Sultry Bukit Lawang, Sumatra

Sumatra’s sultry Bukit Lawang jungle village…where you can experience Orangutans up close and personal!

In 1998, the reason for flying from Australia to Indonesia was for a spot of long-term travel.

Landing in Indonesia only one month after the racial riots that left 1,000 people dead, decide to stick around in Sumatra for a while before heading south to Java – just to be safe.

You may like to read about the long road from Batam to Dumai, then the uncomfortable overnight bus from Dumai to Bukit Lawang, before continuing with this post. Remember, in 1998, not much information was available for travel through Indonesia.

Bukit Lawang

Finally, arrive in the lush jungle village of Bukit Lawang, after the 3-hour crammed bus trip from Dumai.

Deep in the Gunung Leuser National Park, I’m pleasantly surprised at the lack of aggressive cabbies and touts.

Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia. SE Asia
Friendly locals

Bukit Lawang is a popular weekend destination for locals. Today is Sunday, so it’s still quite busy.

Following the hoards of people along the Sungai Bohorok (river), which runs along the whole of the village, a plethora of money changers and street sellers line the riverbank.

Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia
Bukit Lawang

A narrow, decrepit path leads up and down the river to aged stoned steps and accommodation. With the same old questions of “Where you go?”, we keep wandering until, of course, a guide latches on, leading us to a restaurant for a delicious meal.

The spectacular lush, dense jungle is graced with a crystal clear waterfall cascading into the glassy river – a stunning backdrop for the village. The river and jungle, are lifebloods of Bukit Lawang.

Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia. SE Asia
Daily river chores

Loads of people splash around, swim, or ride the river’s fast-flowing rapids on tyre tubes – everyone is in holiday mode.

Gunung Leuser National Park

As one of the main entrances to the Gunung Leuser National Park, decades of tourists have seen Bukit Lawang become a well-trodden path. Luckily, there aren’t too many foreign tourists here in 1998.

These days, foreign tourists head for the Aceh section of the national park as this area receives few visitors only.

Pongo Resort

After the last couple of dingy hotels, decide to indulge and treat ourselves, venturing to the picturesque Pongo Resort.

On the opposite side of the village, need to take a traditional dugout log canoe across the Bohorok River.

A heavy wireline is strung up from one tree to another, with one continuous rope on a couple of pulleys. The current pushes the canoe the 100-metres across the river, while the front and back pulleys steer the canoe. It’s quite a simple and effective system.

Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia
Our river transport

Pleasantly surprised at the room’s cleanliness offering a couple of vivid white towels for the icy-cold shower, albeit also clean.

Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia
Enjoying the serenity

Although the resort is top of the range for Bukit Lawang, this room isn’t the most expensive at under AU$8 per night. Unfortunately, there isn’t a fan in the room so keep windows close as flesh-eating mosquitoes want to dine on our bodies. The room becomes too stuffy to sleep and itching all over, I take several ice-cold showers through the night.

The sound of the river’s rapids are clear, in the near distance, reminding us that we’re in a jungle – eventually, sleep overcomes tiredness.

The resort offers good food, so it’s not far to walk. But, the best part of this accommodation is its location, next to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Orang-utan or Orangutan, the word evolves from the meaning “person of the forest”.

Believe me when I say that these fascinating mammals not only resemble humans, but their behaviour is enthralling and incredibly human-like, of course.

Climbed for half an hour into the oppressive, steaming jungle alive with ravenous blood-sucking mosquitoes, until reaching the orangutan feeding platforms.

Locals last only ten-minutes of viewing before becoming bored and leave. Apparently, locals fear orangutans so, don’t like them too much. And, one of the reasons for the brutality towards these beautiful creatures.

Besides the beautiful scenery, many visitors arrive in Bukit Lawang to see semi-wild Orangutans at the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, which was established in 1972 by a Swiss-based organisation. The purpose? The release of orangutans in captivity after their rehabilitation.

Mesmerising Orangutans

The baby Orangutans arrive from all over Indonesia, Borneo, and Malaysia. Mistreated badly, by humans, the orangutans are kept at the centre until they can fend for themselves then released into the wild once more.

Spending a very long time at the centre as can’t tear myself away, just sit and watch for ages – a magical memory.

Many carers are tourists that volunteer to feed and clean the orangutans as locals won’t do these jobs. Rangers are supposed to also do this work, but, they don’t if they can get out of it!

