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    Tropical Storm Tour: Sumatra Part 1

    Tuesday, August 4, 2015
    Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia

    The front entrance of the At Home Guesthouse in Banglamphu, Bangkok, Thailand.
    The front entrance of the At Home Guesthouse in Banglamphu, Bangkok, Thailand.

    Following one final delicious lunch at May Kaidee’s, which I savored as much as humanly possible, I waited in the open air cafe of the At Home Guesthouse for a white mini-bus to pick me up at 2:00 pm. At one point, a lady walked up and asked for a donation for a children’s charity. Although she showed me a little laminated booklet, I asked if she had an ID card to make sure she was legit. When she whipped it out, the lady who works at the front desk of At Home told me to not donate, because the “charity” lady was a fraudster from the Phillipines. So, I told her no.

    A little while later, a guy walked up and yelled out, “Airport bus!” to which I got up and grabbed my backpack to carry it out to the van. I was surprised it was not in the alley. As I followed the guy, I lagged behind a little bit because my backpack was heavy and I was carrying it with my only free hand. Had I known the van was waiting a block away over on Thanon Ratchadamnoen, I would have just put it on. The guy grabbed my backpack and carried it himself so we could get there quicker, which made me feel a little bit feeble for a second.

    Gate 12 at Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, Thailand.
    Gate 12 at Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, Thailand.

    The drive to Don Mueang airport went pretty good. There was some thick, stop-and-go traffic part of the way, but the rest was smooth sailing as the driver put the pedal to the metal, doing at least 70-80 mph. At Don Mueang airport, they scan your baggage right when you step inside, then put a flimsy little sticker over the opening. After I had waited in line for a few minutes, my sticker broke, which meant I had to go back and have my backpack x-rayed again. What a pain that was! Plus, I lost my place in line and ended up 15 people behind where I was.

    The second time, I handled my backpack very carefully to make sure that silly little sticker stayed intact. I encountered another snag at my gate when the sign there displayed Kuala Namu as the destination instead of Medan, which really confused me. I walked back to the other side of that wing of the airport, but couldn’t find an info booth, so I shlepped all the way back to my gate again and finally figured out that Kuala Namu was the name of the airport in a small town of the same name outside of Medan. I’ve never seen a destination listed that way before. They usually just use the name of the main city.

    Air Asia flight QZ 155  from Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, Thailand to Kuala Namu Airport in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    Air Asia flight QZ 155 from Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, Thailand to Kuala Namu Airport in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    By the time I returned to my gate, numerous people had arrived in the hall outside the locked up waiting area. A really nice lady from Medan chatted me up and told me she comes to Bangkok with her daughter once per month for a week to buy clothing that they take back to Medan and sell on Instagram and other sites. When I asked her why she wasn’t all covered up in a Muslim hijab, she told me she’s Buddhist, which was surprising, as Buddhism is not really common in Indonesia.

    After ascending into the twilight sky on Air Asia flight QZ 155, the jet banked left out past the Chao Phraya river and Thonburi to give us a spectacular view of the entire megalopolis of Bangkok. I even spotted the Rama VIII bridge I had just walked across days before, plus the Democracy Monument and the Thanon Khao San area. After a smooth two-hour flight, we touched down in Medan. The lines for passport control were moving very quickly, taking no more than 30 seconds to one minute per person, which was unusual for any country.

    The Airport Rail Link train in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    The Airport Rail Link train in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    When it was my turn, the agent asked me how long I planned to stay in Indonesia. Instead of the standard 30 days, I asked if I could extend my visa to 60, which made him ask to see my onward airline ticket. Uh, oh! I hadn’t bought my flight home yet. I was always afraid that this might happen someday, and it finally did. When I said I was going to take the bus from Padang to Singapore, he showed me a list of rules for Indonesia’s new free 30 day visa that say you can only leave the country from certain cities, and Padang to Dumai, Sumatra to Melaka, Malaysia to Singapore was not one of them. Another agent said they were going to send me packing back to Banglok. Then he told me to follow him into a waiting room. “Oh, shit!” I thought. “Here we go.”

    I asked if I could pick up my backpack off the luggage carousel first. After I did that, another agent waved me into the waiting room, where I sat for 15 minutes while they dealt with some other passengers. He asked if I had a smartphone so I could buy a flight home for 30 days from now, but I said no. A bit later, after he dealt with most of the other people, he returned my passport and said I could pay for a visa on arrival over at the visa on arrival window. Hallelujah! I seriously thought they were going to put me on a flight back to Bangkok. I’ll bet there wasn’t one that night, so I wonder where I would have slept? Luckily, they sold me a visa for $35.00 and I made it through a different customs window quickly.

    A becak driver on Jalon Gandhi in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.
    A becak driver on Jalon Gandhi in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.

    After one more x-ray checkpoint exiting the airport, I headed over toward some moneychangers to convert some Thai baht and U.S. dollars into Indonesian rupiah. As I walked up, two ladies waved me over to their counter as they loudly beckoned, “Yes! Over here!” While I was busy doing dealing with them, a taxi cab tout stood nearby trying to snare me. As I walked away, he followed alongside and hammered me with an offer that I could refuse. Actually, I asked him how much it would cost for the 30-minute ride into town, but he never responded. Instead, I kept walking until I was in the Airport Rail Link station and he veered away for some weird reason. I was surprised he didn’t keep trying to lure me away. After I forked over 100,000 rupiah ($7.41), I barely made the last train of the night at 10:00 pm. Whew! Seeing as how the Airport Rail Link is fairly new, it was a silky smooth ride into town.

    Outside the train station, I haggled with a becak driver to give me a ride a couple of miles over to the Gandhi Inn for 20,000 rupiah ($1.48). I talked him down from 35,000! Luckily, the front desks at many hotels in Medan are open 24 hours, and the Gandhi was no exception, so I checked myself into a nice room with two beds for 280,000 rupiah ($20.75). That was twice as much as I usually pay for a room, but I didn’t want to deal with the bed bugs, dirty pillow cases, sheets and toilets that I read about in the reviews of Medan’s budget guesthouses on Trip Advisor. So, I decided to splurge since I’ll only be in this town for a few days. With its all white, elegant and swanky interior, the Gandhi Inn reminded me a lot of the Hotel Krishna I stayed at in Delhi India, although the latter was a few bucks more expensive.

    Words and photos ©2015 Arcane Candy.

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