Medan, the gateway to North Sumatra in Indonesia, is often passed through by travellers on their way to hike Mount Sibayak, spot orangutans in Bukit Lawang and chase waterfalls near Lake Toba. But there’s more to Medan than first meets the eye. Stay a while to discover quirky museums, colonial architecture, sizzling street food and a plethora of surprisingly decadent spa hotels.
Treat yourself to an in-room massage at Aryaduta, which occupies the upper levels of the Grand Palladium Mall in the city centre. Neutral-coloured rooms are cosy and offer views of the Medan skyline or the palm-lined courtyard pool. You’re just a 10-minute walk from two fascinating museums, each dedicated to a local 19th-century figure: Tjong A Fie Mansion, which showcases the home once occupied by a famed Chinese merchant; and Tjong Yong Hian Gallery, which celebrates his lesser-known philanthropist brother.
With larger-than-average rooms and city views – plus a sauna, hot tub and spa – Grand Mercure Medan Angkasa offers all the basic comforts of a business hotel. Its location next to the oldest university in Medan (there are 13 in total) means there are plenty of cheap eats in the neighbourhood – take a 10-minute taxi to Fun Taste Street to sample some of the best street food in the city.
Adimulia Hotel could be Medan’s version of Trump Tower: shimmering gold columns support a super-high ceiling in the lobby and there’s even a helipad on the roof. But rooms are far more modest, apart from the occasional chaise longue. Book a spa session for a royal massage or hit the streets to get a real feel for the city – the biggest mosque in Medan and the oldest Hindu temple are both a short walk away.
The floor-to-ceiling windows at Cambridge Hotel provide fabulous views of Medan, but for the ultimate lookout, book a table at the rooftop restaurant, The Edge. Here to unwind? Treat yourself to a traditional Javanese massage – you’ll soon be walking on air. Back on terra firma, below the hotel, you’ll find the Cambridge City Square shopping centre. Venture south to the Rahmat International Wildlife Museum and the elaborate Taoist temple, Vihara Gunung Timur.
Topped with a Pantheon-style dome (the Sky Mansion – sadly reserved for private parties), the 10-storey Four Points is central and glamorous, but great value. Get a mani-pedi or couples’ massage at the Oceania Wellness and Spa; sweat it out in the gym while enjoying bird’s-eye city views; or sip a neon cocktail or two at The Onyx, a marble-heavy showstopper of a lobby bar.
From the soaring glass-roofed lobby to the basic double rooms, lurid orange furniture prevails at Swiss-Belinn – but don’t let that put you off. There’s a decent gym and spa, and there’s an abundance of shopping malls on your doorstep. Hungry for culture, or simply peckish? Maimun Palace Museum is a short walk south, while nearby Kesawan Square comes to life as an Indonesian food court once the sun sets.
This budget-friendly hotel has stylish interiors – industrial light fittings, designer wallpaper and hand-painted murals – and is on-trend with a co-working space and hip coffee shop. Spent too long with your latte and laptop? Why not book an in-room massage? Location is a big plus at Kama Hotel; some of the most popular sites in Medan are on your doorstep, from the legendary colonial-era Tip-Top (the oldest restaurant in the city) to Tjong A Fie Mansion.
Rooms at Emerald Garden are retro – and not in a cool way – but the mattresses are extra comfy. There’s a large pool and patio, a tennis court and fitness centre, plus a sauna and spa. Extroverts will love the karaoke lounge. Tip: take the free shuttle to Centre Point Mall – it’s ideal if you want to shop but also brings you closer to Maimun Palace and the Grand Mosque of Medan.
Views take centre stage at JW Marriott, where you’ll find warm-hued, well-lit rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, an executive lounge offering 180-degree views of Medan and a rooftop infinity pool overlooking the city skyline. Strained your neck taking in all those panoramas? Try the green tea detoxification body treatment or traditional Javanese massage at the spa. Foodie favourite Merdeka Walk and the 110-year-old City Hall are just 10 minutes away on foot.