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Published: March 19th 2015
For a while we are back travelling again. We have left the efficiency of Malaysia and the tourist funnel of Thailand and it is nice to have the challenge of trying to work which way is up in a new country where services are no straight forward.
We shared the challenge with Moos and Emma, a young Dutch couple who we met on the ferry to Dumai. They left the Netherlands the same month we left England. They took a more Northern route through Russia and Mongolia and China. So they have travelled 100% overland and have booked a cruise to take them on the last leg to Perth, Australia.
The ferry was very straight forward, as were Indonesian immigration in Dumai. We smiled sweetly and they gave a standard 30 day visa even though we had no evidence of an exit ticket. We plan to extend it another 30 days in Bali. There was very limited information on how to get to Medan from Dumai on the internet so I will go into some detail for future travellers (and hope not to bore others).
The first thing is to confirm that there is a good night bus which leaves from Dumai bus station to Medan at 7pm. It is run by Bintang Utara. With hindsight one should go to their office in the bus station which opens sometime before the bus leaves and buy a ticket there. There is a nice lady who had a stand next to the bus selling chicken satay on sticky rice for 10,000INR/75c to help you on your way. We, of course, did not have hindsight.
As you come out of immigration there are plenty of people wanting to be your taxi. The standard foreigner fare was 50,000INR ($4). To be fair to our guy he first took us to an ATM, there are many, and then to a money changer where we could exchange the last of our Malaysian Ringgits.
If you want to save money you could walk out of the ferry port area and there is an ATM opposite the gate. You can then get a shared minivan ('angkot') for a little as 3,000INR per person to the bus station which is in fact well out of town.
As an aside I got my first sighting of Indonesian wildlife by the ATM. There in the drainage ditch was a monitor lizard being stalked by a cat. The lizard must have been three foot long including tail. It swam along the ditch beside the road away from the cat which soon lost interest.
Our taxi man took us to an agency. I was prepared for this and insisted that he took us to the bus station which was just around the corner. What I wasn't prepared for was that the bus station was virtually deserted. There weren't many people to ask. Almost all the bus agency offices were shut. It was 1pm and many hours before the bus to Medan was due to leave. A shady character said there was bus earlier but what he pointed to was pretty rough.
I decided to walk back to the agency and by then Moos and Emma were there having got through immigration with some delay because of some special medication. With no other apparent options we decided to accept the agency offer (205,000INR per person).
We had noodle soup at the next door restaurant and really wanted some fruit for the 10 to 12 hour journey to Medan. Moos and I walked most of the way back into town (4 to 5km) and then succumbed to getting a sidecar taxi to a supermarket and back to the agency (20,000INR).
We got back just as Jane and Emma were packing bags into a minibus that proceeded to take us back to the bus station round the corner (200m maximum) where we had been previously and the bus was waiting. By now half an hour before departure the Bintang Utara office was open. I was not happy by being caught 'by the agency' trick. It probably did not cost that much extra. It just gets to you when you know it is happening and you can't stop it.
The bus takes you to the Bintang Utara compound in Medan. We got there around 6.15am having had some sleep despite many bumps, swerves and braking. They provided you with cushions and blankets (needed because of the a/c) and reclining seats. The seats were quite spacious. We were also given a bottle of water for the journey.
To get to Bukit Luwang, our final destination next to the jungle and the orang utans, you have to get a bus from the Penang Baris bus station. We were told to take a bus to Penang Baris that left the Bintang Utara compound about half an hour after we arrived. It cost 10,000INR per person which is probably a 'foreigner' rate. I suspect the best option would be to take a share minibus as I saw several with the bus station name (P.Baris) on the windscreen.
Getting a fair price for the bus to Bukit Luwang was not straight forward. Men hanging around said it was 50,000INR per person. When Moos asked some locals sitting on the bus they said they had paid 30,000INR. We looked around for other options. We found another man/agent and he offered us 35,000INR for the same bus. The other men were not to happy when they found out but accepted this. We accepted 5,000INR as a reasonable 'foreigner' surcharge.
Its a four hour journey. The minibus was fine although did get crowded initially when it was leaving Medan. There were lots of smiles and locals keen to know about us. The packs had been strapped on the roof. The road is dirt in the odd place and you have the usual bumps and swerves.
We finally arrived in Bukit Lawang at around 2pm. We were tired and glad to be there after 32 hours on the road. Yes it is easier to take a flight from Malaysia direct to Medan. If you are travelling through Malaysia and get to Malacca before heading for North Sumatra then via Dumai is definitely a viable route too.
Tot: 3.833s; Tpl: 0.044s; cc: 15; qc: 61; dbt: 0.0428s; 3; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb