Sunday, February 23, 2014

Indonesia: Eating in Medan

Masakan Padang in Medan, Indonesia
Medan, Indonesia is know among locals for its food because of the many different cuisines available there. Among the ethnic groups represented in Medan are the Malay, Acehnese, Javanese, Batak, Minangkabau (Padang/West Sumatra), Chinese, Southern Indians and Northern Indians among others, each with their own unique cuisine. So although not as popular as other Indonesian tourism destinations, Medan is one great place for food tourism. Here are some of the dishes I got to try during my tip to Medan. And it's definitely just the tip of the iceberg.

Ikan Bakar Padang in Medan, Indonesia
You will find many Masakan Padang at Padang-style eateries and restaurants, with Nasi Padang dishes on display on high stacked-plates in glass-covered food carts or restaurant windows. Padang is capital of the neighboring province of West Sumatra (Sumatera Barat). A popular dish they serve is Ikan Bakar, a generic term for grilled fish or seafood, which can be prepared in many ways and various flavors. At the restaurant I had lunch at, you could order on for take-away, with rice, vegetables and sauces, packed in a banana leaf and brown paper.

Ayam Goreng Padang in Medan, Indonesia
For lunch, it was Ayam Goreng, a generic term for chicken deep-fried in coconut oil. But Padang-style Ayam Goreng has spicy granules. It's served with vegetables, rice, sambal belacan (chili) and tempe goreng (chips). I opted to add deep-fried tahu (tofu) with chili sauce to complete my lunch.

Beef Rendang in Medan, Indonesia
In Parapat, I had more Padang dishes including Beef Rendang, beef chunks stewed in coconut milk and chili gravy until dry. With it, I had Telur Dudur Padang (Padang-style omelette) and Daun Singkong (cassava leaves in soup.

Sate Matang Aceh in Medan, Indonesia
Sate Matang Aceh in Medan, Indonesia
Back in Medan, I was craving for satay. Too bad the stall beside my hotel selling Sate Padang (in thick yellow sauce) was closed that day. So I got introduced to Acehnese cuisine through Sate Matang, served with peanut sauce.

Martabak Telur in Medan, Indonesia
Martabak Telur in Medan, Indonesia
With it, I had Martabak Telur (savory egg pancake) topped with pickled onions and chili. For dessert, I had Roti Cane, a sweet version of Roti Canai served with sugar on top instead of curry on the side.

Mie Aceh in Medan, Indonesia
The next day, I tried the Mie Aceh (spicy Aceh-style fried egg noodles) at another stall near the hotel.

Durian in Ucok Durian, Medan, Indonesia
Of course, because North Sumatra has a lot of durian plantations, you have to try the durian! Beside my hotel is Ucok Durian, a popular durian supplier which is open 24/7!

But then again, those were just a few dishes. And there were thousands of others to choose from! So take your pick and food trip in Medan, Indonesia if you get the chance. Here are some helpful tips about Medan and its attractions if you do decide to visit.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Indonesia: What to see in Medan & North Sumatra

So I decided to fly to Medan to cross out Sumatra from my list of places to visit. Medan is the capital of North Sumatra (Sumatera Utara). The main attraction of North Sumatra is Lake Toba, a five-hour land trip from Medan. But the city has some interesting heritage buildings and is a melting pot of different cuisines making it a very popular food tourism destination.

Bus to Medan from Kualanamu International Airport (KNO)
The new Kualanamu International Airport is about 40 kilometers from Medan. There are many ways to get to Medan from the airport. The cheapest way is by taking the Damri Airport Bus which costs Rp10,000 to the Amplas Terminal (which is far from the city center) and Rp15,000 to the downtown area.

From Amplas, you can take an angkot (public minivan) to the downtown area, about Rp6,000. Angkots have route numbers on them. So make sure to ask your hotel what angkot number to take from Amplas and where to get off. Note though that it can get really tight and uncomfortable. So it's not a good idea if you have lots of luggage. Buses out of Medan also leave from Amplas. So if you are going to Lake Toba, you can take a bus to Parapat directly from Amplas.

