Medan, Worst City Ever

Jul 28th, 2010, in News, by

Is Medan the worst city in the world? An Australian expatriate in Jakarta whines his heart out.


An Australian Associated Press article about Medan, "Worst. City. Ever." published in the Age newspaper by one Adam Gartrell begins vitriolically:

Dear Medan. I hate you.

adam gartrell
Not happy

I visited you recently and found you the most unpleasant, charmless and thoroughly depressing city I've ever encountered. And I've visited plenty of s---holes in my time.

Adam, who lives and works in Jakarta as AAP's South-East Asia Correspondent, says Indonesia's third biggest city and the capital of North Sumatra province, has

no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

From arrival at the hellhole of Polonia airport, and possibly getting off on the entirely wrong foot by paying a visit to the airport toilets consistently rated among the filthiest in the country (2007, 2009) the nightmare begins, with Medan said to be a city bereft of the important things like taxis, trees, good hotels, and restaurants. No mention of whether the girls of Medan are as miserably unappealing as the rest of the place however.

Big mosque
Big mosque

Medan's closest claim to fame and the only thing to be considered a tourist attraction is its "big mosque", he says, but that is not nearly enough to make up for its heinous deficiencies.

I understand now why you consistently feature on people's "Worst. City. Ever." lists.

While out one night scouring the streets in vain search of food fit to be eaten by a white man Adam's hotel room is broken into and thousands of dollars stolen. Later, the hotel staff are distinctly and suspiciously unhelpful

Can you say "inside job"?

Medan doesn't just bite you in the wallet however, as a night later after moving to another hotel Adam is assailed by a swarm of Medanese mosquitoes in his bed.

Mozzies never take any interest in me but your Medan mozzies made quite a frenzied exception.

The side effects of a visit to Medan can even last for weeks afterwards, as Adam some time after returning to Jakarta is struck down by a terrible illness put down to the workings of an intestinal parasite of Medan origin, but happily

I didn't get malaria

He ends on a suitably bitter note theage

I've never been so happy to board a plane as I was the one that whisked me away from you, Medan. And I never want to see you again.


33 Comments on “Medan, Worst City Ever”

  1. avatar Murphy says:

    I’ve been to Medan many many times for business trip. I admit I rarely made sightseeing trips. It’s mostly airport-business-airport, with evening short sightseeing and dinner once in a while. The Medan I saw, is very different than what this guy saw.

    The main roads are decently leafy with old buildings provide beautiful landmarks here and there. It’s also reasonably clean for a city of it’s size. By Jakarta standard, the sky is brilliantly blue and it’s not easy to find uncollected trash. I never took taxi in Medan other than ones for transporting me from airport to hotel or to office. The taxis are not up to Blue Bird’s standards, of course, but they are also not the bandits excuse of a taxi like what you find in Bandung.

    Now the food, please don’t let me start about the food. Enough to say that Indonesians go to Medan just to try their famous culinary tradition. If Mr. Gartrell insisted on western food in exotic Asia, I can’t blame him for being utterly disappointed.

    I must agree on the sorry state of the airport, though. Polonia is one of the worst airport in Indonesia. There’s no redeeming that. The traffic (or lack of respect of its rules) is a bit worse than Jakarta, but with less car density it actually feels quite OK.

    The other thing I could not understand, how come Mr. Gartrell could not find a decent hotel for less than $100? That’s around Rp 900k. I usually stays at 5 stars hotel (or close to it) for much less. The cheapest rate at JW Marriott Medan is USD 88. It does not include breakfast, though. But then again who needs hotel breakfast when you are in food paradise?

    And Indonesia being a mostly cash economy? Yes, of course it is, 50 years ago. If the author is really a resident of Jakarta, it is safe to assume he must have a local bank account, and with that comes a convenience called ATM and credit cards. And Medan, being 3rd largest city in Indonesia certainly does not qualify as “cash economy” that requires you to bring USD 1000 in wads of bank notes.

  2. avatar Chris says:

    I wonder whether Mr Gantrell (and maybe other Australian journalists) will have some visits from the police or immigration officials, similar to what happened to the Kuta Cowboys ( http://www.indonesiamatters.com/8477/bali-beach-gigolo/ ) for allegedly disgracing Indonesia.

