Indonesia: The Magic of Lightning Bugs In The Rainforest


Our family of 6 – three teenagers and three adults – spent 4 days in the Indonesian jungle of Borneo a little while ago. I’ve already written a couple of blogs about a few of our experiences.  In A Stunning Borneo Ecotour With Teens, I write about our first day in Borneo, where we stayed, and how we got to our ecolodge in the deep jungle. In Trekking for Orangutans In Indonesia, we continued our second day of our adventure by travelling by boat and then by foot into the rainforest to find and watch orangutans. Our close encounters of these majestic creatures were astounding.

In this last blog about our time in the jungles of Borneo, I’m going to describe our last day there before we left. We saw more orangutans, which was really cool, but we did a few other things that were a highlight for me on this day. For example, we learned about important trees and plants that grow in the jungle that are integral to modern medicine. Then, we got to plant those trees in an area devastated by fire. Nearby our lodge, we visited a local village where most of the employees live, learning a little bit about their lives. Finally, at dusk, we climbed aboard our boat and travelled around 30 minutes along the river and the rainforest. There, in the darkness, we ate dinner while thousands of lightning bugs glittered all around us. That evening was simply breathtaking.


lignting bugs in Borneo, Indonesia
Choosing our saplings to plant and making our signs for planting.


Orangutan Rehabilitation Centres

We went to two orangutan rehabilitation centres and feeding stations in Tanjung Puting National Park called Tanjung Harapan and Pondok Tanggui. They were much closer to our Lodge than Camp Leakey, the one we spent visiting a day earlier. They were similar to Camp Leakey – a 30 to 45 minute hike into the jungle to a large platform set away from the visitors, and park rangers leaving “free” bananas for any orangutans that wanted to come and enjoy them.


lignting bugs in Borneo, Indonesia


I loved the walks and hearing from our naturalist guide about the various plants and bugs that we spotted along the way. We never knew how many orangutans would show up, or what they would do (whether we would have another close encounter or not). It was lots and lots of fun to simply sit back and watch events unfold. Nothing was as exciting as the first day encounter with the two females, the baby and the alpha male, but it was still fascinating to be there and watch these wonderful creatures.


lignting bugs in Borneo, Indonesia


In this blog, I won’t talk too much more about these orangutan experiences. Instead, if you are curious about them please read my earlier blog Trekking for Orangutans In Indonesia.


Pesalat Re-forestation Centre

In addition to visiting two orangutan rehabilitation centres, we also planted trees at the Pesalat Re-Forestation Centre through the Friends of the National Park Foundation.


lignting bugs in Borneo, Indonesia


Reforestation is trying to address two significant problems in the National Park. First, prior to the National Park being formed, a lot of the trees were slashed and burned to make way for traditional farming. This type of farming created problems with the soil and for natural tree growth to occur. Second, in 2006, a major fire severely burned parts of the National Park. Today, the park rangers continue to plant new trees, remove dangerously dry/dead plants and trees to reduce the risk of another fire, and maintain the overall park infrastructure.


lignting bugs in Borneo, Indonesia
The park ranger explaining about the important plants and trees in the rainforest.


I really enjoyed our time here. We hiked through the jungle for about an hour. The park ranger showed us all the types of trees that they are planting in the reforestation. Most of them have significant uses in Western medicine. Then, we got to choose which kinds of saplings we wanted to plant. We hiked another 15 minutes into the rainforest and started planting. It was a very small contribution to the rainforest, but it felt really good to be a part of this.


lignting bugs in Borneo, Indonesia
Juliet getting ready to plant her sapling in the jungle.


lignting bugs in Borneo, Indonesia
All of our saplings planted with our signs.


Songai Sekonyer Village

A short boat ride away from our lodge was the village of Songai Sekonyer. After visiting the last orangutan rehabilitation centre of the day, our guide took us there for a tour.


lignting bugs in Borneo, Indonesia


lignting bugs in Borneo, Indonesia
The entrance to the village


During our time in and around Tanjung Punting National Park, we barely saw villages or other forms of civilization except for the occasional tourist, the staff at the Lodge, and the park rangers. We boated up and down the rivers around the Park over four days, and only once saw a small collection of huts perched on their shores. So I was very curious to see what this village would look like.

The village was a strange mix of modern life and very poor living conditions. One of the first things we saw as we left the dock and approached the village was a really nice large volleyball court filled with young men playing volleyball.  This ended up being the “centre” of town and it seemed like everyone was hanging out, watching the game, or chatting with friends. They were very friendly, dressed in western clothes, and many had smart phones.


lignting bugs in Borneo, Indonesia
Volleyball court in the village.


Living Conditions

However, as we walked through the village, we could see the difficult living circumstances. Some of the homes looked nice and solidly built, but more were ramshackle. All seemed to be virtually empty of rooms regardless of how they looked from the outside.  In fact, they all seemed in very poor condition when we got glimpses of the interior.


lignting bugs in Borneo Indonesia
A pretty home in the Village


lignting bugs in Borneo, Indonesia
A common looking home in the village.


