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Bukit Lawang, Orangutans and more

Bukit Lawang is located in North Sumatra, close to Aceh, at the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park. Here is where a lot of Sumatran Orangutans still live. This is mainly thanks to the rehabilitation center in Bukit Lawang. This center also attracts some tourism, but that does not influence the tranquil environment and the amount of wildlife here.

Sumatran Orangutan in the forest near Bukit Lawang

Arrival in the Dark

We booked a tourist bus from Lake Toba, which was supposed to go directly to Bukit Lawang. Unfortunately, however, it took a long stop in Medan. When it leaves again, we end up in rush hour to get out of this big city, and after that, the road to Bukit Lawang appears to be in a very bad condition.

More Adventure travel tales
in Indonesia:

the Minangkabau
Ubud, Bali
Komodo Dragon Cruise
Flores Island
Tana Toraja
Lake Toba
Southeast Asian Tales:
Angkor Wat temples
Sapa Valley Vietnam
Luang Prabang in Laos

So we arrive shaken and stirred in the dark in Bukit Lawang. A number of touts is waiting there to bring us to their guesthouse. But we already chose to stay at the Jungle Inn. It is located closest to the jungle, but on the other side of the village, which can only be reached on foot.

The road, or rather path through Bukit Lawang is badly lit, and rather bumpy and hilly, so we need all our attention not to trip with our backpacks. There are a number of restaurants and souvenir stalls, but their number gets less as we progress. Eventually we reach the Jungle Inn, but it is full and we end up at their neighbors, the Bohorok Inn. The rooms here are not that great, but the meals are and we are informed about the National Park and the possibilities of a jungle trek. We do listen, but are especially interested in a good night rest.

Room with a View

Our room with balcony in Jungle Inn, Bukit LawangWe had a good sleep, but didn't like the sleazy communal shower, so we moved to the Jungle Inn, where a room became available, the next day. We pay much more (as much as 7 Euro per night´┐Ż) but the room is great. We have a large room with big bed, and a balcony with hammock and view over the river to the jungle on the other side. As we relax here, we see how some Orangutans are arriving there to eat from the fruit of a large tree. It is a great sight which we enjoy for a few hours.

When one of the Orangutans climbs down to drink from the river, we hurry down with our camera. When he is gone we return to the hammock, where we are suddenly visited by a monkey. It is Loco, the tame macaque which is lingering around here.

Recovery from the disaster of 2003

Bukit Lawang was struck by a tremendous flood of the Bohorok river in November 2003. The flood wiped away 90% of the buildings, and killed 300 people. The orangutan rehabilitation center was also struck, although all but two orangutans were able to save themselves.

Because of destroyed feeding facilities, and since the animals were able to survive in the forest, the activities at the center stopped for a while. But since tourism is an important source of income, and the orangutans are the main attraction in the area, rangers have resumed feeding activities, and it is possible to arrange jungle treks again.

For the local economy in Bukit Lawang, eco-tourism is an important factor. Activities have started to re-develop Bukit Lawang and the Bohorok Orangutan Rehabilitation center into an Eco-tourist Viewing Area, meeting modern standards. In order to complete this activities, it is of vital importance that tourists return to this area. Enough facilities have survived or are rebuilt for a new steady flow of tourists. So please consider visiting what is still a great destination.

He cam be very annoying, stealing food from people's plates etcetera. But now he is very friendly, and joins us in the hammock. He let's us pet him and falls asleep on our laps.

Subtropical swimming paradise

In the afternoon we go for a swim. At the Bohorok Inn is a rapid in the river, where we can let the water carry us with it. It is an original subtropical swimming paradise. We have a great time here, especially when another orangutan drops by. And even Loco can swim. But he starts to be annoying when more people arrive. He even bites people, and although his teeth are filed, people are scared of him. But he doesn't harm us, and we even feel sorry for him. When a troop of macaques pass in the jungle, he watches them with a sad face. He will not be able to return to the jungle.

After breakfast the next day, we are called to come and watch, as a group of Thomas Leaf Monkeys is up in the trees. These are beautiful black-and-white monkeys with a funny crest on their heads. Some of them entered the restaurant. They visit more often, and know that the personnel treats them with bananas. Loco is trying to tease them, but they ignore him, as they ignore us. Great to be among those semi-wild animals.

Bat Cave

On the other side of Bukit Lawang is a nice cave. To reach it, we pass rubber plantations where people are harvesting the rubber from the tree. They carve diagonal canals in the tree, so the rubber drips into plastic cans. Eventually we reach a small stand, where they charge 1000 Rupiah (10 cents) for entrance to the cave. A guide is also offering his services, but that doesn't seem necessary.

Bat cave near Bukit LawangWe have to climb to reach the cave. But once inside, we meet the bats, and see birds nests, as in the Niah Caves. But nothing is harvested here. It would be possible to make a tour around the caves, but we only find a small passage at eye height. Back at the entrance we hear that that was indeed the passage to go through. We decline, and decide we have seen enough cave.

Tropical rainshowers

Almost every day as dusk sets in it starts to rain. Huge tropical showers, mostly taking an hour or two. The strange thing is that almost every time the electricity is cut, so we spend the nights in the dark with some candles. In the village different restaurants show movies, but that isn't possible either without electricity. One of the nights there is a big thunderstorm. The rain is so heavy, that some of it comes through our thatched roof. A bit scary, especially since there is place to run to. We try to pass time playing cards until it gets less.

Jungle trek

Although we already saw a lot of wildlife from our balcony, we decide to go for a one day jungle trek. Together with our Italian friends Alec and Debora we have two guides. Harry walks in front, once in a while explaining things about plants, trees, and flowers. And Sinar is walking behind us, listening and making side trips searching for animals. It does not take long before we meet the first Orangutan, a mother and child. And it is not the last one we meet today.

Although the path often goes up or down very steep, it is a relaxed jungle trek. We stop a lot, always after a climb and to spot wildlife. The orangutans we spot from up close are semi-wild. They grew up in the rehabilitation center. We also spot a few that do not come closer, these are probably wild ones. We also see gibbons, Thomas leaf monkeys, two kinds of macaques, a hornbill, lizards, giant ants, etcetera.

We eat our lunch, nasi goring, at a small stream with waterfall. And when we reach the river again, the trip back to the village is taken by a rubber raft. We had to hurry, since we heard the rain arrive in the mountains. Just half an hour after we came back, we saw the water in the river rise and change into a wild river. In the village it stayed dry this time.

Seeing Orangutans from up close

We enjoy the surroundings of Bukit Lawang for a couple more days. The fruit trees on the other side of the river are almost empty, so we see less orangutans. But we have a great time with the cats hanging around, Loco, and a strange rooster which wants to be petted, and performs a strange dance.

Bukit Lawang is a fantastic destination. The orangutan rehabilitation center here offers a great insight for tourists into the life of this endangered species. But Bukit Lawang has much more to offer, so it is about time tourists rediscover this place. With regret we say goodbye to this village, to Sumatra, and to Indonesia. Despite some of the discomforts in this country, these are just wonderful places to be.

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