Bored with zoos and want to experience some real wildness? Go on a trek in Gunung Leuser Park on Sumatra for a fantastic opportunity to observe wild orangutans (and other interesting animals) in the rain forest.
How accessible is it from Singapore?
The total door to door journey is about 6 hours 50 minutes from (your home/office in) Singapore to your room in Bukit Lawang, starting point of the trek. This includes a 1h30 flight to Medan and a 3 and a half hour drive to Bukit Lawang.
You can do the trip during a regular 2 day weekend flying on Friday night and coming back on Sunday night. If you have more time, you can extend your trip by taking a longer trek in the jungle
The best way to arrange your transport from the airport is to book it in advance directly with your trekking guide (see details in “getting there”).
How much is this going to cost us?
Overall, this trip is relatively cheap and good value for money. Of course, as you spend one night in the jungle, you save on your housing. In total the trip will cost you around SGD 800.
Transport from Singapore will cost you about SGD 565 return for 2. This estimate includes the flights (SGD 220 return per person) and car (SGD 125, IDR 1,200,000 for 6 pax return). Of course, if you are traveling with friends or family, you can share the cost of the car. If you travel on your own, you will likely have to pay the full car on your own (but ask your guide if you can group with other people).
Accommodation and activity wise… A room at the guesthouse before the trek will cost you about SGD 20 (IDR 120,000 per room) and the trek will cost you SGD 100 per person. So, in total, you will spend about SGD 220 for 2 pax.
How remote and risky is it?
It’s relatively difficult, especially as you stay one night in a camp in the jungle. Physically it’s not extremely difficult but you will need to walk in the jungle and the paths are very rough and you will need to use your hands to hold onto trees etc as you go up or down some pretty steep hills. The guides will adapt the itinerary to your fitness level. However, heat, mud, mosquitoes, leeches will be your partners during the trip. Don’t expect great comfort (although the camping structure and logistics are perfectly managed by the guides). Tubing can be rough depending on the current and has limited safety (life jacket but not helmet).
The jungle is full of lovely animals and insects. Some of them carry interesting diseases. So far none of us suffers from anything but you might want to check all your vaccination, allergies and take your medicine with you.
See information regarding Malaria on the the US government Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Expect a very bumpy and slow ride on the road from Medan airport to Bukit Lawang towards the end of the journey.
What about the kids?
Definitely not for babies, toddlers or young children!
The trek is too difficult and the tubing is too dangerous for young children or babies. You could potentially take teenagers for a Tarzan or Mowgli weekend (make sure you let the guides know so that they adapt the itinerary and tubing accordingly).
When should we go?
Now, these are the dry season months so this means you may not be able to do tubing and that the “rain forest” may look very dry. It’s also the busy season for tourists which means you may see more people and less animals during your trek. When checking with our guide Thomas he was saying the best season was probably around October November.
Connections from Gunung Leuser
Gunung Leuser can be a standalone destination from Singapore. If you have more time, you can extend your trip and go visit Lake Toba but be ready for a long journey to get there.
Getting from Singapore to Gunung Leuser
SilkAir operates direct flights to Medan (KNO) with great timings for a 2 day weekend
Getting there: SilkAir – Singapore to Medan – 7.20 PM – 7.50 PM (1h20 flight)
Coming back: SilkAir – Medan to Singapore– 8.35 PM – 11PM
Return ticket from SGD 220.
Caution: Medan’s new Kuala Namu International Airport opened on 25 July 2013, replacing Polonia Airport (MES), which closed the same day.
Money changers, restaurants, shops & ATM are available at the airport. The new airport is like a mall with many shops. However there is no McDonalds or Burger King there.
Get your cash here if you don’t have any as there is no ATM in Bukit Lawang
Get your ticket NOW to enjoy the best fares. Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flight or check directly on the airlines websites (as some flights may not be visible on Skyscanner).
Getting to Gunung Leuser National Park from the airport
Bukit Lawang is located approximately 80km North West of Medan. To reach the village of Bukit Lawang you have 2 options:
- Private car – 3 and a half hours – easier & faster (and recommended). If you book a package with a guide, they can arrange the transport from Medan Airport to Bukit Lawang. For example with “Thomas Jungle Tours” : IDR 1,200,000 for a private car return trip (up to 6 pax + driver)
- Public bus – cheaper & longer. You’ll first have to get to the Pinang Baris Bus Station. Taxi fees from the airport to the bus station: IDR 50,000. Ask for the bus to Bukit Lawang (Gotong Royong is the bus stop to Bukit Lawang). The journey takes approximately 4h30 and will cost you IDR 15,000 / pax. Then from the bus terminal in Gotong Royong to Bukit Lawang you can get a becak (motorbike, IDR 10,000). You might meet jungle guides offering their service on the bus, although we recommend you book a guide in advance.
