It was one of the first destinations I’d eyed off when putting our itinerary together – Pulau Weh, north of the Aceh province in Sumatra. The sandy shores, world class diving and snorkelling, lush rainforests and beach-side bungalows. It seemed the perfect first stop on our nomadic existence journey…
Getting there was the first hurdle. Not realising it was Ramadhan, we had no idea just how many locals were also travelling – meaning that each of the four hotels listed on Trip Advisor in Sabang (the major town on Pulau Weh) were completely booked out for the five nights we had hoped to stay. We tried four nights. Nada. Three – nil… not a single, lonely night was available.
Not giving up that easily, we thought we’d try pushing Pulau Weh back a week and visit Danau Toba first. Surely that would be an option – we were being flexible! But it wasn’t to be… Pulau Weh was booked out the second week also, and for the remainder of July. Plus – we couldn’t get any available accommodation in Danua Toba either.
As we contemplated possibly throwing the towel in and heading to Phuket instead, we received an email reply from the first place we’d contacted. They had three nights in a bungalow for us – hooray! We said we’d be there on the first flight out of Medan – except, that was now booked out. As was the second one….Finally flying out the following day at 11.00PM after a two hour delay, we crashed at the cheapest room in Banda Aceh and got on the first ferry out to Pulau Weh.
As we were dropped off by the taxi on the side of the road, with the driver gesturing towards the narrow path between two ramshackle houses towards the coast; we held our breath as we made our way through the chickens and the goats and towards the stone path downhill – and were greeted with the most incredible view.
It was exactly like the photos. No – better. A dozen or so bungalows, made from natural elements like bamboo, built into the cliffside and surrounding the central hub that housed two restaurants and overlooked the sandy beach and swaying palm trees. It was paradise.
Needless to say we lost track of time on Pulau Weh. Long leisurely breakfasts with a strong cup of Indonesian coffee was followed by hours in the hammock on the beach, reading, taking photos and exploring the shoreline. As it got warmer, we’d jump on a scooter and ride around the island, enjoying the beautiful breeze from the jungle as we’d climb up higher and higher, pointing out hidden beaches and coves to each other which we’d then head down to explore – day after day doing the same thing.
Despite the somewhat chaotic circumstances in arranging this leg of our travels, our trip to Pulau Weh was definitely a perfect start on our journey – relaxing, eye opening, and taught us several lessons – both in having patience, in being flexible – and to go with the flow.
- Getting there:
Fly from Medan to Banda Aceh – flights are approximately $90AUD return.
A ferry is required to travel from the port in Banda Aceh to Pulau Weh – you can take a fast ferry in the morning or afternoon, with a journey time of 45 minutes (105 000 Rp for VIP, 80 000 for standard) or a slow ferry with a journey time of 2.5 hours (60 000 Rp).
- Where to stay:
Whilst there is less than half a dozen advertised accommodation options online – there are actually many more guesthouses and homestays available on the island. If you are not travelling during peak season or Ramadhan (month of celebration changes each year – check ahead) – you’d easily be able to arrive via ferry and source accommodation on arrival, and be able to negotiate a cheaper rate if you are planning on staying a few nights.
We stayed at Freddie’s Santai Sumurtiga – we highly, HIGHLY recommend it!
- Getting around:
Both scooters and motorbikes are readily available for hire everywhere on the island – usually 100 000 Rp or less for a day’s hire. This is the best way of seeing the island, though you will need to park up and trek to the more remote spots.