Do you want to see a part of Southeast Asia that maybe not everyone else has traveled to?
On a scale of 1 to tears of happiness, how much do you love seeing animals in the wild?
If you answered yes to those questions…. Book a flight to Sumatra in Indonesia! After seeing a blogpost from another travel blogger (and not finding much information elsewhere), I booked a ticket from Singapore into Medan to spend a week in the jungle town of Bukit Lawang. I had the best time…
Here’s my reasons why you should visit Bukit Lawang, Indonesia
#1 Seeing orangutans in the wild (and other animals)
Here, you can see (semi) wild orangutans, 1 of 2 places worldwide (the other being Borneo).If that isn’t enough incentive, I don’t know what is. Some of the orangutans here have been orphaned or rehabilitated and released back into their natural habitats. Make sure you get a guide who doesn’t feed the orangutans. If you do happen to get a guide who feeds them make sure they understand you don’t support doing that sort of tourism. This sort of human interaction is detrimental to the endangered species.
Even more, did you know there is another monkey that is unique to only the Northern part of Sumatra? It isn’t found anywhere else in the world, or even Indonesia for that matter (how much more unique can you get?). It’s called the Thomas Leaf Monkey, and it’s a beautiful monkey that is clearly experienced in posing for cameras.
We also saw a stunning wild peacock. The Sumatran tiger still lives in the jungles, but none of our guides had ever seen one (another species that is in grave danger, which breaks my heart as much as I didn’t want to encounter one).
#2 Sleeping in the jungle
… should be on everyone’s bucket list, in my opinion. You can spend anywhere from 1 to 8 days trekking in the jungle here (you go with a registered guide, it’s forbidden to go on your own). I was actually planning on doing just a couple 1 day treks so I could get end the day in comfort of my own bed each night, but upon meeting a friend and discussing it, she encouraged me while we were there we might as well spend one night sleeping in the jungle. It’s not like we get that opportunity all the time! So I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the best sleep of my life, but it was a one-of-a-kind experience having dinner with our local guides and waking up to the jungle sounds, seeing monkeys swinging from the trees.
You can get a guide fairly easily. Just ask around at your guesthouse and perhaps do a little research online for some names. I got mine secured through where I stayed at Jungle Inn and I was very pleased (we also had the most incredible food).
#3 Tubing down the river after you’ve finished your trek
Tubing down the river was an experience I’ll never forget. It didn’t have to do 100% with the tubing. Finishing the trek I will admit, I was tired, as it’s not the easiest thing to do (because I’m far from “into” fitness). And taking a tube down the river back to the village at the end was incredibly nice – putting up your feet and letting the water do the work. The reason I won’t forget it is this.
Our tubes strung together with the rest of our crew, I had one of those “wow, is this really happening?!” moments as we moved down the small rapids on our way back to the village. It’s that feeling I chase when I’m traveling… Pure happiness, feeling fully present in where I am, amazed to be in the middle of a jungle on an island in Indonesia with new friends from all over the world, having an adventure. It’s a feeling I don’t know how to get any other way.
#4 Friday Market in Bukit Lawang
Solo traveling has its perks. Maybe you wouldn’t think about this initially, but sometimes, it pays to be on your own! I made a friend who worked at the guesthouse I stayed at, and she offered to take me on a cultural excursion to the Friday market with her on her motorbike (which only fits one more person). She didn’t speak the best English, but it made it even more fun. Friendships aren’t always defined by conversation. These are the moments I live for in my travels, meeting the real local people and doing my best to experience their culture authentically. She brought me on her motorbike, which was an adventure in itself.
At the markets they sell everything from secondhand clothing, handbags, and shoes to huge chunks of rubber – that smell absolutely horrendous, maybe they get used to it?!?! I honestly don’t know but it’s a smell like no other.
My new friend brought me to her friend’s booth, and she kindly served me up a very interesting dessert drink I later learned was cendol. Elsewhere, there were piles and piles of peppers, dried fish, fruits I had never even heard of (snake fruit anyone?), and more.
While we’re on the subject of food, I feel I should mention that there is some pretty incredible food to be eaten in Bukit Lawang. The guesthouse I stayed at had incredibly delicious food (especially the breakfasts) and even a special jungle tea. I was in absolute heaven. And an extravagant breakfast didn’t cost me more than $3-4. If you want to live like a king, come here!
If you can’t make the Friday Market, Bukit Lawang has some cute shops itself including handmade carvings!
#5 All the friends you’ll come back with
As a solo traveler it makes you pretty approachable, and given I traveled in October it wasn’t high season in Bukit Lawang. This meant the guesthouse was a little emptier, and so I was able to enjoy the company of those working there – most of whom were around my age. I enjoyed chatting with them, learning about their dreams, practicing English, and singing along to their guitar songs. I have the happiest of memories from this trip.
Driving to Bukit Lawang in a share taxi was an adventure as we were packed full, but on the way home somehow I ended up alone. This meant I had hilarious conversations with the driver. By hilarious I mean we laughed a lot because we didn’t really understand anything else each other was saying #languagebarriers. However, he spoke volumes to me when he pulled over for some fried banana dessert and handed some of them to me to try. Breaking bread together = friends for life!
If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed I left out a portion of my trip which was to visit and bathe elephants. I felt very uneasy and bittersweet about this experience, and I can’t say I fully recommend it, which is the reason I left it out.
My lesson from that was to make sure you do research before visiting anything that has to do with wildlife. Personally, I want to support the places that actually take great care of the elephants and that I feel at peace about supporting. I didn’t feel this when I got to visit the elephants near Bukit Lawang, in fact it made me uncomfortable and even a little guilty about spending money on that experience because I wasn’t sure what I was actually supporting with my money. I found a great article if you are curious to learn a little bit more about elephant welfare.
Bukit Lawang is located on the island of Sumatra in the far North.
I arrived by share taxi from the airport in Medan, arranged by my accommodation (through a kind gentleman named Hass) for 200,000 idr each way. Jungle Inn has a very good reputation and you can trust the guides they recommend. However, it’s never a bad idea to ask your own questions and meet the guides before taking off.
Read about my first impressions about coming to Bukit Lawang here.
All photos credited to The Modern-Day Dreamer.