Rangers teach the orangutans critical survival skills, however, even in 1998, we see the detrimental dependency on humans.

Orangutans’ heart-warming eyes display affection for humans, even after all the hurt they’ve endured. If only humans could forgive as these creatures forgive.

Rehabilitation Centre update

As the orangutans became too dependent on humans, eventually by 2002, the centre closed down. And by 2015, the viewing feeding platform also closed down as “it reduced their wild behaviour” and the platform perceived really only for tourists.

These days, intrepid tourists to Bukit Lawang visit for its ecotourism, jungle trekking, and natural wonders.

Back to the village

The only transport across the river back to the village stops at 10pm, so take a wander around Bukit Lawang, after another quick canoe ride.

The jungle bursts with timber for buildings…

Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia
Another house

…and locals use whatever they can collect, usually for free.

Bukit Lawang, Sumatra, Indonesia, SE Asia
New lodge

It’s not sustainable. As Bukit Lawang expands, so too does the hunger for more jungle timber to build homes for new villages.

Leaving Bukit Lawang

After a couple of relaxing days absorbing the jungle and Bukit Lawang in Sumatra’s north, it’s time to hop on another bus to the next destination.

Parapat is the stepping stone to gorgeous natural volcanic Lake Toba, in Sumatra’s central-north.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts at Image Earth Travel.

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30 responses to “Sultry Bukit Lawang, Sumatra”

  1. 100 Country Trek Avatar

    Orangutans are so intelligent..we saw them in Borneo at a rescue center. Funny part was one little guy swung above us and sprayed us with his pee.Ha!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ha, ha, that made me laugh! Wander if it was intentional…. πŸ˜‰
      Orangutans are amazing to watch, especially how they interact with each other.

      1. 100 Country Trek Avatar

        He was a little young guy..I think he was playing around .

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ah right, that would have been funny at the time.
        I’ve taken up your Travel Challenge and published day 1 on Image Earth Travel. πŸ™‚
        Thanks again for nominating me!

  2. equinoxio21 Avatar

    My father’s family goes back to Flanders, 15th century. Then they moved to France, went to India, stayed there a couple of centuries, became “English”, and came back to France early 20th. I was born in Pakistan. My mother’s family has been in Brittany forever. Quite a mix.
    A long to-do list is fine. You never run out of things to do. πŸ˜‰πŸ™πŸ»

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Wow!! What an incredible mix, which makes for a great merging of cultures and influences. Imagine how many passports you can have…
      You must be a great cook! πŸ™‚
      Yeah, but I can never see the light at the end of the tunnel with my list. πŸ˜‚

      1. equinoxio21 Avatar

        I could have a few, but then I am, at heart, an incorrigible Frog. πŸ˜‰
        That’s the idea of the never-ending list. the day you strike the last line, you’re in trouble…

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ha, ha…
        Exactly! Maybe this is what happened to the copycat. πŸ˜‰

  3. equinoxio21 Avatar

    A lovely trip again. My favourite has to be the baby (girl?) squatting and washing up… Must be 20 now… πŸ˜‰
    Orang Utan… The forest man. That centre is not where BirutΓ© Galdikas (one of Leakey’s “girls” established her pioneer operation, right? She’s in Borneo I think)

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      It’s a shame she’s not pinpoint sharp. I do vividly remember taking this photo and she was moving a lot as anyone taking a bath would. My basic 35mm film camera wasn’t great with movement and probably hadn’t set the speed quite right for this candid shot.

      I think she was in Borneo. Stay tune with the Indo travel as spent one month in Kalimantan. πŸ˜‰

      1. equinoxio21 Avatar

        The definition is fine for me. Softer edges for a baby? πŸ‘Ά
        Yes, she was in Borneo. Still spends a few months there a year. Seems to be teaching in Vancouver. She’s my older brother’s age… (OMG!) 😯
        Kalimantan sounds good… Lots of childhood readings for me.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I just looked her up also, she’s inspiring. You’re but a mere spring chicken. πŸ˜‰
        We started in the west of Kalimantan, which wasn’t a popular destination in 1998, then travelled intrepidly to the east. Lucky I still kept my journals as I don’t remember the finite details.

      3. equinoxio21 Avatar

        She is, as is Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey was.
        Wow, you still kept your journals? You are soooo organized… Material for the memoirs of one of the last explorers of the planet?

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yes, both very inspiring!

