PULAU WEH, BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA – It was my first time diving outside of the Philippines. When I have known that AirAsia has a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Banda Aceh, I have decided that this is my chance to dive somewhere outside of my country.
I felt a strong connection to this town that was devastated by a tsunami last 2004. Before embarking on this journey, I have heard news about the developments and how the Acehnese have worked hard to regain their lives after that tragedy.
This was my Banda Aceh scuba diving experience. Tourism of course will help any town.
I went first to Singapore to visit a friend. My early morning flight to Kuala Lumpur was not a good idea for my tired body after a day of fun in Universal Studios. I have exchanged some Indonesia rupiah cash in Changi airport.
How to go to Sabang, Pulau Weh
Once in Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport, I talked to a pair of French backpackers about the possibility of joining them to Pulau Weh. We needed to ride a taxi to Ulee Lheue (pronounced “ulele”) Port, take a RORO ferry to Sabang and ride another taxi to Iboih area were the French guys were able to look for a house beside the ocean.
This was my first solo trip. I know that to save money on transportation it is a must to join a group heading the same way. It was not easy at all! Safe bet is to talk to Westerners (or anyone who can understand English)!
We saved on the taxi ride from the airport. The French were good negotiating bargain price with the local drivers. It took us 20 minutes to reach the port.
The port itself was new. Constructed through an Australian aid after the tsunami. We bought economy class seats and once we were in the ferry, it turned out all seats were already taken so we end up in the hallway in the second deck of the ferry. We were playing cards, chatting and roaming around the ferry trying to kill the two-hour travel time to cross the sea to Sabang.
Touts again were many when we reached Sabang, the main town of Pulau Weh. The French tried to pull the same trick from the airport but it did not work. We were after all in an island and options were not many.
It took about 50 minutes to reach the Iboih area. The guys were able to look for a small room beside the sea and went snorkeling right after putting their backpacks on the floor!
As for my self, I tried walking about the whole stretch of the hillside road lined with “resorts” and homestays thinking I will be able to locate Steffen Sea Sports. I end up calling them for direction.
Steffen Sea Sports – Pulau Weh
It was just around 5pm when I walked towards the main street looking for transportation to Steffen Sea Sports. The road is deserted and I can only hear the sounds coming from a near mosque. That would explain the disappearance of people I thought. Then finally I saw a guy on a motorcycle. (He’s Christian, I found out later.)
I just asked him if he knows where Steffen Sea Sports is and instead of just telling me, told me that he will just take me there.
As a courtesy to his kindness, I told him I can pay and he replied that it was okay and no need to pay him. It was really moved by this generosity. He told me that he was part of a Christian church in Sabang and he personally know the owner of Steffen Sea Sports.
Steffen Sea Sports is a scuba diving homestay along the beautiful Iboih Long Beach. Pak Tua, Malaysian owner of Steffen Sea Sports even prepared free dinner when I arrived that first night. After dinner, I have met Harun and Danny, Malaysian divers who were already staying in the homestay for a couple of days. These guys are awesome and it was such a nice experience to connect with fellow divers who I have met for the first time. My dive in Pulau Weh was planned the next morning.
Other hotels/accommodations options in Pulau Weh:
In the beach I saw a small a bonfire and a group of people around it. I approached them and saw a Caucasian girl and two local boys. They were very friendly and told me to join them. They were drinking a local drink splashed with some gin, but I am not sure. It tasted good though.
What I can remember from that conversation is the story of the local guy during the tsunami. They were at school at that time when they heard shouts and a rumbling noise from everywhere. He bolted to run as well and within just a matter of seconds, when he saw downhill this brown wave of water, refuse and debris. I guess by that time, adrenaline had kicked in. He run as fast as he could. Ahead of him, he saw a young boy standing at the side of the street with outstretched arms. The boy was crying and and in his face he was begging someone to carry him. The local guy told us he did not carry the young boy. He was thinking that they will not make it if he had to carry the boy. Ever since he has been constantly thinking about what had happened to that boy.
Banda Aceh SCUBA Diving
Early morning I went to the beach of a stroll and went to the main road to see some of the local houses and sceneries. It was a scary experience hearing monkeys deep in the forest while walking alone in the road.
I walked back and had our breakfast in the house of a Dutch guy who decided to have a family in Indonesia.
We were programmed for two dives that morning. We went to Canyon and Rubia Sea Garden dive sites.
Being my first dive outside of the Philippines, I had some worries how will I handle these dives and in the Andaman Sea to boot!
The Canyon dive was a bit deep at 35 meters. We were underwater for around 45 minutes. I was not used to descending via backroll in a speed boat but was able to gather all strength and was able to do it efficiently.
We went back first before the 2nd dive. Rubia Sea Garden dive site is a shallow dive and kind of relaxing so to speak. Saw a pair of cuttlefish here.
The most memorable sight was the garden eels I saw.
Going back to Banda Aceh town proper
Checked out of Steffen Sea Sports and I requested for a car to bring me to Sabang port.
The car transfer cost me 150,000.00 IDR. Along the way we saw the downed electric post due that caused the blackout the night before. I saw some monkeys as well roaming the streets.
In Sabang Port, I have met a pair of medical reps going back to the main island. They are friendly and helpful since the clerk at the ticket booth cannot understand English. They were Henra of GSK and Thulus of Novo Nordisk.
Around Banda Aceh with Thulus
I was glad of this Indonesian hospitality. Thulus was more than happy to give me a short city tour of Banda Aceh.
First we went out to eat some snacks. Some local fruits with this sweet dip.
Next we visited PLTD Apung 1, the offshore generator weighing 2,600 tons. The tsunami was able to drag this 5 kilometers inland.
The town plaza is where you will see the Tsunami World Memorial Monument and the Tsunami Musuem.
You can also see here the airplane on top of a pedestal which was not damaged by the tsunami.
We passed by Baiturrahman Grand Mosque before eating Nasi Goreng Udang
After this, we went to the bus station for the overnight trip to Medan. Thulus will be taking a domestic flight. We were to meet in Medan.
I was really lucky to have someone accompany me on this solo backpacking trip.
It was something that made my Banda Aceh scuba diving really memorable.
If you are looking for Banda Aceh hotels/accommodations, would recommend: