The village of Tangkahan in the Langkat Regency of North Sumatra is aptly dubbed, “The Hidden Paradise.”
Although only a few hours away from the much-hyped tourist hub of Bukit Lawang, with its semi-wild orangutans, Tangkahan is a world away from Bukit Lawang’s lines of souvenir shops and well-trodden jungle trails.
Operating as an ecotourism destination for the last 20 years, Tangkahan has never really ‘taken off.’ This is a struggle for the locals that depend on tourism for their income but a treat for those who discover this remote and breathtakingly beautiful jungle community.
Tangkahan is our second home. Agung worked and lived here as a ranger and guide for seven years, and we have spent many years enjoying the quiet life in this village.
This blog was updated in June 2023.
See more of Tangkahan the Hidden Paradise on our YouTube channel!
The History of Tangkahan Village, North Sumatra
Famous for shrugging off the mantel of illegal logging and poaching in only one generation, this tight-knit Karonese community realized that there was no future in destroying their jungle home. Instead, they worked together to protect it, creating a team of rangers and turning to ecotourism to provide for their children and grandchildren.
Tangkahan village was built on illegal logging, with wildlife poaching thrown in for good measure. However, around 20 years ago, the community agreed to give it up and protect their natural bounties, focusing instead on ecotourism.
Of course, it wasn’t a simple process, but these changes led to the Tangkahan of today, where there is a healthy respect and reverence for mother nature.
How to Get to Tangkahan
Perched on the edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park, Tangkahan is a reasonably short drive from Medan. Unless you get stuck in traffic, the new highway cuts the travel time from a previous four to less than three.
Three-quarters of the trip follows good roads. But for the last stretch, you’ll be crawling along bumpy dirt roads that cut through palm oil plantations. If there has been a lot of rain, the last leg of your journey will be a tad slow.
How to Catch a Bus to Tangkahan
There are no fancy tourist buses heading this way. Don’t expect air conditioning, and bear in mind that smoking is allowed inside the bus. The journey may be slow with lots of stops and can be rather noisy and bumpy.
From Kuala Namu Airport
If you are heading to Tangkahan by bus from the airport, you’ll need to first jump on a bus to the Pinang Baris bus station in Medan city. It’s about a one-hour trip, depending on traffic. At around 40,000 IDR per person, these buses are fancy, with air conditioning and sometimes even wifi!
Buses heading to Tangkahan depart from the Pinang Baris bus station.
Unfortunately, many tourists experience problems with this station. There are “guides” there that will give incorrect information and overcharge. Forewarned is forearmed!
Look for the bus that clearly says Tangkahan on the front. There have been occasions where tourists have been sent to Bukit Lawang instead!
Don’t pay anyone except the driver, and only pay once you’re on the way or you arrive in Tangkahan. There will be people trying to tell you that you can’t get on the bus until you pay them – this is incorrect.
It should cost around 50,000 per person (including your luggage).
Driving to Tangkahan
The fastest, most comfortable way to get to Tangkahan is to hire a car with a driver. The cost is around 700,000 – 800,000 IDR.
Your guesthouse can help you book – if you’re stuck, contact us and we can recommend some great drivers.
Shared taxis don’t tend to head to Tangkahan as it’s not one of the more popular tourist destinations.
How to Get From Bukit Lawang to Tangkahan
There is a back road from Tangkahan to Bukit Lawang, but it’s rather extreme and bumpy. Although not very far, it’ll take you around two or three hours. A car with a driver will set you back around 500,000 – 600,000 IDR.
There’s no traffic other than herds of cows. In the wet season, you may be helping to push.
If you’re after a quicker, lower-budget journey and don’t have too much luggage, hire a motorbike and driver. The price will be 200,000 – 300,000 IDR.
You can book drivers/cars/motorbikes through your accommodation.
Where to Stay in Tangkahan
Accommodation in Tangkahan is affordable and there’s plenty of it. All the guesthouses and lodges you’ll find here are great, with super-friendly staff and guides to make you feel right at home
However, bear in mind that you are in the jungle! At most places, there is no hot water (not that you’ll need it in the tropical heat!) or air conditioning rooms. Most do come with fans, which you’ll find are enough to keep you cool at night.
All rooms should have mosquito nets and western toilets, and the majority of guesthouses have their own restaurants.
Most of the places to stay are across the bridge in the central village area. If you stop at the Visitor’s Centre and head down the path to the left, you’ll come to the bridge. You may need to pay a small fee to cross.
