Bukit Lawang, The Orangutan jungle

It is about 2.30 in the afternoon and I am hot sweaty and a little tired from a long jungle hike but I'm also excited, amazed and in awe of the creature that sits less than ten metres away from me. It is a large, wild male orangutan and he looks calm and relaxed despite the small group of tourists that are clambering around taking his photo and the guides that are moving about. At about 6.5 foot tall with arms longer than his body he quietly looks at everyone for about 4 to 5 minutes and the slowly ascends into the canopy. 

I know I'm incredibly lucky because to see these creatures in the wild is incredibly difficult these days. Unfortunately much like the other big apes their numbers in the world are shrinking rapidly due to loss of habitat (palm oil plantations) and poaching. Which is an incredibly sad thing because they are such wonderful creatures. It's such a shame that greed is the driving force behind these and many other creatures movement towards the endangered species list and possibly extinction. 

Activism and eco tourism are two things that can help preserve the habitats of these creatures and it is because of the latter that Hannah and I arrived in Bukit Lawang. We had heard about the orangutans from Niels a friend who we met earlier on the liveaboard Amalia in Komodo. And he told us about Thomas's retreat. It is situated in an area that houses both wild and rehabilitated orangutans surrounded by a large chunk of Sumatran jungle it is a perfect place for these creatures to be observed and cherished as part of our collective world heritage and responsibility.

Our trip started with delay Air Asia's flight to Kuala Lumpur was running late by about 30 minutes which reduced our two hour window to collect our bags and recheck in down to nothing. 

We ran down to customs and even though we were late people in the queue wouldn't let us through. It was only when the lady behind us in a similar position started crying that the four men in front conceded and let us go in front, we got through customs. 

15 minutes to get our bags and check in left, we set off running the bags, amazingly were on the conveyor belt waiting for us (a small miracle). We swiftly snatched our bags and legged it for the exit to then re-enter the departure section. 


10 minutes left, still running were hit with yet another passport check, 7 minutes left. We entered the departure lounge with no idea which aisle the flight was on this didn't matter at this point the queue had closed and we needed to go to any air Asia point but we weren't aware of this . 

We ran looking for aisle L, this is a gate and not a desk in a panic we asked someone from air Asia and with no time to spare she speedily checked us in. We made it but were both sweaty stressed and tired.

"We made it but were both sweaty stressed and tired."


Entering Sumatra we were greeted by a taxi driver from Thomas' resort who then took us on a further 4.5 hour drive into Bukit Lawang we arrived to rain and a loud band. Thomas was there and greeted us but also told us that the three day trek we had planned to do wasn't able to be done but a 2 day trek was available in a days time. Although this was a little bit frustrating we decided to go for it anyway. 

The next day we explored the town and found an amazing collection of plant life, waterfalls a market and quite a few restaurants. It's a beautiful place when you walk towards the jungle you can see monkeys jumping from the hotel to the trees. If you head to the town you can see rickety bridges and quite an authentic feeling part of Sumatra. The town itself is built around a very fast flowing river that the tours use for tube rafting and water supply.

The day of the trek begins with a quick breakfast and then we were introduced to our guide Tamrind. He is very friendly and also comes with a second guide who sits at the back of the group. 
As soon as we are in the jungle Tamrind is explaining to us various bits of information about the flora and fauna and also interesting Tod bits about Indonesian culture. (Bukit Lawang means doorway to the hill because it sits at the base of the jungle hillside)


Within the first half hour of walking we had seen three orangutans and one Thomas face monkey in The distance you could hear the male calling out for a mate. Then about 2 hours in we saw the male sitting high up in the tree with a female and baby nearby. He calmly sat in the tree for about 15 minutes before he slowly clambered down to see what the commotion was below. 

These were the last ones we saw on our trip but it was an amazing experience to see these creatures in the flesh. We were told we might get to see Mina and Jackie two rehabilitated orang-utans that the guides can feed but these two were not around on our trek. 

This is probably not a bad thing as Mina has a reputation for biting if fruit is not given to her. On the rest of the hike to camp we were provided with so much fruit we couldn't eat it all and got to see gibbons and a host of other jungle treats.

Camp is very basic consisting of tarpaulin shelters containing two mattresses and mosquito nets. There are also cooking shelters, the guys from Thomas retreat are incredibly accommodating and provided us with a huge dinner, soap for washing in the beautiful river and they also have a collection of games to keep everybody entertained in the evening. The guys were great fun and the shelters were good enough to keep the rain that came down just after we went to bed out.


The second day of the trek starts with a huge cheese sandwich breakfast followed by a short hike to the lake where Tamrind dresses us in jungle leaves and mud. It was all a bit silly but fun and then we got into inner tubes tied together with ropes to float down the river back to camp.


The guides put all of your gear into waterproof bags and tie them to the tube so they are safe and protected and the rapids are quite fast I would say faster but comparable to those at a theme park and after that we were back at Bukit Lawang and the trip was over. 

The trip was a really special thing and if you have an interest in plant life and seeing great apes while you can I would recommend going to Bukit Lawang. 

I would caveat that with the fact that some of these apes are rehabilitated so not all of the apes are 100% wild but a large percentage are. The other thing is that as with most of commercial Asia Bukit Lawang in peak season could be a bit of a tourist trap and I think that you may get a different experience in high season.

I hope you find this article interesting please let me know what you think in the comments. I'm new to writing and hope that I can be informative and helpful but if you have any questions or suggestions I would be very happy to chat, please comment in the section below.

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