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Lit Lantern Festival (YEE PENG FESTIVAL) ! | Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand

Yee Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai is celebrated on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month ever year, which is usually mid November (+- a week).

Those incredible photos of thousands of brightly lit lanterns rising into the night’s sky is already an iconic image of Chiang Mai– but on the spot I found out that so called ‘mass release’ is not only just a part of lantern festival Yee Peng – but Yee Peng itself is a part of the wider Loy Krathong* celebrations! Locals believe that during this special time of the year the rivers are filled to their fullest and the moon is at its brightest. Apparently this makes it a perfect time to ‘make merit’ and literally let go of all your past misfortunes in a form of  symbolic krathong floating off on the Ping River, and releasing your lantern into the night sky. 

* “Loy” means “float”, and a “krathong” is a special Thai floating sculpture particular to the holiday. The traditional krathong is made from a cross-section of a banana tree trunk, which is then elaborately decorated with folded banana leaves and flowers in intricate towering designs (see below!).

::: Releasing the lantern and observing how it rises higher and higher into the sky to finally join the mass of orange dots was a great experience! :::

::: When releasing your lantern you are suppose to wish for good fortune in the new year :::

We decided not to participate in the mass release- mainly because it involves mass of people (surprise!:P) and takes place outside of the city.  Also- it is not a traditional way of celebrating this holiday but rather a spectacular tourist attraction. Instead, we stayed in the town with the locals. Most of them were coming throughout the night to lit their lanterns by the small river surrounding the Old Town. The nearby trees made it a bit difficult, so I released mine from the bridge:

More lanterns [Gallery]: 

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The whole town is decorated with a variety of colorful lanterns, lamps and candles, which gives an amazingly magical atmosphere:

::: These small dots behind the temple are not stars but lanterns released into the sky non-stop for several hours ::::


More or less in the center of the walled city, in the district where the former rulers of Chiang Mai built their palaces, stands a monument to the “Three Kings” – King Mengrai of the Lanna kingdom*, founder of Chiang Mai in the center, flanked by his good friend, King Ramkamhaeng of Sukothai and King Ngam Muang of Payao. According to the legend, the three worked together to lay out the city of Chiang Mai. The monument is a shrine for local residents, who swing by after work to leave offerings.

*Chiang Mai was the centre of the Lanna kingdom until the area was colonised by Burma in 1558, and then gradually incorporated into a greater Thailand from 1774

::: Touristic side of Chiang Mai – English sings, pizzas and even the branch of famous ‘Friends ‘cafe- Central Perk … :::

The Festival holds a series of events that takes place during this special three days – including a beauty contest (?), traditional Thai dance shows, the official “Yee Peng Parade” around the gate of the Old Town and Tha Phae Street, live music and handicrafts sessions.


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::: My Krathong 🙂 – a traditional basket of banana leaves, flowers, incense and candles, that I made myself.  It is supposed to be released onto the river, symbolizing letting go of all ills and misfortunes in the previous year. What you can not see in the picture however, are cockroaches and huge rats roistering around the canal which made the task a bit difficult. As a result, I rather threw mine away than released, but I hope that it still counts :::

::: Picturesque Krathongs floating on a small river, illuminated by colorful lanterns – a fairy tale! :::

Making our own Krathong: 

Krathong can be bought at one of the many street stalls.  But we were so fascinated when we saw the hostel owner making her own Krathongs that she agreed to teach us. Look how proud we are after 2hrs of pinning banana leaves in a special pattern:

Making our own Krathongs [ gallery]:

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::: Krathongs in a more ‘modern’ version :::


Charming Chiang Mai | Northern Thailand

Chiang Mai was on my bucket list for a long while now, mainly because of the lantern festival ( checkout next post!>>>soon>>>). As always, I found much more than expected- this little town in northern Thailand is just beautiful.