Here, you can choose from several different accommodations: some have rooms and restaurants with gorgeous river and jungle views. Prices range from 100,000-300,000IDR per night.
If you continue down the road past the central visitor’s centre area for a few minutes (towards the Elephant Centre), you’ll come to a handful of other accommodations perched on the side of the river overlooking the jungle. You’re pretty spoiled for choice in Tangkahan, so take your pick!
Here are a few of our top picks.
Just across the river from the Visitor’s Centre, Mega Inn is the largest accommodation in Tangkahan, with more than 20 rooms.
There’s a nice restaurant, and it’s close to the river, hot springs and waterfall.
Basic rooms start from 150,000 IDR, and all have mosquito nets, fans and western toilets.
This is a great choice if you’re hoping to meet up with other travellers.
Bambu River Guesthouse
Bambu River was the first guesthouse ever built in Tangkahan, way back in 1998.
Run by local Wak Youn (locally known as Black Tiger)and his English wife Jane, this is a beautiful haven in the main guesthouse area on the side of the Buluh River. (You’ll need to cross the bridge and follow the picturesque path until you see the signs).
In this tropical garden paradise, you’ll find 11 bungalows all with modern bathrooms, terraces, linen, towels, mosquito nets, and beautiful river/jungle views.
There are also family-sized bungalows.
Room rates start at 250,000 IDR.
Bambu River is a beautiful peaceful haven to stay in – and the food is delicious. Wak Youn is an excellent cook – you’ll be dining on traditional Indonesian meals made with fresh, local ingredients, but Western meals are also available.
Across the river from the Visitor’s Centre and a five-minute walk along some pretty paths is Jungle Lodge. The restaurant here has stunning river and jungle views, and steps lead directly to the Buluh River.
It’s handily located right next to the natural hot spring and a small waterfall perfect for showering under.
Some rooms have balconies overlooking the river and jungle. Prices start from around 150,000 IDR.
Rooms are basic but clean – and the location is pure paradise.
WhatsApp: +62 813-7633-4787
Just a few minutes down the road from the Visitor’s Centre, Tangkahan Inn sits above the Batang River and is only a five minute walk from the CRU Elephant Centre.
It’s a tight-knit, family-run spot overlooking the jungle, with a spacious, vine-covered restaurant and basic (but sizeable) rooms. This is the spot we usually stay in when spending time in Tangkahan.
Riverside or jungle rooms start at around 200,000 IDR per night. Rooms come with fans, balconies, western toilets and mosquito nets.
The best thing about Tangkahan Inn is the warm welcome you’ll get and the friendly, family vibe. There’s also a quiet, rocky river shore area below the accommodation where you can swim in the river or just relax and gaze across at the jungle.
Terrario is a fair step up from the other guesthouses in Tangkahan. This is a luxury private retreat lodge – owned by an Indonesian celebrity, no-less!
Set away from other accommodations, Terrario is a beautifully designed villa owned by Indonesian actor and wildlife lover Nicholas Saputra. It is managed by Tangkahan locals.
This is an exquisite place to stay, with a minimalist design that enhances the beauty of its rainforest adjacent location.
There are three bedrooms: 1 Double, and 2 Twins.
Unlike most places in Tangkahan, Terrario even offers the luxury of a hot shower!
Room prices start at around 1,750,000 IDR Per night including breakfast (for 2 people).
There is no restaurant nearby, but you can have an extra private of a private cook to cater to you, or order meals to be delivered.
This spot has a minimum two-night stay period and a maximum of three people. Contact and book at the email address below.
Rumah Ati Tangkahan
Rumah Ati is another newer addition to the guesthouses at Tangkahan.
This is a beautiful private villa unlike any other. It’s a 100 year old traditional house reimagined and reborn into the jungle of Tangkahan – and it’s just gorgeous.
With views of the jungle, this is the ultimate home away from home – a real paradise retreat.
This 1 bedroom house has a balcony and terrace, and even Wi-Fi – quite a rarity in Tangkahan!
The upstairs, open plan area is the sleeping room, while the downstairs is open-air dining and a closed kitchen. The kitchen is fully stocked with a fridge, freezer, stove, water, spices, coffee and tea.
The bathroom is beautiful, and even has a bath!
Prices start from 500,000 IDR per person per night (less for children 2-12).
For enquiries and reservations, contact via WhatsApp: +62-822-1386-7532
Tangkahan Eco Glamping
Love the idea of camping but not the reality of rock hard floors and jungle toilets?
