Bukit Lawang & Gunung Leuser National Park
Home of the Sumatran orangutan
Bukit Lawang is a small village situated on a pristine stretch of the Bohorok River in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Located approximately 86 km north-west of Medan, Bukit Lawang is the key access point to the Gunung Leuser National Park, which contains the bulk of the remaining population of the critically endangered Sumatran Orangutan. It’s estimated that a population of around 6,600 orangutan remain in existence, with approximately 5,000 of these living in the Gunung Leuser area.
The park was made a UNESCO Tropical Rainforest Heritage site in 2004. This factor, as well as the presence of international interest and a small ecotourism industry, have contributed to increased environmental awareness, and an improved ethos towards conserving and maintaining this incredible biodiversity hotspot.
The main threat to the orangutan has been the rapid rate of deforestation in Sumatra over the last 25 years, and the destruction of habitat. It’s estimated that about half of Sumatra’s forests have been lost in the last two decades, largely due to the expansion of the palm oil industry. Illegal logging is also a major problem.
Ecotourism and trekking
While there’s a steady trickle of travellers into the area, converging mostly on Bukit Lawang as the access point to the Gunung Leuser, the ecotourism industry is far less developed here than in Borneo, for example. There’s still a feeling of being at the last frontier.
Almost all visitors to Bukit Lawang do a trek in the Gunung Leuser, some for half a day, others for two or three days. However, there are numerous other wilderness areas and walking trails in and around Bukit Lawang, and an increasing interest in the area as a longer-stay ecotourism destination.
The development of a local ecotourism industry has contributed significantly to environmental awareness on a local level, and placed a real sense of value on the area. By visiting Gunung Leuser, you’re contributing to this shift in local values, and hence aiding the protection and conservation of the area.
Bukit Lawang has a village feel – there are no streets teeming with travel agents – there is certainly no Khao Saan Road! This is a tiny little place which still enjoys a remarkable level of “untouched”, village atmosphere.
The Bohorok river system is absolutely stunning, and the landscape around Bukit Lawang is superb. You can spend many days here lazing away by the river, walking along the many beautiful walking trails in the area, swimming, tubing, rafting, visiting local markets and enjoying the superb natural surrounds.
A truly unique and special place
There’s an incredible atmosphere of excitement in Bukit Lawang, despite the fact that it’s a quiet, little village. There’s a real sense of escape from mundane urban reality.
This is a truly wild destination.
The sound and spectacle of monkeys running around on tin roofs. Afternoon thunderstorms. Frequent electricity outages, intermittent mobile phone and internet access. The feeling of watching an endangered or exotic animal swinging above you in the trees as you eat your breakfast. Finding strange and unusual insects, such as giant millipedes or high definition butterflies. Whizzing down the rapids in a tube looking up at the forest, or watching village life pass by – this place is truly special. It can be seen in people’s faces when they arrive.
The natural geography of the village is stunning – a spectacular jungle wall juts up into the sky on the opposite side of the Bohorok river. All of this is complimented by incredibly friendly locals and a number of really atmospheric guesthouses. It really is paradise.
Bukit Lawang is truly one of the greatest remote destinations in South East Asia – you only have to read the travel blogs to see that many travellers rate it as their favourite place in South East Asia. And many regret not having spent more time here – so don’t rush!