The Orangutans of Bukit Lawang

Trip Start Aug 09, 2010
Trip End Feb 01, 2012

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Where I stayed
Green Hill
What I did
Watched Orangutans and sang

Flag of Indonesia  , Sumatra,
Wednesday, September 7, 2011


 Hello all and welcome to the wonderful island of Sumatra.

Carrying on from our last blog, we got off the train in Hat Yai, southern Thailand at the pleasant hour of 05:30. We quickly ran to the ticket booth to get a ticket on the next train heading to Butterworth, Malaysia, which was due to arrive within the next hour. 
Luckily we got tickets and even luckier we were in a carriage full of wonderful Malaysians who kept feeding us for the 4 hours we were on the train! Result. 
So we were back in Penang for the 3rd time in 3 months. We were not complaining. Amazingly 3 more heritage hotels have opened since we were last here with my parents. They build them quick in Malaysia!  We had the usual amazing cuisine and met two great Irish fellows on opposite sides of the travelling spectrum. Dan who is just beginning his first forays into travel and Tom (who will not mind me calling him a travel veteran) a guy who travelled from Dublin to Sydney overland in the 70’s using the original Lonely Planet book! 
We had come to Penang to get the boat over to Sumatra, Indonesia but found out on our first day that it had stopped doing the trip over a year and half ago. Doh! Note to self, must learn to plan more. So we had to fly instead. We could have gone all the way down to Melaka and got the boat over from there but that would have meant going all the way up Sumatra by road, technically risking our lives as the roads are terrible and the driving is even worse. We felt slightly guilty about flying but it was the best option. 
We landed in the infamous city of Medan at 10:00 and quickly headed towards the bus station that would take us to the Bukit Lawang, a National Park that has over 5,000 wild Orangutans living in it. It was a long, slow and arduous journey on the public bus that had leg room designed for children, no air conditioning and locals smoking continuously. Add buskers coming on playing really bad ukulele and the heat and it should have been a journey from hell. Yet, it was not. Maybe we’ve got used to this sort of thing or maybe it was the prospect of seeing Orangutans that had us ignoring the discomfort. 
 than planned. The town on the edge of Bukit Lawang is brilliant. It has lovely guesthouses, restaurants, bars and shops. Apart from trekking in the jungle, you can go tubing, rafting and caving. It is a real adventurets’  playground. There is a great vibe about the place that is contagious, hence why we ended up staying 4 days longer
Of course the real stars of the show are the Orangutans. You almost have a 100% chance of seeing them at the feeding platform on the edge of the park and a very high chance of seeing them on a trek further into the jungle. 




I will never forget our first encounter with these amazing animals. We were walking up the steps towards the feeding platform when out from nowhere, the notorious Mina walked past us with her baby clinging on to her. Mina is an Orangutan that was released back in the jungle over 20 years ago and is famous for her brazen attitude towards humans. If you get in her way she will try to bite you which she has successfully done on many an occasion!  We went twice to the feeding platform and got to see many of our hairy cousins. It was amazing to see them in their own environment, relaxed and happy. The kids would be playful and full of energy and the mothers would just hang there eating bananas and leaves. The Macaques (little monkeys) would sometimes try to steal the Orangutans food and the Orangutans would shake them off the tree. The poor little Macaques would go flying! It was very funny to watch. Sadly the future does not look good for Orangutans. 100 years ago you would find them swinging from tree to tree all over Southeast Asia but now you can only find them on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. With the rate of illegal logging and new palm plantations cropping up the Orangutans habitat is shrinking on a massive scale every year. They predict that if nothing changes, in another 100 years the only place you will see Orangutans is in the zoo.   Human beings, who needs them!  
Now over to another hairy creature: Karen. 

 Ah my charming man! 
Besides the Orangutans and the beauty of the place, what stood out for me were the people. We’ve met many amazing people during our trip, but the people in Bukit Lawang were really something special. All the locals had a smile and a hello ready for us as we walked past. Everyone seemed to be happy and jolly and lively. The guys in our bungalows were amazing. We could always hear laughter during the day and singing at night. 
We met some great travellers here too. Hayley and Steven from Port Elizabeth in South Africa, who are on a 6 month trip. We set the world right together and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of each other in London or SA.  Linda who had been travelling for 3 months and had just been back home - 2 days after getting back to work she decided she hated it, so she quit and come back to Bukit Lawang! She’s my new hero! Louise and Hani from back home who had also just started a year long trip. On most nights we’d sit at a large table drinking, chatting and listening to the guys playing their guitar and singing Guns’N’ Roses. On our last night we discovered they had a lyric book so we all joined in for one ear-splitting sing-along. 

 On a trip to the great market they have every Sunday a guy came up to us and started chatting. He explained he was the local snake catcher and showed us his cobra bite that had melted half his fore-arm. He introduced us to his wife and baby boy and then they all went off on their merry way. Many others like him genuinely wanted to have a chat with us, which was great. 




And whilst our showers consisted of a bucket of freezing water, and our bed was a mattress on the floor it really didn’t matter. The atmosphere, the nature, the people made this one of the best places I’ve been to, to date. Bukit Lawang, you have a special place in my heart! 
See you by a giant Lake
Lots of love Karen and Paulxx

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mom on

amazing wish i was there xx

Pam Nichols on

Wow !what a great time you are having. Thank you so much for all the news.
Wish I was there

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