Welcome to Tangkahan Eco Glamping!
This is such a great idea: spacious canvas tents with full-sized beds, terraces, a jungle restaurant and incredible jungle views. And right by a beautiful river too!
Tangkahan Eco Glamping is located beyond the main village, right on the border of the Gunung Leuser National Park.
You’ll need to do an easy 20-30 minute hike to reach the location, but from there, it’s all relaxation, peace, and quiet.
You’ll have a team of awesome local guides cooking for you and keeping you entertained, with plenty of activities to add into you itinerary if you can drag yourself away from this little piece of paradise.
All this perfection doesn’t come cheap though – there’s quite a lot involved to cater for guests in style when outside of the village, not to mention the need for your hosts to stay at your beck and call for the duration of your stay.
Prices start at around 650,000 IDR per person (including breakfast and dinner).
Check out prices and make your reservation here:
WhatsApp: +62 823 7786 8561
About the Jungle in Tangkahan
Like many communities in Sumatra, Tangkahan is literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. The village is squished between endless acres of palm oil plantations and the pristine beauty of the Gunung Leuser National Park – part of the Leuser Ecosystem that stretches north into Aceh and covers more than one million hectares.
Aside from the incredible fauna found here, the jungle itself is spectacular, particularly when you head away from the still recovering, previously logged secondary forest and head to the hills.
The jungle is lush, intriguing and full of life, from the super-sized ants marching below your feet amongst the weird and wonderful fungi to the impressive parasitic ficus (fig) trees choking the life out of the rainforest giants.
The Leuser Ecosystem is undoubtedly one of the most important conservation areas left on the planet. Like most natural areas remaining, it faces numerous threats.
Jungle Trekking in Tangkahan
When you head into this part of the national park, you are heading into the real jungle. There are no semi-wild animals here, so if you’re expecting to have macaques rifling through your backpack or want to hand-feed an orangutan, you’re really barking up the wrong fig tree.
However, if you want to experience the incomparable rush of seeing true-blue, wild-born and wild-living orangutans, gibbons, leaf monkeys, hornbills and more, this will so be your cup of teh manis.
There’s nothing like it: as you slowly walk through the jungle amongst the cacophony of insects and bird calls, you hear the subtle snap of a branch somewhere above. Your guide puts a finger to their lips, motioning you to be quiet as you carefully tiptoe forward through the undergrowth, holding your breath in anticipation.
Then you see it (or rather, your eagle-eyed guides spot it), the flaming orange hair of an orangutan high above. If you’re lucky, he or she will stick around and check you out for a while, giving you the chance to marvel at this amazing person of the jungle.
The reality of Tangkahan is that there is no guarantee you will see any of the captivating mammals that call Gunung Leuser home, but if you do, it’s an experience you will never forget.
If you want the surety of seeing an orangutan, tiger, or elephant, go to a zoo. If you want the chance to have the unrivalled, goosebump-inducing experience of sharing space with a truly wild animal, visit Tangkahan.
Animals you’re likely to encounter: giant ants, a plethora of insects, colourful butterflies, numerous geckos and lizards, squirrels, woodpeckers, macaques, Thomas leaf monkeys, sun bear scratchings, wild elephant footprints, orangutan nests, the calls of gibbons
Animals you’ll encounter if you’re lucky: orangutans, siamangs, white-handed gibbons, rhinoceros hornbills, snakes (moon snakes, vipers, cobra, pythons), monitor lizards.
Animals you’ll encounter if you’re super-duper lucky: slow loris, civet cat (musang), wild pigs, jungle peacocks, tiger footprints, wild elephants, sun bears.
Things to Do in Tangkahan
Explore, Rivers, Waterfalls and Hotsprings
Tangkahan village sits alongside two stunning rivers (sungai): Sungai Buluh and Sungai Batang. As such, there are numerous waterfalls to check out.
Unlike many busy tourist destinations in Indonesia, you will often have the waterfalls to yourself, depending on the time of year and where you go.
Buluh is our top pick to explore and the best spot for swimming. Even in rainy season, it usually stays clear, whereas the Batang River can rise and become brown pretty quickly with a bit of rain.
As you head upstream in Sungai Buluh, the river becomes narrower and starts to run through gorgeous canyons. Although you can explore a little by yourself, I’d recommend asking one of the local guides to take you if you want to adventure any further.
The guides can show you Memory Waterfall and help you navigate upriver to a great spot for swimming, including a pretty lofty jumping spot up the canyon if you’re brave enough. This spot is total eye candy, with the emerald green river framed by pristine jungle.
