Seeing an Orangutan in the Wild
Seeing an orangutan in the wild has been a dream of ours for a long time. And until just a few months ago it still seemed so unreachable and far away.
We never thought that this wish on our bucket list would get checked off so early in our travels.
After a few days of relaxing and, well, sweet idleness, we finally ended up with a good contact who oversaw the job of turning our dream into reality.
We drove to Bukit Lawang to see the Orangutans!
The drive was bumpy but interesting. If you are used to traffic in the West, driving in Indonesia seems adventurous and new.
We passed completely overloaded scooters, cars, and Motorbikes, driving crisscross. Everything was chaotic, but somehow it worked.
Just honk a lot. And hand gestures are also a big help. Like everywhere, the fastest ones have the biggest advantage!
Arriving in Bukit Lawang
As we arrived in Bukit Lawang, we experienced a not-so-nice surprise.
Our room, which we had specifically booked with air conditioning, was so hot that it was impossible to stay inside, much less think about sleeping in there.
Outside it was a bit cooler, but knowing which animals live here, we didn’t really want to sleep with the doors open.
But, in the evening, we had a very pleasant surprise: Lilik, one of the tour guides from the EcoLodge, visited us, which we were not expecting.
We had a very nice chat, and he explained how the jungle trek would be, what we should wear, etc.
No snakes please
And, of course, I mentioned to him that I rather would not see snakes. We were in luck, he said, because he had ordered us a snake-free tour!
After this unexpected visit, we went to bed in our “sauna” of a room and tried to get as much sleep as possible, excited for the day to come.
The big day
The night was – as we expected – neither restful nor nice, and we woke up the next morning pretty exhausted, even though this was supposed to be our big day.
Without a night of good sleep, and in a bad mood, we sat down for our very small breakfast. Luckily, our guide Sugeng came and saved us from our hotel. He picked us up for the jungle trek and we were ready to roll.
Sugeng wasn’t a large man, and yet we were about to trust him with our lives. Yes, I know… I may tend to be dramatic. But if you’re deathly afraid of snakes, and not very brave to begin with, I think it is legitimate here. Don‘t you think?
We drove to the EcoLodge in a Becak. A Becak is a typical type of transportation here in Sumatra. It is basically a scooter, with a sidecar barely big enough for two people.
Once we arrived at the EcoLodge, we realized we should have booked our stay there. It has a fantastic bamboo restaurant with a river view, and on top of that, every once in a while you can spot monkeys that find their way to the lodge in search of food.
We got supplied with water, put some more mosquito repellent on, and were ready for our big adventure.
If you should ever come to Sumatra, you absolutely must do an Orangutan tour. And, we would really recommend contacting Lilik and his Bukit Lawang Team. Lilik’s mobile number is +62 813 64108007. This is our honest opinion and we did not receive anything for it. It is an unpaid advertisement.
Can you get rain checks for jungle treks?
Our trek began by walking up a steep hill. We are not in the best of conditions, so little did we know that we would be getting a big workout while checking off our bucket list! It was for sure a two-in-one. The sweat was just dripping down from both of us, and we had just started.
We took our first pictures and Sugeng was showing us all the rubber trees along our way.
He explained that both rubber trees and palm oil trees are destructive to the natural habitat. Although both are destructive, he said that rubber trees are slightly better than palm oil trees because they release cooler air back into the environment than a palm oil tree does. And that the animals can eat the leaves and can still build their nests in rubber trees, whereas with palm oil, the animals can do neither.
We continued walking, and with the hopes that we would see Orangutans soon, we were in a much better mood than we were in the morning!
We didn’t book that…
While we were walking, I thought to myself that I really hope we won’t see any snakes. That would be the last thing I would like to see.
At this very moment, Sugeng stopped us with these words: “Wait. Snake. A little bit poisonous.”
And there it was! We would have never realized had Sugeng not pointed it out. The snake almost looked pretty, it was black with a little shimmer and had a red head. Sugeng took my mobile to take pictures for us and my only thought was, don’t get too close, don’t get too close, please don’t get too close!
After taking some pictures, he walked around it and gave us hand signals to follow him, separately and slowly. Really?!
Can’t we just go back and get a rain check, as we can in golf, and come back again and try another day? But this time without the snakes?
It doesn’t help, and I have to follow Sugeng. James asked if he should go first, but then I would be last, and alone, and I didn’t want that either.
So, I gathered all my courage and slowly passed it, watching closely to see if she might change her mind and move. But then it was done, and James followed without making a big fuss and we continued our route.
