Seeing wild orangutans was a dream of mine for some time already. It’s possible in few places in Borneo and Sumatra but Bukit Lawang is one of the easiest and cheapest to get to. It takes only a short flight from Singapore to Medan and a few-hrs car ride to find yourself in the middle of Sumatran jungle:
The only thing that we organised beforehand was the flight and 1 night accommodation*. Yup-1 night(!) :). It was a short&intense weekend trip, requiring us to travel from the early morning to late evening on Saturday so we can spend the whole Sunday in Bukit Lawang. We had to leave on the same day around midnight, travel all night to be back to work in Singapore on Monday morning!
**recommended! On The Rocks is a bit outside the village, surrounded by the jungle and the owners are very nice (ask for the trek discount;).
If you wonder about the budget of such trip we spent as follows:
- flight Singapore -Medan: 74 SGD, jungle bungalow: 10SGD, airport pickup: 30SGD (roundtrip), trek: 65SGD ( all prices per person)
I. Welcome to the Jungle!
There are few jungle treks you can do here – all varying in the time you want to allocate for it (from 3hrs to 3weeks). We went for 1day ‘Chicken trek’ ( the standard price per person is 45 euro, including professional guide, national park permit, fresh fruits, lunch). The trek starts at 9.00 am ( or for some people ‘sometime after breakfast when everybody finally get ready’) and last around 5 hrs. I would say the fitness level required is medium – the pace is quite fast and the jungle is not flat (surprise!) so you need to climb up and down through the forest.
Usually I don’t like to be guided around but the jungle here is really thick and there is no clear ‘tourist’ path.
::: Our local guide was stopping from time to time to point on a tree, monkey or bird :::
::: Thomas Leaf Monkey, endemic to north Sumatra! We’ve seen lots of them -not only in the jungle but also later in the village :::
The jungle, Thomas Monkeys and giant ants were fun but what we came for were these guys:
The name orangutan means “man of the forest” in the Malay language. In the lowland forests in which they reside, orangutans live solitary existences. They feast on wild fruits like lychees, mangosteens, and figs, and slurp water from holes in trees. They make nests in trees of vegetation to sleep at night and rest during the day (pretty sweet life, right?). Adult male orangutans can weigh up to 90 kg. Fun Fact: Flanged males have prominent cheek pads called flanges and a throat sac used to make loud verbalizations called long calls. An unflanged male looks like an adult female. In a biological phenomenon unique among primates, an unflanged male can change to a flanged male for reasons that are not yet fully understood.
Bornean and Sumatran orangutans differ a little in appearance and behavior. While both have shaggy reddish fur, Sumatran orangutans have longer facial hair and are reported to have closer social bonds than their Bornean cousins. Bornean orangutans are more likely to descend from the trees to move around on the ground. Sadly, both species have experienced sharp population declines. A century ago there were probably more than 230,000 orangutans in total, but the Bornean orangutan is now estimated at about 104,700 based on updated geographic range (Endangered) and the Sumatran about 7,500 (Critically Endangered) [source and more on orangutans here]
My biggest surprise was when after breakfast I couldn’t wait to march deep deep into the jungle wondering if we would be lucky enough to see at least one orangutan. And then my friend, unruffled, said that he already saw one around the corner… We rushed to the spot and got to see a mom with her baby, just right there, walking by (the baby was more tumbling then walking though- check my insta stories highlights from Sumatra- this was truly one of the most amazing ‘this-is-why-you travel’ moments 😀 ).
The guides knows the orangutans living around Bukit Lawang and where to find them. I love seeing animals in the wild, in their natural habitat without fences and cages. Standing 2 meters from them makes you realize how huge and magnificent those apes are (also how cute- we saw 2 different baby orangutans). At some point when we found orangutan Mina, we were told to keep bigger distance. Apparently Mina is famous for being aggressive towards people* so the guides bribe her with bananas to behave**.
* Mina has a traumatic past thanks to humans, being forcibly separated from her mother and held in captivity in her youth (more here).
** this is the only exception – the guides do not feed any other animal in the jungle- actually we once saw the guide feeding ON an animal- ok, ok it was a just a giant ant for our shock/amusement but still.
::: Mom and a baby :::
::: Fruit time for humans :::
II. Tube-rafting along the river
The trek finishes when you get to the river:
After the hike for an extra 10 euro you can come back by tube-rafting along the river (optional). It’s not only superfun, but also you can see&admire the jungle from the totally new perspective. I didn’t take too many pics but check out my video for a few second footage from the ride.
View from the ride:
::: Arriving to the village and the end of the jungle adventure :::
::: Bukit Lawang Village :::
III. Evening walk in Bukit Lawang Village
With nothing else to do there but explore we went for a walk in the village:
::: Bakso – a secret reason why Michao is travelling to Indonesia :::
::: If you were wondering what Bakso is … :::
::: Romantic view from the afternoon;) :::
::: Sun setting over Bukit Lawang :::
::: Bridges! The most prominent and scary objects in the village (watch your feet when you walk on it, since often steps are missing and the river few meters below is shallow&rocky :::
Still cant believe we did all this in 1 day!
Short video from the trip: