Bukit Lawang is a small village situated 90 kilometers northwest of Medan, the capital city of North Sumatra, Indonesia.
Bukit Lawang is most famous for being a site to easily spot semi-wild orangutans near convenient tourism facilities. Bukit Lawang is situated at the eastern side of Gunung Leuser National Park.
In 1973 a Swiss organization set up an orangutan rehabilitation center in Bukit Lawang. The purpose of the center was to rehabilitate orangutans released from captivity. The rangers at the center teach the orangutan all the necessary skills to survive in the wild. After an intense period of quarantine, readjustment to the natural habitat and reintegration in the (semi-)wild population, the orangutan is released back into the jungle. All orangutans released are still monitored by the rangers and they still provide them with supplementary food at the feeding platform until they become fully self reliant.
In the years after the arrival of the rehabilitation centre more and more tourists found their way to Bukit Lawang and it became one of the most popular destinations in Sumatra
A flash flood hit Bukit Lawang on 2 November 2003. Described by witnesses as a tidal wave, the water was approximately 20 metres high, as it came crashing down the hills, wiping out everything in its path.
The disaster, which was the result of illegal logging, destroyed the local tourist resorts and had a devastating impact to the local tourism industry. Around 400 houses, 3 mosques, 8 bridges, 280 kiosks and food stalls, 35 inns and guest houses were destroyed by the flood, and 239 people (5 of them tourists) were killed and around 1,400 locals lost their homes.After eight months of rebuilding, Bukit Lawang was re-opened again in July 2004.
For many villagers the trauma of losing family, friends and their homes has taken a long time to come to terms with. The people were facing unemployment and homelessness. It has been a long road to recovery and an especially hard task to rebuild a town with only limited financial assistance from the government. However the people in Bukit Lawang are survivors and the new village is taking shape and more and more businesses are opening again.
Especially the young generation is hoping to rebuild the village in more sustainable way than before and they are very aware of the importance of preservation of the fragile eco system they live in. They can use all the support they can get and the income of tourism will help them in realizing their ideas for a brighter future for Bukit Lawang. So what are you waiting for, finish reading this page, pack your bags and get on your way for your jungle adventure!
Take a taxi from the airport or hotel in Medan to Pinang Baris. (no more than 50,000 IDR per car); Do not get off at the big terminal, rather the driver to continue .. just a bit past there is a bakery called Mawar, (this is good advice, mawar bakery only 1km further up, left as you walk out of the bus terminal) . (Touts are waiting for tourists at the terminal, go outside, to the main street where the minibuses and public buses are) From there you can get a direct minibus to Bukit Lawang(max 20,000 pp, bargain to 15,000 each if you are more than 3 people, February 2013) or the big coach (max 15,big coach is government run but minivans are 'private'. The coach will stop many times along the way and in Binjai (about 40 minutes from Medan) they may stop for half an hour to fill up.
The last stop of the public bus, where you get off, is normally the bus terminal in Gotong Royong, a village just 5 minutes from Bukit Lawang. From here you can get a becak (motorbike/sidecar/tuktuk type thing) for 10,000 IDR. This should drop you at the national park office in Bukit Lawang and you can then find your guest house.
There are many drivers offering minivans from the Belawan ferry terminal direct to Bukit Lawang, bargain hard. Expect to be shifted minivan at least once (in Medan). Prices vary between Rp. 60,000 and 70,000 all the way to Bukit Lawang. The extra cost should outweigh the hassle of getting into Medan, finding the bus station, then finding a hostel in Bukit Lawang (especially if you arrive during a torrential downpour). The driver will usually recommend a family or friend's hostel.
You can go by tourist bus (minivan 5-7 persons;) from Parapat (Lake Toba) or Berastagi to Bukit Lawang. Tickets can be bought at local tour agencies; but sometimes they run the vehicle as speed driver; to reach the arrival place; just check it out on their sites
Bukit Lawang is a small village and it is easy to get around by foot. You can walk from on side to the other in about 25 minutes. There are three bridges that provide access to the resorts across the river.
Jungle trekking is the primary activity in Bukit Lawang as it is the gateway to the nearby Gunung Leuser National Park .
Most tourists hire a guide as the jungle is easy to get lost in and requires a permit from Gunung Leuser National Park ranger office. There are plenty of good and reliable guides around so take your time to get to know some of them, have a chat, make your choice and prepare for a great adventure. Ask questions and ask them if they follow the rules and DO NOT feed orangutans or any other wildlife. Ask if they will actually be your guide or if they will pass you on to another group. It has been known that tourists pay money, get sold off and end up in a group of 10 people. Ask how many people will be in the group.
