Sabang is a town on an island north of Banda Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra. Strictly speaking, the island's name is Weh Island (Pulau Weh) and Sabang is the main town on the north coast, but the names are often used interchangeably. Among locals the place is more often referred to as "Sabang" but among tourists it is well known as "Pulau Weh". The island is best known for its snorkeling and diving.
Pulau Weh (Weh island) is a small island off the northern tip of Sumatra. The western most point of the Indonesian archipelago is known as zero kilometer,or KMZero. It is best known by tourists for its world class snorkeling and diving.
Three weekly flights from Medan to Sabang airport.
- Fast Ferry (~1 hour, Rp 60,000-economy 70,000-business 80,000-VIP) leave at 9:30AM and 4PM from Banda Aceh and 8:30AM and 4PM from Sabang Pulau Weh. For the moment the fast ferry called "Pulo Rondo" only run once a day depart from Ulee Lheue pier (Banda Aceh) at 9:30AM to Balohan (Pulau Weh)and from Balohan (Pulau Weh) at 4PM. Until further notice. Motorcycles and cars are not allowed on the fast ferry but bicycles can be shipped for 50,000 idr.
- Slow Ferry (~2.5 hrs,Rp 18,000-economy 26,000-business 32.000-executive) Leaves Banda Aceh at 2PM and from Pulau Weh at 8AM. Sometimes there are two trips/day.
See the diving websites of Rubiah Divers and/or Lumba Lumba for up to date information in regards to getting to and from Medan to Banda Aceh and from Banda Aceh to Pulau Weh.
Travelling from Balohan port to Sabang costs roughly Rp30,000. From Balohan port (harbour) to backpacker hangouts of Gapang and Iboih Rp50,000 in shared transport (~1 hr drive) and to Sumur Tiga Rp25,000 in shared transport (~20 min drive). From Iboih to Sumur Tiga in shared transport costs Rp100,000 (~1 hr drive). Prices for minibuses (shared transport) from and to harbour are fixed (also if there is only one passenger in the car).
A possibly cheaper option is to arrange transport in becaks or on motorbikes. For this transport you need to bargain. You can also take the whole taxi for Rp150,000. Bargain hard, since the prices are not set (although the drivers try to show you written notes with prices).
Alternatively you can rent motorbikes at Iboih and Gapang and Sumur Tiga (Rp100,000 per day). Besides that bicycles are for rent in Iboih,Santai Sumur Tiga and several Places like Kartika and Holiday Hotel. If you want to cycle from the port to your hotel its best to rent a bicycle in Banda Aceh and take it with you on the boat.
There's not much to see in the city of Sabang, but it is worth a day trip if you have a motorbike to explore. The "downtown" of Sabang is on the harbor side of town. It is a street with long rows of small shops, most of which are closed up. There are a few banks here that accept bank cards for when you need additional cash. Follow the road up the hill and you'll drive past a Japanese bunker that has been converted into a park. The road along the ridge is lined with giant trees that create a canopy of foliage overhead. On this street, you'll also find a number of historic Dutch colonial buildings. Watch out for the historic markers in front of the buildings and parks around the city.
While there are guest houses (losman) in Sabang, you should head straight to either Gapang or Iboih beaches (40-50 minutes from the ferry).
The main reason to go to Pulau Weh is for the beaches. Relaxing, swimming, snorkeling, diving. Don't worry about doing anything else.
Kilometer Nol (Kilometer 0), the most Western point in Indonesia, is on Pulau Weh. You can rent a motorbike from Iboih for around 100,000 Rp/day and head out on your own, or rent a minivan and guide to take your group.
Swimming, whether above or below the surface, it the most popular activity around the island. Note that on Friday morning, the locals do not venture out in their boats. This makes it the most peaceful time of the week.
The shops in the village of Iboih have an abundance of snorkeling equipment available for rent. For as little as 30,000 IDR, you can spend the day drifting around the shore and exploring off the beaches. There are numerous reef fish close to shore. Local Indonesian people come here by the busload to don wet-suits and bright orange flotation vests to drift in the current and observe the sea-life.
