If you have never visited Sumatra before, then I seriously recommend you add it to your bucket list immediately. Sumatra is a beautiful country with a lot to offer the intrepid traveller like myself on a budget. I had been to Sumatra many times before, but I had not ventured into the more remote valleys and natural parks. I was dying to explore the wildlife and fauna of one of my favourite countries. My journey took me north from Padang into the popular tourist district of Bukittinggi. Whilst I was not overly impressed by the town itself I did really enjoy the views from Sianok Canyon, which is situated on the outskirts of the town centre. The viewpoint for the panoramic canyon is inhabited by an army of monkeys, who you can see in the photos below. They played around nicely for me in the puddles and huddled together in their packs on top of the brightly coloured turquoise walls at the top of the canyon. The viewpoint for this canyon is situated near the entrance to the Japanese tunnel. Here, you can explore a 1,470 meter long underground bunker that is 40 meters below Ngarai Sianok (Sianok canyon). It was built in secret around 1944 for the Japanese army to use. There are 21 tunnels in the bunker, which were used to store ammunition, hold secret meetings, a kitchen, a prison, a torture room, an espionage room and much more. Exploring this complex burrow of tunnels and caves is a real adventure. And when I wandered out of the escape gate I saw my first flying fox!
From here I went to Harau Valley, a little gem bursting with paddy fields amidst steep 100m vertical cliffs. My stay at Abdi Homestay really was incredible, I would recommend staying there! The clear skies were littered with stars and the moon illuminated the lotus ponds dotted between the fields. Water from a small waterfall cascaded down from the top of the cliff to the entrance of the home stay. They organized an incredibly friendly local guide to take a few of us on a trek, which was an intense climb to the top of a neighbouring mountain range. When we got there he sat and played us some tunes on his wooden flute from the top of the summit, a very magical moment. After half a day, exploring the caves in the jungle and swinging around on jungle vines, we made our descent to his house at the foot of the mountain. His family cooked us the most delicious lunch whilst we looked out over the fields that encompassed the little veranda, watching his buffalo wallow happily in various pools of water.
The final leg of my trip and the most thrilling part was going to Bukit Luwang to see orangutans for the first time. I arrived late one night during a torrential rainstorm and made my way through the quirky little village, over rickety rope bridges to Thomas' Retreat on the other side of the river. The next morning a group of us set off early with a local guide into the jungle to find the orangutans which reside there. The guides know the places where each orangutan or family usually get sighted and within the first few hours we had already seen a handful of these magnificent apes. These orangutans are also, not shy at all. They have the tourists and guides paying a heavy fruit tax for the luxury of watching them and will approach the groups often to demand a tasty treat. Whilst this might not be the most natural way to experience sighting orangutans. It did give me the opportunity to get up close and personal with them and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I was able to feed them fruit and even get close enough to use my fisheye lens! Most of the orangutans in this reserve have been rehabilitated, but they do forage and live wildly. They are not dependent on the guides presence they have just become accustomed to a free snack. After a full day of jungle trekking and numerous orangutan sightings, we arrived at our camp by the river. We stayed the night in a cosy hut with mosquito nets, then in the morning we let the rolling river rapids carry us right back to the doorstep of Thomas' Retreat. I have included the link below for anyone who is interested in experiencing this for themselves. I would highly recommend Thomas' Retreat who also runs Thomas Jungle Tours in Bukit Luwang.