Playtimes April 2014 - page 89

River and is famous for its orang-
utan sanctuary, founded in 1973 to
preserve the endangered orang-utan
population, which has fallen victim to
deforestation, trading and hunting.
The town – the gateway to
Gunung Leuser National Park
– attracts both national and
international tourists, but has
managed to keep its authentic
Indonesian character. For one of the
best views of the jungle and a chance
to see wild orang-utans swaying in the
trees, stay at the Jungle Inn
This well-established inn offers several
rooms overlooking the river and, from
the inn’s restaurant, it’s not unusual
to spot orang-utans coming to the
edge of the forest. The friendly staff
lead tours and spend time with guests,
playing guitar or chess, or just talking
about the area. They’ll happily amuse
children and design the most beautiful
headdresses for them from palms,
leaves and wild flowers.
Orang-utans are free to roam
around the national park, but daily
feedings at 8am and 3pm attract
them to a feeding platform where
visitors stand a high chance of seeing
them. You will have to follow the
experienced rangers into the jungle
to the feeding platform and wait
patiently until you spot one of these
red balls of energy swaying from
branch to branch. When the orang-
utans choose to get very close to the
visitors, it is a truly amazing spectacle.
Their manners and facial expressions,
so similar to ours, are fascinating. You
will see other monkeys too, including
the Thomas’s leaf monkey, hilarious
with its Mohawk hairstyle.
Families can also enjoy a gentle
jungle trek with a guide. Shorter treks
last a couple of hours and the walk
is accessible and easy. Tubing on the
river is another fun activity. Seeing
the jungle at river level, watching life
on the banks, while floating through
small hamlets and plantation areas
is peaceful and enjoyable. Very small
rapids add some excitement, but even
families with young children can
embark on this gentle adventure.
Another destination for
breathtaking views in North Sumatra
is the majestic Lake Toba. Although
public transport is an option, it is
more convenient and comfortable
to hire a private car and driver to
travel from Bukit Lawang to the
little town of Parapat. A stopover at
the hill station of Berastagi is worth
the detour to enjoy the mountainous
panorama, the cool temperature at
night and the unique atmosphere of
this lively market town. Stop at the
Sipisopiso waterfall and at Lingga,
a traditional Karo village with
thatched-roof longhouses adorned
with buffalo horns and the 250-year-
old king’s house.
The first glimpse of the lake when
approaching Parapat is impressive
and gives an idea of its immensity.
Created by a super-volcanic eruption
approximately 70,000 years ago,
Lake Toba is 100 kilometres long, 30
kilometres wide and 450 metres deep,
at an altitude of 900 metres. The sky,
the water and the hills all offer unique
shades of blue and create a soothing
sense of tranquillity and peacefulness
which belies its eruptive beginnings.
From Parapat, a ferry carries
passengers to Tuk Tuk on the island of
Samosir, where most accommodation
options can be found. This island, the
size of Singapore, was formed when
the cone of a new volcano rose up
from the lake floor. Activities include
swimming in the fresh water of the
lake, trekking along the crests of the
hills, and discovering Batak villages
and unique culture. Children will love
exploring the traditional Batak houses
scattered around the island. Batak
people are incredibly friendly and
will likely welcome you to enjoy their
singing and guitar-playing.
If time allows, extend your trip
to the village of Tangkahan, two
hours from Medan, to visit the modest
elephant rehabilitation centre. This
small outpost lies on the border of
Gunung Leuser National Park, at the
meeting point of the imposing river
Batang Serangan and the smaller
river Sungai Musam. Crossing the
main river on a raft pulled by a clever
system of ropes is the only way to
access the four lodges, which occupy
an amazing spot overlooking the
river. This area is less developed and
nature lovers will enjoy swimming
up and drifting down the current,
listening to the sweet birdsong. The
elephant camp has seven trained adult
elephants that patrol and protect the
national park from illegal logging
and poaching. Visitors can watch the
elephants bathe twice daily, and going
on an elephant ride is a highlight of a
visit to the area.
Sumatra is all about its vast
landscapes, the friendliness of its
people and the opportunities to
experience the wonders of nature. It
is a destination of choice for families
willing to travel slightly off the beaten
April 2014
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