        I’ve got my journals from when this whole travel bug bit me in 1985! I’m a tad pedantic, it’s painful. Always kept a journal mainly because I have a terrible memory for place names. So, especially in those days when slides used to take weeks to be processed and posted to you (remember?), the journals jogged my memory for cataloguing my photos. Ha, ha, doubt that very much… πŸ˜‰

      5. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Yeah, I remember those times when you bought a limited number of rolls for a trip, because you knew you couldn’t find “reliable films out there.” I’d done it once, ended up with expired films…
        Why not? You already have the material. Export text and data from WP. (I don’t know what format they use, I need to check out) you already have the base. You can do an e-book for all the pix. And presto…
        I have began copying to word some my African childhood posts. (I write them directly on WP). Store them in a folder. after a while, I’ll see how many words I have…

      6. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Had to salvage this comment out of my Trash folder – how rude of WP to throw it there!
        The good ‘ole days when nothing was wasted.
        I write straight into WP also then save to Word, just in case. πŸ˜‰
        Haven’t looked into e-books, but a great idea. Everyone seems to be publishing books these days…

      7. equinoxio21 Avatar

        WP is not a “gentleman” as my India-born English grandmother would have said…
        Good idea to save it to word once done… I’ll do that for the new posts.
        The e-book format? Allows you to have as many pix as you like, which weigh tons of MB’s. I understand it’s not difficult to create an e-book. Now obviously neither you nor I will sell thousands of copies but at least it’s “out there”.

      8. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        You certainly have quite a mix in your DNA!
        Sounds like a great idea, which I’ll have to ad to my ever-growing list.

  4. Christie Avatar

    It is sad when the wildlife gets too used or dependent on humans, as they lose their living abilities in the wilderness. This reminds me of a story about a man who picked up a wet and shivering baby bison from the middle of a road in Yellowstone (I think 2016) and drive it to the Buffalo ranch. Unfortunately the herd didn’t accept the baby later on, so they had to kill it😦
    Great memories of your trip!!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Oh, that’s such a tragic story. Even though we think we understand animals as humans, sometimes, we really don’t understand anything.
      They are great memories and hope that my posts on this 1998 trip are still interesting. I have many to digitise yet. πŸ˜‰

      1. Christie Avatar

        We still have so much to learn from nature, and from wildlife! Your old trips are definitely interesting, we can see sometimes how fast the world is changing. Have a lovely dayπŸ™‚

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        So very true Christie and I hope that we learn a lot more yet but I fear that humanity still seems bent on decimating nature at an alarm rate, for money.
        We know more now than 100 years’ ago, so there’s no excuse not to look after what’s left of nature around the world.
        Have a great weekend! πŸ™‚

  5. gillmorris Avatar

    What a lovely post Nilla. That place is definitely serene, so beautiful too. I love orangutans too, they are such beautiful creatures. I believe they are our closest relatives arent they? Not surprising as you say..I think many of these places no longer exist, so it’s great to have these memories πŸ™‚ xx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hey Gill, thank you for your lovely feedback.
      Yes, it’s great to have these memories, even through faded photographs, journals, and hopefully, not too faded memory. Orangutans are such gentle creatures and I can watch them interact for hours – they’re mesmerising.

      I read last night on the BBC that West Papua is going through massive deforestation (especially through unlawful burning) and this is the last of the natural jungle there I believe. Of course, the jungle is being replaced by Palm Oil plantations. A Korean company has been buying up chunks of jungle and bought this remaining land from the indigenous people (under pressure) for a paltry sum, making promises to lift locals out of poverty by supplying clean water, electricity, and education. But sadly, many of the promises haven’t been realised and the indigenous people are now displaced and have nothing – tragic but a common reality around the world. πŸ™ x

      1. gillmorris Avatar

        It’s such a shame that we destroy the Earth. It’s all about money isn’t it

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yes, it always has been about money. πŸ™

  6. Lesley J Avatar
    Lesley J

    Wow really enjoying your blogs, fascinating
    Thanks for taking the time it’s great. Looking forward to the next one

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hey Lesley, cool you enjoyed this read!
      Sumatra is a fascinating destination and would love to return one day… πŸ™‚

  7. the eternal traveller Avatar

    What a fabulous experience.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      It was Carol! I was so in awe of the Orangutans’ mannerisms – amazing and gentle, which makes it even harder to think how they’re treated in Indonesia. πŸ™

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