Bukit Lawang literally means "door to the hills". 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 one of the last places in the world where one can see orangutans in the wild. 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 center 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 meters 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 ecosystem 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.
Take a taxi from the airport or hotel in Medan to Pinang Baris. (no more than 50,000 IDR) DO NOT get off at the big terminal.. tell your driver to go on.. just a bit past there is a bakery called Mawar. from there you can get a minibus (max 20,000) or the big coach (max 15,000). The big coach is government run but minivans are 'private'. They 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, 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; 130.000 rps/person) 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 and made a good decision for the transportation
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.
- Primata & Paradise Adventure, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. / must contact Slamet, Jl. Timbang Jaya Dusun IV, Bahorok, Bukit Lawang (North Sumatra), . 24hours open. An experienced jungle trekking,rafting, campsite, tour and adventure in Bukit Lawang. Offer an awesome wildlife natural trekking in green deeply beautiful Leuser Mountain National Park with lisenced and years experienced local guides and crews. Adventure start from EUR48 - EUR488.
- Bukit Lawang. Bukit Lawang is most famous for the Orangutan Viewing Platform. Feedings are daily at 8:00AM and 3:00PM. Attending the feeding costs Rp 20,000 [Camera Rp 50,000]. The rangers are highly qualified and can tell you a lot about orangutans and the project. There are also other national park staff around. Please always follow their instructions to guarantee your and the orangutans safety. The feedings are a great opportunity for amazing pictures as the orangutans usually stick around a bit whilst munching on their bananas.
- Exciting News The new Governor of North Sumatra comes from Bukit Lawang and one of his promises was to fix the road from Medan to Bukit Lawang. Work has already commenced and compared to previous years the road has improved a lot and work is still ongoing. There are still some bumpy parts but in general big improvements are being made.
A jungle trek is a must. Seeing the orangutan in the wild may be one of the best experiences you will have in your life.
It is not permitted to go unaccompanied into the jungle. 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 happened that travelers pay their money and get sold off and end up in a group of 10 people. Ask how many people will be in the group.
It is a good idea to ask for information at the guest houses... if anything goes wrong or you are not happy you can complain to them. And they have a reputation to keep up.
A fixed price for jungle treks is €25 per day. 2 days trek including rafting is 60 euros and 3 days trek including rafting is 85 euros. During the trek the guides always provide you nice Indonesian traditional meals and exotic fruits! Usually you stop at a really nice waterfall where you have the chance to relax and swim!
It happened quite often that some guides have fed orangutan some human food during a trek just to coax the wild animals to pose for tourists. Several orangutan have gotten sick or died for this reason. You should not get close to or call or feed ANY of the animals, even if your guide irresponsibly tells you it is OK.
Even though sightings of the orangutan and other wildlife can never be guaranteed, when following the instructions of your guide the chances are favorable.
Another hero is the Thomas Leaf Monkey. Such a wonderful creature that leaps into air with wild abandon as they move from tree to tree. Their mohawk hair styles and faces filled with millions of years of character really make these little guys stand out.
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 orangutan's 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 inner tube 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 for Rp 5,000 [make sure to take a flashlight], make 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.
- Yusri Cafe situated across from the National Park Ticket Office. A very homely feeling cafe with Yusuf and Rita (with Rita & her mum doing all the cooking) taking care of you. Serving tasty local food at local prices with decent portion sizes. Good western selection of food for breakfast. Nasi Goreng Rp 8,000, Nasi Ayam Rp 10,000, Black Tea/Coffee Rp 2,000 with milk Rp 5,000, Banana toast Rp 7,000, Banana Pancake Rp 8,000.
- Tony's Restaurant serves excellent home made pizza for those craving a touch of the west. The best spaghetti this side of Roma and a great tasting Gado Gado for those seeking some of the local fare.
- Jungle Tribe a cocktail bar and restaurant owned by Erika-Canadian woman and her husband Agun. Situated next door to Sam's restaurant across the road from Sam's Bungalows - 3 very pleasant rooms with great views of the river.
- Sam's Bungalows Right next door to Jungle Tribe cocktail bar, this restaurant has the best in panoramic views of the river. Sam's cook uses an array of herbs and spices that give her cooking an extra dimension. Try the Gado Gado special. All the curries are rich in flavor, filled with nutritious and natural food.
- Green Hill has great views of the jungle and there food is great. The restaurant is a lovely open plan space and a good menu and is brilliant for vegetarians e.g. banana and chocolate pancakes, tempe rendang, veggie curry...
- Indra Valley Inn and Resto have a wonderful riverside location with jungle views. The restaurant & bar offer offer a variety of delicious fresh meals and snacks with a good variety of vegetarian options. Ask the staff about their river surfing - for those wanting to work up an appetite before they dine.
At sunset a great place for a Bintang is the terrace at the Eco Lodge. The friendly folks there will serve you up 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.
- Junias Guesthouse and Brando Resto (Junias Guesthouse), Bukit Lawang (Must contact Anang), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Enjoy both scenic river and forest sounds as you relax at junias guesthouse. Situated between Gunung Leuser National Park and the Bohorok River – the perfect place to stay in Bukit Lawang for trekking, tubing, enjoying Indonesian culture and food. Whether backpacking through or on holiday, Junia’s is a new, jungle-style guesthouse with comfortable and beautiful rooms. Offers very cheap rooms from Rp. 100.000 until Rp. 300.000, and discount for long staying. Also Offer some services such as Jungle trekking, traditional jungle survival skills course etc.
