Literally meaning "door to the hills", Bukit Lawang is a small idyllic village on the edge of the Bahorok River in North Sumatra. This sweet little town, located 96 km northwest of Medan, next to dense Sumatran jungle, is built around the popularity of its orangutan-spotting opportunities. Bukit Lawang is known for the largest animal sanctuary of Sumatran orangutan and also the main access point to the Gunung Leuser National Park. Bukit Lawang is famous for the Bohorok Rehabilitation Centre now known as the Orangutan Centre.
The forests surrounding Bukit Lawang are part of the vast Gunung Leuser National Park, which is one of the richest tropical-forest ecosystems in the world. The world heritage national park is more than 1 million hectares in size and home to an estimated 3500 species of flora and fauna. The park is home to eight species of primate, among tigers, rhinos, elephants and leopards. However, aside from orangutans, baboons, various macaque species and the elusive Thomas leaf monkey, you’d have to be very lucky to see any other large mammals here, as oil-palm plantations extend right up to the edge of the village. But Bukit Lawang has much more to offer beyond our red-haired cousins. It’s very easy to spend few days lounging in hammocks, splashing in the river, tubing, watching the jungle life swing and sing around you and also hiking in the jungle. During weekends, foreign tourists are joined by masses of locals visitors from North Sumatra, generally from the capital Medan. The population here lives basically and the river is still the focal point of village life here, running through the heart of it, where people wash clothes, fish and the children play all day.
However, tourism in Bukit Lawang considerably decreases for the last decade, due to a terrible disaster. On 2 November 2003, a massive flood hit the village : it destroyed it and had a devastating impact to the local tourism industry in the area, killing 239 people (5 of them were tourists). Around 400 houses, 3 mosques, 8 bridges, 280 kiosks and food shops, 35 hotels and guest houses were destroyed by the flood, and 1,400 locals lost their homes. Described by witnesses as a tidal wave, the wall of water was over 10 meters high, as it came crashing down the hills, wiping out everything in its path. The place rebuilt again and re-opened in July 2004. For the last years, tourists are coming more as it became one of the best destination of Sumatra and the only home of the last orang outans of the planet (with the island of Borneo).