“keep wildlife wild” can be found in a sign at the settlement of Bukit Lawang, a tiny village located at the entrance of the Gunung Leuser National Park that depends totally on the tourism that comes here to watch the wildlife, especially the orangutans.
There are rumours that the guides feed the animal to attracted them to the areas of the park that the tourists usually visit, a practice that is totally forbidden and that is a disrespect towards the wildlife. I didn’t saw trying to feed the orangutans. And the orangutans seem to me that they don’t care much about human, making any effort to get close. Also didn’t saw anyone feeding the animals… but… there’s always a “but”!!! I saw several pieces of sugar cane on the ground, chewed in a way that any human can do… and there isn’t any sugar cane growing in this jungle!
When asked the guide said that they only give fruits to a specific female that has the fame of being aggressive to humans…. but I spent one day walking in the Park and didn’t saw that animal… but saw a few chewed pieces of sugar cane.
Also sad is to see the human pressure on the natural territory of these delicate creatures, with the rubber tree plantation reaching the border of the park, and all the way from Medan to Bukit Lawang surrounded by palm oil trees.
But despite the negative impact that a greedy tourist business can have on the balance of the delicate wildlife a visit to the Gunung Leuser National Park was a very rewarding experience, with the presence of a couple of orangutans females with their babies as also a shy gibbon that was unaware of being watched from the ground.
The walk in the jungle isn’t easy, not just because of the hot and humid climate, but because the trails are steep and sometimes muddy, but the contact with the magnificent jungle trees allow us to connect with nature in a way that only the jungle can do!
Bukit Lawang jungle trek:
I did the 1-day trek at Gunung Leuser National Park with Trek Sumatra. It looks a very reliable company, an Indonesian/Canadian partnership, with an ethical and environment concern, with local and skilled guides and with all the information clearly showed on their web page.
Can’t really recommend Trek Sumatra, as I felt disappointed with the guide, as he didn’t provide much information about the wildlife, being extremely bored during the hike. I ask for a vegetarian meal and they forgot that detail. But he spotted easily the orangutans and the gibbons and didn’t get lost! LOL
The prices are more or less the same between the different companies and usually all tour pack includes the ticket (150.000 Rp), accommodation, guide and food. Maybe you can get something cheaper locally hiring a local guide. You can’t visit Gunung Leuser National Park alone, as it’s lot allowed but also because the are many trails, and any of them is marked, making difficult the orientation in the jungle.
Where to sleep in Bukit Lawang:
The village itself there’s nothing to offer to the visitors, not being more than a settlement of houses. The tourist accommodation as also restaurants, shops and other facilities are all located along a narrow path that runs along the river.
Usually, people arrive at Bukit Lawang already with a tour booked and the accommodation is most of the times included in the “orangutan pack”, which also includes the ticket and the guide.
I stay at Suma Guesthouse that has a dorm with good and comfortable conditions just in front of the river. A bed there is 50.000 Rp but doesn’t include breakfast.
This guesthouse is linked to the www.treksumatra.com
Where to eat in Bukit Lawang:
From the more than dozen of places, there was one that caught my attention as also my belly: the Jungle Hill Restaurant, with the standard Indonesian food, but cooked also in several vegetarian options. The best was the “rendang” in a tempeh version! Delicious food served with friendliness.
There are a few grocery shops at Bukit Lawang that provide all the basic stuff that you may need during the trek and during your stay at Bukit Lawang. Lot’s of cookies, chips, chocolates, mosquito repellent, toilet paper… not much choice of dry fruits.
How to arrive at Bukit Lawang from Medan:
If you arrive at Medan by bus you’ll probably end up at Amplas Terminal, located southeast of the city center, and quite far out.
If you arrive at Medan by plane, you can find a Damri Bus (public bus company with air-con vehicles) that drop you at Amplas Terminal.
- At Amplas Terminal, after you get ride of the ojek drivers, you’ll see a yellow angkot (mini bus). It has a sign saying “Baris” that is the name of the bus terminal nearby. But tell the driver that you want to go to Bukit Lawang and he will drop you directly at the place where the buses stop, at cross road Jalan Gatot Subroto/Jalan Pinang Baris. The angkot cost 10.000 Rp and the trip takes 1.45 minutes, as it needs to cross Medan from East to West, and traffic jams are common in Medan.
- The public buses to Bukit Lawang departure every 15 minutes. They are orange colour and they stop just in front of the Mawar Bakery. That is an important reference point.
- The trip to Bukit Lawang takes more than 5 hours through a dusty and very bumpy road, along an endless palm oil trees landscape, in an old and crowded bus. The ticket cost 25.000 Rp. Pay only at the end of the trip to the driver’s helper. There are lots of people hanging around the place from the Bukit Lawang buses departure… stay way from everyone, as there’s a scam with the tickets involving people that are not working on the bus. Watch out your luggage.
- It will drop you at Gotong Royong. From here you need an ojek to reach Bukit Lawang that is 2.5 km further. The best option is to ask a transportation from your guesthouse… believe me, after all this trip you’ll need this treat… and probably you’ll arrive close to the sunset, that makes more difficult to find your accommodation.
How to arrive at Bukit Lawang from Lake Toba:
How to move out Bukit Lawang:
- By public bus:
You must try to get a ride from your guesthouse to Gotong Royong otherwise you have a strong chance to be ripped off by the ojek drivers that hang around Bukit Lawang.
At Gotong Royong there are local buses to Medan every 15 minutes. The ticket cost 25.000 Rp and the trip takes at least 3,5 hours to make the 75 km, along with a very bumpy and dusty road.
The bus drops you nearby Pinang Baris Terminal. There you find a lot of angkot to different parts of Medan, but can be confusing to know the best one for you. So is better to call a GoJek or Grab moto-taxi.
- By travel service:
It cost 120.000 Rp and the car will drop you at your accommodation in Medan.
This service can be arranged everywhere in Bukit Lawang, from guesthouses to shops and restaurants.
ATMs and Money exchange in Bukit Lawang:
There isn’t any ATM at Bukit Lawang. The closest one is at Gotong Royong.
There are many moneychangers but be prepared for a bad rate.