If you are a strong swimmer, you can make your way across the channel to Rubiah island (and avoid the exorbitant 150,000 IDR per person fee charged by the local pirates, um, boatmen). The island has some nice snorkeling and there are places to eat and sleep as well. The "Sea Garden" off of Rubiah is a particularly good dive spot and provides a chance to see moray eels and turtles. Your hotel may be able to provide a boat and captain for as little as 150,000 IRD for half a day.
If you are a strong swimmer and can catch the right tide, you can jump in the channel at the boat pier and drift all the way to the Yulia hotel pier on the outgoing tide. Note that this will take you into deep water were there are fewer fish visible, so try to keep closer to shore.
Single dive starts at €25, cheaper the more you do. Island has around 20 dive sites which are way less populated than elsewhere in Indonesia, and the life under water is simply spectacular.
It's still considered a secret spot even among the diving community and Pulau Weh's reefs are genuinely untouched and offer something for every level of experience. The bottom topography ranges from large boulders on sandy slopes and deep volcanic pinnacles to craggy wall sections and coral gardens.
The house reef at Gapang Beach boasts a wide range of macro life including rare critters like Frog Fish, Star Gazers and Gurnards. Large pelagics like Mantas, Whale Sharks and Mola Mola also come to feed when the season is right. Pulau Weh offers some of the finest diving in Indonesia, yet it is still very much undeveloped.
- Rubiah Tirta Divers. Dive school based in Iboih, with a lot of restaurants and accommodations nearby. Has a big boat (under repair in early 2013) and two smaller boats, nice staff and many knowledgeable instructors and leaders. The place has a very collegiate atmosphere with lots of divers hanging out after their excursions. Local coconut artist Andy Coco works here as an instructor.
- Lumba Lumba Diving Centre. Popular western-owned dive operator in Gapang beach. Provides premium accommodations (for divers only). If you want something else than diving and hanging around with them 24/7, or tend to be more price-conscious, consider the other options.
- Steffen Sea Sports. Offers a more customized, relaxed and professional atmosphere with 31 years of experience. Owner is a great Malaysian guy that truly appreciates his customers and it shows in his attitude also. They had nice plans for future in Spring 2010, but are operating from Gapang near Leguna and Flamboyan resorts at least until 2011. Gear is new too, and maintained to strict standards. Highly recommended.
- SCUBA Weh. A new shop, just opened by a local diver (Salim) with fifteen years experience, offering courses and more personalized dives at about the same price as the other shops. He usually does two dives in the morning and one in the afternoon, depending on weather conditions. Because Salim keeps the number of divers limited to four, it's a good choice if you're diving with one or two friends as you can pick your own dive spots.
- The Padé Dive Resort, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Pade Dive Resort is located at Lhong Angen Beach on the very quiet westcoast of Pulau Weh. Here some of the islands' best divesites such as Batee Meuduro, Pantee Peunateung and The Canyon can be found. Well maintained rental equipment and NITROX is available for divetrips to all of Pulau Weh's divesites on the four boats. The housereef, which is also ideal for snorkeling, is easily accessible from the beach. The rooms are equipped with A/C, hot water shower, satellite TV and WiFi is available throughout the resort. Visa and Mastercard are accepted.
Your guest house can direct you to local fishermen and charter services. The fishing in the area is excellent, especially tuna. Some of the local restaurants will BBQ your catch if you give them enough notice.
- Mountain bike and bicycle tours in Sabang. Aceh Adventure organizes cycle tours on the island.
- Nothing Weh island is an excellent place to do absolutely nothing. Find a hammock and while away the day listening to your audio player or reading a book.
Learn Indonesian. Speak to Eva in Iboih beach
Dive instructors are in short supply at the local dive centres, so you might be lucky to find work here. Divemasters are plentiful both among the staff and guests, so I wouldn't get my hopes up.
You can only find ATMs in the city of Sabang, which is about 40 minutes from Gapang and Iboh beaches. Two of three ATMs in Sabang should accept mastercard and have a maximum withdraw facility of 500,000 so consider bringing lots of cash with you. Recent experiences show, that mastercard usage is dependent on the bank issuing the card. Get the necessary cash in Banda Aceh if you don't want to rely on Western Union money transfer with banks in Sabang.
