Jungle Trek in Bukit Lawang

Willem is in the jungle of Sumatra close to the village of Bukit Lawang where he goes tracking. Along the way, he meets some wild inhabitants of the jungle. But when the group can get as close as they do Willem gets suspicious..

“Jungle trek, Jungle trek

In Bukit Lawang.

See the monkeys, see the birds,

See orangutan”

These are the lyrics of the Bukit Lawang Jungle song. It is sung to the melody of Jingle Bells. Every guy in this village knows how to play the guitar and sing this song. They laugh all the time. The guys have cool tattoos and long hair. They also know numerous jungle party tricks of which one is making unwarned women fall in love with them within an hour. I’ve already heard a couple of mainly big blond girls say: “So weird, I usually don’t even like Asians. I mean, they are so tiny, but these Indonesian guys are so cute.” When I arrived at my guesthouse a German girl just found out that her Indonesian lover has a wife and kids somewhere in the village. He also owes her four million Rupiah he spent on a new motorbike.

Most people come to this jungle village in Sumatra for three days and end up staying one month or pregnant. You cannot walk along the river without hearing someone say: “This is the life, this is how life should be.” And you believe it is too until you speak to the Dutch girl that moved here six months ago to live with her husband. She will tell you what real life means down here.


Bukit Lawang

As a travel destination, Bukit Lawang is absolute paradise. You cross an unstable rope bridge to get to your guesthouse which makes you feel like you’re Indiana Jones. There is authentic architecture along the winding river, monkeys stealing fruit and people smoking weed. Oh yeah, there is a giant jungle just around the corner filled with orangutans, tigers and honey bears.

So what we will do here is smoke weed, listen to the jungle boys playing the guitar and sing along off key; and when we get bored after two days we will do a three-day jungle trek. A three-day tour means you go deeper into the jungle. This means the chance we will see a tiger increases from 0.01% to 0.011%.

Day 1: The Deep Jungle and the Imamutang

Our guide is Jakob and he brought his nephew Iwa along. Zhang Xing, my Chinese friend, points at him and laughs: “so fat!! that boy, like a balloon.” We leave the village and move through a dense jungle. Within ten minutes my shirt is soaked with sweat and within fifteen minutes my pants and bag are wet of sweat and humidity. Bram and I like the kind of adventure where the journey, or the initial suffering, is more important than the destination. This is the kind of suffering Bram and I hoped for.


After about twenty minutes of hiking, the guide yells “Wow! An orangutan!” and appears to be more excited than anyone of us. We see a mother orangutan with a baby boy. He is a young male model. He shows off and poses for the fifteen people taking pictures

This creature is just the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. People sigh: “What a life these monkeys have: just hanging in trees, playing around and eating leaves. This is the life.” For a moment everybody wants to be like Mowgli or Tarzan. Bram is the only one who is suspicious. It’s impossible to see an orangutan so close to the man village.


Five minutes later we spot a guide feeding bananas to another orangutan. Jakob shakes his head: “it’s bad to feed monkeys, you create a stupid race. But tourists pay thirty euros and came all the way to this jungle to see orangutans, so…”

In a big tree, 30 meters above us, a huge male orangutan is hiding. This one is definitely rare to see, Jakob assures us. It is such a majestic animal. He looks exactly like King Louis from Jungle Book.


During the walk, Manu reveals himself as a true deputy of the French stereotype. He has an arrogance that suits him well. He talks about his life experience, sees our unimpressed faces and adds comforting: “don’t worry, I am probably a bit older than you guys, so you have some time.” He is thirty. So that will give me 5 months to become as wise and old as he is. He asks me if I speak French. I say I can speak a little French. “Please, allow me to prove you wrong.” He replies with a tiny sarcastic laugh. “You speak some Spanish maybe?” “Just some basics” I reply. “Ah, I see. I speak Spanish, pretty fluently actually. Some Bahasa Indonesia and a little bit of Chinese.” He casually asks something to Zhang Xing in Chinese. “Very good, this man!” she cheers and gives him a cigarette. “I think it is very important to learn the language,” he says waving his cigarette. Basic social skills would be more useful at the moment, I think mimicking his French accent.


We walk deeper and deeper into the jungle for six hours. the sky. Leah, the Swedish Australian walks in front. The sides of her head are shaved and she has tribal tattoos on her arm. She just lacks a bow and arrow to hunt for our dinner. Big trees with lianas are blocking After a while we are so deep we hardly see any other tourist groups. The only sound we hear is that of crickets, birds and baboons. “You hear that?” Bram says all of a sudden. We become silent and listen closely. We hear the unmistakable chanting of an Islamic prayer coming from a squeaky speaker.  There can only be one explanation for hearing this while being so deep in the jungle: Islam has even spread into the deep rain forest. This is the sound of the Imamutang calling Orangutans for prayer. Then I notice that Zhang Xing is constantly on her phone. “Have 3g.” She cheers “Do business! People pay money.” That should tell how deep into the jungle we are.


Day 2: Mina, the angry Orangutan

The second day we are on the hunt for Mina, the angry orangutan. She walks over land and doesn’t like people but she does like backpacks. She has an honorable mention in the Lonely Planet, which is probably why we are looking for her in the first place. We walk for a couple of hours before Jakob is yelling: “Go, go, go!! It’s the Mina! She is coming.” I can see fear in  Manu’s eyes. He is running as fast as he can until he realises orangutans don’t run so fast. They just walk lazily towards you. I try to stay as close as possible, but when I see the stress in Jakob’s eyes and the angry face of the orange Hulk, I have to take this near human a bit more seriously. Not that we have to run, but we definitely have to keep walking.

Did you know orangutan means human of the jungle? I didn’t. You might call me stupid, but I thought it had something to do with orange. We fled to another campsite next to a windy river. There are two other We build a tower of stones and skip stones in the river.  All the while Zhang Xing is doing business on her phone and Manu is trying to reinvent himself. Later we play games around a big bonfire. The Indonesian guys have great party tricks up their sleeve. This is the cue for Monsieur Le Douche to prove his Frenchness: “Oh no, this game is silly. I don’t like this. Very immature. I’m sorry, but it’s true.” And he leaves the circle to study his Indonesian language course. The games are indeed a bit silly. The jungle boys are enjoying themselves so much that I get excited about the whole thing. We are singing the jungle trek song over and over again. Everybody except Manu sings a long along.

Leah, the Nordic Warrior of the Pacific, sighs she could live like this forever. I think I will survive tonight, but after a while I would get bored of the same party tricks, the same people and that same jungle trek song over and over again.



Day 3 Taking a Tube Boat Down The River

The third day we take a boat made of five big individual tubes back to the village on the wild river. The river looked more wild than it felt when we were in the boat. When we arrive, the jungle boys seem to be more excited about the whole thing. “It was so much fun wasn’t it!?” We agree. Except Manu: “actually, we thought it was too expensive…” Bram and I move from his side, in case the guide thinks that Manu’s “we” includes us. “I mean,” he continues “it is not three days and it was not really deep inside the jungle.”

I look apologetic to Leah and notice a giant hickey on her neck. A big grin pops on my face. “I don’t know what it is…” she utters, “Asians are usually not my type, they are so tiny, but these Indonesian boys are so handsome. I don’t know what happened.” She’ll be staying in Bukit Lawang for a while, singing the jungle trek song and living the jungle life.



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