I. Uniqueness, colors, temples and small town vibes

Walking around you will encounter smaller and bigger temples, decorated with distinctive lanterns:

::: Outside and inside the temple :::

::: The old town is surrounded by walls and a moat: ::

:::  Watch out for the infamous tourist attractions –  tiger kingdom and a long neck village :::

::: I love love loveee refreshing coconuts especially , after walking around in the tropical heat :::: 

::: Surprise! Look what I find while wandering around looking for a coffee:::

::: Closer look at the biggest temple in Chiang Mai – Wat Chedi Luang :::

::: The memorable moment – trying to be a good Buddhist and… do nothing. Just sitting in front of this incredible building, enjoying the view and my coconut ::::

::: Pretty cool ‘monk chat program’ near the temple – if you ever wanted to meet a monk this is a perfect occasion!  :::

II. Memes everywhere

Look into the details of your surroundings, you will notice how bizarre those sculptures are 🙂

::: Sad dragon (?) and… a unicorn-elephant-snake? Why not. ::::

::: My Supervisor and me when I ask for more leave days :::

III. Elephant sanctuary trip

::: Elephant Sanctuary is a bit further from the town, but the trip there is quite fun- you ride in the back of the red van pictured above :::

::: The back of the van is open so you can enjoy the ride through Chiang Mai and then the jungle :::

 Elephants at this Sanctuary are rescues from logging and entertainment industry (when using elephants in the logging industry became illegal, elephants trainers (mahouts) have had to find other ways to feed their elephants, most of them turning to the entertainment industry and tourism, which often involves cruel practices to force the animal into compliance).

What makes an elephant sanctuary? The bottom line is the respect with which the animals are treated. At a real elephant sanctuary, nobody rides the elephants and the elephants are not forcibly made to do anything.  They roam around the jungle-facility quite freely (which is an incredible sight!) and have plenty of room to do so. The elephants are cared for, and receive adequate medical treatment. Of course, there is no prodding, hitting or chaining up of the elephants.

::: Breaking ice with bananas:) :::

::: Seeing happy animals always becomes the highlight of my trip ::: 

IV. Cheap thrills- food & massage

I am sort of famous within my friends for hating Asian food ( living in Asia for years now – so that’s pretty inconvenient..). However, there are some exceptions and Thai food is definitely one of them!

There is no such thing as too much mango sticky rice- delicious traditional Thai dessert made with glutinous rice, fresh mango and coconut milk.

::: Can you image a better breakfast..? A unicorn flavored ice cream (only in Thailand!:P) and mango pancakes. Perfection. :::

Local prawn-mango salad is great but…

… my all time favorite while in Thailand will always be .. toasted cheese sandwiches <3 Available only in Thai’s 7/11:(

::: Can’t leave without having a cheap massage or a manicure! Massage menu with standard prices for Chiang Mai and a perfect picture of how you will feel afterwards ::::


> Next : why I really came to Chiang Mai- the magical Lantern festival! 


Hawaii Hikes

“I don’t need therapy, I need to go hiking in Hawaii”

Why nobody told me that Hawaii is such a magnificent hiking destination..? I’ve always imagined it as a postcard-perfect beaches, hula-dance and general chill in a Hawaiian flowers Lei Garland , sipping tiki coctails.  Turns out that Hawaii has an incredibly adventurous vibe in the air! You can do hikes, waterfall trails, helicopter rides and more. Here’s photo-story from a few hikes that I had a chance to do there.

I. Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail

:::  Natural hiking area with paved trail & overlook, ocean views, lighthouse & whale-watching opportunity. Pretty easy and incredibly rewarding! ::: 

:::: Stunning views of the coast and the dreamy, deep blue sea stretching to the horizon… ::::

::: How did I get here? Again, thanks to the Couchsurfing! One of the locals posted on the CS Honolulu facebook wall that she’s going to Makapu’u and has 3 free seats in her car <3  :::

::: After hiking all the way up you can get down the cliff to check out the black lava, blowholes and if the ocean is real :::

::: Highlight of the day- floating in the peaceful coastal tide pools while the ocean waves crushing around ::::

::: Entry to the next lookout : Lanai 🙂 ::::

::: If you don’t feel like walking – roadtrips by the Oahu shores are stunning just by themselves :::

II. Koko Crater Trail, Oahu

Better known as “Koko Head Stairs” ( or ‘Leg killer’ ) is your StairMaster workout for the day, with a better-be-good panoramic view to hope for.  Free endurance and strength test,- you would challenge yourself to take every additional step up the mountain as you stride over 1050 of them to reach the top! Koko Head trail is a popular after-work workout for Honolulu people (Honolunians?).

 This abandoned railway is a a  World War II relict -the military created it to reach the lookout pillbox  and haul cargo and supplies up to the top.

