The journey from Medan’s Kuala Namu International Airport to Bukit Lawang can be made by hopping on a bus directly from the airport terminal to a town called Binjai, which is located half way between the airport and Bukit Lawang. This bus ride will cost around 30,000 Rupiah, and from Binjai you will need another bus to take you the rest of the journey, which itself will cost around 20,000 Rupiah more. This is a good option if you are saving on accommodation costs and have no interest in seeing the city of Medan.
A lot of people, however, choose to spend a day or two in Medan before they head down to Bukit Lawang (it’s good to acclimatise to the Sumatran heat and humidity), so from the airport you will need to purchase tickets for the air-conditioned train for 80,000 Rupiah per person. Obviously, buses also ply this route and they are much cheaper (around 15,000 Rupiah to downtown Medan), but the buses are not known for their quality – or safety! When you arrive in Medan, a becak ride through the city’s crowded streets will complete your journey to your hotel or hostel.
When in Medan, it is important to realise that all buses to Bukit Lawang leave from a terminal at Kampung Lalang, on the outskirts of the city (you can also get direct buses to Berastagi from here). The taxi fare to Kampung Lalang will cost at least 30,000 Rupiah on its own, although local buses can get you there for around 6,000 Rupiah, but you may need to learn a bit of Bahasa Indonesia to survive! From Kampung Lalang, a minibus to Bukit Lawang will cost 20,000 Rupiah per person, and the journey will take 3-4 hours. Be prepared for a lot of Indonesian music being played by the driver! Last bus to Bukit Lawang leaves at 17.30hrs.
For a more “luxurious” option, consider a tourist bus. Whilst not strictly “independent”, it still needs to be included as an option, as most people will actually prefer this option. Departing from bear the Grand Mosque in Medan, tourist buses can be booked by any travel agent (your hotel or hostel can help with this) and they are good quality buses (by Sumatran standards) that don’t break down as often as the minibuses. Trouble is, a typical price for a ticket to Bukit Lawang on these tourist buses is 100,000 Rupiah, but if you don’t want the hassle of travelling like a local, then the tourist bus is clearly your best bet.
From Lake Toba, tourist buses are available to get you to Bukit Lawang. The journey takes 7 hours and will typically cost 200,000 Rupiah. From Berastagi, it is a 5 hour journey and will cost about 150,000 Rupiah. In both cases, your driver may route through Medan.
When you arrive at Gunung Leuser National Park, the orangutans of Bukit Lawang will be waiting for you! What you may not realise, however, is there is so much more to see and do in this area. I would recommend at least 2 nights here if you want to experience the orangutans and go jungle trekking (allow 150,000 Rupiah if you want to feed the orangutans), but if you are more interested in the culture and lifestyle of the villagers in Bukit Lawang, then you may want to stay at least a week. Finding good accommodation is key, as at various times of the year Bukit Lawang can get extremely crowded.