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Sumatra, Indonesia Travel Notes






Favorite Food: Chicken Sate with peanut sauce; local pumpkin and vegetable curry; nasi goreng with fried egg on top (this was for breakfast and many times lunch and dinner); dried fish with peanuts in a spicy, brown sugar based curry sauce.


Currency: Indonesian Rupiahs (10,080 to $US1.00)


Cost of Goods and Services

3 hour local bus ride - $US.80

Nasi Goreng (fried rice) - $US.60

3 day trek with guide, camping equipment, cooks and shelter in Mt. Leuser National Park to see Orangutans - $US50.00 per person

Bintag Beer - $US1.40

Local Sumatran coffee with milk - $US.35

Tea - $US.10

Average daily hotel for family of four: $US6.00

Average daily food bill for family of four: $US14.00

30 day Visa: $USD25.00 per person



The traffic and smog of Medan and the uneasy feeling of the city; my distrust of tour and minivan operators increases; arriving in Bukit Lawang at 11pm and being greeted by numerous people willing to help us settle down; our trek into Mt. Leuser National Park for 3 days has been one of the main highlights of this entire trip; the beauty and sounds of the rainforest; seeing Peter and Paul¡¯s enthusiasm with nature; our confrontation with Nina the Orangutan; listening to all the personal stories about their love of Bukit Lawang and the tragedy of the Nov. 2003 flood on their village and lives; relaxing at the beautiful Lake Toba; our bike around the island; watching Peter and Therese plant rice in a small village, then seeing the tears of joy between Therese and another lady; seeing the economic desperation, lack of tourism and aftermath in Northern Sumatra from the tsunami and the village destroying flood of Bukit Lawang; being constantly asked to go places or do things and finally loosing my temper at a taxi driver who tried to charge 3x the amount.


Travel Information

Indonesia is a very large country. We came to Indonesia to see orangutans and monkeys in the wild and do a trek in the rainforests of Sumatra. We only had 10 days dedicated to Indonesia, so we concentrated on the Mt. Leuser National Park to see orangutans and Lake Toba to relax.



Mostly what I can say about Medan is to get in and out of the city as soon as possible. The accommodations are far below average, transportation is very difficult and there was a constant uneasy feeling about the city. Because of the economic devastation in the region brought on by the tsunami, everyone is in desperate need of those vital foreign dollars and our willing to do almost anything to obtain them. We arrived by ferry from Penang, Malaysia to Belawan port about an hour outside of Medan. There a bus took us into town. However, in the best several people who spoke English explained what needed to happen to get to Bukit Lawang. Everything they said was a lie and the whole thing is a scam to get you to their tourist office and by expensive minivan transportation packages and sign rainforest treks.  Luckily, we are now experts on recognizing these scams and leaving immediately. Do not listen to these people. Take this bus to the local bus station and proceed to Bukit Lawang. Better yet, email the Jungle Inn in Bukit Lawang and they will send someone to meet you at the ferry terminal and escort you back to Bukit Lawang.


Bukit Lawang

We arrived in Bukit Lawang to do one thing: a multi-day trek to see wild orangutans. Bukit Lawang provides easy access into the vast Mt. Leuser National Park in Northern Sumatra. This park is home to some of the last remaining wild orangutans and a locally run rehabilitation center. Prior to November 2003, Bukit Lawang was filled with numerous guesthouses and trekking guides catering to the increasing number of tourists looking for 1-5 day treks into this jungle wilderness. In November 2003, a devastating flash flood killed 512 people and most of the infrastructure of the village.


For us, we had the choice of 5 guesthouses and many top notch, English speaking experienced guides. Prior to our trek, we took a 1\2 hour walk out of town to visit a feeding platform just within the park boundaries.  We were greeted with seeing 7 adult and 3 baby semi-wild orangutans. Even though these animals were not wild, seeing and witnessing their behavior up close was a thrill. For people not able to go on the trek, this side trip is a must.


We settled on a 3 day\2 night trek into the park and with an early start we began our trip into this highland rainforest jungle.  The rainforest was drier then we have experienced in previous treks with more open ground cover, but a similar higher canopy cover.  Our first day was a primate bonanza. We saw gibbons, semi and wild orangutans, and long and short tailed macaques, along with several species of hornbills.  Our trek was a strenuous up and down affair, walking several kilos along a stream and a torrential downpour.  A cooling waterfall was very welcomed after this difficult hike.  Day 2 was more of the up\down affair.  Day 3 was a very relaxing camp next to a large river.  We were able to see numerous species of monkeys within the canopy and watch hornbills fly overhead. This was a highlight of our trip.


Lake Toba

After grinding through Indonesia, we want to a place to relax and catch up on the kid¡¯s homework. We found the perfect place in Lake Toba. Lake Toba is very similar to Crater Lake, Oregon in that it was formed by a volcanic eruption, which formed a lake, and has a large island in the middle. We stayed on this island in the village of Tuk-Tuk All the accommodations were first class and CHEAP. The water was swimming pool temperature and with a bike we were able to see several local Batak villages. Therese and Peter evened helped plant new rice seedlings in the local paddy. This is an easy place to relax and save a bundle of money.