::: There is a mark every 100 steps to let you know how many more to conquer;)  The last stretch is pretty steep -to the point that you are climbing rather than walking up! :::

::: Looooove those cliff’s ridges! :::

:::Only ~8000 km to the next land – Philippines:) :::

:::  Climbing above the old military bunker at the top there are some amazing panoramic views ::: 

III. Crouching Lion, Oahu

Got there by public bus from Haleiwa, that took 1.5hrs, so when I saw the area is closed – of course I went in anyway ..

::: The trail is pretty clear but sometimes simply disappears in the thick greenery, leaving you looking for pieces of cloth tied to the trees that marks where you should go :::

::: There are points in the very beginning that are just walls of rocks and roots- luckily somebody left a rope :::

::: This hike turned out to be more epic than I’ve imagined…::::


::: You can climb all the way up there.. and more! the trail just continuous along the ridge :::  


:::: Soaking in the view ::: 

::: It got pretty dangerous on the last stretch ::::

::: Wild hike! Now I see why it is closed. No railings, no clear paths- just you and the nature of a steep, rocky cliff- I absolutely loved it. ::::

Considering that this time I was alone, there was nobody on the trail and there was a storm coming- I was battling my thoughts at what point should I stop and turn around ( you really don’t want go down this steep,rocky route if it get slippery from rain)

 ::: Peak that I climbed-view from below :::

::: Mom I’m fine :::

IV. Okolehao Hiking Trail, Kauai

As you already know- I didn’t do much hiking in Kauai because I was too spoiled with the most awesome view just outside my couchsurfing house. Also- it is way less touristy than Oahu and there is only a basic public transport so it was more difficult to get around. After few days of just enjoying the north shore’s  beaches and towns, I met a fellow Couchsurfer girl – Dahn, and we check out a nearby trail together- Okolehao.

::: Mud mud mudddd- the signature hiking feature of Kauai – the most rainy of all Hawaiian islands ::::

::: Life-hack for Kauai hikers- wear your swimming shoes!:) The trail is wet and so muddy that any other shoes would be ruined anyway and later on you can just wash them in the stream;) :(Yes- I was hiking with a tiny,pink backpack- that’s what happen when you go for 2 weeks in Hawaii with only 7kg hand-luggage) ::

More of stunning Kauai pics in the next post!


Hawaii – journey for one smile, or how I Couchsurfed through my 2 weeks in the Aloha State

::: There are 2 main types of travelers: those who travel to seek comfort and those who travel to come out of their comfort zone. The thrill and adventure of the latter often pays back with the best stories to tell;) ::: 

My trip to Hawaii began as usual with the purchase of cheap tickets wayyy in advance ‘on the-spur-of-the-moment’, because I had a scientific conference in Honolulu around that date. However, I did not expect a major life’s turbulence, that turned my life upside down… Believe it or nor- when the date finally arrived, I did not feel like going to Hawaii at all. I knew that the best way to snap out of it is an ambitious challenge and getting out of my comfort zone. Hence, I have decided that this is a perfect time to give Couchsurfing a second chance*.

Couchsurfing is a hospitality and social networking service. Members can use it to arrange homestays, but also meetups, events or simply ask locals for advice regarding the place of interest. So in theory, you have a chance to stay on someone’s couch for absolutely free but more importantly you can meet a person with a similar, carefree approach to life and a lot of interesting stories to tell . Its also a unique chance to experience how the ‘real’ life looks like in a given place. Your local host will tell you where the best coffee is, how to get to a closed climbing trail or where are the best non-tourist places in the area. But! CS is not a free hotel, it’s an experience. You have to remember that you are a guest and your stay will be highly influenced by the stranger that agreed to host you. Usually hosts offer much more than just a couch -their time and company (which might be both- good and bad for your trip…).

*last time I tried it in Australia and it didn’t end well

Couch no 1: Honolulu, Oahu Island

My first host- Nikodem has been living in Hawaii for several years, developing his travel business. I didn’t know what to expect, so I asked Niko to host me just for 2 nights, and booked a hostel for the rest of my planned stay in Honolulu.

