Tangkahan – The elephant’s bath

Tangkahan is a small village in the north of Sumatra, out of the “tracks usually beaten by tourists”, it is inside the jungle at the unojn point of two rivers; Buluh River and Batang River.

We reached this village starting from Bukit Lawang, about 100 kilometers away but the travel is very long about three hours, the road is unpaved with holes that force you to drive at speed of 30 kilometers per hours. You’ll pass through coconout palm plantations, you’ll see small villages, animals that love to stay in the middle of the street.

The village is small, there are some lodge, we stayed at Jungle Lodge, it is very beautiful lodge on the river. To reach the lodge you have to cross the river over a suspension bridge, some monkeys enjoy walking on the wire of the bridge and by doing so the bridge swings. Until a few years ago the bridge did not exist and to reach the other riverside it was necessary to take a small ferry.

The lodge is in the jungle on the riverside, it has few rooms, a very large resturant is in wood with low price, you can stay here for breakfast, lanch and dinner. The food is very good but the service is very slow, I suggest you to book in advance so you don’t have to wait for long time.

The owner is a very nice person, he looks like Maradona, he is a great lover of Italian football and will cheer you with his guitar. We spent the after dinner in the company of a French family and the staff playing the guitar and singing songs.

In Tangkahan it is possible to do various activities, like trekking in the jungle to see the orangutans, rafting on the river,…. but the main activity is the visit to the center of elephants.

In Sumatra, as in the rest of Asia, elephants are in danger of extinction, multiple factors contribute to this: oil palm plantations destroy jungle, habitat of these pachyderms, poaching, fear of people that try to kill them poisoning.

This center has been created to protect them, about ten adult elephants and a small one born recently live there. These elephants help in the work. To raise money for the center, they propose various activities involving elephants,

I thought it was the usual “tourist” activity but instead I had to change my mind.

The elephant bath

When I read on the guide about this activity, I decided to avoid it because I thought that it was a touristic attraction, my children were immediately enthusiastic about it and convinced me to include it in our itinerary.

Every days, except Friday, the elephant are taken to the river for their daily bath both in the morning (9:00 AM) and in the afternoon (4:00 PM), during these moments is possible to interact with them.

You can buy the ticket at the visitor center (20,000 Indonesian rupees) before to reahc the elephant center. We had only one day available so we preferred to arrange in advance with the lodge (Jungle Lodge), it was more expensive (25,000 Indonesian rupees) but it was worth it: our guide accompanied us, took pictures of us..

And so the next morning upon our arrival, we walked towards the center with our guide. From the village is about 20 minutes, it is a beautiful walk in the jungle.

And so the next morning upon our arrival, accompanied by a very nice guy from the lodge staff, we walked towards the center. From the village is about 20 minutes walk, it is a beautiful walk in the midst of a lush nature.

We reached the center, after a introductory briefing we went to the river with the elephants, they entered in the water.

The elephants  lie down and the guides given us a brush to wash with the elephants. Don’t be impressed by the color of the river, they say that, despite the color, it is very clean.

We were lucky, we were few visitors and we had an elephant all to ourselves.

After the bath, the elephant will wash you ……………..

After the bath there is the breakfast, the staff gave us bananas, bamboo, carrots,….. and we give them to the elephants.

You can continue with a tour in the jungle on the elephants. It is too expensive for us: one hour costs 650.000 Indonesian rupees for each person.

We greeted the elephants and returned to Tangkahan.

What to bring: I advise you to wear a swimsuit because you will get wet and take with you a pair of slippers.

Remember to bring the camera and the go-pro for filming


After the bath with the elephants, we went to “rafting” on the river to reach a waterfall non far from the city.

This kind of “rafting” is a bit special: everyone is given an inner tube of trucks (very large) with which go on the river. The river is very quiet, there aren’t rapids like in Bukit Lawang river, there is a small current that allows you to move forward without having to struggle. The color of the river is not really inviting but they assured us that it is clean, I was not very calm to sink my hands into the brown river because the day before we had seen some giant iguanas plunging into the river.

We reached the waterfall, as the Ramadan period had just ended, the waterfall was very crowded, both families and boys. Here, unlike the river, the water is clear and you can get wet. For women, better to wear a shirt over the costume.swimsuit.

We continued our “rafting” up to a small beach where we left our “rafts” and returned to the village walking.

The walk is very pleasant, one goes through oil palm plantations, through small villages, meets children, ……. up to return to the lodge but first they showed us the “terme”, in the river below the lodge there is a small spring from which very hot thermal water flows.

A really nice day ……………. after a shower we sang songs with the logde staff and a French family on vacation like us.


And the next day wake up at sunrise to reach Medan and from Medan fly over Banda Aceh.

Click here to see the next stop.

Some costs:

Transportation from Tanghakan to Medan: 800,000 Indonesian rupees (x 4 people)

Elephant bath: 1,000,000 Indonesian rupees (x 4 people)

Tubing: 800,000 rupees ind. (x 4 people)

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