From Medan airport (Kuala Namu)
The new international airport for Medan, Kuala Namu, was opened on July 24 2013. Unlike the now closed Polonia airport, which was in central Medan, the new airport is located around 30km beyond Medan (so further from Bukit Lawang).
To reach Bukit Lawang from the airport, you can either take a taxi or booked car service, or use public transport. You can book a private, air-con car from this website at £35, one-way. Please see our trekking page for more information about our services.
The simplest public transport transportation is to take the bus from the airport to Binjai, a city sited between Medan and Bukit Lawang. The fare from the airport to Binjai is 30,000rp by ALS (Antar Lintas Sumatera) bus. From Binjai take a second minibus to Bukit Lawang, for 18,000rp more.
If you wish to first travel to Medan, DAMRI buses run about every fifteen minutes. These run to Medan Fair Mall on Jalan Gatot Subroto, about 6km short of the bus station for Bukit Lawang, and also to Amplas bus station (for Lake Toba). Fares are 15,000rp to Medan Fair Mall, and 10,000rp to Amplas.
A train service runs from the airport to Medan, which is faster than the bus, but runs roughly hourly (timetable), so it is not necessarily quicker.The fare is expensive, at 80,000rp one way for both adults and children. The train is quite comfortable, and is air conditioned. For two or more passengers a taxi is cheaper. Be advised that from Medan station there will not typically be enough taxis for the arriving passengers (although there are plenty of motorised rickshaws), and drivers may demand slightly higher fares.
Reaching the bus station
Buses for Bukit Lawang leave from 'Kampung Lalang' a district on the outskirts of Medan, about 8km from the centre. They are supposed to leave from Pinang Baris, the bus station close by, and transportation drivers may try to take you there, but anyone in the area should be able to direct you to the right place to catch a bus, which is directly outside the 'Toko Roti Mawar' (Mawar Bakery), around 1km north of Pinang Baris, as marked on the map above.
To reach this area from Medan, either take a taxi (around 30,000rp-40,000rp - Bluebird and Express taxis are metered and are better, non-metered taxis are more expensive), or a yellow local bus (5,000rp) labelled as going to Pinang Baris, 'Kp. Lalang' (Kampung Lalang) or 'Binjai'.
Motorised rickshaws, known as becaks, are more readily available in Medan than taxis. We do not recommend the rickshaws, as they are not metered (hence very expensive for a tourist) and they are very cramped for two people with luggage, however whereas taxis are sometimes scarce, the becaks are pretty much everywhere.
Buses from the bus stop
Mitsubishi L300 (known as el-tiga ratus) minibuses are privately owned and cramped. The PS (pronounced Pay-Es) buses (orange coloured, and only slightly larger than the L300, the large buses now replaced by minibuses on this route), because the operator is Pembangunan Semesta (government) are slightly cheaper and maybe more comfortable. The cost is 18,000rp (PS) or 20,000rp (L300). If you don't like to be crowded, you can pay extra to buy more than one seat so you have more space to yourself.
Smoking, with the windows closed, is common on the minibuses, Indonesians don't like the wind! The minibus engine is mounted under the front seat, so it can be quite hot here (but also anywhere else in the bus). The buses break down quite often, and if this happens you will be expected to pay the cost of your journey to where the bus has broken down, from where you just have to wait for the next bus to go by.
Last bus is around 5:30pm from Medan, and the journey time is 3 hours.
WARNING: overcharging on the bus from Medan to Bukit Lawang is almost universal. Touts at the bus stop will try to tell you to pay before boarding, and that the cost is 50,000rp, 150,000rp or even more. The fact is that the fare is no more than 20,000rp and you pay ONLY when you reach Bukit Lawang, not before.
Bus via Binjai
Binjai, the city 18km from Medan on the road to Bukit Lawang, has buses to Bukit Lawang slightly later than from Medan. If you are running a little late, you can head to Binjai (taxi or yellow bus) and pick up a bus from there (again, the buses do not go from the official bus station, but a spot on the side of the road). The cost is not cheaper, certainly counting the cost of a taxi to Binjai, but buses run till around 6:30pm here, so it buys you another half an hour.
A train service runs about every 2 hours from Medan to Binjai, but it's less practical than the bus, although if you are near the train station at the time it's leaving, you could try it. You can check the timetable here.