I arrived in the morning, after a 14hr flight, with the phone battery almost dead. Fortunately, it was enough to track my bus location on the map*. Niko gave me his address together with instructions where to find the key (special mailbox on the ground floor, do not ask the porter;), because he was out at the that time already. I don’t know why but I was amazed that everything was going smoothly – I got off at a good bus stop, I found his building block and the mentioned mailbox, the code worked and the keys were there. Pleased with success, I took the elevator to the right floor, and found the right door and there I saw it … a huge lock by the door handle with a code to click in … I tried the code from the mailbox- nothing. I tried to fit the key despite the lock-nothing. In the meantime, the battery in my phone died of course… If my PhD experience has taught me something, it’s to never give up. So I ignored the lock and tried the key in the inconspicuous upper lock – it worked! 😛

Relieved, I opened the door to a cozy studio with a promised couch under the wall. On the couch I found a welcome Lei from flowers (probably leftovers for Niko’s clients but still). The door to the balcony was slightly opened. I came out and looked around to see the boulevard below me leading to the beach, tall palm trees and green Hawaiian hills in the distant. And then it finally dawned on me – I made it. I’m in freakin Honolulu (!). It was wonderful:)))

*public buses in Oahu are quite frequent (every 15-20min), a one-time ticket costs $2.5 and an all-day $5.5

:::Wreath of flowers presented upon arriving -or so called Lei – is probably the most famous symbol of Hawaii and perfectly represent the Aloha spirit <3::: ::: View from Niko’s place :::

::: Short Instastories from Niko’s place :::

   I met my host later in the afternoon. He called me after work asking if I wanted to join him for …yoga. Niko instructed me to sign up for a free trial at the local studio, so totally unexpectedly I could enjoy free yoga for my whole stay in Honolulu! It was the beginning of a beautiful adventure and as it turned out -a great friendship. What else do I owe to Niko and choosing Couchsurfing (CS) instead of a hotel?

CS in Honolulu Pros:

  • Firstly, but not the most importantly, living in the very center of Honolulu, right by the legendary Waikiki beach:

::: Honolulu, Seaside Avenue. In front of me -the building where I stayed, and behind me…a passage to the famous WAIKIKI BEACH!:D :::::

::: Waikiki beach : a magical and surreal place to be. In the background you can see the Diamond Head, iconic Hawaiian volcano crater :::

  • priceless insider tips, e.g. where to buy an American sim card, where is the best coffee and the most delicious acai bowl (local must-eat)

::: Only in Hawaii- fresh mango as a side to your coffee!<3 :::

  • my kind of sightseeing, i.e. 1000cc motorbike ride around Honolulu and its hills. Frankly, it was my Hawaiian dream number 1, and if I were to rent a bike in the shop all I could get would be a lame scooter (the prices of such machines are insane and besides -my license allows me for 250cc bikes only)

  • a professional tour/roadtrip around Honolulu and Pearl Harbour! Niko is a guide in his travel agency so he invited me to see him in action. I was shown around the most important places in town and beyond. You probably noticed that my trips are usually quite spontaneous and I use wikipedia rather than professional guides, so it was an interesting experience.

::: Mr. Guide was playing the greatest Polish hits from 20 years ago, that was supposed to sound tropical.. Example? Check it out- but I’m warning you- you cannot unsee this… click :::

::: Niko in his professional mode :::

::: Pearl Harbor makes a huge impression – totally recommended! At the end of the tour you can eat a typical American hot dog with … sauerkraut :::

::: A memorial just above the sinking site of the USS Arizona battleship with 1,102 Marines on board during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The wreck and bodies were never recovered ::::

  • unofficial tour to the fabulous Polish consulate … to water the flowers, because the consul is on holiday in Poland  (although after watering it turned out that half of them are plastic).  The current Consul of the Republic of Poland in Hawaii-  Bożena Jarnot, is Niko’s friend and original founder of his company.

 ::: View of the Diamond Head from the Consul’s flat / office . Eh, I think I chose a wrong profession :::

  • getting to know a whole bunch of Niko’s friends, as he invited me to the numerous events, including a sandbar boat party or a beach party on the north coast organized by dancing with fire hippies!:D
  • a few really crazy but not entirely legal things I will not write about here but I would love to tell you personally or in ‘never-have-and-ever’ type of games

CS in Honolulu Cons:

It’s hard to think of any. Niko’s flat is a small studio with the bed, couch, home office and kitchen- all in one room, so there was zero privacy.  It did not bother me though, because as it turned out -Niko is a supercool person and we got along really well. So well, that I end up cancelling my hostel and staying for additional 3 nights at his place :).

