Travelers can't seem to get out of Medan -- Indonesia's rumbling, fourth-largest city -- fast enough. Most head for the riverside town of Bukit Lawang (4 hours by bus) to relax by the scenic river in air not so polluted by horns and exhaust.
Bukit Lawang translates roughly as "gateway to the hills." One look around at the green scenery will confirm that the name fits well. Bukit Lawang serves as the usual base for trekking in the Gunung Leuser National Park.
- Before starting out, watch out for these 10 threats to avoid while trekking.
While the village itself is dusty and desolate, a string of small guesthouses stretch along the river to an orangutan viewing center just inside the national park. Green hills and nearby jungle keep the air fresh and the evening sounds exciting.
Bukit Bintang can be easily explored on foot. A path parallels the river with a few bungalows and restaurants on either side. Three shaky bridges provide points to cross.
Things to Know About Bukit Lawang
- Bukit Lawang lacks banks, ATMs, and a post office; bring enough cash with you. Money can be changed at two places in the small village for a poor rate.
- Western women -- whether traveling with a man or not -- inevitably receive a lot of attention from local men and the jungle guides. Harassment can be reported to the Guide's Association by calling: +62-813-70730151.
- Internet access can be found at two places in the village. Remember dial-up access circa 1991? The internet in Bukit Lawang is slower.
Jungle Trekking in Bukit Lawang
The number one reason to visit Bukit Lawang is for trekking in the nearby Gunung Leuser National Park to see the orangutans.
- See where is Sumatra?
Bohorok Orangutan Viewing Centre
If trekking isn't your thing, consider a visit to the Bohorok Orangutan Viewing Centre where rangers place fruit on a platform to entice the orangutans into an appearance. Feeding times are 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily. Find the center by walking 20 minutes west along the river, then taking a dugout canoe across. The center is located inside of the national park, so you must pay $2 for a permit to enter.
- Read some interesting facts about orangutans.
Other Things to Do in Bukit Lawang
Aside from the obvious attraction of jungle trekking and orangutans, Bukit Lawang offers some other adventure opportunities. Nearly everyone will offer to act as a middleman for activity bookings, but book through your accommodation to be safe.
- White Water Rafting: Rafting trips down the Wampu River can be organized for EUR 50 per person.
- Swimming: Cooling down in the river is a great way to get the sweat off. Walk west farther down the river toward the orangutan center to find some deep holes away from local eyes.
- Bat Cave: You can walk the two kilometers to Bat Cave yourself, just follow the signs along the river opposite the village. Some short scrambling is required; bring a flashlight.
- River Tubing: You can rent tubes all along the Bahorok River for around US $1 then float for six miles where you can catch public transportation back to Bukit Lawang. The trip takes around three hours when the river is flowing.
- Elephant Trekking: Trips can be organized in Bukit Lawang, or make your way to the village of Tangkahan (two hours by motorbike) and hire an elephant guide.
Eating and Sleeping
Simple accommodation is rarely hard to find. Bungalows can be found on both sides of the river; try the area nearest the orangutan centre (20 minutes walk from the village) for many additional options. The food is surprisingly delicious in Bukit Lawang.
- Eco Lodge: Set around a well-groomed botanical garden with educational signs, this sprawling resort is where many higher budget travelers end up.
- Bukit Lawang Indah: This popular guesthouse at the end of the big, steel bridge has a great restaurant and nightly guitar sessions. Unfortunately, the rooms are filthy and depressing.
- Julia Guesthouse: With a lack of sign, no one is sure of the real name of this guesthouse. Some keys also read "Junia" and "June." New, clean bungalows can be had for the same price ($5) as dirtier places.
Public buses leave from the Pinang Baris bus terminal in Medan roughly every 30 minutes until 5 p.m.; the ride takes around four hours and costs $2.
Optionally, faster minibuses ($4 and up) or even a private car can be booked in Medan. The bus will drop you in a lot where waiting motorcycle taxis ($1) will take you the additional 15 minutes to Bukit Lawang. Minibuses to Lake Toba run at 8 a.m. and can be booked for $15 through your accommodation.
- Read about other places to go in North Sumatra.