When we decided to go to Bukit Lawang, truth be told I wasn’t enthusiastic, not a bit. From the stories I heard, I was considering I was going to the zoo; and you might think I lost my child soul but it’s been a while I don’t have any interest in zoos and even consider those places as “animal prisons”, even if I understand that it helps in the preservation of some species. So to me Bukit Lawang was more or less a zoo with only one animal to see: the Orangutan. So I was going with negative prejudices in mind, expecting it to be similar to a crocodile farm I visited 10 years or so ago in Sumatra, I also went to Bukit Lawang back then but I just hanged around, no Orangutan seeing, it was my first time in Indonesia.
First surprise; when I arrived I didn’t recognize the place at all (part of it due to my bad memory) because the whole place has been transformed. What once was barely a village was completely transformed into a tourist fuel center with plenty of accommodations, restaurants, gift/art shops. Despite lacking authenticity, I couldn’t help noticing that… the place was spotless. Anyone who walks around an Indonesian city (in Sumatra at least) knows that the Island got a garbage management problem; but not in Bukit Lawang.
We were taken in charge as soon as we arrived and paid for a 2 day trip in the jungle (there is a guide association that keep the prices at the same level for everyone). We took our rooms, ate in a local restaurant and, it is to be noted that food-wise I don’t recall being disappointed by the quality of the food there; price is a bit more expensive than they usually are in Sumatra but you do have quality; I recommend one, in particular, that is situated in a cave and does quite good food (but long waiting).
After a night sleep, we woke up in the morning for our trek, backpack ready and, I bought some plastic shoes for the trek as I didn’t have any adapted shoes; those shoes are cheap and according to the guide last about a year with constant use; however, you should use thick socks with it. Anyway, we went on our way to see those world-famous apes. We saw them literally 10 minutes-ish after entering the jungle, at first we considered ourselves lucky, but the guide told us that Orang Utans here are semi-wild as a few years back they use to feed them for tourists, to see the wild ones you actually need to go deep in the jungle (4-5 days treks) and even deeper you might even see tigers (if you are lucky (or not)).
Back to the Orangutans, Bukit Lawang claims it became eco-responsible, and it does look like they actually did so, they don’t let tourists approach the Orangutans without guides and always respect some distance with those. They also don’t feed the monkeys anymore, except a few bunches that may actually get aggressive if not fed (one of them even got the reputation to bite tourists). But be reassured, guides are here to avoid problems with the local inhabitants.
When we finally reached the camp for our night in the jungle, we ended up seeing more Orangutans than we imagined seeing when coming here; a lot more. Even around the camp we could see quite a few of them, and truth be told, the magic diminished at every encounter to the point we were feeling “Oh, another Orangutan… nothing special about it”.
Some people might be scared about the “camping in the jungle part”, be reassured, although the sleeping condition is not top-notch comfortable, they are pretty decent and you don’t have to plan for the food as your guide will have fruit snacks, a lunch for the trek and a dinner at the camp, more than I expected. The whole trek and camp were made very (too) easy and unless you have some kind of disability that prevents you from trekking, the 2 days’ experience is plenty to see the Orangutans without much hassle (but less authenticity).
The way back was thought tubing, a nice splashy experience much convenient to avoid doing the same trek in the opposite direction.
All in all, if you are looking for authenticity, forget Bukit Lawang (or get the long treks), but frankly, if your goal is to spend some quality time seeing Orangutans without too many expenses or hassle, Bukit Lawang is the way to go. I’d go back there… but for the real experience (10 days or so trek (or maybe start with the 5 days one)).
How to go to Bukit Lawang
- You can rent a car from Medan (approximately 500k for one way and capacity 6 persons)
- You can go to the terminal bus and using the bus and this is the cheapest way and go directly to Bukit Lawang
How to see orang Utans
1. You can find a lot of tour guides in Bukit Lawang, Sumatera Utara with one-day trekking or 2 days trekking. You have to go to Lauser National Park to see the orangutan in the jungle. It is possible to do it one-day trekking at a cheap price.
2. Ticket fee to enter Lauser National Park to see the orangutan in the jungle between Rp150.000-Rp250.000/person and this is for international tourists, for local peoples is cheaper. If you do not want to enter the jungle, go walk and follow the riverside and sometimes they will out near the jungle but only if you are lucky enough, usually they will show up in the morning.