Bukit Lawang, Medan – the town on the edge of the jungle!

by Kelly

Bukit Lawang is a town on the edge of a jungle! It is the gateway to the Gunung Leuser National Park and a great little town in its own right. Friendly locals, great places to stay and eat and most importantly spectacular views of the jungle!

Getting there:

We flew with Air Asia to Sumatra and landed in Medan. They have just built a new airport and it is really impressive. If you have to exchange money do it here, we found the rate to be much better than anywhere else we visited but make sure to go to the first floor near check in counters just inside the front door to the left as there was a big difference between the rates on the ground and first floor when we visited.

Once you land the immigration process is simple and very organised, and we headed through quite quickly. Outside the arrivals area you will find taxis and transportation, if you haven’t organised it yet you will find someone here.

Medan To Bukit Lawang:

As the trek we had organised to do leaves from the gateway to the jungle in Bukit Lawang (more on this in another post) we had already organised transport with the trekking company, the guide was waiting there for us and we were away quickly. After driving through Medan and picking up other guests we headed for the road to Bukit Lawang. This drive is quite an experience! We were so glad that we had organised ahead and had a good car for the drive as it is the bumpiest longest one I have ever been on! It was a good 4 hour drive over huge potholes on a really busy dirt road.

I can not emphasise enough how important it is to have a decent car take you as there really is no escaping the rough road.

On the drive there we saw so many palm oil trees, honestly every paddock long the drive was covered with them, it was the predominant vegetation.

Once we arrived at Bukit Lawang the car dropped us off and we had to walk the rest of the way, you follow the path up the hill and you will eventually land in the loveliest little town.

Money Exchange

If you need to change money there is a money exchange halfway up the hill but we found a better rate with a man in a little shop within the market area. You will find him if you wander through after the money exchange, go a bit further and there is a shop with a money exchange sign which is his daughter, if you enquire she will take you to her fathers shop. He is on the left and his store has a computer set up to show you the daily rate and tell you what rate he can do for you. He will welcome you in to sit and chat. An old guide himself, he used to take tourists all over Sumatra and knows a lot about the area, he is lovely to chat to.

Where to stay in Bukit Lawang:

We stayed in a couple of different places and met others who had stayed in a variety of hotels.

Garden Inn

On our first night we stayed at The Garden Inn and it is my pick of the bunch! We loved it here, the staff are incredibly friendly, they really make you feel at home. The restaurant serves great food and actually has gluten free options marked on the menu! It was the first and only time I saw this in Sumatra. They also had the best nasi goreng I had on this trip, I”m still dreaming of it now.

The rooms are really nice, set back in to the hill with views of the river. The gardens are well kept and lush, there are hibiscus trees and flowers all around, the grounds are really well done and just beautiful. The rooms are made out of wood and stone which is done in intricate patterns, the bed is comfortable and the bathrooms although cold water are big and clean. The balconies are big and the hammock is the perfect spot to relax and absorb your first views of the jungle! You can check out our quick room tour of the Garden Inn at our YouTube Channel!

The Jungle Inn

The second place that we stayed was The Jungle Inn which was really nice as well, it has a great restaurant right on the river and the whole hotel is really well done with internal waterfalls as showers in some rooms and rock face in the walls in others. There is a real artistic feel to the design of the hotel. Each room as a little patio or balcony depending on what room you choose.

If you do choose to stay here definitely book a deluxe or a superior room, although more expensive you will get views of the river and really take advantage of the location of Jungle Inn. The budget rooms are all around the back of the hotel and although they are nice and do have a patio there will be no view from these rooms and this is really one of the reasons to stay here. The restaurant here is really good also, the breakfast has the best eggs we found and homemade bread (for the non coeliacs!) and the curries are amazing!

Mike swimming in the river near Jungle Inn, Bukit Lawang

What to do in Bukit Lawang:

Jungle Trekking

If you have made it this far then there is a high chance you are going on a jungle trek, it can be anywhere from 3 hours to 2 months…we signed up for a 6 day trek, (read about that our jungle trek adventure!) however you can choose the option that best suits you. A couple of things to note is that the treks are far more dangerous the longer you’re on them and they are extremely physical. They are amazing but you really need to make sure you are ready for it before attempting a long one.

The 3 hour trek will get you to see the semi wild orangutans with enough photos and memories for a lifetime. The longer you choose to go the deeper in to the jungle you will go and the more dangerous it gets. I wrote a lengthy blog on the topic after our experience if you would like more info you can find it here.

The second point is that it is really important to go with a licenced guide. There are people who will say they are a guide but are not actually licenced and there have been reports of some bad experiences when you choose someone this way. Generally do a little homework and look for a company name, I have listed all of this in my detailed blog post and wont go over it again here but might be helpful if you are considering a trek.

