Studying in Indonesia has massive perks, such as the opportunity to travel over the weekend but also the ability to take several weeks off during the semester. That allowed us to travel to other islands than ‘just’ Java and Bali. After visiting Sulawesi, we also spend 1,5 weeks travelling to the highlights of Sumatra. The main reason for visiting was that you can see orangutans in the wild during the Bukit Lawang Orangutan Trek. Next to Borneo, Sumatra is the only place where this is still possible. Good to know is that the orangutans here are semi-wild, as they are used to people.
Your base in Sumatra is probably Medan, at least this is the capital of the island and the city where most planes do arrive. From Medan, it is only 90 km to Bukit Lawang but be prepared for some bumpy rides, especially closer to your arrival. From Medan, you can best look for a bus towards Binjai. These buses go from the city centre but also from the airport. This bus takes about 2 hours. In Binjai, you have to transfer to a different bus station for your next minivan. At least, that’s how we did it. It all felt a bit forced, as there did not seem to be any other option and we barely had the opportunity to think on how to do it. However, everything went completely fine, even though we probably paid more than necessary and the final leg (of another 2 hours), wasn’t too comfortable as the picture shows. Another option is to take a taxi, but of course, this will cost you way more money. In total, the trip did cost us below 10 euros. When arriving at the bus station of Bukit Lawang, you can best take a so-called ‘ojek’ (motor) to the Bukit Lawang village.
We decided to stay 2 nights in the guesthouse, and 1 night in the jungle during our jungle trek. A friend of mine did already arrive in Bukit Lawang and was staying in Bukit Lawang Indah. First of all, don’t expect any luxury there and in Bukit Lawang in general. Toilets are Indonesian style, there was no wifi and there are no ATMs, so bring enough cash upfront. I think we stayed for as little as 1 euro or even less per person at Bukit Lawang Indah. They had great banana pancakes for breakfast, the personnel was very friendly and in the evening there was some ‘live music’, including some Dutch songs in their big songbook.
If you are looking for a bit more luxury, I can imagine, there might be other places to go. However, looking online Bukit Lawang Indah did have a refurbishment, which means some rooms got a great improvement. Other places I’ve heard about in Bukit Lawang are for example Garden Inn, Jungle Inn and Rainforest Guesthouse.
All resorts are located relatively close together, so your main choice is on which side of the river you would like to stay, which allows you to visit several of the bungalows and check which one suits your wishes best. This map shows an overview of the different guesthouses and where they are located. From the drop-off location, it was around 5 to 10 minutes to our guesthouse for which we had to cross the river. Most of the guesthouses are on the ‘right’ side, which means you shouldn’t cross the river. This is also the busier part of the small village. When you would be walking to one of the latest guesthouses on the route, this will take you about 20 minutes.
First of all, you are only allowed to visit the jungle with a guide. That makes the first decision already easy for you. I would always recommend going with a guide, that pays a maximum of respect to the animals. Many guides are feeding the orangutans to attract them to come closer.
Booking a jungle trek was rather easy for us, as we already had a friend who did the jungle trek before us and highly recommended going with the guide that was recommended/connected to the guesthouse we were staying. All guesthouses in Bukit Lawang will be able to advise you on booking the jungle trek. We went for the 2-day jungle trek, as that would allow us to go deeper in the jungle and increased the chances of seeing orangutans. Next to that, having a night in the jungle is quite an experience right?! We paid around 80 euros a person for this 2-day experience.
We could call our guide Mowgli, well you understand why! I visited Bukit Lawang with 2 friends and next to us, 2 other girls were joining our group. For this small group of 5, we had two guides with us. They explained everything we saw on the way, guided us through the jungle and made sure we got great things to eat!
After about 4 to 5 hours of walking, we were far enough in the jungle to spot our first Orangutans. What an amazing experience this is! I really can’t describe it. Look at how amazing these creatures are!
Time for a break. And, sorry if I ruin the surprise for you by posting this. But, I just had to share this amazing fruit platter we got during our break! They just got some leaves and created this amazing overview for us. We had no idea they were even carrying all these different fruits and decorative flowers with them. It looks amazing, doesn’t it?
As we were studying in Indonesia for 6 months (with just one backpack), you can imagine that we didn’t have proper hiking shoes with us. Well, that’s what you see here. Although I have to admit, the hike was perfectly fine to do in sneakers. Don’t forget to take some flip-flops with you when you arrive at the camp, because your feet want to relax a bit from your orangutan jungle trek in Bukit Lawang.
At the end of the afternoon, we did arrive at our camp. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find pictures of the place we slept, but imagine a wooden platform, covered with some canvas. In here, there were thin sleeping mats. We slept with our bag liners. All in all, don’t expect the best night of your lives here in terms of sleep.
When we arrived, we had the opportunity to relax at the riverside and we had some great food. I didn’t expect the quality of the food during this 2-day hike to be as good as it was!
The next morning, you had the opportunity to visit a waterfall nearby and we again received some amazing fruits and a sandwich! So much more ‘luxury’ than expected!
You might wonder, how do we get back? Well, you don’t have to walk the same way! You don’t even have to walk. We went back to the village of Bukit Lawang tubing. This sounds a bit more scary than it is, as all the tubes are tied together, so you couldn’t drift away. The tube ride lasted less than 30 minutes, so by the end of the morning, we already arrived at our guesthouse. This means, you still have the opportunity to depart to the next destination, however, we stayed for one more night and just relaxed so we could start the remainder of our trip completely fresh the next day.
All in all, the orangutan jungle trek is an experience to never forget and one I would recommend to anyone. You recognize other travellers who’ve been on the ability to sing the Jungle Trek song you learn on the way, which brings loads of fun! (Jungle Trek, Jungle Trek, in Bukit Lawang, Seeing Monkeys, Seeing Birds, See Orang Utan, Hey!)
If I would visit again, I would like to discover a bit more of the environment by joining a local on a scooter or visiting the local village. Next to that, I would go for a guesthouse that is slightly fancier, but well, I’m not on a student budget anymore. 🙂