Make sure you have lots of bills in 10,000 and 20,000 as restaurants, oddly enough, seldom have small bills. "You have small money?" is frequently heard when paying for a 30,000 meal with a 50,000 note.
In the village you find the ubiquitous, paper-wrapped take-away, Nasi Campur (7,000 IDR). Basically rice with some vegetables, maybe chicken (ayam) or egg (telur) depending on your request. The restaurants in the village are generally cheaper than those belonging to the bungalows. Few places have free WIFI.
Most restaurants have similar menus including fried noodle, fried rice (15,000 IDR) or curries (25,000 IDR). Banana pancakes, guacamole and avocado salads are excellent choices at most any of the bungalow restaurants. You can expect to wait as long as an hour for your food, even if the restaurant is nearly deserted. The best strategy is to arrive well before you plan to eat and place an order for a later time. Very few places serve alcohol. A few eating establishments that stand out include:
- Babah Dua has fresh fish and prawn every day, they make BBQ at night.
- Mama's that makes a superb chicken kebab. Also you can join in a 'family dinner' (25.000 IDR, start at 7:30PM; Acehnese 'island time'). Let her know in time that you want to join in.
- Mamamia is a smallish guest house on the jungle path that has a restaurant out front. You can be excused for missing it as it's quite small and set up the hill. Everyone sits around a single table so you'll get to know your fellow travelers quite quickly. The pancakes are particularly good. WIFI available.
- Olala is probably the most popular restaurant, often filling up by 8pm. Try the taco (which is really a pastie) or the superb pizza on pizza-night. They also do a fish BBQ if you order in advance (if you know how to cook fish, it's best to arrive early and supervise as it can often be overcooked). Beer available. WIFI available.
- Norma (at Oong's bungalows) makes home-cooked communal meals (25,000 IDR). Just swing by before noon to announce your attendance and you will be treated to a feast.
- DeeDees is right on the beach just past the Rubiah dive shop. Try the tempeh-burger, guacamole or the refreshing Tuscan bread salad. The most delicious meal is the (take a breath) chicken, avocado, mustard mayonnaise, salad sandwich. DeeDee also has a good selection of ice-cream treats including an impressive selection of decadent Magnum bars. WIFI available.
- Unnamed lime green restaurant in the village next to the motorbike parking area is one of the few places open as early as 07:00. It's a favorite for the local men and you will often see them lounging here with their colleagues.
Long Beach Just past Iboih is a beach referred to as "Long Beach." There is only one restaurant; Bixio Cafe is a bon fide Italian trattoria with very good food. Their tiramisu is exceptional! Worth the thirty minute walk from Iboih. Beer available.
Gapang Beach Gapang Beach has a few restaurants to choose from.
- Dang Dang Na is next to Lumba Lumba and serves a range of local and western food, prepare for a long wait though. Gado Gado is a peanut and salad based Indonesian dish well worth a try, also noodles and curry available. Best to order early as everything is on island time, and try to relax if your having to wait.
- Further down the beach there are Limbo Cafe, Zero Cafe and Mama Jungle (best to order in advance), all places can do fish and sometimes chicken BBQ's, give them a little notice first though.
- Barracuda is the newest around and also the last on the beach. Owners speak very good English, and serve a comprehensive menu with the tastiest food on Gapang.
Sumur Tiga For western tastes, visit the east coast of Pulau Weh. There are some accommodations at Sumur Tiga area.
- Further about 6 KM the newest comfort accommodation on Pulau Weh on Anoi Itam Bay the Rasa Seni Hotel Resort.
There are no nightclubs or bars on Pulau Weh, if you like to party this is the wrong place to go. Alcohol is generally forbidden in the entire Aceh province, however some places may have it available. Beer (25,000 Rp) and banana brandy (80,000 Rp) makes up the selection of the local poison.
Popular places for a sundowner at Iboih includes Ozone Restaurant and Olala. Oong's, Iboih Inn and Yulia's all have beer in the fridge for sale, if you prefer drinking at home.
At Sumur Tiga, Freddies has a menu of drinks inside the four-course meal restaurant. You can even get wine here. Casa Nemo serves beer.