Our guide, Eddy, is one of best around. He is well respected and knowledgeable-read more about him in our dedicated trekking blog here.

jungle views, Bukit Lawang

The Village Tour

As soon as you are settled in you will have locals drop by your table or in stores and tell you that you can go on a tour of the village. It will generally include some of the following a coconut drink, visiting a family that processes palm oil and another for rubber, a drive through the village and meeting a jungle trek guide. While we declined the offer others we met decided to go and reports were it was okay but not great. Some said it was a quick drive through and others said that every time they stopped to see the palm oil or rubber processing it was already finished for the day and they didn’t see anything. If you decide to go make sure to double check with the guide what you will see and where you will go.

Or our DIY village tour!

We decided to walk in to the village ourselves, we followed the river down on the right hand side. We wandered along answering to all the calls from children. The people in Bukit Lawang are some of the most friendly and lovely we have ever met. It was rare to walk past someone without receiving a huge smile and hello.

We got to the part of the river where it splits into three streams. We crossed to the left hand side and headed up until we hit the main road and turned left. This landed us just in front of the only regular convenience store near the village, Indomaret. It has air conditioning (the only one we saw) and sells ice cream! We loaded up on ice cream and sat down to cool off. Then we looked for supplies for our upcoming trek, there really wasn’t much more than in Bukit Lawang itself. It may have not been worth the walk but it was great to see the village life along the river without being in a tour.

Honestly if you are planning to stay in Bukit Lawang for any more than a couple of days you should bring snacks with you. They are kind of expensive here and hard to find exactly what you want. Eating at the restaurants is great it is more if you are coeliac and can’t eat the regular offerings at breakfasts etc.

Our little toilet paper ninja was one happy little man!

The town of Bukit Lawang

Bukit Lawang is a lovely town, the people are friendly and welcoming and everyone knows everyone. We had strangers come up to us and tell us what tour we were going on and who with! It is just that kind of place. There is a real focus on the environment and everywhere I looked there were signs of positivity and promoting kindness and care for the earth. It was my kind of town!

Signs adorn the side of the river spreading messages of kindness and environmental awareness.

The river can be crossed by a few different bridges, all a little precarious feeling! They move and squeak as you cross them. Some of the foot path has fallen away. It does feel like you may fall through at any moment, it adds to the character I guess!

Bridges crossing the river are a little daunting but we made it over multiple times!

On weekends locals flock here and picnic along the river with children and adults alike playing in the water. It really is a great sight to see so many happy faces enjoying the place. There are picnic areas set up for them along the river.

River Walk

We followed a path that leads from the front of Jungle Inn and up along the river. You will pass stretches of nothing but jungle and then come across a guesthouse popping up out of nowhere. You’ll see monkeys racing around, we saw some swim across the river! People will be floating down the river with big smiles on their faces as they end their trek. They’ll be more than happy to call out and wave. This is the path used by the men that carry the large black tubes upriver for trekkers to float back on. Keep an eye out for them and let them pass, their job is a tough one!

Men carry the tubes for trekkers to float back on on their heads, it is a tough job. Keep an eye out and let the pass.

The path is really pretty and not overrun with people either. Take your time and enjoy the views it offers.

The path along the river, stunning views and really quiet
The river and jungle is incredible, so many stunning views.

Where to eat in Bukit Lawang:

We tried a few options at different meal times and hands down our favourites are:


Jungle Inn for eggs and toast, they do the best eggs in town. Second place is Sams Bungalows for the same. Both make their own bread and it is really tasty. As a coeliac breakfast was pretty much fruit. The other option was pancakes (which were a little rubbery, not as nice as in Bali or Thailand) or porridge. Unfortunately both contain gluten, luckily the fruit here is amazing!


Garden Inn and their nasi goreng, maybe a side of fried potatoes…YUM. If you want a change of view then Sams Bungalows does a nice nasi goreng as well.


Jungle Inn for the curry! Seriously you have to try it! They also serve an amazing jungle tea which is brewed with spices found in the jungle and it looks incredible.

You can get a variety of foods at all restaurants, these are just a few of our favourites. I am a repeat eater, once I find a favourite I have to have it at least once a day!

That’s really it! You can wander the markets and meet the locals, eat the food and in general relax. Enjoy the incredible jungle just across the river. It really is a magical place and one I will never forget.

Our Top Tip for Bukit Lawang:

Soak up the town, don’t rush your stay here. Plan an extra few days to enjoy the scenery and the people, you wont regret it!

The river is the life of the area and is beyond amazing

Bukit Lawang is the gateway to the Gunung Leuser National Park, it’s a great little town in its own right. Friendly locals, great places to stay and eat and most importantly spectacular views of the jungle!

Views of the river through the hibiscus that lines the path

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