Bukit Lawang is a popular tourist destination for its laidback riverside lifestyle, jungle treks in the Gunung Leuser National Park, and its world-famous orangutan rehabilitation centre..
Bukit Lawang is a small tourist village at the bank of Bahorok River in North Sumatra province of Indonesia. Situated approximately 86 km north-west of Medan, Bukit Lawang is known for the largest animal sanctuary of Sumatran orangutan (around 5,000 orangutans occupy the area), and also the main access point to the Gunung Leuser National Park from the east side.
Bukit Lawang rehabilitation center for orangutans was founded in 1973. The main purpose is to preserve the decreasing number of orangutan population due to hunting, trading and deforestation.
A flash flood hit Bukit Lawang on 2 November 2003. The disaster, which was the result of illegal logging, destroyed the local tourist resorts and had a devastating impact to the local tourism industry in the area. Around 400 houses, 3 mosques, 8 bridges, 280 kiosks and food stalls, 35 inns and guest houses were destroyed by the flood, including 239 people (5 of them were tourists) were killed and around 1,400 locals lost their homes. Thanks to several international cooperation agencies, the site was rebuilt and re-opened again in July 2004
Bukit Lawang is one of the most accessible places to spot this reclusive primate, thanks to an orang-utan conservation programme that has been operating on the eastern edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park since the 1970s. The national park is one of the orang-utan’s last remaining strongholds, with more than 5000 animals thought to be living in the wild.
Since the village is only 96km northwest of Medan, Bukit Lawang is also one of the easiest places from which to make the leap into the jungle, a diverse and rugged forest crisscrossed by clear, fast-flowing rivers. Many tourists slip-slide through the mud and undergrowth on multi-day treks and hobble back to the village to recuperate.
Bukit Lawang was extensively damaged by a flash flood in November 2003, which killed 280 people and destroyed much of the riverfront development. The essentials of the town and tourist infrastructure have been rebuilt but the community is still grieving for lost relatives and livelihoods.
Bukit Lawang is located 86km from Medan, the largest city in Indonesia’s Northern island of Sumatra, at the entrance to Gunung Leuser National Park, the last sanctuary of the Sumatran orangutan.
Getting there from Medan
In order to reach Bukit Lawang, tourists can either:
* take a taxi direct from Medan city centre or airport to Bukit Lawang (about $125)
* hail a becak (motorised rickshaw) or taxi (about $4), or a local yellow bus (about $5.20) to Pinang Baris station; from there large orange buses travel to Bukit Lawang for approx $25.50, or faster minibuses for $1. Buses run until roughly 5:30pm.
* take a bus or taxi to Binjai, about 15km from Medan on the road to Bukit Lawang, where minibuses continue until around 6:30pm
Flora and fauna
Seeing the orangutans is a magical experience. You can usually see them near the rehabilitation centre and at the feeding platform during the morning and afternoon feeding sessions. Still the best experience is an encounter in the jungle where there are many semi-wild and wild animals. The wild Orangutan can be difficult to spot unless you go deep into the jungle. There are also white and black gibbons that make an amazing noise calling out to each other, and Thomas Leaf monkeys. If you are lucky, you may be able to see toucans, moon snakes, monitor lizards. Since there are very few still alive, it is very improbable that either the Sumatran Tiger or the Sumatran Rhinoceros will be encountered, although footprints and droppings have been reported.
During the wet season, October to March, expect rain at least daily, towards the late afternoon and early evening. Intensity varies, but invariably the monsoonal rains always arrive. Climate is always very humid, so pack a lot of drinking water if you are trekking.
Access to the Gunung Leuser National Park is Rp. 200,000 per person – payable either in Bukit Lawang, or at the orangutan feeding ground. Permit should be included in all treks and jungle activities, but check with the guide to be sure.
What to see:
* Bukit Lawang. Bukit Lawang is most famous for the Orangutan rehabilitation centre. Feedings are daily at 8.00AM and 3.00PM. Attending the feeding costs 20.000Rp. The proceeds are used to keep the project running.
The rangers are highly qualified and can tell you a lot about orangutans and the project. Please always follow their instructions to guarantee your and the orangutans safety. The feedings are a great opportunity for amazing pictures as the oragnutans 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.
* Ketambe is a village on the west side of Gunung Leuser National Park. It is less visited than Bukit Lawang, but the area is amazing and the people are very friendly. To reach Ketambe from Medan, you have to go first to Kutacane (a 30 minutes flight or a 7 hours minibus ride). Note the flights fill very quickly so make sure you book as soon as arriving in Medan.
Note also that the airline flying is on a contract basis and from time to time when the contract finishes there are times when there are NO flights until a new contract is signed.
As of 14th May 2009 NBA Airlines signed a new contract to fly from Medan to Kutacane and from Kutacane to Banda Aceh on Wednesdays and Fridays of each week. Check the www.ketambe.com website for more details. From Kutacane take a mobil (local transport) and go 30 km to Ketambe. At least 6 guesthouses in Ketambe(Pak Mus Homestay, Sadar Wisata, Cinta Alam, Pondok Wisata, Gurah Bungalows and new one called Friendship Guesthouse) offer accommodation in wooden bungalows with bath from about Rp. 50.000. Indonesian and western style food is available. It is possible to organize trekking. You will see real wild living orangutans (not like in Bukit Lawang, were you can even feed them), monkeys and many kind of birds. On a 2 to 3 day trip you can go to a hot spring beside the Alas river and camp over there. There are a lot of opportunities to do a trekking tour; even a 14 days hike to the top of the Mount Leuser (3400 m). Every guesthouse can organize a rafting trip down the Alas river.