If you take the Damri bus all the way to the downtown area, find out which stop is closest to your hotel. You can hire a becak (trishaw); but knowing you just came from the airport, they'll try to charge you as much as they can. But it shouldn't cost more than Rp15,000 to Rp20,000.

The fastest way from Kualanamu to Medan is by train. It will take about 45 minutes and costs Rp80,000. That will depend of course if there is a train leaving when you exit the airport (wait is between 1 to 2 hours between trips). The most convenient way is of course by taxi. But that will set you back by at least Rp150,000.

What to see in Medan
Unfortunately, most people you'll encounter in Medan don't speak English. So it's quite difficult to communicate. A Bahasa Indonesia phrasebook may come in handy. Since there are just a few attractions in the city, getting around can be easy if you know what angkut number passes by them. You can also haggle with a becak to take you to them (difficult to bargain with them though if you can't speak the language since they know you are a tourist) or take a Blue Bird taxi for comfort.

The major attractions are the Masjid Raya Al-Mashun and Istana Maimun (Maimun Palace). Masjid Raya Al-Mashun is definitely a landmark of Medan and the largest mosque in North Sumatra. It was built by Sultan Makmun Al Rasyid from 1906 to 1909. Designed by Dutch architects (initially by van Erp; but work was continued by A.J. Dingemans), many of the materials were imported including chandeliers from France, tiles from Italy and stained glass windows from China.

The main dome has an octagonal floor plan. There are four domed wings attached to the main building and four arched hallways connecting the wings. Architectural influences from both Europe and the Middle East are evident.

Outside the mosque is a cemetery where many members of the royal family are buried. A minaret stands proudly in one corner of the property, where calls to prayer echo from loud speakers attached to the top.

Note that shorts are not allowed inside the mosque. You will be asked to wear a sarong. Mandatory contributions for visitors are requested when you register at the gate, usually between Rp5,000 to Rp20,000. And you will also be asked to contribute to the shoe deposit when you take off your shoes or slippers as you enter the main building.

The Istana Maimun (Maimoon Palace) was the royal palace of the Sultanate of Deli and built by Sultan Makmun Al Rasyid (Tuangku Ma'moen Al Rasyid) in 1888. Just like the mosque, the mix of architectural styles (Malay, Dutch, Turkish, Spanish, etc.) is very evident.

Although the current sultan no longer wields political power, he still lives in the palace. But visitors are allowed to explore the throne room. There's a Rp5,000 fee to enter. Inside, you can also dress like the sultan and the royal family. Rental fee for the baju is Rp10,000.

Another attraction I got to visit is the Kuil Shri Mariamman (Shri Mariamman Temple), a Hindu temple built in 1884. One heritage landmark I missed was the Tjong A Fie Mansion which has many similarities to Penang's Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion.

Now time to find out what to eat in Medan, Indonesia!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Extended MRT-3 operating hours beginning Monday

Extended MRT-3 operating hours will be tested by the DOTC and MRT-3 for one month beginning on Monday, February 24, 2014 to give further traffic-mitigating options to the public, according to DOTC spokesperson Dir. Michael Arthur Sagcal.

"From February 24 to March 7, [MRT-3] will start at 4:30 a.m. (from the North Ave. station) and 5:00 a.m. (from the Taft Ave. station), instead of 5:30 a.m. for both. From March 10 to 21, the last trips will run at 10:30 p.m. (from North Ave.) and 11:00 p.m. (from Taft) instead of 10:30 p.m., in addition to the earlier start of operations.

"The one-month testing period will allow [DOTC] to see whether commuters are willing to change their riding habits to earlier and later trips, and whether motorists will prefer to take the train over their cars. [DOTC] will also be able to assess its impact on nightly maintenance hours and operational costs for long-term sustainability."

PNR Special Coach from Sta. Rosa, Laguna to Tutuban, Manila
Another traffic-mitigating measure that the DOTC is rolling out is a PNR Special Coach service from Santa Rosa, Laguna to Tutuban, Manila. This will provide an alternative to those affected by the construction of the Skyway Stage 3 and NAIA Expressway, especially for motorists and commuters coming from the southern part of Metro Manila and Laguna.