If you’re not a strong swimmer, jump on board a ‘bun’ (inflated tyre). Your guide will swim you upriver and you can tube back.
Within easy rich of accommodations and the visitors centre is the small waterfall – Air Terjun Garut – a great spot to take some shampoo and have the best shower of your life.
Further afield are Gelugur waterfall (unfortunately this had an epic landslide and isn’t good for swimming nowadays, but still worth checking out), and the smaller waterfall, Lau Buluh Kitik, with a fantastic swimming hole underneath – you’ll need guides to reach these.
Need a good soak after all that trekking? There are two natural hot springs in Tangkahan. One is right on the edge of the Buluh River, near most of the accommodations, the second can be reached via a 30-45-minute walk through some community land to the Batang River.
You can visit the smaller one without a guide but may need to ask for help locating it; it’s just a small, cave-like crevice across the river, you can squeeze yourself into the crack for a hot soak or sit just outside the opening for a more tepid mix.
Go Jungle Trekking in Tangkahan
The experienced guides and rangers of Tangkahan are real jungle experts. Most of them have grown up in or near the village; the jungle is their backyard playground and it shows. Any one of these passionate, fun, talented guides can accompany you into the jungle, whether you are after a brief day trek or something a bit more adventurous.
While merely wandering through the jungle is an awe-inspiring, unforgettable experience, there are some key places of interest you can include on a trek, including some of the waterfalls and hot springs mentioned above.
You can arrange family-friendly day treks, overnight treks, or longer multi-day treks deeper into the Gunung Leuser National Park.
Tangkahan Bat Cave
A few hours through the jungle will bring you to the bat cave. This is a labyrinthine cavern full of twist, turns, crevices and deep dark holes – but your guide could walk it in their sleep. They know the best way to lead you safely through.
You’ll see hundreds of tiny bats in their home environment, and if you’re lucky the odd frog and snake. Take the short way through at about 15 minutes if you’re nervous, or go a bit deeper for about a 30-40-minute trip.
Goat Cave – Gua Kambing
Unlike the bat cave, the goat cave isn’t a place for exploring. It is, however, an awesome place to spend the night. Trek for half a day to reach this stunning, shallow cave that lies behind a small waterfall, perfect for showering under.
It’s all set up for a bit of camping – the guides will prepare air beds complete with mini tents and cook you an amazing jungle dinner/breakfast.
Go River Tubing in Tangkahan
No trip to Tangkahan is complete without going river tubing. It’s a fantastic way to finish a hot day’s trek, with many of the treks designed to end with you sitting in an inflated tyre, gently cruising back to the village.
It’s an incomparable experience to gently float down the river, surrounded by jungle – the ultimate in peace and serenity.
Safe for all ages and capabilities, the river is calm – with only a few areas of gentle rapids – and your guide/s will keep control of the tube for you and be on hand to point out the wildlife on the way.
Other than tubing back from trekking, you can tube from Tangkahan to one of several waterfalls, or take a longer cruise to Pulau Tujuh – Seven Islands.
Don’t miss out on the chance to have an included lunch; the food is incredible and will be set up jungle style when you arrive at your picnic destination – complete with ferns and flowers.
Meet the Tangkahan Elephants
Tangkahan’s biggest drawcard for many tourists is its Elephant Conservation Response Unit (CRU). Although there are several of these located throughout Sumatra, this is the only one open to tourists.
The elephants here have all been rescued from life-threatening conflict situations. Unable to stay in the wild, the next best alternative was to set up these CRUs as a safe place for them to live out their lives.
The herd of elephants at Tangkahan have a home base across the river at the far end of the village. Every day their mahouts take them into the jungle to roam, exercise and eat. They have daily opportunities to act out natural behaviours such as bathing in the river, foraging in the jungle, and hanging out as a herd.
When not strolling in the jungle, they spend their time in a large concreted area adjacent to the river and jungle. Occasionally they are chained; this is usually during feeding time to allow everyone to get their fair share of supplementary fruit and veg without bullying or food stealing.
Previously (and unfortunately), elephant riding was on offer here. But recently, this has been taken off the menu, which is fantastic news.
Instead of riding, there is the chance to “Walk with the elephants” through the edge of the jungle.
Sadly, elephant washing is still on offer. This is something we do not support and would encourage animal lovers to avoid.
If you’re not sure why elephant washing is bad, this article from Expedia provides some excellent insight:
If you choose not to support the elephant centre, don’t write off Tangkahan completely: this is still a fabulous destination to explore with so much to offer!