I decided that I would admire the pictures that Sugeng took of the snake later!
With the sweat still dripping down, we walked bravely to where Sugeng was leading us and quickly received our reward for continuing our trek.
Because in a few more steps we saw our first orangutan!
Sugeng saw some leaves falling and told us that it is a sign that there might be orangutans sitting in the tree… And he was right- there was a female orangutan with a baby! Even though they are not so close to us, we can see them clearly. A moment of pure happiness for us. So much so that we forgot to take pictures!
After watching them for a while, we continued our route and then saw a group of macaques. Entire families. The little ones were fooling around, playfully shoving each other off the tree trunks and then chasing each other. It was exactly like how kids are!
The parents approached us and nosily eyeballed our backpacks. But they kept their distance.
Don’t feed the animals
I would like to mention that the Bukit Lawang Guides don’t feed the animals. We had read that some other guides do, but we didn’t observe that at any time.
Rested, we decided to make our way. A snake, a female orangutan with a baby, and a horde of macaques. Not bad for our first hour.
What awaited us next was a sweaty struggle up and down the steep hills, while the day continued to get even more hot and humid, all while not seeing anything.
But our next reward was waiting patiently in the next tree top. A male orangutan! He was hanging in there, chilling on a branch and looking down on us.
I must point out again how absolutely happy we were on this day. To see these animals in the wild was something that was simply beyond our words.
The young orangutan sneezed and then rubbed his nose as it tickled him. What a spectacle for us! This time we couldn’t help but take a couple of selfies with him. Even though we looked terrible. Can you see him above us in the picture?
The awakened thrill of the chase
Sugeng said that we should continue with our journey and as well-behaved as we are, we happily followed. We felt that we were now on fire and that our thrill of the chase was awakened. All we wanted to do was to see more.
And there he was… a sweet Thomas’s Leaf Monkey. He looked like a cute little punk with his spiked hairdo.
But our walk did not stop there, and we saw… Right. Another orangutan. We were absolutely drunk with happiness!
We sat down in order to memorize this moment forever. For a long time, nothing happened. And then suddenly the orangutan decided to continue on his way. So we decided to continue with him. It was then that we saw another Thomas’ Leaf Monkey and also heard a rustling in the bush nearby.
There was a big Pig-tailed Macaque walking toward me! As I was taking pictures, I didn’t really realize how close he got to me. But thankfully he was not interested in me and walked away.
Fortunately, that missed the target!
The jungle trek itself was already very interesting and to be honest, we felt like two real adventurers. Our next hike took a little longer before we saw our next orangutan. And even if I don’t want to list every primate that we saw, I have to mention this one, because he was special and made us laugh so much.
We sat down again to take our time to admire him. It looks so effortless when orangutans hang in the trees and swing from branch to branch. This young orangutan had decided to stop his journey directly above us. I was thrilled and looked over to James, just in time to see his face change. He jumped up and said “Oh boy”.
I was just in time to do the same, because our friend, who was literally above our heads, had decided to take a leak!
It must have looked so funny. All the guides started laughing out loud, which we did as well.
We saw many species of monkeys that day, walked a lot, and had a fantastic lunch in the jungle that included fresh fruit. But the most important thing was that we had an experience that we will never forget.
How do I get to Bukit Lawang?
The drive from Medan to Bukit Lawang is, depending on traffic, about 3-4 hours.
We booked a Grab Taxi and paid around 300.000,00 Rp. Easy. As there is no Grab in Bukit Lawang, we wrote down the mobile number of our driver, so we could contact him when we wanted a ride back to Medan.
As we spontaneously decided to go back early, and it was already late in the afternoon, we had to take a private driver. The price was 600.000,00 Rp.
This way we didn’t have to wait and drive late at night, which we thought was worth it.
Where do I book the jungle tour?
We would highly recommend the Bukit Lawang Guides and the EcoLodge.
You can contact Lilik via WhatsApp, he will help you organize everything.
Lilik’s mobile number is +62 813 64108007.
How much does a jungle trek cost?
We had decided on a Full-Day-Tour without River Rafting at the end and paid per person 750.00,00 Rp. If you would like to do the River Rafting, it will cost about an extra 10,00 US Dollars per person. River rafting is fun and you should try it out. We didn’t do it because we thought we could see more orangutans on the way back while walking. We didn’t realize that there might be also some orangutans at the river, which was the case as we heard later.
There is also a possibility to spend a night in the jungle (2-Daytour), as well as a 3-Daytour with 2 overnights. The best would be to ask Bukit Lawang Guides directly to get the current prices.