Indonesia days 4-6: overnight camping & spotting wild orangutans in Sumatra’s jungle

I’m back from my 2-day trekking adventure in the jungle! This is a popular activity as tourists come from all over to see orangutans in the wild. Sumatra is one of the only places in the world where organutans live (the other is in Borneo, also in Indonesia). A Sumatra jungle trek has been on my bucket list for some time, and it was a very memorable experience. It was nice to get a mini-digital detox, experience camping in the jungle (again), and see orangutans in the wild.

Day 4: Trekking day 1 + camping overnight in the jungle

I booked a 2-day overnight trekking tour through my guesthouse with a group of 3 other people. I spent the morning figuring out what to pack – plenty of DEET, change of socks, and toilet paper. πŸ™‚

Then, we headed out for our trek. I was surprised to find that we didn’t even need to drive to the jungle. We literally walked from the guesthouse to the park entrance – I guess Bukit Lawang really is the gateway town to the jungle. From a few steps of climbing, immediately, we were drenched in sweat from the heat and humidity, but that’s the jungle for ya!

Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and accommodating. He explained to us different plants and their medicinal purposes.

trekking in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra

Not soon after the start of the trek, we saw our first orangutan! These bright orange creatures were so interesting. We all stared in wonder as she swung from the trees and ate food.

orangutans in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra
orangutans in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra

From there, the orangutans kept popping up. We also saw some with their babies, so cute!

There were a lot of other tour groups, so once one showed up, everyone flocked to it and fought for the prime spots to take photos. It got a little crowded, so once I got a few photos, I stepped back and enjoyed the moment. I’ve also realized I’m not the biggest “wildlife person,” so I happily gave up my spot to the other enthusiasts.

orangutans in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra

We saw other animals too, like peacocks.

And the biggest ants I’ve ever seen.

We took a break and ate some fruit. Our tour guide carried all the food we would eat on this tour in his backpack…amazing. I appreciated the small touches and the effort he put into making the food nice.

While we ate our fruit, this monkey came and stole some! It wasn’t the first animal that approached us for food. From the way they behaved, it was clear the animals in this part of the jungle knew how to leverage humans for food, but fortunately, our tour guide knew how to fend them off.

Egg fried rice for lunch, so tasty.

After 7 hours of trekking, we made it to camp! I was pooped. Our camp was right along the river and was some basic tent-like structures. No running water or electricity. Our “bathroom” was the jungle. πŸ™‚

campsite in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra

Our beds were thin mats, a mosquito net, and a blanket. I made a pillow out of some clothes. I loved being in the middle of the jungle, but to be frank, one night was enough for me!

Swimming in the river felt amazing after the long trek. The river was very clean and refreshing. I was impressed that there wasn’t any trash in the jungle – the locals did a very nice job caring for it.

Our tour guide carved us all orangutans out of clay which made a nice souvenir.

We relaxed at camp for the rest of the evening. Once the sun went down, we all sat by the candlelight. It was kind of eerie and a reminder of just how dark it gets outside of the city. We had the most delicious food, all cooked at camp. After dinner, our tour guide had endless games, riddles, and magic tricks to keep us entertained. Time flew by before we all fell asleep.

camping food in Indonesia

Day 5: Trekking day 2 + river rafting

The next morning, I was the first one up as I was still a little jet-lagged. I hung around camp and had some coffee.

Then some breakfast after everyone woke up. Mornings are my favorite time for camping. I love sipping coffee in the cool morning air and hearing the whole jungle wake up.

Then, we packed our bags and set out for day 2 of trekking. We had a slightly shorter trek today (~3 hours), but it was still a heart-pumping workout, especially after yesterday’s activity.

We spotted white-handed gibbons! Our guide said these are typically very hard to spot, and this was the first time he saw one in 3 years.

More orangutans, of course.

Also saw a turtle.

After our morning of trekking, we had some lunch by the river. Our guide made all of us our own jungle crowns and painted our faces with charcoal. πŸ™‚

Our last activity of the tour was river rafting! This is a popular activity in Bukit Lawang, and I was very excited about it. The rafts were a bunch of tubes tied together – based on this setup, I thought we would be in for a leisurely float down the river, but it ended up being much closer to actual rafting. We sped down the river and braced ourselves through some rocky portions. An adrenaline-pumping activity that turned out to be a lot of fun! The scenery was memorable too, as we could see the tall trees from the river versus being under the trees in the jungle. The rafting brought us back to town which was convenient.

river rafting in  Bukit Lawang, Sumatra

After two days in the jungle, I arrived at my guesthouse which felt like the Taj Mahal compared to camping. I was just happy to wash my hands for the first time in 2 days. I spent the rest of the evening eating dinner and watching Netflix.

Overall, I’m really glad I did this jungle trek. It’s something I will remember for the rest of my life. But to be honest, I think I am done with jungle stuff for a while. πŸ™‚ I have done similar overnight camping in Thailand and the Amazon Rainforest – all of them were unique in their own way, but I think the novelty of being in the jungle has worn off for me. This blog knows I am the biggest nature lover, but I think this whole experience was a flashback to how rough jungles are. I’ll admit I’m at the point in life where I prefer a little more comfort. I wish there was a way to enjoy the jungle without actually being in the jungle. πŸ˜›

Day 6: chill day + bat cave

The next morning, I enjoyed some downtime and recovery at my guesthouse. I did some trip planning, caught up with Joe, hung out with the other guests, and worked on this blog post.

Later in the morning, I headed out for one final activity I wanted to cover while in Bukit Lawang: the bat caves. I heard good reviews from some other backpackers and decided to check it out for myself. The walk took ~30 minutes from town, and I enjoyed the jungle vibes outside Bukit Lawang while following the trail.

When I got to the cave, there were some guides available, and I decided to go with one since I didn’t have a flashlight. I’m glad I did because my guide was super helpful and we went way further than I would have on my own. There were three caves in total and we climbed through each one.

I’ve been to many caves around the world, and I have to say, this was my favorite one yet! Inside was just beautiful as I admired how the caves formed over time.

The most interesting part – we saw TONS of bats! I’ve never seen them up close like this. They are such interesting creatures.

We also saw snakes, birds, bees, and other wildlife. I didn’t know so much life existed inside caves.

After my cave adventure, I had lunch at my favorite local spot that I mentioned in my last post. I’ve eaten here every day so far, and the food just keeps getting better and better.

The rest of that day was major chill mode. This was my last day in Bukit Lawang, and I just wanted to soak in the scenery. I took a walk to a part of the village I hadn’t seen yet – it was a totally different scene as there were nicer hotels and a local art scene. I realized my guesthouse is in the budget part of town with fewer tourists, and it was nice to see where everyone else was staying.

The evening ended with more chilling and dinner at my guesthouse.

After 5 days in Bukit Lawang, I’m moving on from this first chapter in Indonesia! I mentioned in my last post that I was initially having a hard time adjusting, but I’m happy to share that my outlook has gotten much brighter these last 3 days. My initial feeling of “what am I doing here” has turned to genuine appreciation for this town, its people, and its scenery. I am grateful for an eventful past few days to jumpstart back into travel mode. I feel like I started off with the roughest leg of my whole trip conditions-wise, but conquering this means I can handle anything.

4 thoughts on “Indonesia days 4-6: overnight camping & spotting wild orangutans in Sumatra’s jungle

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