Where to stay in Bukit Lawang?
You will reach Bukit Lawang quite late and you will spend the first night in the village, on the bank of the Bahorok River. There are a few guesthouses in Bukit Lawang, if you have not booked a guide yet the guesthouses can arrange one for you.
The package with Thomas Jungle Tours includes a night at his own guesthouse, for IDR 125,000 per room (about SGD 15). You can get an extra bed if you want to have 3 people staying in the same room.
His guesthouse also has a restaurant area with food and drinks. Rooms are clean and good value for the price. However, if you are looking for something more charming, you may want to check for alternatives in Bukit Lawang. Chances are you will get there late and start early the next morning so you will not spend a lot of time at the guesthouse.
You will be able to leave some of the stuff you do not want to take with you on the trek (convenient if you get there straight from the office and if you want to save some clean clothes for your way back). You will also be able to take a shower after the tubing activity on your way back.
To see & to do in Gunung Leuser
The must-do activity is of course the trek in the jungle where you’ll have opportunities to observe the wildlife and, if you are lucky enough, several species of monkeys and apes, including the famous Sumatran orangutans. The trek itself is not very difficult if you are in good physical condition (talk to your guide before if you are not fit enough, they can arrange a different itinerary suitable for your condition).
The length of the trek varies depending on the option you choose. Assuming you only have 2 days there, you will walk for about 7 hours on the first day, and for zero to one hour on the second day (depending on which camp you use and the water level), to reach the starting point of the tubing activity.
Night in the jungle
If you do the trek over a period of 2 days or more, you will spend the night in the jungle in a night camp. Not far from there, there is a small waterfall which is great to cool down after a long trekking day. You will literally sleep under a tarp on thin ground sheets, but the whole thing is waterproof so you don’t have to worry about getting wet if it’s raining during the night. There will probably be a few other tourists at the camp. The guides will cook very good Indonesian food, chat with you and propose some entertaining games when the night comes.
The Gunung Leuser National Park is blessed with the Bahorok River, which can have quite fast currents, so it’s not appropriate for swimming. However you can do tubing down the river, which is the best and funniest way to go back to the Bukit Lawang village. Your guide will pack and secure your stuff in waterproof bags, and the journey will last about 20 to 30 minutes. If you prefer, you can also ask to arrange a return by paddle boat.
The price for a weekend trip – trek and night in the jungle + tubing – costs SGD 100 per person with “Thomas Jungle Tours”. Thomas is the owner of the agency and the main guide. He also works with other guides, speaking good English and respectful of the nature.
Contact details: www.thomasjungletours.com (note that Thomas does not have control over this website and that the information may not be updated) – firstname.lastname@example.org – (+62) 81376 330753. Thomas’s English is excellent when he speaks however his emails may be a bit confusing. Give him a call if you need to clarify some points.
When selecting your guide, ask how many people will be in the group and make sure you will be not transferred to another guide in a larger group.
If you have more time
You can either take longer trek (up to 2 weeks if you want!) or spend some time in the area. Wander around to see the rice and rubber plantations. You can also visit the bat cave (IDR 5,000, make sure you have a torch light) or simply walk around Bukit Lawang and get a coffee or a beer at one of the guesthouses.
More info to prepare your trip
Internet access is available at most guesthouses in Bukit Lawang (sometimes for a fee).
What to pack for Gunung Leuser
On top of the regular pack below, don’t forget:
- Anti-leeches socks if you have (but don’t worry if you don’t)
- Enough clothes as it can get very humid in the rain forest, and clothes won’t dry overnight (do we need to mention there is no laundry service available in the middle of the jungle?)
- Potentially a sleeping mat. Not a must as a thin one will be provided. Thomas provides blankets and pillows in the jungle!). You may also want to add a sleeping bag if you are worried about the temperature at night (most people should be OK but the temperature is not high at night).
- A swimming suit for a dip in the river and the tubing back to Bukit Lawang.
If you are going to trek, chances are you will have to carry all your stuff all the way. So you want to be pick all you need but just what you need. Every gram in your bag is a extra weight on your back.
- Short sleeves tops: your main outfit. Everybody will see them on all your pictures. You really want to take that old Mickey Mouse T-shirt?
- Long sleeves tops: to protect yourself from the sun or to enter religious buildings or to protect yourself from mosquitoes in the evening.
- Pullover. Temperatures can be freezing when you climb up volcanoes or mountains. Above 2000 meters, even in the hottest countries, it is usually cold.
- Short/skirt (you should be able to chose the appropriate one by yourself).
- Trousers for the same reasons you need to take long sleeves tops. Jeans are usually not a good option. They are heavy and keep you too warm. They are also not comfortable to walk. Trekking pants are best.
- Underwear: Cotton is good.
- Shoes: take a pair of flip flap on top of your of (good) trekking shoes. Remember that you are going to spend most of the time on your feet. If your shoes are new, make sure you use them before you go for your trek.
