Northern Sumatra – Bukit Lawang

After Lake Toba, it was time for a scenery change. We had spent time on many Indonesian beaches, one volcanic fresh-water lake and it was time for an Indo-style jungle adventure. Braving our lives once again, we purchased seats in a shared taxi ride. We were pleasantly surprised, after setting off on our journey, that the F1/WRC ambitions of our driver had long passed. The journey to Bukit Lawang was pleasantly comfortable and scenic. We stopped in Berastagi to collect two more passengers and then proceeded to Bukit Lawang. Besides one flat tire, we arrived safely and in good time.

🚕 Tip: Book your shared taxi tickets at Anju Karaoke in Tuk Tuk. They had the best prices. Anju Karaoke is between Jenny’s and Leo’s.

As we disembarked from our Toyota-produced silver chariot, we were greeted by our host and were quickly escorted to our accommodation that we would call home for the next few nights. We were welcomed with a complementary drink and then it happened. Tour after tour option shoved in our faces and down our throats. As we gasped for air, we quickly noticed the prices of the tours and then our jaws dropped. Euros. Euros. Euros. And lots of them! We were flabbergasted by the tour prices. And to make things more frustrating, we later realized, after exploring the town and other establishments, that there is a clear case of collusion happening in the town of Bukit Lawang. During some dark stormy night, the tour and accommodation owners met in a dark and dank room. Hustled around a small flickering candle, prices were whispered, heads were shook, promises made, Euro signs glistened in all their eyeballs and greed snarled its snarky smile. Once the pact was made and one last gaze of agreement filled the room, their silhouettes quickly left and disappeared into the shadows of the dark alleyways. The price was set.

We decided that we would sign up for the 1 day jungle trek knowing that this would inflict a near mortal wound on our thus-far well preserved budget. The Ruphiah equivalent of 90 Euros, in a swift exchange of hands, was gone.

We had one day before our jungle trek to do with what we pleased. There are a few other activities options in Bukit Lawang besides jungle trekking. The popular two are tubing down the river and visiting the Bat Cave. We opted for the latter.

The Bat Cave is about 20 minutes walk from the Eco Lodge. Start at the Eco Lodge and ask for directions. Follow the path until you see the Bat Cave sign. It costs IDR 25,000 per person. You can go with or without a guide. We went without. It’s impossible to get lost in the cave so you really don’t need a guide. You will exit the same way you enter and more exciting and rewarding doing it on your own. You will be provided with a small dim flashlight. We would recommend bringing your own headlamp.

The next day we went on our jungle trek. We met our guide in the morning at our accommodation. After a quick breakfast and coffee, we set off on our trek. It was hot. It was humid. It was sweaty. But, it was beautiful. We ascended the jungle along a well-trodden path. We took a break about every 30 minutes to gulp in the thick humid air in hope of catching our breath. Aparently we were “lucky” that day as we saw about 9 orangutans. I would’ve said wild orangutans but they seemed far too content with humans stomping in and out out their territory snapping a millions pictures from every possible angle. I would say semi-wild at most. One of the baby orangutans even climbed into our guides arms as a child would in their father’s after being apart for sometime. Wild, not so much. Tame, yes.

There was one orangutan that definitely carried a chip on her shoulder, Mina. Apparently she was rescued after being someone’s pet and was integrated back into the wild. That being said, she has bitten about 70 people. While we were eating our jungle nasi-goreng lunch, she came down the path with her infant and robbed Celeste of her lunch. Our guide told us to hand over our food if she tries to take it otherwise be prepared for an orangutan bite.

Besides the orangutans, we saw 1 Thomas Leaf monkey, 1 White and 1 Black Gibbon monkey. After the day of jungle trekking, we still felt angry about the exorbitant price but somewhat better after seeing all the amazing wildlife.

🚨Tip: Don’t let your accommodation bully you into buying a 2 or 3 day trek. Which they will! They will tell you it’s better and that you will see more. These are falsehoods and I will tell you why. Before arriving in Bukit Lawang we met a lovely couple at a rest stop. Low and behold, halfway through our jungle trek, there they were! So naturally we stopped and chatted. Only to find out that they were on the second day of their three day trek. They had been circling around the same jungle area that we had for our one day. They had also apparently asked their guide several times when they would leave the area and head deeper into the jungle. Apparently he just kept saying they will. So! In conclusion, a one day trek will save you money and you will see the exact same area as a 2 or 3 day.

We had originally booked 4 nights in Bukit Lawang but on the 3rd day, decided that we had seen all there was to be seen so we packed our bags and departed for Pulau Weh a day early.

Continue on with us to the paradise beaches of Pulau Weh

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