Seeing an orang utan in their natural environment is one of the most breathtaking experiences in the world. It is also one of privilege; a mesmerising opportunity to see the king of the jungle up-close and witness their friendly, jesting nature.
However, orang-utans are not supposed to be around humans, similar to meeting an elephant, this is only possible because of the mistreatment of orang-utans over the years. Eventually, this led to the need for orang-utans to go into rehabilitation before being released back into the jungle. This is something you will learn a lot about while in Bukit Lawang, and locals will be happy to tell you about.
Excited? I was too! However, there is a little more to your orang-utan experience than just jumping on a tour, to really make the most of it, here’s a break down of how to make the most out of you trip to Sumatra.
Do Your Research
Similar to what I said in my Tips and Tricks to Travelling in Sumatra, you’re going to have to do a little research before you go, and when I say a little, I mean a lot because it’s difficult to find.
Sumatra has to be the least-written about island in Indonesia (I mean when you have to complete with Bali, what chance do you have?) so it is worth scrolling through Tripadvisor to hunt out some information, however I would recommend checking out my blog too!
Despite what it looks like on the internet, there are actually lots of tours available to take you into the jungle, most of them go on the same route.
There are so many locals that know the jungle like the back of their hand. It’s worth waiting to do your research on the ground for this part!
Read up on the Current Environmental Situation in Sumatra
The level of palm oil production in Sumatra is known across the world, and when you are on the ground, it becomes more evident. There are many documentaries and stats available out there if this is new information to you.
It’s important that you know a little before you go so you can really let that information sink in when you drive past kilometre after kilometre of endless palm oil plantations. It’s harrowing.
Don’t be afraid to ask for more information on this while you are in Sumatra, locals will happily tell you their opinions on the subject.
Be Fit and Ready
Orang utans are king and queens of the jungle, so they are not going to sit on the edge to make it easy for you to see them! Trekking to see the orang utans is hard. Before you know it, you are free climbing for half an hour without warning, it’s all part of the adventure!
A moderate level of fitness is required to complete the full-day hike, as well as a lot of determination, positive attitude and ability to deal with the tropical heat. If you don’t have these, you will be the stroppy teenager at the back.
Respect the Orang Utans and Their Space
The biggest “face-palm” moment of my orang utan experience was seeing a big white man with his panoramic stick-thing with his phone attached, getting right up in an orang utan’s face. These animals can and do bite, or even kill.
The orang utan got angry and the crowds of people who were not on a 2-day hike had to move on. He destroyed their experience, put everyone, including the guides, in danger and made a fool of himself. Don’t be that guy.
We all need our space to be respected, and that includes apes.
This guy was lucky. All of the guides have bites from people doing this to the wrong orang-utan, there are infamously dangerous apes in these jungles, and they see a silly tourist a mile away.
This is when you learn about Mina!
Mina is notoriously violent, a little Youtube-ing will clue you in on what this orang utan is capable of. All of the bites the guides have are from Mina, she is wild and pretty evil.
However, when I met Mina she was relaxed, chilling in the trees giving her baby time to learn how to swing. We were a group of four who agreed to do the second hike around an old rehabilitation centre. We were quiet and she agreed to let us stay there, however, you could see she was thinking about throwing a branch our way.
Camp in the Jungle
I love hiking in nature, but I will only do it if there is water as the light at the end of the tunnel. Camping over night next to a river was another great incentive for this adventure.
In addition to being next to the river, the extra adventures that came with camping made this a big highlight of my orang-utan experience. We got the chance to see orang-utans, like Mina, in smaller groups; had a thrilling climb down to the camp, dangled from vines over a waterfall and fell asleep to the sound of a bug that sounded like a drill, just in case I missed the city.
I don’t know about you, but that is heaven for me!
Looking to Meet the King of the Swingers?
This once-in-a-lifetime experience is immensely rewarding and entirely affordable. To get the ball rolling for your orang-utan experience, book your flight, plan how to get there; the rest can wait until you are in Bukit Lawang! Do things the Sumatran way, and take it easy.
Any questions about my time in Sumatra?
Let me know below!