Because of the proximity to the river, they all had water running around them. The water seemed pretty dirty with garbage flowing through it, and yet, this is where the children swam and bathed. Many were having a great time covered in soap swimming around, but it was difficult to watch when the water seemed so clearly dirty. Throughout the whole village, we saw one little store that sold a few shelf stable items, but really offered very little. It looked like a trip to the mainland would be necessary for significant supplies. I had mixed feelings visiting this village. I think tourism is generally helping to improve their standard of living, but there still is a ways to go before their lives will be more comfortable, with safer living conditions.


Lightning Bugs

On our last night, we headed out on our boat around dusk about 30 minutes from our lodge. We anchored just next to shore near a large growth of plants called Nipah Palms. Once there, our crew began to set our table for dinner on the boat. By the time the food was served, it was pitched dark. There was no other man made light anywhere to be seen. Then, the most magical thing happened. Thousands and thousands of lights began to glitter from lightning bugs that emerged from the plants and trees on the shore. We ate dinner in the dark surrounded by these magical creatures. It was absolutely silent except for the sounds of the water, the occasional boat going by, and the lightning bugs. It was simply beautiful.


lightning bugs in Borneo Indonesia


After dinner, my oldest son thought it was time to add some flair to the night. He got out his phone and began to play music. Much to the amusement of everyone, including the crew, this led to singing and dancing, initially by him, but soon by everyone, including the crew. Our family of 6, in the middle of the Indonesia rainforest in Borneo, with orangutans, crocodiles, and other creatures nearby, danced and sang in the dark with lightning bugs circling all around us. It doesn’t get much better than that.



We had a fantastic final day in the Indonesian jungle of Borneo. I loved seeing more orangutans and watching these amazing creatures in their natural habitat. Exploring the local village was very interesting, and learning about and planting trees were highlights. However, dinner with the lightning bugs was truly an exceptional experience and a memory that I will always cherish.


If you are interested in reading more about our adventures during our three week trip to Indonesia, here is a list of all the articles that I have written:

The Unbelievable Wonders of Komodo National Park In Indonesia;

Komodo Dragons and Pink Beaches: Just Another Day in Indonesia;

Kelimutu: A Breathtaking Indonesia Volcano and Its People;

Exploring the Untouched Beauty of Kelimutu Indonesia;

A Stunning Borneo Ecotour With Teens;

Trekking For Orangutans In Indonesia.

Indonesia: The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta, Food and Fashion

A Mind Blowing 17 Day Indonesian Adventure With Teens


If you would like to save one of these articles for future use, please click on the “save” button on the photo below. If you think that someone else might benefit from this article, please feel free to share it on your social media channels!  Thanks!

We spent four days exploring the jungle of Borneo in Indonesia. We saw orangutans, planted trees and visited a village. However, a magical experience was having dinner in the dark surrounded by thousands of lightning bugs. #travel #familytravel #travelwithkids #travelwithteens #responsibletravel #Indonesia #Borneo |Asia, Camp Leakey, feeding centres, firefly, jungle, Nipah palms, orangutan rehabilitation centres, Pesalat, trees reforestation, saplings, Tanjung Harapan, Tanjung Puting

As darkness fell, our boat floated along the river in Borneo and achored next to the jungle. As we ate dinner, lightning bugs began to come alive and dance on the shore. We were alone in the jungle with orangutans, crocodiles and monkeys keep watch.It was a magic experience that our family will never forget. #travel #familytravel #Indonesia #bestintravel #lonelyplanet | Nipah palms, Pesalat, rainforest, reforestation, Tanjung Harapan, Tanjung Puting,


    • I’m guessing you are referring to the living conditions of the locals? They seemed very happy and I think it’s all a matter of perspective. I think their lives are easier than they once were because of tourism. It is only when we compare our lives to theirs that we see how they are missing a lot of our comforts that it could be viewed as depressing. I think about all the wonderful wildlife they get to see every day and think how lucky they are.

  • What an incredible trip – especially the lightning bugs! A few years back we had visitors from Sweden to our home and they had never heard of, or seen, lightning bugs. I didn’t know that they weren’t everywhere in the world but I guess they are in Borneo. I am lucky to now live in one of three places where they make their synchronized mating dance though I still have not seen it.

    • That sounds fascinating – the synchronized mating dance. Lighting bugs are so pretty that I think that I’d explore trying to see that mating dance. I wonder if we would be able to see anything different than normal since these guys are really only visible to us in the dark!

  • Wow! This sounds like such an amazing adventure. I imagine it will be one of the most unforgettable dinners you will ever have. I can’t even fathom what it would be like to see that many lightening bugs with no light pollution.

    • Whenever I end up some place without light pollution, I am always reminded at how beautiful nature really is, especially the sky. Sounds kind of stupid when nature is everywhere. But, I know that I definitely forget about this when most of my life I live in the city!

  • What an incredible experience especially the lightning bugs! I love that you got to see more orangutans and played a role with preserving this national park. It’s always sad to see these villages especially the children. I hope tourism will help in some way. I can see why this was such a special trip.

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