Ketambe is the jumping off point for trekking into the Gunung Leuser National Park, which is listed as a World Heritage site in combination with two other national parks in Sumatra, Kerinci Sablat and Bukit Barisan Selatan.
Located on the main north-south road cutting through the centre of Aceh, Ketambe sits in a river valley surrounded by dense jungle home to a dizzying array of wildlife including tigers, elephants, rhinoceros, monkeys and orangutans. It's the remoteness of the town which makes it such a great place to commence treks, with guests able to choose from either the eastern or western portion of the forest which is separated by the main road.
Ketambe is not a popular choice for people coming to Sumatra to see wildlife. In fact, far more visitors head to the relatively accessible Bukit Lawang than Ketambe, but that is a shame as Ketambe provides a far more natural experience and leaves behind some of the gaudiness which has crept into Bukit Lawang over the past decade. Consequently, accommodation is small scale in Ketambe with only a handful of basic guesthouses open and even those places only opening a few rooms.
Because of Ketambe's location, it makes sense to incorporate it into a trip either to or from Banda Aceh, if you have time. This trip takes two days on minibuses, with an overnight stop in the stunning lakeside town of Takengon. Alternatively, a trip to Ketambe can simply be seen as something which is worth going out of the way for, such is the magnificence of the surrounding jungle and low-key nature of the town itself.
If you visit Ketambe to trek, you are likely to see many wild animals and most guides insist that there is a 90 percent probability of seeing orangutan. While seeing tigers is almost impossible, they do roam in this very forest and we were even offered an excursion to a part of the forest that has a tiger's den -- we passed.
Ketambe is located within Aceh province which officially requires citizens and visitors alike to adhere to its conservative form of Islamic law. The reality, however, is that the religious police at this point in time don't pay any attention to non-residents and non-Muslims, and the local population is rather tolerant. That said, we recommend dressing conservatively -- long sleeves and pants -- as to do otherwise might attract unwanted attention and remarks towards women that would be considered sexual harassment.
There isn't a lot in Ketambe in terms of facilities. Internet can be accessed on your mobile phone if you're using Telksomsel, there's no hospital, no police -- you'll need to head to Kutacane, about an hour away, if you need any assistance like that.
By Adam Poskitt