Amplas Antics

Medan Travel Blog

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The Mesjid Raya Grand Mosque. Loud and proud at 5am.
As the bus pulls into Medan's southern bus station, Amplas, touts swarm around its doors like a stream of ants rushing to halt and overpower a struggling grasshopper. They yell and jostle to get to the two unfortunate white passengers, Alex and I. A guy pushes his way to the front of the ruck and wins the prize of being first to advertise his services:    

"Mister - where you going? You want moto taxi?" He smiles toothily in what is meant to be an encouraging fashion.
"We want the bus to Mesjid Raya."
"There is no bus." He shakes his head as if displaying sorrow.
"I've heard that there is."
"No mister, no bus to Mesjid Raya, only moto taxi. 40,000 Rupiah."
"How about 10,000?"

He cackles loudly at this, elbows a friend in the ribs and tells him I've suggested a meagre 10,000 Rupiah. His friend cackles as well. I decide this is useless and Alex and I struggle past the horde, ignoring any further entreaties and retrieve our backpacks from under the bus. We walk a little way from the vehicle to try and lose some of our pursuers. 3 or 4 of them leap onto their moto-taxis, basically motorbikes with rickety metal-framed sidecars attached, form a ragged procession and pursue us at walking pace, bombarding us with more prices:


A little old guy sporting a stubbly white beard cruises to the front of the group and shouts: "50,000!"

It's my turn to cackle and, spotting a line of red, green and yellow minibuses inching their way through the station's car park, we make a break for it.

"Mesjid Raya?" I call.
"Yes sir." the driver replies through his open window.
"How much?"
"5,000 each."
"Brilliant,"  I say, and we jump aboard, leaving Amplas a little more mentally prepared to take on whatever Medan flings at us.

What Medan does fling is a succession of touts, all eager to help us find accommodation, transport, food, shopping, cinema, heroin and prostitutes (I shit you not). It's a heaving, polluted, noisy city of some two and a half million people and, after a week on sleepy Samosir, it feels like the rudest of awakenings. As we walk the steets, the now familiar calls of "Hello Mister!" are joined by bolder and less deferential shouts from the local teenagers, keen to show their gangs that westerners are nothing special.    
After a night at the flicks watching the new Indiana Jones film in a stifling hot cinema with terrible sound, we are woken at 5.00am by the nearby Mesjid Raya grand mosque, blasting religious chanting into our crappy hotel room at enormous, distorted volume. I try to doze through it but get little more sleep until 7am when I reluctantly prise myself from the sweaty sheets.  Alex and I join two English girls, Fiona and Natalie, met at a local tourist bar the previous night and together we escape the city, eventually, and head on the local bus to Bukit Lawang, where an encounter with orangutans awaits.
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The Mesjid Raya Grand Mosque. Loud…
The Mesjid Raya Grand Mosque. Lou…
photo by: inikeke