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Last updated on April 22nd, 2018

I travelled to Gunung Leuser National Park, Bukit Luwang, to trek and see orangutans in the Sumatran rainforest.

I stayed at the Brown Bamboo Guesthouse. The main reason I stayed here was because the owner, Gia, oversaw the travel guide association for the Gunung Leuser National Park. He was also a nice guy.

I booked the tour through Gia and I paid €80 for a 2D/1N jungle trek plus €10 for river tubing back into Bukit Lawang town. My trekking group already had a few people in it and most treks need a minimum of three. So, I just joined. In hindsight, I should have tried to negotiate the price.

The Bukit Lawang jungle treks also offer a side tour visit to the elephant camp in Tangkahan. I advise against it since there is elephant riding and most camps are not sustainable.

The day of the trek, there were 5 hikers including myself, and two guides, Evy and Eru. Their English wasn’t fluent but I didn’t mind. It was practical and got the message across.

Eru did most of the speaking and provided information about the fauna and flora. He also has his own blog. As you can see, his prices are cheaper.

What to Expect Jungle Trekking in Gunung Leuser National Park

The hiking started around 9:45 a.m. and lasted until about 4:00 p.m.

Trekking through Gunung Leuser National Park had a moderate difficulty. We were constantly going up and down through the slippery and muddy conditions of the jungle. My knees were hurting.

Sweat, or maybe just water from the humidity, was dripping from the tip of my cap. The same water was dripping on to my camera when I took a photo or reviewed an image.

An hour into the trek, I felt an itch on my ankle. I pulled up my pants and noticed a blood stain on my white high sports socks. I pulled it down to notice a leech sucking my blood.

I removed the leech. Eru put some natural clay from the ground on the bite spot to act as an antibacterial agent. I couldn’t believe how the leech was able to get inside my sock and feed without being crushed.

Throughout the trek, Eru kept asking us if we had any questions and made sure we were all okay. I appreciated his customer service.

The North Sumatran rainforest is damp (rained the night before) and hot. Make sure to bring at least 1.5 L of water. The guides also provide water but they can only carry so much. I ended up drinking from a stream later on in the day – refreshing.

Orangutans and Sustainability in North Sumatra

During the hike we encountered gibbons, Thomas’ leaf monkeys, orangutans, and more. We saw about 11 orangutans on the first day.

I knew some of the Sumatran orangutans were not wild, but semi-wild and used to encounters with humans.

Some of the orangutans are aggressive. For example, Mina is an orangutan that has bit a few guides.

We encountered Mina and she came to the ground to get food. We also had to pass by her.

Evy ended up giving her fruits to distract her as we walked by her. This part is not sustainable. The guides don’t like feeding them but some of the orangutans can get aggressive if food is not provided.

Orangutan Mina demanding food from a guide

The guide had to feed Mina. Maybe we could have just ran by her?

Unfortunately, some semi-wild female orangutans are directly or indirectly teaching their offspring to get food from humans.

Some of these semi-wild orangutans force the guides to feed them.

On one occasion, a female orangutan, Jackie, grabbed the wrist of a hiker (part of another trek) and wouldn’t let go for a good 5 minutes.

The guide had to keep feeding Jackie food on one hand but the orangutan still wouldn’t let go of the hiker with her other hand. The guide eventually had to squeeze in some food into the hand that was grabbing the hiker to force Jackie to let go.

This incident happened while Jackie had an infant holding on to her and another juvenile watching nearby.

I believe the treks may need to be stopped for some time so the semi-wild orangutans are not dependent on humans for food. This would hurt the local community in terms of income. And I would have never had the chance to see the orangutans in the wild.

Another solution is to do the treks where the semi-wild orangutans don’t frequent. This may increase the cost of the tour and decrease the chances of seeing an orangutan. Just throwing this solution out there for you to think about.

At one point, I was just standing and noticed some water dripping down right beside me from. I looked up and it was a baby orangutan peeing.

We took breaks as needed as well as about 45 minutes for lunch. Plenty of fruits were provided during lunch and breaks. Lunch consisted of Indonesian-style fried rice with cucumbers, tomatoes, fried egg, and tapioca crisp chips. The fruits consisted of pineapples, passion fruits, mandarins, yellow and red watermelons.

jungle guide from bukit lawang cutting fruits

Evy is cutting some yellow watermelons for snack. He’ll later cut up some passion fruits and pour it over the watermelon making it an irresistible treat.

The trek lasted until 4:00 p.m. upon where we settled along the Bohorok River for the night.

Sleeping Overnight in the Sumataran Rainforest

Our accommodation consisted of a shared basic hut. No washrooms or anything inside except our bed. The bed was just a mat with some cushioning underneath it. Good enough for the night.

There was already a cook, Sugy, at the campsite preparing our evening meal. He was a comical character and loved to tell jokes.

While we were waiting for the sun to set and dinner to be cooked, we saw two monitor lizards lurking around the river and camp site. One of them was eating thrown-out noodles along the river bank.

For dinner we ate rice, Indonesian-style potato taters, chicken, spicy fish sauce, pumpkin, tapioca crisp chips, and fruits for dessert.

Later in the evening, Eru, Evy, and Sugy played some mind and trick games using match sticks. We also told some difficult riddles. Having a group of 5 guests plus the guides made the night smooth.

The next morning, we ate breakfast and visited a nearby waterfall. Nothing big, but beautiful to see and take a swim in. The guides also painted our face with some natural clay and burnt wood.

To be honest, on day two I thought we would do some short trekking instead of going to the waterfall. Eru did give us the option to do a short hike but the waterfall visit seemed to be the norm for the 2D/1N package. However, my legs were too sore to hike anywhere: the waterfall was fine.

After the waterfall visit, we ate some fruits and tubed down the Bohorok River back into Bukit Lawang.