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Bukit Lawang
Orang hutans and wild rivers

Bohorok is the administrative unit that contains Bukit Lawang. Indonesians normally say Bohorok when they refer to Bukit Lawang. The area of Bohorok has many plantations like cocoa, palm oil, natural rubber, or anges, etc. Bukit Lawang started as an orangutan rehabilitation center, but quickly developed into a major tourist destination of North Sumatra.

Without tourists there would not be much in Bukit Lawang. Tourists come to see orangutans and citizens of Medan come to see tourists. It is a convenient first stop for travels in Sumatra with lots of activities, nice nature, tourist adapted food, convenient accommodation, and friendly people. Here one can get adjusted to Sumatra before onward travels.

Bukit Lawang and its many restaurants and accommodation are nicely located along the clear and clean Bohorok River on the outskirts of the huge national park, Gunung Leuser. Besides seeing orangutans Bukit Lawang also has a long range of other out-door activities. Bukit Lawang is easily accessible and has a huge selection of losmen, hotels and restaurants that make it a very lively and touristy place, on Sundays it's particularly crowded as hundreds of Indonesians come to picnic along the river and watch the tourists. It is perfect for relaxing in comfort and for families. It is easy to see orangutans, even if you are in a hurry.

Upon arrival at Bukit Lawang, the bus stops at small square, the bus square. Many tourist guides wait here to offer their services for new arrivals. There is also a tourist information office here and it can be worthwhile to visit it. Local moneychangers give lower rates than can be obtained in Medan, but not too bad. There is no post office in Bukit Lawang. Market day is in Bukit Lawang on Friday and in Bohorok on Sunday.

Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center

The orangutans were once living in almost all of Southeast Asia, between South China and Java. Today, however, they are only left in Borneo and Sumatra. 90% of the total orangutan population lives within the borders of Indonesia. Habitat loss and illegal pet trade seriously threaten their existence.

The orangutan has, as a species, recently been re-classified. The two former sub-species are now considered to be two distinct species of orangutans. There are several sub-species. The densest area for orangutans is in Aceh Singkil, in the part of Leuser National Park called Singkil Barat. In this area the orangutans use tools (sticks) to open fruits, a sign of basic culture.

The word orangutan is from the Malay (Indonesian) Orang (person) and hUtan (forest). The Indonesian word is orang hutan. In many areas in Sumatra orangutan is also called Mawas. In some areas, like in South Tapanuli, the word orang hutan is often confused with other types of monkeys.
In 1973 WWF started an orangutan rehabilitation center in Buit Lawang. The idea was to return captured orangutans back to nature or move them from deforested areas. In 1980 the Indonesian Forestry Ministry took over. The operation is partly financed by entrance fees. Orangutan arriving to the center are quarantined, treated for diseases, and trained to survive in the wild. When the training is finished they are released near the center where they are fed twice daily. The diet is monotonous in order to make them start looking for other food and eventually become independent of humans. The feedings are a major tourist attraction.

Orang hutan watching

the feeding of orangutans in Bukit Lawang is one of the biggest attractions in North Sumatra. The orangutans are fed on a platform in the jungle. The number of them depends on the availability of food in the jungle, but normally there are 3-4 orangutans showing up. It is recommended to be there early to see the apes arrive. It is strictly forbidden to touch and feed the animals. To reach the feeding site on the river. The feeding times are 08.00-09.00 and 15.00-16.00. Some times orangutans show themselves opposite the river in front of the accommodation below the river crossing.

Jungle trekking

Bukit Lawang is very convenient for jungle trekking. There are many alternative treks to do and there are plenty of English speaking guides. There are one-day treks, several day trek and treks combined with fun rafting. This combined trek takes 1 day. The return to Bukit Lawang is done drifting down the river through the jungle on tubes.

A jungle trek straight to Kutacane takes 5 days. A trek to Berastagi takes 3 or 5 days, depending on route. Inquire about treks in your losmen or at the tourist information office. Jungle trekking is nice and if you never have done it Bukit Lawang is a good place to do it for the first time. If you have a guide who feeds orangutans, report it to the National Park (PHKA). There are caves where feeding is done with the purpose of making tourists happy, without any consideration of the consequences. Don't forget to bring your trash back, even others leave it behind.

