If watching monkeys is on your bucketlist, here is your chance. Not too far from Kuala Lumpur on the beautiful green island of Sumatra in Indonesia, there are plenty of orangutans to admire in their natural environment.
“Jungle trek, jungle trek in Bukit Lawang, see the monkeys, see the birds, see orangutans. Hey!” Just imagine singing this to the melody of Jingle Bells. The lyrics remind my children of their ‘best holiday ever’: jungle trekking in Sumatra!
I visited Sumatra about 15 years ago with my parents and I was very keen to show my children this amazing, quiet and not touristic part of Southeast Asia. Sumatra is the third largest island of Indonesia, located west from Peninsular Malaysia. Besides the island of Borneo, it is the only other place in the world where you can find orangutans in the wild.
Bukit Lawang, North Sumatra
Bukit Lawang is a small village in the province of North Sumatra, which is known for its orangutans. The village is one of the accesspoints to Gunung Leuser National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site. From here we started our jungle trek.
A 2 days / 1 night jungle trek
After a big breakfast, our jungle trek started at 9am. We were ready for a 6 hours walk (with many rests) and the kids were super excited to meet orangutans (and so were we) in their natural environment. After a first steep part, we already met some friendly Thomas’s Leaf Monkeys. A bit later we stopped for a healthy snack; our tour guides had brought some fresh fruits as watermelon, bananas and papayas. Around noon we met our first orangutans, a mom with her baby, nestled in the trees. It was a magical moment.
We learnt a lot about the animals. For example that orangutans usually have one baby at a time and the baby stays 8 years with mom before it becomes independent. And did you know orangutans make a new nest every time they sleep, in the afternoon and in the evening?
For lunch we had a delicious fried rice, also brought by our tour guides. After lunch we encountered 6 more orangutans, many Thomas’s Leaf Monkeys, macaques, a peacock and many different kind of birds. If you are lucky (or maybe not), you can also spot tigers, elephants, rhinos, leopards, snakes and gibbons.
After 7 hours of trekking with many stops, we finally reached camp, which was built next to the river, for a well-deserved rest. We were offered some hot tea and the kids had time to swim in the river, while our guides prepared our dinner.
Our jungle camp was very basic. We slept in the open air under a shelter on a yoga mat in our sleeping bag and we had inflatable pillows. Our guides set up a tent for the children, to protect them against creepy crawlers. There was also an improvised ‘jungle toilet’ just a few steps away from the camp, which was a squat toilet.
Dinner was amazing! Our guides prepared the best chicken curry ever, with steamed veggies and rice. They entertained us with card games and jokes and when the night fell, we all went to bed. I mean…yoga mat.
The kids slept well and didn’t wake during the night. The parents didn’t sleep much though, but when the kids are happy, we are happy.
In the morning a few orangutans came down from the jungle to drink by the river and to say ‘hi’. I guess they also smelled breakfast.
Instead of walking all the way back, we chose to go back to Bukit Lawang by tube-rafting down the river, which only took around 30 minutes. The rest of the day we spent walking around the village.
Where to stay
If you are planning to do the 2 days / 1 night trek, we advise you to stay one night before the trek and one after the trek in Bukit Lawang. We stayed at Wisma Leuser Sibayak, which was next to the entrance of the park and river. This place is very basic, clean, cheap and the food was good. If you are looking for more luxury before and after a night in the jungle, we recommend you to choose another hotel. Bukit Lawang is slowly starting to get more touristic, so there are more fancy hotels nowadays.
To book a tour
We booked our tour through ‘Jungle Edie’. Jungle Edie organises responsible tours in Sumatra with respect for the animals and the environment. Price for a 2 days / 1 night jungle trek cost around MYR350 per person and half price for kids. The price includes the use of a licensed guide, permits to enter the national park, food and water during trekking, a tent, sleeping mats and tube rafting.
Tips for a jungle trek
- Book a tour through a ecotourism guide.
- Wear light clothes (long sleeves, long trousers) and hiking shoes and bring mosquito repellent.
- Bring enough cash, since there is no ATM in the village.
- There will be yoga mats for you to sleep on, just bring your own cotton sleeping bag and an inflatable pillow if you want.
- After the trek, you can go for a swim in the river, so bring your swimsuit and water shoes or slippers.
- Bring your camera to take a million photos of this unique experience and binoculars if you would like to spot more wildlife.
- If you take a lot of photos with either your phone or camera, you might want to bring a power bank and charging cables; there is no electricity in the jungle.
- Bring a towel to wipe your sweaty face and to dry yourself after a swim in the river.
- Do not bring any food in your backpack. Orangutans have got a very good sense of smell and might be attracted by the food. Your tour guide will arrange all food and snacks for you.
- It gets dark rather early and if you need to use use the ‘jungle toilet’, we advise you to bring (head)torches.
- Last but not least: please do NOT feed or touch the orangutans, or any other wild animal. Keep your distance and be quiet in the jungle, to reduce stress for the animals.
How to get there from KL?
There are direct flights every day from Kuala Lumpur to Medan in Sumatra. From Medan it takes approximately 5 hours by car to Bukit Lawang. You can arrange a driver through your hotel or guide.