Pematangsiantar (or Pematang Siantar) is a city in North Sumatra.
With 280.000 inhabitants, Pematangsiantar is the second biggest city in north Sumatra. The center of the town has two main roads where you can find almost everything you need. The food market is located between these streets. There is one "shopping mall" including a very small cinema. The habitats of Siantar are mostly Bataks. Also many Chinese and Javanese live here. In contrast to the rest of Indonesia the majority are Christians and not Muslims. So there is no problem to drink a beer on the street or find some pork at the meat market which is worth visiting.
The main way to get into Pematangsiantar is via Medan (Kuala Namu International Airport) which has daily flights from neighboring countries Malaysia (Penang, Kuala Lumpur) and Singapore. There are also numerous flights from Jakarta and other major cities of Indonesia.
From Medan you can easily get shared taxis to Pematangsiantar that cost around 40,000 - 50,000 IDR per person. The journey takes roughly 3 hours. The other option is by train (24.000 IDR), which takes slightly longer, but is worth the experience. A large bus from Medan (the bus station is called Amplas) costs about 18.000 - 22.000IDR.
The easiest way to get around is by becak pronounced bay-chuk. It's worth the experience and you can find these old bikes only in Siantar. They are old BSAs made in England and have a special sound and a special look. Every becak is unique with lovely modifications. The cost is about 20.000Rp to go 3km.
A cheap way is to go by minibus, which cost only 3000Rp for the same distance, but without help you will probably not find your way as there are no bus schedules.
The only obvious place to rent a motorbike is the Siantar Guesthouse. You can rent 150cc Classic Vespa for about 60.000Rp per day.
There is a zoo worth visiting that is aptly named Taman Hewan Pematangsiantar - animal garden of Pematangsiantar (usually a zoo is Kebun Binatang in Indonesian). It has a good collection of Indonesian native animals, most notably birds, tigers and apes. The zoo itself boasts abundant tropical trees and plants, some of which are quite old. The location is surprisingly close to the main roads of the city (within walking distance). Ticket price (April 2014) is 15,000 IDR.
Another place of interest in the city is Vihara Avalokitesvara - a Buddhist Temple, which houses the Statue of Kwan Im (Goddess of Mercy). At 22.8 meter high, is the tallest statue of its kind in Indonesia. The temple complex is accessible from Jl. Pane. It is part of the new temple complex and still under construction (as of April 2009). Connected by a bridge, adjacent to the new complex across the river of Bah Bolon, the old building of the temple was burned completely in an inferno in May, 2008.
There are a few nice colonial style villas and houses from the Dutch era which can be found in and around the city center, e.g. the Balai Kota (old city hall), the old and the new director's house of the Rumah Sakit Umum (public hospital), the kantor pos (post office), and some more - but most of them are horribly maintained.
There are two swimming pools in the city: the one of Siantar Hotel which is open to the public for a small fee (they also have a small gym), and a public swimming pool. Both don't have a water filtering system, but change the water twice a week - so ask before immersing yourself! About 15 minutes south of the city center (direction Sibolga) there are natural springs and fountains where you can hang out in small pools.
Between the main roads (Merdeka and Sutomo) in the center of town is the food market. Fresh fish, meat, vegetables and fruit are very cheap. There is also a small "shopping complex" called Siantar Plaza. But not really worth visiting. Also a second hand market for clothes is located close to the mini bus station (terminal Perluasan).
Along the main street (Jl. Merdeka and Jl. Sutomo) you will find practically everything the city could offer for you to buy. From a restaurant and bakery to mini market, equipment stores and music store and many more.
You can find all the traditional Indonesian food here. Bataks for example love babi panggang which are small pieces of roast pork with a special blood sauce. Also ikan mas arsik (goldfish) and cincang (small pieces of pork) are traditional Batak dishes.
Besides Batak dishes you will also find many Chinese restaurants. Most famous Chinese dish from this area is Mie Keriting Siantar. The most popular place to eat Chinese food and Chinese Indonesian fusion foods is Jl. Surabaya (one of the roads connecting the two main roads of the city) which offer an array of Kedai (eating houses) and Kopi Tiam (literally coffee house). Another well known place to visit is Roti Ganda, which is famous for its bread. It is popular with locals (largely Chinese and Bataks) and gets very crowded in the morning. Most eateries are open at night (some as late as midnight).
It will surprise you, but bars do not exist here. There is however a Karaoke bar located next to Siantar Plaza which is very modern and very clean where you can rent a room for $66,000 Rp per hour. One standard beer is $50.000Rp. There are also local warungs that double as a 'Tuak shop' where you purchase most things late into the night. Old and young people sit in these small shops, drinking the white jungle juice called Tuak and playing guitar. One glass Tuak around 2000Rp. The bill depends on how inebriated the owner of the shop is .
There are two coffee houses in Jl. Cipto (parallel to Sutomo, access through Jl. Bandang): Tok Kong, a very Batak style café in an old colonial style house, very crowded throughout the day. And a little further across the street Café Coca-Cola (Indonesians don't have a problem using copyrighted brand names), which is in fact a Chinese-owned ice cream shop, where they serve home-made ice cream and wafers. 'Kok Tong' is also a cafe in Jln. Cipto which is very popular for Pematangsiantar people. 'Kok Tong' is popular for their coffee. 'Kok Tong' placed straight from Cafe Coca-Cola Both are worth a visit.
The owner of the Guesthouse (Siantar GH) makes a small party with around 30-40 people twice a week. Cheap tuak and beer. Mostly with BBQ western style and gratis open air cinema. This is also the only "bar" in town where you can find girls who are not prostitutes.
There are not so many places to stay in Siantar. The most famous one is for sure Siantar Hotel, which is not an accomodation for budget travelers (free Wifi in the lobby though).
A small Guesthouse (Siantar GH) is close to the bus station in Siatas Barita. Relaxed place with garden owned by a German traveler. You can stay for less than 20,000 IDR per night ($2.20 USD).
There are some small guesthouses called Losmen in the city center area, like the one in Jl. Cokro and above (2nd floor) Kopi Tiam (old coffee shop) at Jl. Merdeka.
Best budget accommodation at the moment (May 2010) might be Church owned Wisma Tuluy north of the city center (Jl. Gunung Simanuk-manuk No.10A, +62 622 21533): A Standard Room is $150,000 Rupiah per night (April 2014) which includes Double bed, A/C, 21" Tv, Free Wi-fi and shower (cold only). Very clean and quiet with 24hr security.