What you can find in this post
Bukit Lawang with kids
A family adventure in Bukit Lawang
Bukit Lawang is less than 100km northwest of Medan, but it is a good 3-4 hours drive where you will find the small village in Northern Sumatra, a popular destination for adventure travellers and their families (like us!). It is a fantastic place to immerse yourself into the wild green jungle.
Bukit Lawang with kids is totally do-able! Yes, it is a remote village, but it is also a tourist village! It is situated along the Sungai Bohorak River and bordered by the jungle of Gunung Leuser National Park.
Back in 1973 an orangutan rehabilitation centre centre was set up with feeding platforms (which were moved every 3 months). Thankfully, times have changed and the feeding platforms are no longer used (but you can see walk past them) but Bukit Lawang is still the best place in Sumatra to see orangutans.
Bukit Lawang is a very traveller friendly village where you can relax in your hammock, tube down the river and enjoy cheap and delicious food.
The village of Bukit Lawang really does feel like it is in the middle of the jungle with the roar of the river and the monkeys bouncing across rooftops each morning.
We stayed with Andrea and her team from Green Hill. I came across Andrea on a Facebook chat a number of years ago and immediately put Bukit Lawang and a discovery trek with Green Hill, on my list of things to do in Bukit Lawang with kids.
After a number of false starts, we finally made it during September 2023.
A few things to note about visiting Bukit Lawang –
Getting to Bukit Lawang
It is relatively simple to get to Bukit Lawang with kids. Yes, it is further than harder than other places in Asia but that is half the fun!
We flew from Melbourne to KL (via Singapore) and stayed overnight at KL airport. The next morning we flew out to Medan. The flight is less than an hour.
There are local buses you can catch or you can arrange your own driver. We elected to pre-book our transfers with Andrea. I know, it is not quite as adventurous, but sometimes you just have to know when to take the easier way when traveling with kids.
The car ride was close to 4 hours (even though it is less than 100km!). It was smooth going for the first half but then the roads turned rough as we travelled through villages. I could have sat in the car for a few more hours though, I love the villages, the shops the people, the cars, the bikes and trucks with all sorts of gear loaded onto the back!
There are no cars in the village and there is a drop-off spot at the top of the main road into town. We were met by Green Hill staff and followed them to the guesthouse.
Bukit Lawang village layout
As I mentioned, there are no cars in the village (there are bikes though) so you will need to walk to your accommodation. Porters are available to help carry bags if necessary too.
It was bucketing down when we arrived! Umbrellas were sourced! Our feet were soaked walking through the overflowing village streets. Welcome to Bukit Lawang. It was awesome!
Bukit Lawang River
When we first arrived during a thunderstorm the river was brown and wild! We said there is no way we are floating down that!
By dinner, it had subsided and by the next morning, it was clear and beautiful. But, the next storm it turned brown and wild again!!! Amazing how quickly it changed each time.
I struggled to find much information on Bukit Lawang with kids. I did find one blog and the writer was talking about how she read a review from a lady who said the river was wild and dangerous. But when this family arrived it was glorious and she thought the other lady must have been a very precious traveler. Having seen the river both calm and wild I think they were both probably correct!!
I am not sure if we would have floated down when it was wild. People definitely were, I am just not sure if we would have!
The Weather System
When it rains, it really rains!! We had a number of epic thunderstorms during our 5-night stay. They generally don’t last long, but if you are caught out in it, you’ll be drenched in no time! It is literally so forceful that you need to yell to be heard over the downpour. The streets will flood and thongs (flip flops).
Limited Wi-Fi and electricity
We set up our phones before we left with international roaming as we weren’t sure what the Wi-Fi would be like in Bukit Lawang. I am glad we did as it was quite limited. We didn’t have Wi-Fi in our room at Green Hill (but think it was available in reception?). At most of the little restaurants, you could access Wi-Fi.
We also had a number of hours with no power each day which usually corresponded with a thunderstorm. But it didn’t last long.
A definite thing to note about staying in Bukit Lawang is that the toilets are different to what you are used to. If you have travelled to Asia before then this is nothing new. But I know for a lot of people it may come as a shock!
Flushing of the toilet is done by using a plastic scoop to pour water from a large tub of river water into the toilet. Sometimes it takes a few times to fully clear the toilet.
We had a limited supply of toilet paper in our accommodation, you may need to purchase extra from one of the little mini-marts in the village. The toilet paper also goes into a bucket and not into the toilet!