Next on the agenda was the neighboring island of Kauai. So I partied away the last night in Honolulu with Niko and new friends, returned to the flat only to take my backpack and went to the airport.

::: There are no ferries between islands -but local airlines offer frequent flights for fair prices :::


Couch no 2: Princeville, Kauai Island

Another island – another Couchsurfing adventure. I have to admit that I have seen many places but nothing has ever made such an impression on me like Kauai. The wildness, monumentality of the steep cliffs, volcanic beaches, beauty and abundance of nature without natural predators were … stunning. I felt like in Jurassic Park. It turned out to be an exceptionally non-touristy island, with almost no public transport.

::: Kauai dazzle with its epic feeling of a lost world … ::::

   My next host – Krishna,is an American whose parents were hippies and spent his childhood traveling with them all over the states. As it is difficult to move around Kauai without the car, Krish offered to pick me up from the airport (even though his home was on the other side of the island). On the way home, he made several stops – to see a wild beach, lookout point or to get me a local coffee (I started to feel the lack of sleep from last night).

CS in Kauai pros :

  • Once again, I came to live in the most amazing place on the island.  Na Pali Coast, that Kauai is famous for was just around the corner.

::: My Kauai-couch was in the living room with a terrace :::

  • Krish was an extremely nice host-  in the morning he made delicious coffee from a professional coffee machine, to go with avocados toasts <3 :

::: Breakfast with an ocean view :::

::: CS in Kauai – Krishna’s incredible house :::

  • Krish showed me around, pointing out all the local trees and plants and their uses when walking around

::: Picking avocado straight from a wild tree :::

::: Natural face gel, shampoo and conditioner in one – great for tired salty water and sun hair :::

::: Wild Guava-yum! ::::

  • The best of this CS experience turned out to be something that is not available for a normal,mortal tourist -riding a waverunner on the waves of the Na Pali cost! 😀 Officially, the most dangerous and unbelievable thing I’ve ever did. The waverunner belongs to Krishna’s friend and it is not a typical (nor legal – but shh) way to see the wonderful Na Pali…

The coast can be seen from the ground during hiking (but the trail is currently closed), from the air (by helicopter) or from the ocean (but the waves are high and the rocks are dangerous, so the only option is big tourist boat). Since I ride motorbike on a daily basis and once I tried jet ski in the Baltic Sea, I thought that it cant be that hard;)

::: Na Pali Coast ::: ::: Being so close to those sharp, massif cliffs and feeling the powerful ocean’s waves beneath me still gives me chills … :::

  • another fun thing was Krishna’s tip to use the facilities of the nearby resort. St. Regis is so remote that nobody would suspect that I am not one of the guest!:P

::: Chilling in St.Regis :::

::: St. Regis terrace- perfect spot for sunset viewing :::

CS in Kauai Cons:

Sounds like a fairy tale …? Well, not exactly. Time for plot twist-Krish was not completely mentally healthy. I noticed that there is something wrong while chatting on CS but as a hippotherapy volunteer, I am used to different disabilities and strongly believe that such people should not be treated differently. When I met Krish at the airport, he seemed to be simply a bit slow. It was not until I got into his car when the conversation about alien kidnappings in Kauai started…  Krish’s quiet way of speaking and absent gaze was not helping.

  • Throughout my stay, Krish was flooding me with conspiracy theory stories and weird facts from his life. Some of them turned out to be true (I met his mom later that day) but most were simply..crazy. He claimed that in the past he worked for DARPA (military agency for technology) and knows too many of their secrets so they sent him to Kauai and he cannot leave the island. His favorite conversation topics included secret US technologies and bizarre genetic experiments for military… All that seemed harmless apart form one moment. On the second day, he brought a large heavy stone from the terrace and smiling lightly said that this stone has magical power. He warned me that I should be careful and don’t come near it when the stone has bad mood .. That night I was falling asleep convinced that this will be a murder weapon that the police will be asking in the morning.

::: Krish loved to bounce his neurotech ideas off me :::

  • Krish turned our to be a very engaged host with too much free time on his hands.  After few days he got seriously offended when I went for a hike on my own … Weirdly enough, I could take bizarre stone threats but I cannot stand somebody’s moods. That day I moved out (to couch no3- that belonged to another Couchsurfing girl Dahn that I’ve just met) and finally enjoyed Kauai in peace.

