Bukit Lawang with Kids: 6 Reasons Why We Visited Again

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To start off the new year, we decided to retrace a few of our steps — not because we got it wrong the first time (although that happens). It’s rather because we had so much fun in Bukit Lawang with kids that we wanted to return for a second helping. Bukit Lawang is a small jungle outpost on the edge of a wildlife preserve in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Garden Inn Balcony Pano: Bukit Lawang with kids

Bukit Lawang with Kids

It’s not the easiest place to access for most people, but relatively simple for us since we’re presently based nearby (Penang) in Malaysia. The flight is less than 45 minutes, followed by a four-hour drive from the airport and away from the city, past jungle villages and palm oil plantations to reach the National Park.

For around USD $50, a driver will meet your family at the airport and take you there. We visited last June during a trip through northern Sumatra, and have talked about when we could go back ever since. So why visit Bukit Lawang with kids? Here are a few reasons:

The Wildlife

Male Sumatra orangutan - Indonesia with Kids: An Epic Education

Bukit Lawang is located next to a Gunung Leuser National park which is one of the last remaining habitats for wild orangutans. Local guides put you right in front of a variety of animals, including monitor lizards, wild peacocks, and a variety of primate species, including the ginger-haired gentle giants themselves.

Bukit Lawang with Kids Orangutans

A few days in Bukit Lawang with kids means close encounters with lizards, butterflies, tropical birds and monkeys — both the nice kinds and the macaques. Oh, and if you’re lucky, you’ll stumble upon the orangutans themselves — one of the most fascinating (and increasingly rare) species on the planet. The area inspires lots of great conversations related to the ecosystem, sustainability, photosynthesis, and environmental topics such as the effects of tourism and the encroachment of palm oil plantations.

The River

Bukit Lawang River, Bukit Lawang with kids. Indonesia Family Travel

Bukit Lawang has a great spot for swimming (rain/water levels permitting), and an even better spot for rafting. The local rafting method is not with a raft at all, but with a number of large inner-tubes tied together.

The hike up the river and subsequent ride down are easily achieved with children elementary-school age and up, but if that doesn’t interest you, then you could just spend an entire afternoon (like we did) jumping in and out of the current.

The Caves

This is a great place to explore. There are bats and sparrows, and the entire area isn’t too deep or closed-off — sunlight was always visible.

Like the treks, there are some spots that are steep, slippery or otherwise tricky to navigate, but with a guide and some careful, deliberate steps, even our then-7-year-old managed the most treacherous bits.

Bukit Lawang Caves entrance — Bukit Lawang with Kids — An Epic Education

As I mentioned in a previous post on Bukit Lawang with Kids, we thought it might just be a 5-minute walk on a paved path, so we hesitated to pay the “guide,” who was just some dude hanging out near the front of the caves, but the interior was much more challenging and involved than we expected (over two hours in and out of holes in the ground) and we were extremely grateful to have the guide with us.

Disclosure: I should state that we didn’t get to the caves this time around, so the pics you see are from June, 2014. It dumped rain on the morning we planned to walk out to the caves (making it too slippery for us to feel comfortable crawling around), so we postponed. Then after rafting and trekking, we ran out of time. There’s also an orphanage near the caves, as well, and many people have mentioned visiting.

Cheap Food and Accommodation

For what you get, it’s a pretty reasonable place to experience the wild. There are few — if any — posh places to stay (perhaps the Eco Lodge qualifies), but we don’t mind low-end, and found a number of options within our range.

The area is starting to build up, so that may change, but a family of three or more can stay here pretty cheaply. Many places have family rooms, or can drag an old mattress into a double room for a little extra. More on costs in another post.

Bukit Lawang with Kids

There isn’t that much variety in the food and drinks available in Bukit Lawang. A few curries and variations of rice and noodle dishes, mostly, with plenty of fresh juice and cold Bintang beer cost less than USD $15. We can eat a full meal with juice, a few brews for Dad and plates of delicious fresh fruit — pineapple, papaya, watermelon, passion fruit, etc — for dessert.

Relaxed, Kid-Friendly Atmosphere

Mosquito-free afternoon by the river — Bukit Lawang with Kids — An Epic Education

At the time of writing, Bukit Lawang remains a sleepy little outpost in the rainforest, where the locals smile, say hello and then possibly ask if you want to go trekking or tubing. We haven’t encountered anyone pushy or aggressive at all.

There’s only one path through town, as aside from the occasional scooter or steep road incline, it’s safe for kids to run ahead. The sounds of the river and acoustic guitars still dominate the area, but as more tourists, infrastructure and dependable electricity arrive, this could change.

Our kids were welcomed everywhere, and while I saw a few party-hardy backpacker types (and noticed the smell of ganja here and there), Bukit Lawang remains free of the frat-party excesses that ruin places like Vang Vieng for families like mine.

Shockingly Few Mosquitoes!

Mosquito Nets — Bukit Lawang with Kids — An Epic Education

Ok, so this one comes with a caveat: there are places and times when you’ll find more or less mosquitoes in Bukit Lawang, but even in the worst season and area, they are only a mild nuisance with virtually no threat of malaria, dengue fever or other bug-borne nastiness. Of course, this could change, so you could check if you’re concerned before you go.

Jungle Trekking in Bukit Lawang — Bukit Lawang with kids — An Epic Education

Here’s the general rule: you should expect some mosquitoes during the wet season (Oct-March), but aside from a handful in the jungle, we only ran across them on the east side of town, where a nearby rubber plantation may be responsible.

The pic above was taken on that side of town. However, walk further to the west (towards Jungle In and the park interior) and amazingly, the mozzies diminish to virtually none — we sat around in swimwear playing chess and cards all day without a single bite. Extraordinary. If you’re eaten alive like my wife and kids are, this can be a huge factor in your day.

Want to learn more? Check out this updated post. What would you like to know about the places we go and the trips we make? Let me know here, or write it in the comments!


  1. Can’t wait to get there in April. Thanks for the tips. Pru

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