Backpacker style beach huts with hammocks on the balconies from 50,000 IDR per night (long stay) up to 150,000 IDR (short stay) depending on the location and features of the bungalow (and your negotiating ability). Shared bathrooms (squat toilets) are the norm, but more and more bungalows with private western toilets are being built (~150,000 IDR), but many of these require a water bucket to flush.
Walk east along the road from the village and you'll find the newer, more expensive upmarket bungalows with air-conditioning (starting around 300,000 IDR). Walk west past the village and up along the path into the jungle to find the budget accommodations. If you are hauling a lot of gear and traveling with a group (or have met some folks on the bus ride), a good strategy is to leave all the bags with one colleague while the rest check out the guest houses. From the village you find the following in this order:
Erick's Green House. is a higher standard very close to the sandy beach. Erick speaks good English, is very together and in a fountain of information. As many of the rooms are attached to one building, there is a community feel to this place. Limited WIFI available. 60,000-100,000 IDR.
Fatimah's bungalows. 50,000 IDR.. There are a few right along the shore, but Fatimah has quite a selection of bungalows from which to choose.
Mamamia. 50,000 IDR. has accommodations that feel like you're living with an Aceh family; very home-like atmosphere.
Olala. started with two bungalows right on the water, but has since built a few more. If you're lucky enough to get one of the original shacks, you can watch the fish from the hammock on the balcony. 100,000 IDR.
Oong (Norma's place). Norma is the default location for return visitors. Expect a communal atmosphere with home cooked meals. Norma is an institution! 50,000-100,000.
Iboih Inn. More up-market, Iboih Inn offers a range of bungalows from cheaper smaller one with no views to huge air-conditioned places, right by the sea. This is the closest you get to luxury in Iboih. They also have their own dive shop. 100,000-370,000 IDR..
Yulia's Bungalows and Restaurant. At the very end of the path sits Yulia's. This place seems more professionally run (less of a family atmosphere). The views from the bungalows, their spacious positioning, the creative concrete walkways, and immediate access to one of the better snorkeling spots, more than make up for the long walk. As a bonus, the shared bathrooms have clean western toilets and showers. Exceptionally good internet access in the dining area. 90,000-150,000 IDR..
Although not much of a tourist destination in itself, there are a few guest houses (losman) on the harbor side of downtown and "resorts" on the seaward side of town. There are a few in the residential areas of town, too. If you want to splurge, you can stay at the sedate Sabang Hill Hotel (starting at 400,000 IDR). Although dated and rather tired looking, it's quite possibly the quietest accommodations on the island. It's worth visiting if only for the beautiful view.
There is less accommodation available right on Gapang beach. This means that the prices are higher, and it is somewhat more exclusive. There is a largish upscale resort close to the entrance to the beach, which offers some of the best accommodation on Gapang (glass windows, hot showers, a/c). Don't be scared away though, you can always haggle and the beach has more to do than Iboih for a non-diver.
Kincir Long Beach
Also known as Teupin Redeup. A secluded beach just before the forest reserve three km northeast from Iboih. Seulako View Cafe & Bungalows has three bungalows and 3 rooms above a friendly seafront restaurant. Divers at Steffen Sea Sports can book one of the dive centre's new, colourful rooms.
Sumur Tiga and Anoi Itam Bay
The newest accommodations with higher standard are to find on the east coast of Pulau Weh Island.
Fredies Santai Sumur Tiga with nice Bungalows (Fan)in traditional Style and Restaurant with good food and drinks.
Casa Nemo also with nice Bungalows (Fan) in traditional Style, hot and cold water shower (and bath), drinking water tank in the room, good views from the hammock and seats on the veranda. Diving provided.
Rasa Seni Hotel Resort Anoi Itam, the newest and most comfortable accommodation on Pulau Weh, with air conditioning, hot and cold water shower and studios also with bathtub and mini bar. Restaurant with international food and Asian specialties. Very good dive spots in front of the Resort in Anoi Itam Bay
Pulau Weh is at the end (or beginning depending on your point of view) of Indonesia. From here you can only go back to Banda Aceh.