There is no ATM machine in the village so bring cash with you from the airport. The closest is about 30 minutes away.
The bridges of Bukit Lawang
Crossing all the bridges of Bukit Lawang with kids was Ned and Olive’s favourite thing to do! They may look scary upon first glance but they are all stable and really quite fun to walk across!
The food in Bukit Lawang
We absolutely loved the food in Bukit Lawang. We have only been to Bali before and one of the main reasons we don’t love Bali is because of the food.
We were really surprised and would go back to explore more of Indonesia in a heartbeat just to eat more food.
For one it is super cheap! $2 curries and $2.50 fresh pineapple juices. It’s just brilliant when traveling as a family!!!
Secondly, it was all freshly prepared and delicious! Yes, we ate a lot of Nasi and Mee Goreng but we also tried delicious curries, pancakes, vegetable dishes and the kids’ favourite were the pineapple fritters!
In a couple of the restaurants, you could find more Western style of food. Olive had a pizza one night but otherwise we ate all Indonesian and didn’t get sick of it at all.
We were warned to make sure we didn’t have any food in our rooms with the monkeys could grab!! They are little thieves and grab whatever they can, whenever they can.
We saw a couple run into a room, grab a packet of noodles and sit on the roof in triumph ripping open the packet and eating it as quickly as possible.
Clothes for trekking in Bukit Lawang with kids
There really was nothing special required for trekking in the jungle of Bukit Lawang. We needed long pants and long socks for our jungle trek and long sleeves were also recommended.
Normal ‘sneaker’ or ‘trainer’ type shoes were fine. No big heavy walking/hiking boots were required. Our thongs (flip flops) were worn every day around our camp and the village.
Seeing the orangutans in Bukit Lawang
We had our tour arranged with Andrea from the get-go and I knew I was in good hands with her. I have read many reviews though about making sure you are careful with the guide you choose. You are not allowed into the National Park without a guide.
Please read everything that Andrea has on her website about keeping the wildlife wild. I am horrified to hear that tourists are feeding the orangutans or expecting their guides to do so. There is a strict code of contact at the start of the National Park for everybody to read before commencing into the jungle.
Did we see Orangutans? We sure did! At least half a dozen. It was the most amazing experience. We kept our distance and our guide Donny was telling others to keep moving back down the path. Check out my posts here on our orangutan experience.
Fitness level required for trekking in Bukit Lawang with kids
Honestly, Ned and Olive are 10 and 8! They managed fine! Yes, they were hot and bothered, and it was hot, sweaty and muddy but they were fine! Our guide was amazing at tailoring the trekking to suit our family. There was never any pressure to go further or harder or longer.
In saying that, we were trekking through the remote jungle! The hills are steep, we were crossing rivers and scrambling up and down mud! Another thing to take note of is there are leeches! You will see them every day! We had a good deterrent and got used to seeing them after the first few hours!
I don’t think we actually travelled far in terms of kilometres. Nothing like 10km which we would normally do with the kids. If you have a good guide, he will tailor the experience to suit your needs.
Consider a discovery trek with Green Hills to take you off the beaten path
Everyone travels to Bukit Lawang to cross the bridges and access the national park. But not many people venture further afield, off the main path and into the remote, untouched jungle. We didn’t see another soul for 2 solid days on our trek! It wasn’t until we came back into the village and into the ‘tourist jungle’ that we encountered people!
Read all about our Green Hill Bukit Lawang Discovery Trek here.
Tubing down the river in Bukit Lawang
The best fun after the 3-day discovery trek was tubing down the river! An activity which friends of mine did back in 1995! So not too many things have changed! All your gear is wrapped up tightly, so nothing gets wet. The guides sit on the front and the back and steer you down the river.
Our only problem – it wasn’t long enough ha-ha!
Have you been to Bukit Lawang?
Have you visited this beautiful village in the Sumatran jungle? Let us know your tips and advice in the comments below for others planning on going.
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Thank you for sharing your story about the orangutans in Bukit Lawang. My husband are planning on going there in July. Did you stay at Green hill Guesthouse? If so, were you happy with the accomodations? I am really excited about trekking with Andrea’s guides on the two day discovery tour, but wasn’t sure about Green Hill. if you have the time and can write us back, we would love to hear from you. thank you in advance. Alicia and arnold
Hi Alicia, Thanks for getting in touch. Yes, we did stay at Green Hill’s. We thought it was great (super basic but that is Asia for you). I’ll send you an email 🙂