- Jungle Inn, directly opposite the orangutan sanctuary. Offers reasonably priced rooms, but slightly inflated prices for food by Sumatran standards. Jungle Inn has a couple of very special rooms namely 'Honeymoon Suite' for Rp 350,000+ and the new 'Penthouse' for over Rp 450,000. Contact name and no. to book. Bahrum manager of Jungle Inn +6285270637820
- Back to Nature, Jungle (Must contact Aca), ☎ . Only place to stay that's in the jungle, not the town. 4 rooms, all with balcony. Family style meals. Free coffee and tea. Private waterfall bathing. 80 hectares of private jungle. Eco-resort. US $10-15/night. Dutch spoken.
- Sam's - 3 lovely rooms with prices from 100,000-200,000, Contact name and no. Samsul +6281370093597,
- Jungle Tribe A free standing house at 250,000/night with 'a bar and restaurant' next door. Contact name and no. Agun +6281361746375
- Garden Inn not far from Jungle Inn is another pleasant place to stay in Bukit Lawang (Nice double bed rooms, cold shower and mandi for Rp. 50k to Rp. 60k). Contact name and no. Pardil +6281396000571
- Indra Valley Inn & Trekking, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Directly at the river at your left hand side when you walk to the orangutan centre. Indra Valley Inn offers jungle view accommodation with balcony and riverview between 150,000 and 250,000 IDR. Great restaurant & bar with healthy food for reasonable prices. Owner and operator Obiwan is a very experienced (third generation) trekking guide.
- Green Hill Guesthouse, e-mail: email@example.com. Now have 5 rooms built high up behind their beautiful open air building with incredible views.a simple one for 60,000IDR has shared bathroom, the treetop bungalows are 150,000 IDR and the newest one, a treetop chalet is 250,000 IDR. Contact name and no. to book Andrea or Mbra +6281263643775 or +6281 370 349 124.
- Mboy Guesthouse directly at the river, newly built house with clean fan-rooms, western-style bathrooms and big balconies (Rp 250,000); older rooms (Rp 100,000-150,000), great river and jungle views, not far from Indra Inn and Greenhill and just 3 minutes walk to the entrance of the Gunung Leuser National Park, coffee shop. Contact by the website of EcoTravel Bukit Lawang: accommodation, trekking, tours and airport pickup in Medan 
- Bukit Lawang Cottages also known as 'Eco Lodge' (just across the river from main village at the base of the hill and where the walking tracks start) is a good option with prices starting from Rp 80,000/night particularly good, if you arrive late in the day. It's also one of the main places to eat/drink at night and meet in the morning for treks.
- Wisma Bukit Lawang Indah is across the river next door to Yusman which is next door to Wisma Sibayak. Cheap rooms with a double and single bed go for Rp. 35,000. Bukit Lawang Indah has excellent cheap food
Mama Anas Homestay is in Lambo village, 10 minutes from Bukit Lawang by local bus. A great location in the rice paddy fields with amazing views of the mountains. She has 2 really nice rooms and you will get to meet her children..a great way to experience a bit of real life. She and her husband both speak good English. to book email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jungle Border, Bukit lawang (On the opposite side of the river to the main village and the last resort before the jungle (hense the name jungle border)), ☎ N/A. New resort run by a nice and friendly young family with two beautiful river facing huts one with shower and toilet and the other without ( another hut was being built at the time of our visit). Quiet location with good food and cold beer, the perfect place to chill out. The price ranges from 80,000 to 150,000 depending on which hut you take and the time of the year
- Plan's Stone. Lovely bungalows next to the river, across the bridge from town. En-suite toilet and shower (cold water). Local family owned and run. Great service, friendly, welcoming, and authentic. 50,000 IDR with delicious Nasi Goreng breakfast and tea throughout the day. (April 2012)
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 who seek a bit of reassurance should check with the guesthouses and arrange to go trekking with other travellers. Green Hill and Sam's Bungalows have good reputations for solo travellers.
Any woman OR MAN who experiences sexual harassment in any form in Bukit Lawang should report the incident immediately to the Guides Association 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.
Unbranded or unfamiliar branded or even unsealed bottled liquor/alcohol is best to be avoided as it may be too harsh for you and you might be end up hospitalized.
Public bus to Medan leaves all the time. Expect 20 people in a van with 10 seats, so snuggle in.
Hire a car from Andreas or Nicky at Yoga Car Rentals, Paradep Taxi, Tobatransporter and anything else . They meet you at the airport and give you the keys and map. That's all you need if you've got any sense of adventure. The people are wondeful and the drive is a bit bumpy but great fun.
Tourist busses (minivan 5-7 persones; e.g. PT Bagus Holiday's Taxi) go from Bukit Lawang to Medan (75.000 rps/person; 2 to 3 hours; will dropp you off at the airport - if you ask for it - to catch a flight), Berastagi and Parapat (Lake Toba; 6 to 7 hours; 150.000 rps/person).