banks of the Deli river (Lau Petani), and is about ten kilometres upstrem from Medan, across Pasar Deli Tua. Start at the Maimoon Palace (Jl. Brigjen. Katomso) and go south towards Namorambe. Meanwhile there can be stopped at Kampung Baru (a nice example of colonial architecture) near the reseach centre of the Sumatran Planters Association (RISPA) and at Taman Margaswata, the zoo of Medan.

Just before Deli Tua, a small road towards the right over the river, further south some paths towards the defending walls with a view over the river Deli. On one of the walls is the modern Karo village of Deli Tua Lama, on the other tapioca is being grown. This once was the headquarters of the pirate king of Aru, which attacked Malakka at the turn of the 15th-16th century. However the Portuguese helped them, Deli Tua was destroyed by the Acehnese in 1536.

Following one version of the story it were the Acehnese which fired their cannons with golden coins (dirham), towards the fortification of bamboo (pagar). Next they retreated, and when the Aru came out to cut out the golden coins from the bamboo, the Acehnese attacked and won the battle.
Belawan and Kota Cina

At the other side of Medan is Belawan Deli, the second largest port of Indonesia, at the mouth of the river Beli and Belawan, in the middle of the mangroves. In the recent decennia big cargo- and passenger terminals were built, as well as storage places for palm oil for export. Here also is the gigantic Ivomas palmoil refinery and chemical plant, and very near is the archeological spot of Kota Cina.

Belawan is about 25 km north of the city. The biggest part of Medans new industrial developments is situated along the old Belawan road, which was built in the 19th century and follows the river Deli. The road guides you through Pulau Brayan (the Tanjung Mulia area), earlier known as Kota Java, where a burial site on the left site of the road contains remains of a 14th century soil wall, and on top of that remains of Kota Bangun and Labuhan, the first harbour of Medan.

Nowadays Labuhan only is an old street with some wooden houses, where the road and the time passes. The opening of the toll road Belawan-Medan-Tanjung Muara east of the old road caused heavy traffic to go over the toll road, and not through the centre of Labuhan. The name originates from or the name of a tree which is found here (terminalia citrina, Roxb.) or from the Karo dusun-word erbulawan, which means as much as making an agreement under oath.

Belawan does have a number of good sea food restaurants and on the big markets modern Chinese pottery can be bought. There are passenger connections with Jakarta, Bintan (across Singapore), Padang and Penang. Bamboo fishing traps are along the canal towards sea and long gangways take you to many Malay pile dwellings above the water.

A South Indian and Chinese trading post was located in the nearby Kota Cina from the 11th to the 14th century, with Paya Pasir as bordering harbour. Take the old Belawan road, turn right at Titipapan aftetr 16 km, passing the prison on the left and over the river Deli, then follow the road to Hampenanperak for two kilometres and then turn right onto a path leading to Rengaspulau and Kota Cina. The waiter who lives besides the primary school is usually there.

Hints suggest that Kota Cina used to be a very important location in a network of regional and international trading routes. It connected far-away places as Java, Southern China, Sri Lanka, India and the Persian Gulf. At Paya Pasir, the sand-extraction for the new toll road, have also encountered dozend of old ships, with a Southeast Asian look.

Too bad most of this historic harbour is lost by commercial exploitation of sand and only small research and excavations could be done. Statues of Buddha and Vaisnavite from a buddhist asrama of masonry and other objects from Kota Cina are now displayed in the Provincial Museum of Northen Sumatra in Medan.

Bukit Lawang (Bohorok)

Bukit Lawang, the Orang Hutan centre, is founded in 1973 and is about 76 km or three hours driving west of Medan. Six kilometres out the city a stop can be made at a crocodile farm in Sunggal, the biggest in Indonesia with about 1500 reptiles. From here the road leads via Binjai to the village of Belarang, which is well-known for it's juicy and grapefruit-like jeruk bali, and head on towards Kuala, starting point of Sumatra's railroad system. The route takes you through big rubber- and oilpalm-plantations, which are pushed away from the scenery because of the ever expanding construction.
Bohorok used to be the seat under Malay influence of Kejuran Langkat, and formed the upper border of the Malay cultural influence on the river Wampu. The Langkat Ulu-area (upper Langkat) mainly is a Karo dusun-area, with a big number of Javanese inhabitants with originally worked on the plantations. The last piece along the river Bohoro towards Bukit Lawang (nine kilometres) shows you beautiful sawahs. In Bukit Lawang there are simple bamboo houses for those who want to spend the night at the edge of the forest.

However it's not high around here, about 90 metres, the nights can be rather cool. In the season the very nice durians and rambutans are for sale. In the immediate environment are the limestone caves, with around Bohorok a coal-containing formation. Travellers who want to do something nice can go to Pintu Angin (Gate of the wind), a hole in the limestone walls near the village of Batukatak, about 5 kilometres upstream from Bohorok. In the neighborhood also is an underground river.

Last revised on December 17, 2011
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