Even though sightings of the orang-utan and other wildlife can never be guaranteed, when following the instructions of your guide the chances are favorable.
If you want to go on a multiple day trek make sure you are fit and in good condition. The humidity coupled with the intensity of grade of the hills makes for some hard work. The reward at the end of your jungle adventure is a late afternoon paddle in the river back to the village.
Everyone who is planning to go on a jungle trek or even to the feeding platform is asked to refrain from any physical contact with the orangutans. Getting too close to an orangutan increases the risk of passing on disease and viral infection, which jeopardizes the orangutans chances of survival and in turn the health and survival of the wild orangutan population in the entire area. All guests should keep at least 10 meters away and move away if an orangutan approaches. The motto of any jungle adventure should be take only pictures, leave only footprints.
Another popular past time activity is tubing. When tubing one uses an innertube to float down the river. Tubes can be rented at various stalls along the village and expect pay around Rp 10,000 per tube. Be careful on the water because currents are strong.
You can also visit the bat cave Rp 5,000 [make sure to take a flash light], take a stroll around the rice fields and rubber plantations, visit some of the social projects (like the Children's Home on the way to the bat cave), visit the Friday market or just hang out with some of the locals and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.
In low season not many of the shops are open on weekdays, however in the weekend there are several small shops that sell the locally made coconut necklaces. Also there is a small shop selling bamboo souvenirs, like key chains, picture frames, etc. There are also a few shops that sell wood carvings and at the beginning is Genta's batik shop, selling traditional batik paintings.
Travelers with Visa ATM cards should bring cash with them to Bukit Lawang. While there is a Mastercard ATM machine 7 km from town, the nearest Visa ATM is 60km away in Binjai. If you run out of money, the 4 hour roundtrip motorbike ride will set you back 200,000-400,000 rupiah.
Almost every guesthouse has a restaurant that will serve you good local and western food. In addition, the following places are specialist eateries.
At sunset a great place for a Bintang is the terrace at the Eco Lodge. The friendly staff will serve you a cold beer and you can watch the colours change over the town and river below.
In order of position up the pathway by the river in Bukit Lawang.
Down by the river there are a number of other accommodations to stay in.
In village of Gotong Royong where the weekly market is held in Fridays is Nora's other homestay. Almost opposite the new hospital built with the inspiration and determination of the amazing Becky Coley of Bukit Lawang Trust Foundation.
It is perfectly safe for female travellers here but do behave appropriately. Don't wear bikinis or skimpy clothing...this includes tight fitting and low cut tshirts.
Solo female travellers should beware of unlicensed guides, and of trekking or other activities where they might be alone with a man. If going to the jungle, meet up with fellow travellers and find a guide. All licensed guides have photo permits. Ask to see them before booking a trek. Green Hill and Sam's Bungalows have good reputations for solo travellers.
Anybody who experiences sexual harassment in any form in Bukit Lawang should report the incident immediately to the Guides Association Office in the entrance to the village and to the head ranger at the national park office. Also make sure you get a photo of the person/guide as well.
When travelling down the river rapids on the rubber tyres, do not go past the bridge. There are narrow drains and sharper rocks the closer you get to the village.
Keep your villa doors and windows closed when you are not around, the long tailed macaques like to get inside and raid your belongings for food.
When that sad day finally arrives for you to leave, then the cheapest and one of the quickest ways out is by local bus. Firstly you'll need to make your way back to the road. Then catch a tuk tuk to the bus stop which also happens to be where the weekly market is held. This should cost you 10,000 Rupiah and you shouldn't need to haggle over the price. It's about a 5 minute ride, or you can walk which should take about 25 minutes.
Medan Once you arrive at the bus station you may encounter some overly enthusiastic minivan drivers trying to help you with you baggage into the the vans before you've even paid the tuk tuk driver. You can choose to take a ride with one of these chaps or take the local bus to Medan. The local buses are larger than the minivans and coloured a cheery orange. The sign on the front will say 'P.BARIS', this is the name of one of the bus stations in Medan. The ride should cost you 20,000 Rupiah. Prices correct as of March 2014.
Berastagi If you're intending to go to Berastagi you'll still need to head to Medan first then change to one the larger ornately decorated buses. If you let the driver know on the way to Medan that you're heading to Berastagi he will drop you off at the one of the changeover points. The bus to Berastagi, is most likely to have a blaring sound system and a boom box so bring some good ear plugs if you're not into Indonesian love pop videos. Once again the cost is 20,000 Rupiah. Price correct as of April 2014.