Couch No 4- Heleiwa, North Shore, Wyspa Oahu

For my last weekend in Hawaii I returned to Oahu, but this time to the north coast, which is much quieter than the south. Haleiwa is a charming little hipster town by the beach, famous for its surfing culture (thanks to some of the best waves in Hawaii).

My third host -Ryan, surprised me the day before the arrival sending me a message that the couch is actually taken, but he can offer me… his van.  I had doubts at first, but I’ve just had two Mai Tais in Tiki Bar with Dahn. She encouraged me to go for it because ‘fun situations like this is what travelling is about’.

::: Van in Haleiwa- my ‘home’ for the next 2 nights :::

   I arrived the next day in the evening and  Ryan was so nice that he picked me up from the bus stop in Haleiwa (so I didn’t have to look for his home in the dark), and took for a welcome beer to the local bar. It would be rude to say no, although the only thing I hoped for after my arrival was shower (I was riding a scooter around the hot,dusty Kauai for the whole day before my flight, in search of the Jurassic Park filming locations ). On the plus side- again I got to meet my host’s friends and check out how the locals party in the north.

CS in Haleiwa Pros:

  • sleeping in a van turned out to be a great adventure, the mattress was really comfortable and I could enjoy a bit of private space for the first time in 1.5 weeks!

::: View from Ryan’s beachfront house ::: 

  • because Haleiwa is so small -and we left the car by the bar- in the morning we went for coffee on the cute bicycles (no photos – I cannot function normally before my morning coffee)

  • Ryan took me to all the cool places in Haleiwa, such as the local surfboard factory, where his friend showed me how the boards are made! I had no idea how much science it involves.

::: A cool local place in Haleiwa with the most bizarre soap factory I’ve ever seen ::::

CS in Haleiwa Cons:

  •  Although I lived in a van parked by the house, I still had to use the bathroom in the house, which was quite awkward. It seemed that the other flatmates did not understand the CS concept and I wasn’t really welcome there. Especially that there were more people there than usual, since one of the housemate’s sister was visiting (and occupying my couch).  Ryan admitted later that he didn’t host too many couchsurfers there and didn’t discuss my stay with his flatmates.

Bonus – Laie houseparty and unexpected couch no 5

Niko called me on my last day, saying that I have to (!) come to his friends’s housparty in Laie. Laie is a small beach town~1.5hrs away from Haleiwa. He added that his friend will be going to work in Honolulu in the morning so she can give me a ride (my flight back to Singapore was around 11am). I didn’t have to think twice-  I met his friends before and the idea that I would spend my last night in Hawaii with the people I know and like was great. I packed up things from my van, said good-bye to Ryan and his flatmates,  bought six-pack blond beers and got on the bus to Laie..

::: Couch by the ocean – hands down the most magical place i got to sleep (ever) :::

:: Coral Reef in front of your porch?- sure why not ::::

::: Refreshingly cold morning in Laie <3 :::

I can honestly say- mission accomplished. Hawaii turned out to be a cleansing experience – full of unforgettable adventures that I really needed at that point of my life. Thanks to CS I met the coolest and the strangest people, I did things that I’ve never dreamed about* and reminded myself that there still is kindness in this world.

You can judge for yourself whether adventure, unusual encounters and unique experiences are sufficient counterweight for the risks and discomfort of staying on the stranger’s couch;)

*Since I was in a rather peculiar state of mind, I admit I had a bunch of rather reckless adventures that I have not described here because somehow they did not fit the post. For example? Ultra-dangerous solo climb on a closed steep cliff’s route, problems with the US police, hitchhiking at 4 am in the middle of the jungle or tea party at the drug dealer house. Ahhh Hawaii :)))




1 day in …SUMATRA | wild orangutans, jungle trek & and Bukit Lawang village

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!

*The car pickup from the airport and the jungle trek was conveniently arranged by our hostel**- you can decide on the spot which trek you want to do and when.

**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:

Known for their distinctive red fur, orangutans are the largest arboreal mammal, spending most of their time in trees. Long, powerful arms and grasping hands and feet allow them to move through the branches. These great apes share 96.4% of our genes and are highly intelligent creatures.

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: