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.


Download my personally crafted 17 day Indonesia travel guide with my hotel and restaurant recommendations, tours and activities that I enjoyed.

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


Download my personally crafted 17 day Indonesia travel guide with my hotel and restaurant recommendations, tours and activities that I enjoyed.

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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.

  • I love those orangutans! Your adventure sounds like so much fun and what a nice memory to have, dancing and singing in the dark with lightning bugs in Indonesia! Your post makes me want to visit. For now I am going to read your other post about orangutans!

    • Thank you! It is a pretty special place but is under a lot of pressure to change from development. If you really want to go, try and get there soon.

  • Wow what an amazing trip! It’s so cool that you’re able to have these experiences together as a family!

    Thanks for sharing, I’ll definitely be looking into your article on getting to your remote lodge in the jungle!


    • I think that some of my best memories are getting to some of the places we have been in this world. I never know what to expect on our journey and that is half the fun!

  • Wow, seeing all those lightning bugs sounds like an amazing experience! I was in the Philippines and they had several tours that offered something similar to this, but I skipped it because it didn’t sound too special. Now I stand correct and feel like I should have done the tour! I’ll have to keep an eye out for another opportunity like this 🙂

    • I am just amazed at what nature has to offer us sometimes. This was such a simple experience but so cherished because of where we were. I am sure you will have an opportunity to try it again. i think you can find lightning bugs in many parts of the world.

  • What a wonderful and memorable experience to see the orangutans swinging from tree to tree and in their natural surroundings. A few years ago we missed our flight to see the orangutans in Sepilok . Would love to go back to Borneo one day and see them. It must have been mesmerising to see thousands of lightning bugs around you whilst having dinner. I hope I get to experience this one day.

    • The flights in that part of the world can be a little crazy so I totally understand missing that flight. Hopefully you will be able to return and enjoy similar experiences. It was really special and worthwhile.

  • This sounds like such an amazing experience to share as a family. I have always enjoyed seeing monkeys in the wild, so I bet I would like seeing the orangutans, too.

  • Every year I hear the stories of burning forests in Indonesia, so I believe that the Reforestation Center could help somehow, though the chances I see a very small. However, there is always hope. The forest burning leads to habitat destruction of the orangutans, which is why we need the rehabilitation centers as well. Your post is amazing, but somehow it is depressing to know what’s happening there with the deforestation of forests in real, every year.

    • You are absolutely correct. It was both an amazing and sad experience. Seeing the orangutans and the rehabilitation centres were wonderful and gave me hope that these incredible creatures will survive. But, at the same time, seeing the destruction of the rainforest made it seem like the orangutans survival will be a very difficult task.

  • Your experience sounds so surreal. I would have enjoyed seeing orangutans in action at Tanjung Puting National Park. I love that you and your family shared this magical last night in the Indonesian jungle–it’s as though the lightning bugs were on cue! Not only do you have memories that will last a lifetime, but you have left a lasting imprint of your visit by planting saplings in the rainforest. Bravo!

    • Thanks Jackie. I love your comment about the lightning bugs coming out on cue because it certainly felt like that. It was a wonderful trip for our family.

  • I love that you shared this experience with your whole family; they’re definitely going to remember this for the rest of their lives! I didn’t make it to Borneo when we were in Indonesia, and what a shame. The lightning bugs are so pretty, and I can just imagine about all the photos I would have taken if I was there!

    • I think that you are right. We have done some pretty cool trips but dancing in the rainforest with lightning bugs all around us should be a lasting memory!

  • I really want to visit Borneo for the orangutan experience myself. I am sure it was tough to see the living conditions of the people in the village you visited, it is really similar in my home country India as well – as soon as you go beyond the bigger cities into the smaller villages, you discover what life for the not-so-fortunate people is. The people in villages, however, are also extremely humble, loving and friendly, which is a refreshing change from the people living in big cities. The lightening bugs look pretty amazing I’ve to say – I did something similar in The Philippines in the mangroves but it was from a little distance.

    • I was India a couple of years ago and I agree – the people we met in the villages were so kind and friendly. But yes, their living conditions were hard to observe. I hope that you get to Borneo soon.

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