Caves and walks

There are several caves within walking distance from Bukit Lawang. The so -called bat cave is approximately 2 km south of Bukit Lawang. It is a 30 minimum walk and a short climb up to the cave, it is advisable to wear good shoes. There are bats and many small animals to see. No permit is needed, as it is outside the national park. Bring a flashlight. There are more bat caves at Boat Rock 4 km further downstream, but it is not allowed to enter these caves without guide.

The walk to panorama outlook is nice. It starts north of Jungle Inn. It takes 20 minutes along a slippery and steep path through the rainforest to reach the viewpoint. A 20 minutes further walk leads to the bat cave Goa Luntur. If you want to enter a cave, but are too lazy to walk, there is a cave tunnel in central Bukit Lawang where the path makes a sharp bend. Walk through the cave and on the backside you will see a beautiful valley with fascinating rock formations. In the evening there is live music in this cave.

Floating on Rubber Tubes

A fun activity is to float on a rubber tube (fun rafting) for 15 km down the river Sungai Bohorok. It takes app.3 hours. After the float, take a bus back. Tubes can be rented in Bukit Lawang. Tubing can be dangerous, especially in the rain season. There have been a few fatal accidents in Sungai Bohorok. The American Canoe Association has issued safety recommendations.

You can read them at Sumatra Savages. In short: Never go tubing alone. There are guides with swift water license if you prefer. Don't tube when the river is flooded. Look out for strainers in the water, for example fallen trees, bridge pilings, etc. Avoid dams, ledgers etc. Don't use drugs or alcohol before tubing. Consider using a lifejacket and helmet.


The river Sungai Bohorok that flows through Bukit Lawang is not big enough for rafting, however there are other more suitable rivers for this. There are several organizers of rafting in Bukit Lawang. Most rafting is done on Sungai Wampu. The lower part from Bukit Lawang down to Bohorok (grade 2-3) is an easy rafting nice for beginners. The first 30 minutes of the stretch has several easy rapids, nice surroundings and also a hot spring. The upper part of Sungai Wampu is in Karo land and there the river is called Lau Liang.

The river runs through a deep canyon leading up to a big waterfall. The river is called Lau Liang (Dog River), as only a dog can survive it. This part of the river is not used for rafting though. Rafting on Lau Liang is normally done on a 3 day trip, or which 2 days are spent on the river. The rafting starts in Bintang Meriah and ends in Lemang, before the fall. Another river suitable for rafting in Sungai Bingai, which has grade 4 at high water levels. Sumatra Savages, Bukit Lawang Indah and other organizers rafting out of Bukit Lawang.


The Bahorok river is not big enough for rafting, but good enough for kayaking for beginners. Sumatra Savages arranges courses in Kayaking for up to US$ 30 per day. Compared to prices in European and America it is very good value. The teachers have been trained in Malaysia. Sumatra Savages is a member of ACA (America Canoe Association). They promise that you will learn to do an Eskimo roll. They also organize kayaking in other more advanced rivers.


Maryke is a village on Sungai Wampu south of Bohorok. It is often used as a starting points for rafting, but there are also a few caves and a waterfall in the vicinity. Most of the over 1.000 families living in Maryke are Karonese. Most of them are Protestants. If going between Bukit Lawang and Maryke by motorbike, there is a nice shortcut. It lead over shaky suspension bridges and through several villages.


Off road driving with jeep or Landover between Bukit Lawang and Tangkahan through rural areas and traditional villages can be organized. Either Jeep or Land rover is used. Enquire in your accommodation or at the tourist information center (HPI). Mountain Climbing can be practiced together with the guy at SAR (search and Rescue). Their equipment is not as good as in "Bay watch", but enthusiasm is bigger.

It can also be a good idea to travel around on minor roads in the countryside. You can do it either on your own on a rented motorbike, with someone from your accommodation, or with a chartered RBT. Blue Moon Restaurant can arrange a one-day motorbike tour through plantations to a few caves and a waterfall in the Maryke area.

On 2 November 2003, Langkat, a village in the Bukit Lawang area has been hit by a devastating flood, killing over 200 people. Therefore it's likely that some of the tourist attractions and other important objects of tourism below are not available anymore of course. This is only for the places directly hit by the floods.

Click here for information about the floods

Last revised on November 10, 2011
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