Sumatra is the fourth largest island in the world. Although not known for the rich archaeological sites that distinguish Java, Sumatra offers magnificent natural landscapes. The port serves as the gateway for Medan and Lake Toba, Southeast Asia’s largest lake, which lies about 120 miles from Belawan.
Sumatra is also vital to Indonesia’s economy, with over 60% of the country’s total production coming from the island. Belawan is one of the busiest ports in Indonesia. Exports include minerals, oil, palm oil, rubber, tea and tobacco. It is located 15 miles from Medan, the capital and largest city of North Sumatra.
Medan, established in 1682 as a trading center, was made the regional capital by the Dutch in 1886. It remained a small trading center to this century. Following the Second World War, the population soared from one hundred thousand to well over 2 million. Today, Medan has become a congested and noisy city, which in the hot months offers little respite in the way of parks and greenery.
The rich volcanic soil provided an ideal location for the development of plantation agriculture. To fuel this economic growth, the Dutch used immigrant Chinese laborers, and even today, Medan has the largest Chinese population in Indonesia.
The architecture in Medan reflects the diverse cultural influences in the city, with a concentration of Colonial buildings around Mederka Square, while churches, mosques, pagodas and temples fulfill the spiritual needs of the population.
The countryside surrounding the vast inland Lake Toba is among the most beautiful in Southeast Asia. At an altitude of nearly 3,000 feet, the lake has a cooler climate and pine covered mountain sides. The town of Prapat lies on the shores of the lake and ferries ply the waters to Samosir Island, one of Sumatra’s most popular destinations.