Enjoy a Chilled Evening Listening to Local Musicians
Like most areas in Sumatra, the locals of Tangkahan adore their music. You’ll be hard pressed to go anywhere without being in earshot of someone strumming guitar and singing.
What’s more, like the local Batak Toba culture, Batak Karo seem to all be born with incredible singing voices, not to mention the ability to play the guitar skillfully.
While traditional Karonese songs are usually all about love and heartbreak – as are the majority of Indonesian songs – there are many great local tunes. Want to sing along? All good, everyone knows an impressive array of popular English songs too. You’ll spend many a long evening sitting around in your restaurant of choice while groups of people serenade you.
What's the Weather Like in Tangkahan
Being on the edge of the rainforest gives Tangkahan a more humid, wetter climate than other areas.
Dry season loosely falls between May and September, with wet season from October to May.
Dry season in Tangkahan is not dry; it still rains, just less! The rivers will be lower and clearer – but not so good for tubing because you hit your bum on the rocks.
During wet season, it sometimes pours all day but you’ll also see sunny days – it’s a bit of a gamble. The river is higher and muddier as it rushes out of the jungle.
It’s toasty warm and muggy year-round, with the rainstorms offering cool relief. Daytime temperatures are around 28-30 degrees.
The busiest months that see the most tourists in the village are July and August. It’s never crowded here, even in high season.
We recommend avoiding a visit during key holiday periods. Christmas, New Year’s and Idul Fitri see ridiculous crowds visiting this humble village. Check ahead to make sure you time your visit to avoid these few days.
For an in-depth look at the weather and climate in Sumatra, check out our in-depth guide – The Best Time to Visit Sumatra.
Restaurants and Food in Tangkahan, Sumatra
Most of the accommodations have their own restaurant attached. All have the standard Indonesian fare but many have Western options too: think spaghetti, toasted sandwiches, and French fries.
In the visitor’s centre area there are a couple of warungs (small restaurants) serving delicious local food at great prices. And don’t forget the local “juice bar” where you can get freshly pulped fruit of your choice.
Beer is widely available throughout the village, but you won’t find wine or spirits here unless you bring it yourself.
Karo Culture and the Community Spirit
Tangkahan remains a small, close community. The majority of residents are Karonese (one of the six native Batak tribes found in Sumatra). Everyone seems to be everyone’s brother from another mother.
This is a place that will make you feel welcome instantly. If you’re doing it right, you’ll feel like you have a second family by the time you leave.
Like the other Batak cultures, Karonese people have their own unique language, music, food, costumes and architecture. However, you won’t see any traditional style houses in Tangkahan; you’ll need to go to the heart of Karoland in Berastagi/Tanah Karo for that.
Because Tangkahan is still a relatively small tourist destination, it retains its respect and consideration for guests. You won’t have hordes of guides trying to sell you their guesthouse, treks, or transportation when you arrive.
Instead, expect a lot of smiling faces who are generally interested in you and want to give you a special experience in their village.
This means riverside lunches or restaurant tables painstakingly decorated with leaves and flowers and a welcoming community ready to help you with anything you need.
Karo culture is friendly, welcoming and definitely capable of humour and fun. But there is still a traditional air of respect and politeness. also maintains a certain level of respect and politeness.
Bikinis are not the swimwear of choice in this village. Respectful guests will swim in shorts and singlets or t-shirts, and not wander around the village or guesthouse in next to nothing.
Amenities in Tangkahan
ATMs and Banks
There is no ATM in Tangkahan. The nearest one is around an hour away in Batang Serangan – if it’s even working! Make sure you bring enough cash with you.
The nearest pharmacy is 30 minutes away in Titi Mangga; the nearest big hospital is even further afield in Binjai. However, most tourists will want to head back to the bigger hospitals in Medan for anything serious.
If you have aches and pains from trekking, ask a local to point you in the direction of a masseuse. There are a few in the village who practice traditional medicine and work miracles.
Although Tangkahan has power, power-cuts are common. Most accommodations have generators for use in the evening if needed.
There’s no police station in Tangkahan but this is an extremely safe area. There is zero theft or crime, particularly against tourists. The tight-knit community will take care of you as if you are family.
The visitor’s centre offers free wifi if you need to connect. However, being a remote jungle village, it’s pretty slow and often doesn’t work! There is some 3G connection in the area; buy a local sim on the way and load it with data if you absolutely must stay connected.
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