I loved seeing the orangutans in Borneo, and I’d heard that orangutan sightings in Bukit Lawang were far more common. It was for this reason that I booked a flight to Medan.
Getting to Bukit Lawang
Had I known that Medan has virtually nothing to offer tourists, I would’ve arranged transport directly from the airport to Bukit Lawang. However, my flight arrived at 9pm so there wasn’t much time for that. I got a taxi to a hotel in Medan for 120,000Rp and stayed there for one night. The next morning, I had intended to find a tourist bus heading to Bukit Lawang. I’d heard that they should cost around 100,000Rp. I asked about the tourist buses at my hotel but they had no idea what I was talking about and only knew about the public buses.
I ended up going to the public bus terminal where I found myself immediately surrounded by men asking where I was going and pointing me towards the bus. I knew that a public bus should only cost 20,000Rp, but these men insisted that the price was 120,000Rp. I got off the bus and walked away from them – no chance I’d pay 6x more! I walked down the road and the bus eventually pulled up next to me and told me to get on for 20,000Rp. By this point, all of the touts had gone, presumably staying at the bus station.
Sumatran Public Buses
The bus wasn’t particularly nice, but for the equivalent of £1 for the journey, I wasn’t complaining. Passengers are allowed to smoke on the bus (fortunately, the windows were open) and the road was not well surfaced. Eventually, I arrived at the bus terminal in Bukit Lawang. It’s possible to walk from the terminal into the village, but it’s definitely not ideal given the heat and the backpack I was carrying. I was travelling alone, so I got a motorbike into the village, although it’s possible to get a becak. I hadn’t pre-booked any accommodation but there are loads of guest houses to choose from.
One of the main reasons tourists flock to Bukit Lawang is to see the orangutans in the nearby jungle. It’s possible to book at many guest houses or at the guides association building. The tour prices are fixed so a tour should cost the same regardless of where you book it. A 2-day 1night jungle tour cost €60, plus an additional €10 to tube back to Bukit Lawang. This includes all meals and camping.
The tour begins at 9am. I’d booked through Bugis Inn so I had breakfast there before going to the jungle. In total, there were 5 guests on my tour and 3 guides. The trek starts with a steep ascent into the jungle. There are lots of tree roots to grab onto. It’s very humid in the jungle so prepare to sweat!
Once we got to the top of the first hill, we were lucky enough to see an orangutan almost immediately. A mother was eating and swinging from a tree whilst her baby played overhead.
“Quick, Mina’s coming!”
One of the last orangutans we saw was the infamous Mina. The guides told us to back off when they saw her coming because she can be quite aggressive. From what I understand, Mina didn’t have the best start in life and she ended up at the local orangutan sanctuary. She was one of the first orangutans to be released into the jungle. I’m not whether it was her infamous reputation, or that Mina was on the ground, but she seemed to be enormous in comparison to the other orangutans we had seen.
The camp is very basic but does have a toilet (squatty potty), although you’ll need to bring your own toilet paper.
The guide prepared dinner for us, which was a buffet of currys, rice, potato cakes and chicken. It was delicious and well needed after trekking all day. For dessert we had a fruit platter.
We spent the rest of the evening playing card games, before getting an early night.
The following morning, we had breakfast and another delicious fruit platter. We had the chance to go to a waterfall then it was time to tube back to the village. The tubing was fun and a great way to return to Bukit Lawang.
Tips for Bukit Lawang
- Organise transport to collect you from Kuala Namu airport. This means you’ll avoid Medan.
- Take plenty of insect repellent. There’s loads of mosquitoes in the jungle!
- Make sure your guide is registered! Check with the guides office if you’re unsure!
- I stayed at Bugis Inn – the owner Amar and his family are lovely so I recommend staying there.
Thanks for reading! All pictures are my own