The great island of Sumatra the third largest in the archipelago and fifth largest in the world (roughly the size of California or Sweden), is Indonesia’s most important territory. In just about every way, strategically, economically and politically, Sumatra has always formed a pivotal “backbone” for the nation. Second among the major islands in population numbers but first in exports (principally oil, natural gas, rubber, tin and palm oil, but also tobacco, tea, coffee and timber), it stands at the crossroads of Asia.
Like Java, Sumatra is formed by a longitudinal range of mountains, a double fold in the earth’s crust with a central trough through which towering volcanoes have thrust upwards. This so-called Bukit Barisan Range extends for about 1,600 kms (1000 miles) in a northwest-southeasterly direction rising at several points above 300 meters (1000 feet). There are about 90 volcanoes in this range, 15 of which are active, but unlike those in Java and Bali they frequently deposit material of an acidic nature which does not improve the fertility of the surrounding soils.
The majority of Sumatrans live in the long range of undulating foothills, plateaus, river basins and highland lakes along the island’s spine, where they make a living as subsistence cultivators. Two major ethnic groups the Minangkabau and the Bataks, and a number of minor ones (the Gayo, Alas, Kubu, Kerinci, Rejang, Lampung and others) can be identified. The Minangkabau are settled people who are related to the Malay of the east Sumatran coast and are thought to be descended from an inland. The other great highland people of Sumatra, the Bataks, inhabit a fertile volcanic plateau, roughly oval in shape, that covers much of the northern central Sumatra.
The island of Sumatra was once covered in dense rainforest and inhabited by many exotic Asian animals (elephants, tigers, rhinos, gibbons, orangutans, mouse deer, tapir, flying foxes), unfortunately the flora and fauna of Sumatra has decreased in recent years as land has been altered from tropical rain forest to agricultural land.
Medan is the capital of North Sumatra Province, a trading center and important harbor. Once part of the Deli Sultanate, The Masjid Besar (Grand Mosque) and the Palace of the Sultan Deli have been restored there past grandeur. Medan Harbor, Belawan, is the sea link to Penang, Malaysia. Regular flights to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Amsterdam, Vienna, and Jakarta are available, as well as destinations in Sumatra.
North Sumatra, Indonesia’s most populous province outside of Java, stretches from the Indian Ocean in the West to the Strait of Malaka in the East, and from Aceh in the North to West Sumatra in the South. It is thick with virgin rain forest, jungle-covered hills, terraced rice fields, mountain rivers, beautiful waterfalls, volcanic lakes and peaceful white beaches.
The people of the region can be divided into five main ethnic groups: the Coastal Malays, living along the Malaka Straits, the Bataks, consisting of the sub-tribes around Lake Toba and Samosir Island, the Pesisir along The Indian ocean coast, the Mandailings of Southern Tapanuli, and Nias Islanders of the Western coast of the province. These groups each have their own dialects, religious beliefs, arts, customs and cultures. Several ethnic groups live in Medan and other towns of North Sumatra, the largest of these being Chinese and Indian. Other parts of the Archipelago are represented, notably the Acehnese, Lake Toba Minang Kabau and Javanese.
The diversity of arts and cultures make this region a treasure chest for social scientists and culture seekers. Ancient carved-stone graves of Batak kings, the megalithic culture of Nias, unique dances, ceremonies, arts and crafts are just waiting for you to discover. North Sumatra is also one on the richest provinces in Indonesia for flora and fauna. And of course the jewel of North Sumatra, Lake Toba and the largest inland lake in Southeast Asia. The region also produces more than 30% of Indonesia’s export commodities, making it a vital cog in the Indonesian economy. Tobacco, palm oil, tea and rubber are produced in large quantities, particularly around Medan in the North of the province.
WHERE TO EAT MEDAN
Medan caters for a relatively small audience- Chinese and Indonesian food make up the bulk of food types available, however, the proliferation of the larger luxury hotels has meant that Western food is available.
Getting To Medan
North Sumatra’s provincial capital, Medan, is one of the most prosperous centers of business and commerce on the island. The city is one of the three main international gateways to Indonesia and hence is easily accessible not only from other major points in Indonesia, but in the world.
Daily flights by Garuda Indonesia are available from Jakarta, Palembang, Padang and Aceh. The city is also served by direct flights from Singapore.
Pelni ships, regularly visit Medan’s port Belawan, on the Malacca Strait. The KM Kambuna connects North Sumatra with Surabaya and Ujungpandang, as well as Jakarta.
Buses ply the route between Jakarta and Medan over Palembang, Jambi and Padang. Bus connections are also available with Padang, over Bukittinggi, Pekanbaru and Dumai. The network links the North Sumatra provincial capital with other major cities in Java as well. One of North Sumatra’s biggest tourist attractions is Lake Toba, 176 kilometers southeast of Medan. The second-biggest city is Pematangsiantar, 128 kilometers south of the provincial capital.
Attractions and Activities
Diving at Pandaan Beach
A seaside resort with white sandy beaches and a fishing village 11-km from Sibolga. Pandaan boasts magnificent views of the Indian Ocean and fisherman sailing to the open sea. The restaurant serves great fresh grilled fish.
Climbing – Bohorok
For the adventurous, a trip to Sumateras inland wilderness, crossing rivers and climbing steep, jungle-clad hills is a must. South of the Mount Leuser National Park, the Rehabilitation Center for Orangutan at Bahorok is open to the public.
This picturesque hill town in the Karo Highlands, 70km from Medan, is dominated by two volcanoes: Gunung Sinabung and Gunung Sibayak. At 1300m (4260ft) above sea level, the climate is pleasantly cool and the atmosphere refreshingly relaxed. Travellers come to Berastagi to experience the culture of the Karo Batak people and to go trekking. There are guided treks into the Gunung Leuser National Park and to surrounding volcanoes and attractions.
Lake Toba is the heart of Batak country, the largest lake in Southeast Asia with a surface area of about 1,145 sg. kilometres, and the deepest lake in the world, over 450 meters deep. The town of Parapat is the main tourist resort and lies on the shores of the lake. The Batak Toba and Batak Simalungun peoples of Parapat are happy, easy going people, known for their lively and sentimental love songs. Recreational sports in Parapat include swimming, water-skiing, motor boating, fishing, and golf. The climate is cool and dry, an ideal place to relax. There is a plethora of hotels, bungalows, villas and guesthouses. Parapat is 176 km from Medan and can be reached in 4 hours by bus.