Here are a set of very informative posts on Northern Sumatra that should be valuable for future travellers there.
wild orangutan with package or not?
I am planning a trip to Northern Sumatra to see wild orangutans (Bukit Lawang) and visit the elephant sanctuary at Tangkahan. For what I could see, there's two options that seem to differ in price.
One is to book a package tour with two guides, 1 night in the jungle, total 6D5N for some EUR 450, and the other is to arrive in Medan and find your way to Ketambe, via Kutacane and hire (?) a guide there.
My questions are:
Is this second option viable? I cannot really spend any more days than 6 incl arrival and departure days.
Can you arrange the same kind of experience (jungle trek, visit to Tangkahan) arriving on your own?
How safe is the region, in general?
I am a little confused by what you have written.
Wild orangutans are not found in Bukit Lawang- even the ones you will see out in the jungle are some of the rehabilitated ones.
Wild orangutans can be seen in Ketambe, but because they are wild animals there is NO guarantee you will see one.
In Bukit Lawang you will usually see at least one orangutan- even if it is just one across the river walking as you sit in the restaurant of Jungle Inn.
Also there are feeding times at the platform ( you get a smallboat across the river) where the orangutans are fed- times are 9am and about 3-3.30pm.
Now please do NOT go on any package tours for either of these areas- as a backpacker traveller that sort of money is just over the top- it is definitely not necessary.
I, as a solo female traveller have been to all the areas by myself ( and with no Indonesian language skills) as part of my 5.5 month trip through Indonesia in 2006.
Never once did I have any problems with anyone- it is safe and everyone was very courteous and helpful. I even entertained the buses drivers at Pinang Baris bus station ( lots of laughing, gesturing and the odd indonesian word) at the coffee warung for 30 minutes whilst I waited for my bus.
And everyone thinks Medan so bad, but it can be fun, despite the heat and pollution etc.
To get to Bukit Lawang you can get a big bus ( 4 hr trip ) from the Pinang Baris bus terminal or go up the road 1km and outside the Mawar cake shop you can get a mini bus to BL ( 2.5-3 hr trip).
Here is a photo of the unmarkled bus terminal travel.webshots.com/photo/2000(...)02180099969701QCVwlN
The green bus in the photo is travel.webshots.com/photo/2889(...)73960099969701Ghqmze
He usually leaves about 7am and can get to BL in about 2.5 hrs.
The road from Medan to Bukit Lawang is currently being repaired an election promise from the new Governor of North Sumatra who was born in BL, so your trip may even be quicker now.
I saw the road repairs happening at the beginning of May and other travellers have informed they are continuing.
In Bukit Lawang you have many options of where to stay- check out an Aussie guy Scott's website on accomodation in Bukit Lawang
I love staying at Rain Forest Nora's family's new accomodation, but there are loads to choose from. But do try to stay up along the pathway to Jungle Inn- this is where all the action is these days. Make sure you bring a good strong torch with batteries because the electricity after Rain Forest is generator driven and can cut out anytime.
Re: Treks- You can go on a day trek or maybe an overnight trek. Both are reasonably expensive compared to other parts of Indonesia so make sure you take plenty of money with you- no banks in BL.
My trek in 2005 travel.webshots.com/album/354912564dvtkJh?start=36
More information on Bukit Lawang can be found here www.bukitlawang.com/
which is an updated version of the old Flood Appeal Site from years ago.
Finally here are some Blogs on Bukit Lawang definitely worth reading.
From Bukit Lawang you can hire an ojek ( motorbike and rider) to take you down to Tangkahan- a 2 hr rough motor bike trip - I personally love it it is really an adventure for sure. This year I did it the other way from Tangkahan to Bukit Lawang and boy is it rough- but enjoyable.
I have been writing about Tangkahan since I went there in September 2006- it is indeed a paradise in the jungle and such a great contrast to BL.
But not better than BL just different.
Garuda Inflight Magazine had a great article on Tangkahan in their April issue when I flew from Sydney to Jakarta and then I was lucky enough to find it here garudamagazine.com/features.php?id=51
Here is also a report I wrote on another forum on Tangkahan Report
PLEASE NOTE THE PRICE FOR THE MOTOR BIKE TRIP IS NOW 150,000- a small increase since my first visit 2 yrs ago.
If you do not wish to go to Tangkahan by motor bike ask one of the guys at Jungle Inn and a jeep can be arranged, but it is about 400,000 rupiah- fairly expensive and I would say you will be thrown around a lot- for me the bike is the best way to go.
If you do not wish to go back to BL to get back to Medan you can get a bus from Tangkahan back to Medan about 5-6 hr trip.
Not many buses leave from Tangkahan so I suggest you get another ojek ( 20 minutes) to Simpang Robert where a lot more buses leave from.
if you are going to do the ojek trips suggest you leave any big backpacks in Medan and only take a small managable pack. ( I always do that- that rough trip to Tangkahan is best done with minimum luggage.)
In Tangkahan there are 3 accomodation places across the river namely Mega Inn -Mega an English speaking guide has about 6+ very nice bungalows for rent now, then further along the path there is Bambu River, and finally along the path the one place I have stayed at twice now is Jungle Lodge.
I believe there is some sort of accomodation this side of the river, but if you really really want to support the locals please get the ferry across and stay at one of the 3 places on the other side of the river.
An interesting blog about Tangkahan and the Elephants from a traveller called Wendy.