Indonesia

350 Steps To Heaven

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.

Medan's new Kualanamu International Airport.

Medan's new Kualanamu International Airport.

A typical road which we drove on.

A typical road which we drove on.

The suspension bridge that links the village centre to the opposite bank. Some of my in-laws changed their minds about not having a porter after a few steps on the bridge.

The suspension bridge that links the village centre to the opposite bank. Some of my in-laws changed their minds about not having a porter after a few steps on the bridge.

 

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.

Mother and son playing in the river below.

Mother and son playing in the river below.

Some of these city kids probably have never crossed a suspension bridge before. The tree top walk is actually higher, but the few missing wooden planks on this bridge make the walk a bit more interesting.

Some of these city kids probably have never crossed a suspension bridge before. The tree top walk is actually higher, but the few missing wooden planks on this bridge make the walk a bit more interesting.

The woman in red is my eldest sister-in-law. And she is looking at me in a way that might make me mistake her proud, over-achieving expression as a more accusing look.

The woman in red is my eldest sister-in-law. And she is looking at me in a way that might make me mistake her proud, over-achieving expression as a more accusing look.

Kids did not think much about the climb and sprang into action immediately afterwards.

Kids did not think much about the climb and sprang into action immediately afterwards.

He's a natural kampung boy.

He's a natural kampung boy.

One of our non-Bahasa-Indonesia-speaking neighbours. According to the staff, this snake is poisonous, but its venom only causes fever.

One of our non-Bahasa-Indonesia-speaking neighbours. According to the staff, this snake is poisonous, but its venom only causes fever.

The view from the bungalow retreat---On The Rocks.

The view from the bungalow retreat---On The Rocks.

The Bukit Lawang River is clean, shallow and cool. Perfect for the kids.

The Bukit Lawang River is clean, shallow and cool. Perfect for the kids.

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I always believe kids are happiest when they have unstructured playtime.

I always believe kids are happiest when they have unstructured playtime.

The main reception-restaurant-gathering area.

The main reception-restaurant-gathering area.

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.

I tend to wake up very early when I am on holidays, away from cities.

I tend to wake up very early when I am on holidays, away from cities.

Mother and child duo of orang utans. Seeing them in Mandai Zoo is one thing, admiring them in their natural habitat is magical.

Mother and child duo of orang utans. Seeing them in Mandai Zoo is one thing, admiring them in their natural habitat is magical.

Our guide Putra fashioning a crown out of some jungle ferns.

Our guide Putra fashioning a crown out of some jungle ferns.

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Generally speaking, the trek wasn't very difficult. We actually can choose the different levels of difficulty according to our own abilities. There are some steep ascents and descents, but not something my 8-year-old son couldn't manage.

Generally speaking, the trek wasn't very difficult. We actually can choose the different levels of difficulty according to our own abilities. There are some steep ascents and descents, but not something my 8-year-old son couldn't manage.

Wefie with the orang utans.

Wefie with the orang utans.

Lunch was packed nasi goreng, eaten with our bare hands.

Lunch was packed nasi goreng, eaten with our bare hands.

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Of course, no jungle is complete without the common long-tailed macaques. Mother and child seen here sharing remains of a pineapple.

Of course, no jungle is complete without the common long-tailed macaques. Mother and child seen here sharing remains of a pineapple.

The kids' highlight of the trek-----river tubing downstream. Even though the rapids were mild, the nature of the vessel exaggerates the ferocity of them. My butt actually hit the river bed of pebbles a couple of times.

The kids' highlight of the trek-----river tubing downstream. Even though the rapids were mild, the nature of the vessel exaggerates the ferocity of them. My butt actually hit the river bed of pebbles a couple of times.

One of the best parts of such holidays is actually just relax and do the things that we want or not do anything at all.

One of the best parts of such holidays is actually just relax and do the things that we want or not do anything at all.

The future boss of the bungalow-----the beautiful baby girl of the Indonesian dad Wawan and his German wife Corinna. A girl's name is Aurora.

The future boss of the bungalow-----the beautiful baby girl of the Indonesian dad Wawan and his German wife Corinna. A girl's name is Aurora.

On the third day, we hired a few becaks to take us to a family durian plantation, a palm sugar factory and a tofu making factory.

On the third day, we hired a few becaks to take us to a family durian plantation, a palm sugar factory and a tofu making factory.

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More walking after we disembark from the becaks.

More walking after we disembark from the becaks.

We had a bad experience at a touristy durian plantation in Segamat, Malaysia. We did not bear high hopes but surprisingly, these durians actually tasted rather good.

We had a bad experience at a touristy durian plantation in Segamat, Malaysia. We did not bear high hopes but surprisingly, these durians actually tasted rather good.

Some lazy bums decided to hitch a ride out of the plantation.

Some lazy bums decided to hitch a ride out of the plantation.

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We had lunch by the river, thoughtfully arranged by our guide, who thought it was a good idea. We really appreciate their effort at providing us with a pleasant experience.

We had lunch by the river, thoughtfully arranged by our guide, who thought it was a good idea. We really appreciate their effort at providing us with a pleasant experience.

The chickens are also eyeing our lunch, of ironically, fried chicken.

The chickens are also eyeing our lunch, of ironically, fried chicken.

After-lunch siesta. By the river, no less. Indonesia-style!

After-lunch siesta. By the river, no less. Indonesia-style!

The tofu "factory" is just a backyard of a home. I am not sure if he will ever obtain his license from NEA, but I tried the tofu on the spot, bought some to add to my gado gado dinner and they were fresh and problem-free.

The tofu "factory" is just a backyard of a home. I am not sure if he will ever obtain his license from NEA, but I tried the tofu on the spot, bought some to add to my gado gado dinner and they were fresh and problem-free.

A typical scene in the late afternoon, when villagers enjoy what their environment offers.

A typical scene in the late afternoon, when villagers enjoy what their environment offers.

A slice of kampung life: the staple game of sepak takraw.

A slice of kampung life: the staple game of sepak takraw.

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Their last chance to play in the river. The next morning, we have to wake up at 3.15am, set off by 4 a.m. for airport to catch our flight at 10.30 a.m..

Their last chance to play in the river. The next morning, we have to wake up at 3.15am, set off by 4 a.m. for airport to catch our flight at 10.30 a.m..

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It takes very little to be happy.

It takes very little to be happy.

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.