You can get a seat in a tourist bus, basically an aircon MPV, from a travel agent in Medan. They leave from the Grand Mosque area of Medan, Jalan Sisingamaraja. The cost is 100,000rp per person from central Medan to Bukit Lawang.
From central Medan we can offer you pre-booked air-con car, priced at £35. Please see our trekking page for more information about our services.
You can also simply flag down a taxi on the street and haggle over the price (or maybe you can find a metered taxi). Some taxis are nicer than others - modern, air-con vs. old and no air-con.
Rental car (self-drive)
Not really a recommended option, as it's not really any cheaper than renting a car with a driver, and the local driving standards are very poor, so you need to be quite brave to do this.
Bukit Lawang Bus Station (Gotong Royong)
The Bukit Lawang bus station and weekly market (Fridays) is located in the village of Gotong Royong, about 1.5km from Bukit Lawang itself. Although private cars (including the air con tourist buses) and motorbikes can enter Bukit Lawang (although cars cannot get past the entrance area), public buses from Medan/Binjai run only as far as the bus station.
To get from the bus station to Bukit Lawang itself you can walk (but it's long and hot), or just go in a becak like everyone else. This has a price of 5,000rp per person (max two people) you don't need to negotiate with them as you would in Medan, just get in the becak and go. The becak drivers, however may charge you 10,000rp arguing that you have a large bag, or similar. The fact is that you can just give them 5,000rp, but it's not really worth worrying about.
Everyone is going the same place, except visitors to Rindu Alam, Batu Mandi and Bukit Lawang Cottages/Ecolodge (normally known as 'Cottage'), who can be dropped off a little closer to their hotel if they tell the becak driver where they are going.
When the becak drops you off in Bukit Lawang itself you will have a walk of 2 to 30 minutes to reach your guesthouse, depending on where you are staying. It's usual for a guide to approach you, either on the bus from Medan, or upon arrival in Gotong Royong or Bukit Lawang, strike up conversation and encourage you to stay in a particular guesthouse. These guides generally stay in a particular guesthouse and bring tourists there, from where they have the opportunity to sell you a jungle trek. They are friendly, relying on generating a rapport with the tourists in order to get them to book trekking with them (there are many guides operating in Bukit Lawang, more than are needed to serve the tourists), but obviously you don't have to go to their guesthouse if you don't want to.
To/From Berastagi and Lake Toba
It is not possible to trek directly from Berasatagi to Bukit Lawang, however treks 'from Bukit Lawang' go from Marike, 30km south of Bukit Lawang (reached by car) and take 4 days to Berastagi.
Allow seven hours from Lake Toba, five hours from Berastagi, travelling in both cases by road via Medan. We can arrange this for you, please see our trekking page for more details.
If there's only one or two travelling, it will be cheaper to get a tourist bus than a private car. The cost is 150,000rp to/from Berastagi, 200,000rp from Lake Toba.
From Berastagi buses run to Padang Bulan bus station in Medan, and to Pinang Baris bus station, Medan. Pinang Baris is much more convenient for Bukit Lawang, whereas from Padang Bulan you'll have to take a local bus (or taxi) to Pinang Baris (Kampung Lalang).
From Lake Toba the bus runs to Amplas bus station. From here you will need to travel to Kampung Lalang/Pinang Baris by private taxi, or take local buses to Pinang Baris.
There is no train towards Berastagi, in the mountains. A daily economy class train runs from Medan to Pematangsiantar, which is less than an hour from Lake Toba by bus. Alternatively many more trains, including some executive class trains, run from Binjai to Medan to Tebing Tinggi, roughly half-way between Medan and Lake Toba, and back again (in the reverse direction most terminate at Medan rather than Binjai).
See train map and timetable.
To/from Tangkahan there are essentially two choices - the shorter but more broken road, or the longer, but still poorly surfaced road.
If you choose the shorter route you will need a proper off-road vehicle, or a motorbike. We can arrange either, please contact us. This should take 2.5 - 3 hours.
Another option is an elephant trek, although few recommend this unless you are sure you want to spend a very long time (rather than, say, just one hour) sitting on the back of an uncomfortable elephant.
The longer route goes via Binjai, and it is NOT recommended, because it takes much longer than the off road route. However, if you must go by public bus, then from Bukit Lawang to Binjai (70km/2hours), travelling from there by bus to Stabat, Batang Serangan and finally Simpang Robert on the way to Tangkahan. P.S. (large, slow) From Medan, however, buses bound for Tangkahan go several times daily from Medan.