Tangkahan is not as well-known as its sister, Bukit Lawang, but we can assure you, it’s much better! Located in the North Sumatra, about 3 hours drive from Medan. It is the junction of two rivers, Buluh River and Batang River, on the foot of Mount Leuser. If you get lucky, you will meet orangutan there!
The main attraction there is elephant trekking. The elephants are taken care of by Flora and Fauna International Indonesia and everyday they offer elephant trekking or bathing. This is not only a simple elephant ride you’d experience in other parts of Indonesia or Thailand, for example. In Tangkahan, the elephants climb unbeaten routes. So hold tight on your saddle, because your elephant will hike up to 60 degree! Although it is a bit costly – the information on the cost is provided below – you will be sorry if you don’t do it.
There are plenty things to do in Tangkahan. Some people may enjoy swimming and bathing in the river where water is fresh and unpolluted. Some may prefer lazing on a hammock.
You can also go to hot springs nearby by swimming across the stream. Indulge your body with natural hot water. Just before the Buluh River meets the Batang River there is a small waterfall. You will have to have to walk up a small creek about 100 meters to reach the waterfall. People sit under the pouring waterfall and let the water massage their tired backs!
How to go there
You can go to Tangkahan using public transportation from Medan. Catch the bus “Pembangunan Semesta” from Pinang Baris Terminal. You will be pampered with bumpy road and mostly palm oil plantation view. The bus goes to Tangkahan twice a day, and using Pembangunang Semesta, you would need to allocate 5-6 hours. And yes, what Lonely Planet says is true, you will at least experience flat tire once during the trip. We had one on the way to Tangkahan and two on our way back to Medan. If I remember correctly, it only cost Rp 14,000. The first bus to leave Tangkahan is at 7:00 in the morning. Make sure you are ready in front of the visitor centre at least 15 minutes before.
Renting a car would be an option for a group tour or family with small children, or for you who choose for more comfy trip. With private car, it only takes about 3-hours drive.
There are only a few accommodations in Tangkahan, across the river. Jungle Lodge, owned by a British and Batak couple is the most notable with price starting from Rp 80,000 on low season. Jungle Lodge offers a basic place to sleep with superb view. The wooden huts provide a comfortable gateway for those who want to escape busy life. From their restaurant you can enjoy the view of the clear river with a cup of hot coffee milk!
A neighboring accommodation is Mega Inn, which also use eco-lodge concept to attract visitor. There are some other accommodations on the roadside. Mostly basic motels.
Accommodations provide basic food such as nasi goreng, instant noodle, sandwich, coffee and tea, with reasonable price.
There is no ATM in Tangkahan, so you better bring cash from Medan. The cost of the accommodation is cheap, but you will need plenty of rupiah to pay the elephant trekking. When we went there about 3 years ago, it cost 160,000 per hour per person. Recently, we got information and the price has gone up to Rp 300,000 per hour per person. And believe me if I say one hour is not enough!