My wife comes from a big family. She has two elder brothers and five elder sisters, and many nephews and nieces, resulting in my children having many cousins (good logical thinking). One of the greatest joys is our family travels, usually comprising groups of not fewer than eight persons, with the largest ever turnout being 23. Malaysia and Indonesia are our perennial favourites because they offer some amazing attractions, landscape and culture which fit nicely into our budget.
As you know, I am The Family Man, but not many know I am also The Tour Operator. Ever since I first planned a "well-received" road trip to Malaysia, I have become the de facto family travel agent. I have to check everyone's schedule, research and suggest itineraries according to the budget, and also make sure the destinations have something for people from age 5 (age of my son back then) to near 60. For those of you who are interested/curious, you can check out some of our trips on my facebook album.
This June holidays, we went to Bukit Lawang in Sumatra for a 3D3N eco-retreat. My original suggestion was Lake Toba, but after reading that the car ride there from Medan is 5 hours, I switched my attention to Bkt Lawang, a place I have never heard before but popped up during my research, and a "mere" 90 km from Medan. To my horror, I later found out the ride was 4 hours despite the short distance because of the conditions of the roads leading to the tiny village on the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park. Its main attraction is the tropical rainforest, clean air and wild orang utans.
If the ride there was butt-crunching (potholes covering a few stretches of the 2-lane road), then the walk to our bungalow retreat was quads-burning. When we alighted from our bus at the village centre, the bungalow's porters were there to welcome us. The one who spoke English wasted no time in describing the daunting journey ahead. "We have to cross a suspension bridge, then walk up a very steep mountain.....350 steps! You carry luggage, very heavy!" They would help carry our bags for IDR50,000 per head. Always not one who fall for such ruse, I politely declined their offer (my luggage wasn't too heavy anyway). Understandably, the aunties and pre-teens succumbed and wisely paid the <S$5 porter's fee. Still, climbing up the 350 steps hands-free still proved too much for some of them. As we walked past the numerous bungalows on the foothill next to the river, I could see my relatives throwing envious glances at them. "Up there, there are no strangers and tourists loitering around," was what I read and that was how I defended myself.
In the evening, the temperature in the jungle dropped quite drastically. From not sleeping with a blanket to everyone fighting for one, it was a cool and restful first night. The only challenge was the army of mosquitoes which took a liking to novel Singaporean blood. One of the single biggest expenditure here was arguably insect repellant. We later learned that locals would pluck lemongrass, rub and crush the leaves with their palms and then smear their skin with the broken bits and pieces to ward off the mosquitoes.
The next day, it was the trek into Gunung Leuser national Park. It became well-known after an Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre was set up decades ago. The apes that are nearer the village and tourist trails are inevitably semi-wild, with some guides feeding them with sugar canes and fruits. I see it as a necessary evil for the bigger good. With tourist money come better relationship with these great apes, to an extent that certain boundaries are not crossed.
All in all, the feedback I gathered from those under 14 was very favourable, saying the trip was fun and amazing. I have not managed to get a response from the other age group yet because they have not spoken to me since we got home. Doesn't matter. I am already plotting the next trip.