Located 875 mi/400 km northwest of Jakarta, Medan is the capital city of North Sumatra and Indonesia's third largest city. It has few of the luxuries of Jakarta with all of the congestion, crowds, pollution and crime. Most people who go to Medan are on their way someplace else, since it is home to the busiest airport in Sumatra.

This gateway city to such attractions as Lake Toba and Nias Island (a rugged, undeveloped tropical island off the west coast of Sumatra) is not without its attractions and charms, however. It is the economic and political hub of the region, with the hotels and restaurants to support it. If you have a day or so in Medan, visit the Sultan's Palace, the old Dutch fort, the Grand Mosque, the Asam Kumbang Crocodile Farm and colonial buildings, especially in the Polonia (old quarter). Expect spicier meals than in other corners of Indonesia, even other corners of Sumatra.

Medan was founded during the 16th century as a trade settlement, and became an important hub for the plantation-driven trade after the Dutch arrived during the 19th century. Because of its importance as a trade city, and its population of wealthy international businesspeople, it became known as the Paris of Sumatra.

Since independence and its accompanying struggles, the city has fallen on harder times but you can find the relics of its past glory in unexpected places.

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