    Do you know if he has written nicer things about other places in Indonesia?

    Why would anyone leave thousands of dollars in a hotel room? That’s kind of asking for trouble. Most star-rated hotels have a safe-deposit box service and/or in room safe.

    But about the airport, there is a new one currently under construction. The international terminal burned down a few years ago, and I suppose they decided it wasn’t worth rebuilding it.

  3. avatar David says:

    Chris, he said that the hotel had no safe, a little hard to believe with a supposedly four star place but there you go.

    Murphy, agree Bandung taxis are the absolute worst I’ve come across. On the food, my first love with the food here was Kwe Tiau Medan Apeng, which sure sounds like it comes from Medan….

  4. avatar camion says:

    Just for the hell of it in response,I stayed in a well known Hotel on Jl Asia Afrika in Bandung years ago & put my cash in a hotel security envelope with a signature & placed inside the Hotel Safe in the presence of three front desk staff members only to find a few days later that it was stolen & they denied all knowledge of it of course.Plus other miserable stories of theft on other occasions at other locations. You have to admit,its a sport of desperation or unadulterated greed for some people in Indon. :-)Im chasing a engineer now for a bunch of goods he stole from me in his care. All his friends have no idea where he is :-)) LOL.

  5. avatar realest says:

    @camion: If you’ve his photo and particulars, you can create a ‘bounty’ thread in http://www.kaskus.us/ for the mere sum of Rp 5 million. It’s pretty effective.

  6. avatar Ross says:

    Never been to Medan, but many locals tell me it’s nice. And a mate of mine married a girl from there. Says there’s hordes of honeys.

    This guy probably doesn’t even like Jl. Jaksa!

  7. avatar rustyprince says:

    Got the worst runs ever after a kacang stir fry in a fancy mall there. Ended up ‘shattin’ me drawers a la Spud in ‘Trainspottin’; ahh!!! But sure what can u do, just another one of those indelible Indo anecdotes

  8. avatar Hans says:

    I had it nice in Medan, went speedamotor with sidecar, ate at a square that has great influence in Italy, clean and nice it was, saw a modern sweeper for streets and sidewalks, big wide walkways. but must add that it is probably the most boring city I have visited as a tourist, one museum and a sultan palace was what there was. if this town would just suddenly disappear probably no one notice it, even samarang was better

  9. avatar Michel S. says:

    I have to agree with Murphy here. Medan is surprisingly clean and leafy — definitely much more liveable than Jakarta or Bandung. And he could not find decent restaurants ?! Some of the best Chinese food I’ve had in Indonesia are in Medan — I forgot the name, but one restaurant serves mind-bogglingly huge frog legs. And Batak food is worth trying too, and is much harder to find in Jakarta.

  10. avatar Medan Boy says:

    Mr Gatrell. how KIND of you to write such a nice story about Medan! Congratulations to you and your newspaper for publishing it and for being able to attract such great attention from so many readers! However, I feel that the way you describe a city, in this case Medan, is quite uncivilized, showing animosity and is quite primitive in fact. As a citizen of Medan I acknowledge there are problems Medan is facing in order to attract visitors, some of which you mentioned in your article. Surely, there are always bad and good things about any place in the world. I am wondering whether you would care to mention the name of the four star hotel you were staying in so I can check it out or at least inform the people running the hotel about this article so they can improve their performance.

  11. avatar plebejer says:

    Medan is probably the best city in Indonesia for anyone who is a bit more adventorous then the average. Yes I was there for sometime and I like the wild-west attitude of the city, the diversity of the population and the vincinity to so much beauty.
    Which city in Indonesia has so many chinese, batak, malay, indians? Food of all types available, 5 star hotels are the cheapest in indonesia. The whole year is durian season, anyway I could go on and on, but to say worst ever seems to be a pretty personal experience on a bad day.

  12. Why are you changes your name, David (the writer formerly known as Patung) ?

  13. avatar David says:

    Nice to see you back Achmad, and please start a blog, if you have time lah; Ross needs some competition. I know seksi Mr Davids just doesn’t cut it compared to seksi Mr Patoengs, sorry about that and ‘mid life crisis’ might have something to do with it but not sure I want to go into publicly all that much…wonder what Adam Gartrell thinks about it all, wonder if he’s seen this post, maybe I should ‘tweet’ it to him.

  14. avatar Hans says:

    Medan probably the best city in Indonesia for all who are a bit more adventorous,
    O no it’s not,
    Manado whit Bunaken National Marine Park’s, is for people who want to have fun and thrill seekers. To not talk about them fantastic restaurants at the OCEAN promenade.

  15. avatar Mike says:

    I lived in Medan for a few months and I think it is a great city. The lack of tourist type places can sometimes be a good thing. As others have said, the food is great and the people very friendly. Plenty of nice hotels to stay at also. Journalists are usually quick to criticize blogs and bloggers, but this would have to be one of the worst articles I have read in a long time. How about this gem – “from what I’ve heard, you’ve got no real nightlife.” Is this how this “journalist” researches all of his articles?

  16. avatar Mercies Jessiewin says:

    I believe Indonesian its more beautifully,better than Mr.Adam’s town!!

  17. avatar Sumalee Buasri says:

    What’s Medan like ? I’ve heard Medan for a long long time, when I was seventeen.
    Now, I’m forty-six. I’ve learn some of Indonesia. and Medan is a small city of Indonesia.
    I’ve just known a little it. I’d like to know more because my daughter and her friends
    will go to Medan in October.

  18. avatar Farah says:

    Woooww.. if this guy rate medan as one of the worst city….while this city one of the biggest in Sumatra… i wonder what will he think about 8 other Province on the island???

    Sometimes, this kind of writing ill consider as whining.

    If you had that much money why would you put that in your room? rent somewhere that more expensive with better security!

  19. avatar Clarissa says:

    Dear Mr.Adam..
    I think you’re WRONG.
    It’s hard to believe.
    I love travelling so much. I went to many countries around the world and i’ve visited Medan for many times and i love Medan so much. All the people are friendly and good and i love medan food.

    Don’t ever judge ‘Medan as the worst city ever’ if you never visit all of the country in the world.
    You make a negative image for this city.

  20. avatar rugun says:

    hi everybody!! (: i’m a native Medan. Medan is a small town and have a friendly person, if you enjoy your journey in Medan. Trust it!

  21. avatar Chris says:

    Funny comment on the same theme from Lonely Planet ThornTree:

    Visit Medan Year 2012
    Lest anyone be lured by the above beguiling slogan being put out by the local tourism authorities here, just be advised that Medan is the only other place I’ve being to, along with Longreach in Queensland, where such is the dearth of tourist sights that they have resorted to putting a photo of a water tower on their promotional literature.

  22. avatar madrotter says:

    so… what ever happened to ross anyways?

  23. avatar Chris says:

    so… what ever happened to ross anyways?

    To put it diplomatically, I believe Ross had a disagreement with IM admin over this post and has stopped contributing.

    His blog, Ross’s Right Angle, lives on. You can google it.

  24. avatar madrotter says:

    ah thanks chris, i completely missed all that:)

  25. avatar Oigal says:

    Ah but be careful if you go there M.R. Rosie is apparently totally under siege from a tribe of Homosexual, Muslim, Non smoking, Asylum Seekers funded by the UN. Of course, I have long since been banned from posting there which is a shame coz it ’twas the motherlode. 🙂

  26. avatar madrotter says:

    read through a lot of it, didn’t see anything that was offensive towards ross really….

  27. avatar Oigal says:

    Hehe.. 😉 I was talking about his new blog…

  28. avatar clara stella says:

    there is a taxi in medan, polonia who has an appearance like this: black fat and like a pig who steal my family luggage. you stupid pig will get the consequences. and please don’t ride a taxi which has a pig appearance. and please check your luggage. thank-you

  29. avatar kakayoung says:

    Medan is not the worst city in the world…there are some cities that even worst than Medan, the only problem is that the writer who judged this has not traveled extensive enough to the other part of the world to judge. Be matured and be careful the next time before judging.

  30. avatar Teddybiteme says:

    Reading this article, convince me that the writer has no respect whatsoever to the country/culture that he had been to before.

    I am Medanese and proud of it. Every city has the good, bad and ugly side including Medan. I guess You didnt travel enough around Medan to educate yourself about how wonderful Medan is especially the culinary.

    Think before you speak/write about others. Maybe Australia is not something wonderful to see, I dont know and I dont care.

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