Seeing orang-utans in the wild has been something we’ve wanted to do for a really long time. Paul grew up being a complete wildlife geek and it’s gradually rubbed off on me over the years. We always thought it would be in Borneo but when Paul started doing research into the few places you can still see these amazing creatures, Sumatra ended up being the leading contender.

The main threat to orang-utans is man and the rapidly expanding palm oil plantations which are destroying the jungles of Malaysia and Indonesia. Unfortunately for Borneo this seems to be happening at a more rapid pace. That’s not to say there aren’t plantations in Sumatra, there are many, but the national parks are heavily protected and in the remote jungle location we ended up in there will hopefully be a safe environment for the ‘men of the forest’ forever. We also got the impression that a lot of visits to Borneo are more 5 star experiences and we wanted something a bit more authentic. Bukit Lawang in northern Sumatra will never be accused of being 5 star but it was the most incredibly beautiful place and rates as one of our top experiences to date.

 

The village of Bukit Lawang

The village of Bukit Lawang

Bukit Lawang is a small village on the edge of the jungle with an enormous river running through it. It took a number of hours on dusty roads crammed into a bemo (a small public jeep/bus) with all of the occupant’s purchases from the market but it was so worth it. This beautiful village was struck by tragedy 10 years ago when a horrific flood practically wiped out the village, a quarter of the population of 1000 lost their lives and countless homes were destroyed. The wonderful people of Bukit Lawang fought to claim their village back and it’s now a peaceful haven that we were fortunate enough to visit.

 

Paul and Indra, our guide

Paul and Indra, our guide

We stayed in a guesthouse owned by the legend that is Obiwan (yes really and his son was called Obitwo!). Obiwan’s grandfather was one of the first people to take wildlife researchers into the jungle many years ago and the family business has only grown from there. We stayed in a bamboo cottage with monkeys, geckos and a freezing cold shower and it was wonderful. The power went out pretty much every night so everyone would sit around by candlelight having a few beers. I also now know what real rain looks like, it makes what we get back home look pitiful. Jungle rain is relentless and powerful and we would spend quite a few evenings watching storms rolling over the village.

 

Stealing food from Mama

Stealing food from Mama

We decided to take a one day trek into the jungle with one of Obiwan’s friends, Indra and it was a true highlight of our whole trip. In the sweltering humidity we started climbing up the steep hills of the jungle early in the morning. We’d only been going a hour when we spotted our first orang-utans, a mama with a baby. Nothing can prepare you for meeting these wonderful creatures. Their eyes are so incredibly similar to our own that you can’t help but stare and each time we spotted one we immediately sat down for ages to watch them in action. They are also the least stealthy wild animals I’ve ever come across. We expected to have to quietly listen to hear them coming but when they were on the move it sounded like the jungle was coming down around us, they crashed through the branches making as much noise as possible. We were incredibly lucky and saw 8 individual orang-utans on our day trek, some inquisitive and some very wary but it was an unforgettable experience meeting each and every one.

 

Beautiful baby orang-utan

Beautiful baby orang-utan

 

Indra preparing our amazing lunch

Indra preparing our amazing lunch

Aside from the joy of seeing orang-utans we also came across Thomas Leaf Monkeys with their cool mohawks and beards and macaques as they should be, wild and not trying to steal things out of your bag! What we didn’t see were the Sumatran tigers, elephants and rhinos that also live in the national park, luckily they were a few days trek away! Indra also showed us so much amazing plant-life, we tried ginger root, cinnamon, quinine which is an ingredient in tonic water and used to prevent mosquito bites. We also saw mahogany trees and rubber trees (which really smell like tyres, obvious but it was very cool). Best of all we felt like we got to experience a real jungle trek. We had to shimmy down mud banks, climb up vines, clamber down waterfalls and even finished off in style with a flying fox across the river. It was fairly physically demanding and I was covered in mozzie bites by the end of the day but so incredibly satisfied. We celebrated by hurrying back to the guesthouse and going for a bath in the river, local style.

 

The gorgeous Thomas Leaf Monkey

The gorgeous Thomas Leaf Monkey

We fell hard for Sumatra and I’d advise anyone who gets the chance to go and visit. Not many people make the effort to visit Bukit Lawang and even fewer to the idyllic peace of Lake Toba that we loved, a 10 hour journey south. I don’t know if this state of development will last for long so if you get the chance, take it!

 

Te quick way back across the river - me on the flying fox

The quick way back across the river – me on the flying fox

 

To see more photos from our orang-utan encounter please click here

If you enjoyed hearing about our jungle adventure please click the little heart or leave a comment

 

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7 Responses

    • Maddie

      It was incredible Kim, you have to go! Sorry for adding to the ever-expanding list 😉

      Reply
  1. Hannah

    Amazing post guys… your writing makes me feel like im there! … the whole experience looked truly once in a lifetime and like you said authentic rather than touristic. X

    Reply
    • Maddie

      Thanks matey 🙂 I get a big grin on my face every time I think about our time there. It is something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life, I have no idea why more backpackers don’t make the effort to go over there xx

      Reply
  2. Phil

    Sumatra, like the Philippines, requires a flight and this puts many people off. Thank god! Also, both Indonesia and Philippines have been linked with terrorism, which again scares people. Some countries even recommend against travel there. What a load of tosh!

    In the rat race that is SE Asia, it’s great that such places still exist. Mum’s the word 😉

    Reply
    • Maddie

      It’s sad that people write off whole countries because of things happening in very small areas, although the benefit to those who adventure there is much appreciated! Again, big thank you for recommending Sumatra, it has been another highlight of the trip so far and really felt like we were escaping.

      Reply

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