- Swimsuit: even if you don’t plan to go to the beach, you never know. A nice river, a swimming pool, a heavy rain? Always have one with you.
- Rain / wind jacket
- Jacket inner fleece or dawn
- Cover for your bag. Even if you are visiting the country during the “best season”, you never know what the sky will be like.
- Torch / lamp: head or pocket lamp with you. It comes handy when walking by night or in a tent.
- Toilet bag: Shampoo, soap, toothbrush & toothpath, deodorant, sun screen, tiger balm, wet tissues, . Ideally, all these in miniature formats.
- Sleeping bag liner
- Warm sleeping pants, jumper and socks if you plan to camp in altitude.
- Your IT stuff: iPad, eBook, laptop, memory card, batteries, etc. Check if you will have power on the way to size the battery you need.
- Camera and its protection.
- Dryer sheets: they will help keep a fresh smell in your bag.
- Your passport, cash, credit cards and other life saving items like your insurance card with emergency contact details.
- Your driver licence if you plan to rent a car or a motorbike (some countries are quite particular about this so take it with you in case you are not sure, even for a motorbike rental).
- Your emergency medical kit: painkillers, mosquitoes repellent, dressing/plaster, disinfectant, anti diarrhea, eyewash, blister tape
- Tissues and toilet paper (you will thank me later). Remember that in a lot of countries, you will not be provided napkins when having a meal.
- Water – plastic bottles are a good option as they are lighter than a gourd/flask.
- Biscuits (always buy some before you go when you are not sure what you will find. Always have “emergency” biscuit and water in case you cannot find food around and need to recharge batteries)
- Sunglasses: you’ll need them. Take them even if it’s raining. Weather can change very fast in the region.
- Scarf (krama, or any kind of fabric that you can use to put around your neck, put on your head to protect it from the sun, cover your shoulders in temples, dry your sweat, etc). Can come very handy in some situation. It will not stay clean for long so it’s wise to pick a dark color…
- Hat protect your head and face from the sun and heat or cold
- Gloves (only if you plan to stay in high altitude or cold weather)
- Trekking poles if you are going for a serious trek. If you don’t have some, ask the guide or porter if they can make some for you out of wood or bamboo.
It’s a good idea to put your key documents and IT equipment in freezer bags (zip-lock bag) to protect them from the rain in case you get drenched. Pack a few plastic bags. They come handy to pack your dirty laundry
You will probably adjust the content of you bag after a few trips. Remove the stuff that you have not used and add the one that you missed. Post a comment to share your tips! Happy packing (it’s the worse part of the trip but it’s worth it…) and travelling!
- Language: Bahasa Indonesian
- Time zone: Jakarta, Sulawesi: GMT + 7, 1h ahead of Singapore;
Bali has no time difference with Singapore
- Currency: Indonesian Rupiah (IDR)
- Phone: + 62
- Electricity: 220V 50 Hz
Immigration and airport taxes on arrival
- If you are eligible you will need to pay for a visa on arrival. The price is USD 25 or the equivalent in other currencies. It is valid for 30 days. Check as it may vary (some airports charge 22 EUR, some others 25 EUR).
- If you travel to Bintan, Batam, or Karimun, you can get a 7 day Visa on Arrival for USD 10.
- On busy weekends, expect to wait for quite a while at the immigration counter.
- Make sure your notes are perfectly clean and without any note or stain. USD bills must be from 2003 or more recent. Coins are not accepted. Change (if any) is given in Ruppiah.
- On departure, you will need to pay the airport fees. These fees are not included in your tickets when you book your trip (hence the price difference between the inbound and outbound flights to Indonesia). They vary from one airport to the other. They are usually around IDR 150,000 per person. You need to pay these in Rupiah
National Public Holidays in Indonesia
|Thursday||January 01||New Years Day|
|Saturday||January 03||Maulidur Rasul|
|Thursday||February 19||Chinese New Year|
|Saturday||March 21||Hari Raya Nyepi|
|Friday||April 03||Good Friday|
|Friday||May 01||Labour Day|
|Thursday||May 14||Ascension Day|
|Saturday||May 16||Isra Miraj|
|Tuesday||June 02||Waisak Day|
|Thursday||July 16||Cuti Bersama|
|Friday||July 17||Hari Raya Puasa|
|Saturday||July 18||Hari Raya Puasa|
|Monday||July 20||Cuti Bersama|
|Tuesday||July 21||Cuti Bersama|
|Monday||August 17||Independence Day|
|Thursday||September 24||Idul Adha|
|Thursday||December 24||Cuti Bersama|
|Friday||December 25||Christmas Day|
* check the exact date as it varies from one year to another, check this website for other years.When Public Holidays falls on a Sunday, the following day will be Public Holiday.