Finding Bukit Lawang was absolutely some of the best luck I have had while planning our 8 months away this year. I have no idea how I found it, honestly I think it found me, and the minute it did we were booked and counting the days.
Honestly I had no idea what to expect from Bukit Lawang, I knew there was a hotel and wild orangutans nearby, that was it. For the first time this trip I didn’t do any research. So we traveled on our 18th anniversary through 4 countries and 19 hours to get there, more proof of my determined personality. We arrived at night in a complete downpour, after a 4 hour drive.
At midnight we waited under a makeshift bamboo stand trying to stay dry while the amazing staff from our hotel came to meet us. We followed them down small cobbled lanes, along what sounded like a roaring river, trying not to slip in the puddles as our clothes began to cling to our bodies. In the darkness and the sheets of rain we couldn’t make out much of our surroundings which definitely added to the mystique of the Sumatran rainforest.
Unfortunately for the poor men who worked at our hotel, Hotel Orangutan, we were booked in the room at the top of 127 stone steps. As they gallantly threw our 60 lb a piece luggage on their shoulders and began trekking to the top J. and I cringed, and then we heaved and gasped as we followed them, carrying only our umbrellas and backpacks.
The next morning we awoke to the most amazing view, a gorgeous rain forest at our door full of lush green plants and incredibly vibrant flowers. The river raged below us (way below us) as the sun rose through the trees and over the incredible mountains surrounding us. As the morning unfolded and we left our hotel the surprises continued. Somehow after all of the flights, and drives we had landed in the most perfect spot on earth. As a child we used to go to Universal Studios in L.A. all the time ( I grew up out there) and we would see fake towns, fake houses, fake weather, all set up just so. This is how Bukit Lawang feels. It is so perfect it seems as though it were put there just for you, like there is no way it can be real. Each flower, bush and plant is perfectly manicured and placed to compliment the stone homes and small bed and breakfasts that line the narrow cobblestone path.
As we walked through the tiny village (there are about 100 people who live in this part of the town) people greeted us warmly saying hello. The monkeys ran along the electrical wires overhead and the lizards crept along the fresh grass. No, I am not joking it was seriously this perfect!
During our five day stay in Bukit Lawang we spent hours at the small restaurants sipping their amazing tea, or eating the incredible local food. The crisp morning air gave way to a warm humid day before the evening rain came and cooled everything down for the evening.
We hiked along the river twice enjoying the waterfalls, the gorgeous rain forest and the lush green mosses growing along the rocky mountain path. I don’t know if you have ever felt completely safe, and completely at peace and total relaxation, but if you haven’t then get to Bukit Lawang.
We spent time with people we met from England, watched the rain fall through the trees, and the monkeys run through the forest, oh and of course caught up on some Netflix too while the rain fell in the afternoons, just long enough for us to rest.
On the second day we went trekking in the woods to find the orangutans which is a complete blog post on its own. Then on the fourth day we set off for the local market in the neighboring town. We were greeted by the incredibly pungent, and honestly very disgusting smell of rubber the locals had mined from the nearby trees (also another blog post). I couldn’t help but stop to watch as they unloaded their bricks and waited to get paid enough to hopefully buy rice for their families that week.
The stalls were merely tarps on bamboo posts with women and men seated on the ground selling their beautiful peppers, spices, fruit and fish to all of the local residents. Men would drive up with women and babies on their mopeds, woven baskets on the back waiting to be filled. Deep inside the market were stalls filled with what seemed to be second hand clothing. We also found many eyes staring at us, and children running up to say hello. It was clear they didn’t see many white Americans in this mountaintop village. I avoided the stalls with the masses of chickens in cages, waiting to be sold and slaughtered for someones dinner as we walked to the end. No one spoke English but we were still able to buy some amazing fresh orange juice from a street vendor, and some cakes from little boys making them in their grandfathers stall.
As we sat at a picnic table watching the world go by it was hard to not laugh at all the people staring at us and then waving hi as they realized we weren’t aliens.
The day we left it felt like we were leaving home. The four hour drive to the Medan airport was not only a sad one it was also quite terrifying. For those of you who have not been to Indonesia you have yet to experience the insane driving of Sumatra, especially Medan. We did find ourselves in a few front yards as roads were just randomly closed, we we would be in five lanes of traffic on a three lane road and often smashed between 5 or 6 mopeds on either side of our van which was sharing a lane with a small lawry. The adventure left us weak in the knees but definitely took our minds off of our aching hearts.
To get to Bukit Lawang you can fly into Medan in Sumatra and then hire a driver to take you to Bukit Lawang. We stayed at Hotel Orangutan and loved it!