Things to do in Medan, Indonesia on a budget
When Singaporeans think of travelling to Indonesia, the 3 Bs – Bintan, Batam and Bali – are first to come to mind. Yet this large archipelago has so much more to offer, and Medan is just one of the many cities waiting to be explored.
Upon landing in Medan after a 1.5 hour flight, I was immediately taken aback by the multitude of people and jam-packed roads. This all changed as we began our long drive out of the city, where vast palm plantations and rolling hills became the common sight surrounding us.
I fell in love with Medan after 3 days, and here are the key highlights of our trip.
This article is part of The $100 Nomad series, where we explore 10 cities for Singaporeans who are time-strapped and on a budget. These 3D2N itineraries cover lodging, meals and activities but do not include flights and transportation.
1. Watch the sunrise from the peak of a volcano
If you’re someone who loves watching the sunrise, climb up Mount Sibayak at the crack of dawn. This is one of the most rewarding treks and suitable for everyone, even if walking to the MRT constitutes majority of your daily exercise. It only takes 1.5 hours to reach the peak from Berastagi.
We opted for a guided trek for safety reasons, which cost Rp 150,000 (~S$14) per person. Those on a tight budget and more garang can choose to hike without a guide for absolutely free.
Note: camping options are also available on weekends. Our local guide shared that you can rent tents with prices starting from Rp 150,000 (~S$14) for small tents that fit up to 2 people.
2. Relax at over 300 hot springs with entry from 50 cents
There’s no better way to conclude a tiring trek than to soak in a natural hot spring, with over 300 of such pools available in Berastagi. You can be assured to find one to your liking – from pools with relaxing views of Mount Sibayak to those with water slides for families with young children.
Entrance fees range from Rp 6,000 – Rp 15,000 (S$0.50 – S$1.50). But what remains constant and a must-try is the sulphur powder spa, which comes in no-frills ziplock bags. Mixed in with water, this gentle treatment is effective for people with acne problems. But be careful to keep the sulphur away from your eyes!
Note: Bring your own swim attire, as the hot springs in Indonesia aren’t like the nude ones in Japan. They do have basic shower facilities but you’ll need to pack your own towel and toiletries.
3. Trek to the foot of Sipiso-Piso Waterfall
There are hundreds of waterfalls in Indonesia, but Sipiso-Piso is the tallest of them all, standing at 200 metres. Its name literally means “cuts like a blade” – describing the impact of the falls as the water crashes onto the ground.
Making it the foot of the falls is akin to entering the eye of a storm. As we trudged on through slippery rocks and strong winds, we experienced the true magnitude of the giant waterfall. Before we could back out, we were drenched from top to toe but it was surprisingly revitalising!
Of course, getting wet isn’t for everyone. Luckily there are rest stops selling food and drinks along the way for those who prefer to enjoy the view in comfort.
Tip: wear wet sandals with good grip, as it can get muddy and slippery near the falls.
4. Get durian from just $4 at Ucok Durian
Ucok Durian is famous for it’s tagline – “You’ve not been to Medan if you’ve not tried Ucok Durian”.
Visiting this 24-hour durian joint in Medan City was the perfect way to end our trip on a high. Durian lovers will be pleased to know that prices start from only Rp 40,000 (S$4) for one durian and quality is superb. We actually managed to make two non-durian lovers appreciate durian here!
If you don’t like the taste of your durian, the shop has a policy to change it for another without incurring any extra charges. What more can we ask for?
Address: Jl. K.H. Wahid Hasyim No.30-32, Babura, Medan Baru, Kota Medan, Sumatera Utara, Indonesia
Opening hours: Open 24 hours
Contact: +62 813 7506 1919
5. Stay in a traditional Batak house on Samosir Island for just $25/night
Fun fact: Lake Toba is even larger than Singapore!
Samosir Island is an island in the middle of Lake Toba, the largest volcanic crater lake in the world. While the journey from the city can be long and bumpy – involving a 4-hour drive and 1-hour ferry ride – the beauty of the lake creates a feeling of serenity that makes it all worthwhile.
There are many homestay options available, but we highly recommend staying in a traditional Batak house overlooking the lake. What makes these houses unique, beyond their tiny doors and pointy roofs, is the cosy smell of wood and warm sunrise to greet you in the morning.
Where to stay: Tuk Tuk Timbul Bungalows
Price: Rp 278,000 (~S$25) for a traditional room
Address: Jalan Lingkar Tuk-Tuk, Pulau Samosir, Kabupaten Samosir, Sumatera Utara 22395
Contact: +62 812 6401 1194
Medan – nature’s paradise just 1.5 hours from Singapore
Our time in Medan on a $100 budget – including lodging, food and activities – turned out to be a breeze, proving that you don’t have to spend a bomb to enjoy a great holiday. The city exceeded all expectations, from friendly locals, to cheap street food and breathtaking views of nature.
Watch our full adventure on Toggle here!
If you’ve been convinced to make the trip to Medan yourself, stay connected with Klook’s pocket WiFi device which works throughout Indonesia. The process is fuss-free, with device pick-up in Singapore so you can avoid the slow WiFi at the airport when you land. At only S$6/day, the pocket WiFi can connect to a maximum of five devices at once and is perfect for groups.