Located three hours from the bustling North Sumatran capital of Medan, Bukit Lawang is a breath of fresh air located right on the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park. Bukit Lawang was once used as an orangutan conservation area and orangutans which had previously lived in captivity were released into the wild here. The programme no longer operates in this area, but the orangutans from that time still live here in large numbers.
The primary reason most people visit Bukit Lawang is to trek through the jungle on single or multi-day journeys to see orangutans and other animals. The more cynical feel that this trekking is inauthentic due to the high number of tourists tramping through the forest and the high relative cost. Others find the entire experience incredible and list it as one of the best things they've ever done. Whatever your point of view, guides all but guarantee that you'll see at least some wildlife on your trek with orangutan sightings quite common.
As Bukit Lawang is one of those places that has drawn foreign tourists travelling through the Indonesian archipelago since the early 1980s and continues to do so today, one of the favourite things to do (trekking aside) is to just hang around the numerous guesthouses restaurants reading a book, sleeping or having a cup of tea. Over the past five years things have changed considerably here particularly due to an increase in domestic tourism which has shaped the village in ways that don't always meet the expectations of foreigners.
One particular development is the creation of a makeshift nightclub right in the middle of the accommodation strip, which pounds out earsplitting music until 04:00 multiple times per week. Other problems observed on our most recent visit were large groups of locals coming to Bukit Lawang for picnics and bringing karaoke systems -- perfect for drowning out the tranquil sound of the river and activity of the jungle.
Accommodation in Bukit Lawang is largely aimed at budget travellers and is located on both sides of the river, which borders the national park. From the entry point to the accommodation area, you must walk along either side of the river to reach the guesthouse of your choice with the furthest places being a good 40-minute walk away. Those with mobility issues will find the going difficult and the best option in that case is to simply stay at the Rindu Alam Hotel at the entrance to Bukit Lawang.