Visit to North Sumatra

By Beth Fox
This item appears on page 27 of the February 2020 issue.

My mother and I booked a trip to Bangkok, Thailand, that included a 5-day hotel stay, after which we intended to take a couple of weeks to fly around visiting “new” countries.

Orangutans are found in the wild in only two places in the world: Borneo and Sumatra. My mother had been to Borneo but wanted to add Sumatran orangutans to her list, so we decided to visit.

We booked all of our flights online through The prices were extremely affordable, and we usually added the first night’s hotel. All of the Customs forms required us to list an address where we’d be staying upon arrival in each country, so having a hotel address helped.

For a total of $377 for two, we booked our one-way nonstop flight from Bangkok to Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, and one night’s hotel stay in Medan. We prearranged transportation from the airport by emailing the hotel.

We spent the first night of our 6-night stay in Sumatra (May 18-23, 2019) at the Grand Mercure Medan Angkasa (JI Sutomo No. 1, Medan;, which locals considered a high-quality hotel. Unable to locate a travel agent to arrange our days in Sumatra, we went online and extended our hotel stay another night.

When traveling, we like to attend a local church on Sundays, even if we can’t understand the language. The day after our arrival in Medan was a Sunday, and we managed to find a Wesleyan Methodist Church that offered services in English.

The Asian equivalent to Uber is Grab ( We caught a $1.50 Grab ride across town to be in the house of the Lord, where we had the great fortune of connecting with a local travel agent, Robert Lam ( of Horas Tours ( Following church, we sat down with him and planned our next four days and three nights, also arranging for pickup the next day.

At a cost of $700 for two, our arrangements included hotels, all meals, a driver in an air-conditioned van, an English-speaking guide, all entrance fees and our return to the airport.

In an effort to see orangutans, we first went to the small village of Bukit Lawang in Gunung Leuser National Park. We stayed at the EcoLodge Bukit Lawang (Bohorok, North Sumatra; phone +62 812 607 99 83,, at the foot of the rainforest. On arrival, we pulled our luggage across a river via a suspension bridge. Getting to the hotel felt like being on a jungle safari!

Our room had mosquito nets, a ceiling fan (no AC) and a shower that was part bathroom and part botanical garden, with an open ceiling for rain. There was no hot water, but after our 3-hour trek in the rainforest, it felt great!

We also had a front porch where we could enjoy happy hour and watch the macaque monkeys playing in the lush trees. In hindsight, we wish we had stayed at the EcoLodge two nights.

Park ranger Anwar accompanied us into the national park. My mother and I were 83 and 60, respectively. We were provided walking sticks, and Anwar and his assistant were fabulous at helping us maneuver through the rugged terrain, lending a hand whenever needed. (Do take bug spray!)

In the park, we saw and fed bananas to several macaque monkeys. On our orangutan hunt, we saw at least six orangutans, including one unhappy male who made sure his tribe was safe from us. (Some groups see gibbons too, but we weren’t that lucky.) Seeing the orangutans was, without a doubt, the highlight of our Sumatra trip.

It was a 4-hour drive to Berastagi, a resort town that Medan Sumatrans visit on the weekends. I must say, the highways in Sumatra are EXTREMELY potholed, and our travels were extended several hours each day just driving around these large rutted holes, all the while dodging motorcycles, semis, tuk-tuks and other vehicles.

In Berastagi, we stayed at Mikie Holiday Resort ( at Funland, which looked like a play place for both children and families. There was a big pool and amusement-type entertainment.

The following day we traveled to Lake Toba and the town of Parapat. We took a ferry to the large, volcanic Samosir Island, where Batak tribal people have lived for centuries. There were stalls of goods for tourists, but the old relic homes and stories about tribal life were the most fascinating parts of the visit.

We enjoyed our stay that night in the Atsari Hotel at the edge of Lake Toba, with dinner and breakfast provided.

On the final day, we traveled four hours to the airport to continue our travels. Our wait at the airport was enriched by a group of schoolchildren aged 11-14 who were on assignment to speak with English-speaking people. What great fun that was!

If anyone has questions, I can be reached at


Caryville, TN