According to Dir. Sagcal, "On March 3, the PNR will launch a Special Coach service, which will ply the Tutuban, Manila to Sta. Rosa, Laguna commuter rail line. These air-conditioned Special Coaches will have fixed seating, on-board comfort rooms, reclining seats, and a lounge area. Up to 120 people can take [the service] per trip.

"The Special Coach service will leave the Tutuban Station at 5:47 a.m. and 4:17 p.m.; and will leave the Sta. Rosa station at 8:00 a.m. and 6:08 p.m. daily. To get to the Buendia station in Makati, it takes 31 minutes from Tutuban, and 1 hour and 15 minutes from Sta. Rosa.

"Minimum fare is P60.00, which is good for the first 32 kilometers. For those traveling beyond this distance (the entire length of the commuter line is 48 kilometers), the fare is P90.00.

"More Special Coach trips may be added, depending on ridership demand. The PNR will also extend the operations its regular commuter line service, from the current 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., to the extended hours of 4 a.m. to 8 p.m."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Thailand: Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang, Thailand
Wat Phra That Lampang Luang or the Temple of Lampang's Great Budhha Relic is a Lanna-stlye Buddhist temple in Lampang, Thailand. From Sukhothai, we proceeded by land to Chiang Mai, making a brief stop at this revered temple in Lampang. It's said to be the most beautiful wooden Lanna temple in northern Thailand. We had now crossed into the territory of the old Lanna Kingdom, which was a separate kingdom until 1775.

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang, Thailand
When Buddha was cremated, there was a rush to collect bones and ashes as relics which have been venerated for centuries in temples such as this all over Asia. The relic is in the main chedi of the temple. The fortified temple or wiang, built on top of a mound and surrounded by high walls, dates back to 1476 and is said to be the oldest surviving wooden structure in Thailand.

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang, Thailand
A very intricate gilded altar or mondop is the highlight of Wihan Phra Put, the main prayer hall or wihan where the image of Phra Chao Lan Ton (Buddha Lan Ton), a bronze statue of the Buddha, is enshrined. There are other wihans, some of them containing traces of the original murals, which means they may also be among the oldest in Thailand.

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang, Thailand
Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang, Thailand
At the back is a structure which only men can enter. Close the doors to be able to see a camera obscura image of the wihan and chedi projected upside down on a white cloth. Another camera obscura image can be found in Wihan Nam Tam, the wihan with a three-tiered roof.

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in Lampang, Thailand
On the way out, you will pass by a sacred Bodhi tree symbolically supported by dozens of wooden poles offered by devotees, a Lanna ritual. Every year, during the Songkran or Thai New Year, the Northern Thais hold the Hae Mai Kam Salee, a ritual of the Bodhi tree's pole. The Bodhi tree represents Buddhism and placing supporting poles beneath the tree's branches signifies the support of the laity.

This temple is about 20 kilometers from Lampang itself. We were rushing from Sukhothai since they closed the temple before 5 p.m. Good thing we made it! After that brief visit, we were off to Chiang Mai for dinner.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thailand: Si Satchanalai Historical Park in Sukhothai Province

Si Satchanalai Historical Park is one of three ancient towns included in the World Heritage inscription Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns. If Sukhothai was the political and administrative capital, Si Satchanalai served as the spiritual center of the kingdom, with its many temples and Buddhist monasteries. The town is 90 kilometers from Sukhothai.

As part of the tourism workshop we attended in Sukhothai, the plan was to bike all the way to Si Satchanalai. But plans were changed and we took a van to Sawankhalok, and did the bicycle tour to Si Satchanalai from there. The 40-kilometer bike trip ended at Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, a first class royal temple three kilometers outside the Si Satchanalai wall.

Other major temples and sites are located within the old town of Si Satchanalai. Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo is one of the most beautiful temples of Sukhothai Province. Its features include a main chedi and 33 subordinate chedis. The temple is believed to have kept the cremated remains of the Sukhothai royal family.

Wat Chang Lom's main landmark is a bell-shaped chedi on a platform supported by 39 stucco elephants. Between the chedi and the platform are niches with statues of Buddha subduing Mara.

Delicate stucco reliefs have survived on one of the walls of Wat Nang Phaya. The wall is protected by a roof to prevent further damage from the elements.
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