The village of Tangkahan in the jungle of Sumatra stole my heart in seconds, though getting here is a true adventure. Tangkahan is on the border of the Gunung Leuser National Park and is the little sister of the more famous Bukit Lawang. Let’s take a closer look at this jungle paradise where you can visit an elephant sanctuary, go jungle trekking, and river tubing.
Tangkahan From Medan
To get to Tangkahan from the city of Medan, you can take a bus from the Pinang Baris bus station. There are two buses scheduled a day, one leaving at 10 am and the other at 1 pm. Don’t expect any luxury during this bus trip and simply try to enjoy the adventure. In the bus, you will be packed in between the local villagers, school kids, bags of rice and even chickens. The bus ride takes around 5 hours but not to worry, the bus does get emptier on the way and in the meantime, you can enjoy the surroundings. Arriving at this little peaceful village in the middle of the jungle is truly rewarding and worth the effort. Welcome to Tangkahan!
The bus ride should cost Rp. 25.000, but to get this price you have to be alert. Don’t let yourself get tricked into buying a ticket from some random person approaching you at the bus station. You can just pay for your ticket in the bus, directly to the bus driver. For those who are not on a tight backpackers budget, you can also opt to rent a private car and driver with air-conditioning.
Tangkahan From Bukit Lawang
You can visit Tangkahan on a day trip from Bukit Lawang. It will be a rocky road through the raw landscape of north Sumatra either on the back of a motorbike or by car. I really enjoyed the ride from Tangkahan to Bukit Lawang by motorbike, despite the bumpiness. I wouldn’t go back and forth in one day though, as both places deserve a longer stay.
The emerald blue river that rushes through this little jungle village is absolutely stunning, fringed by the lush tropical greenery of the rainforest. This is exactly what I had been hoping for! To get to the other side of the river, I had to hop on a local bamboo raft but I believe it has been replaced with a suspension bridge. Bringing a backpack is easier than a suitcase when it comes to crossing the river! The ambiance is so peaceful! You can see monkeys sitting high up in the treetops, not interested in humans at all. You truly find yourself in the unspoiled jungle of Sumatra.
Where to stay & what to eat
There are several guesthouses to stay at in Tangkahan, all basic but perfectly comfortable and very affordable, too. The bungalows are surrounded by nature and the rooms are simple but just wonderful – I could live there! You will hear the sounds of the jungle at night, enjoy it or wear earplugs 🙂 The shower is cold, but who needs a hot shower anyway in such a warm tropical country. Electricity is only available in the evening from 6 pm to 11 pm.
I stayed at Megan Inn, in a traditional bungalow that overlooks the river. The guesthouses most recommended at the moment are Green Lodge Tangkahan and Tangkahan Bambu River Guesthouse. Both have family rooms available as well.
Don’t expect any fancy restaurants in the village of Tangkahan. The guesthouses serve simple food like a good local nasi goreng and fresh juices. Perfectly fine to keep your belly happy during your stay. Breakfast is usually included with your stay.
Things to do in Tangkahan
Though the village of Tangkahan is very small, there are lots of things to do. At the same time, it is an amazing place to relax, find peace of mind and connect with nature. The unspoiled rainforest that surrounds you, the sounds of nature and the beautiful river rushing through creates the most idyllic setting. Yet the tourism highlight ofTangkahan has become a popular tourist destination to see, wash and ride elephants. Most tourists come for a day-trip from Bukit Lawang.
Visit the Elephant Camp
The elephant sanctuary in Tangkahan is the perfect place for eco-tourism. For me, just seeing the elephant up close was already an unforgettable experience. That was enough for me, but you can also wash them, feed them and go on an elephant jungle trek. Elephant jungle treks range from a short one-hour ride (Rp. 650.000) to a 4-day adventure (the longer ride takes you towards the village of Bukit Lawang).
On a trek the elephant caretakers will teach you everything there is to know about elephants. You will even learn to ride the elephant all by yourself. In addition to the trekking you can also wash the elephants. The elephant bathing sessions are held two times a day (from 8.30 am to 9.30 am and 3.30 pm to 4.30 pm). The price should be Rp. 100.000.
Though the chances of seeing orangutans in Tangkahan are much smaller than in Bukit Lawang, jungle trekking in this part of Gunung Leuser National Park is really nice! The rainforest is different here and you will see less tourists during your jungle trip.
River Tubing is also great fun! The river will lead you down to a waterfall where you can swim in the crystal clear, refreshing water. On the way you can admire the rainforest, the surroundings and the monkeys sitting high up on the tree tops. After my river adventure we walked back through the traditional village where I got to see a glimpse of local life. My guide climbed into a tree to get me a fresh young coconut and it was delicious!
Caving and Hot Springs in Tangkahan
The other two main activities to do around Tangkahan are caving (an adventurous 3-hour trekking through the jungle will lead you to the Kalong Cave, home to lots of fruit bats. It’s a fun trip, though it helps if you like bats) and a visit to the hot springs. The springs are by the river.The local guide will be happy to get you there. It is quite a unique experience to sit in hot water by the riverside in the jungle!
After a wonderful stay in Tangkahan, it is time to continue your travels in Sumatra. Don’t worry, there are plenty of interesting things to see around the island. See you again or Sampai Jumpa as the locals would say. Enjoy your trip!
Have you visited the village of Tangkahan? What was your experience? Share your stories in the comments below.