Weh Island

Weh Island

Weh island ('Pulau Weh' in Bahasa Indonesia) is a small island just off the northern tip of Sumatra, and is located directly north of Aceh city ('Banda Aceh'). Since Sumatra is the northernmost of Indonesia's large islands, Weh island has been bestowed the honour of having the (so-called) most northern point of Indonesia, a point that is called 'Kilometer Nol' (Kilometre 0). There are however, a few other rocky outcrops and small islands further north (such as Rondo Island), so I suppose that Kilometer Nol should more accurately be known as the most northern point of Indonesia that is connected by road!

Before we go any further though, let me tantalise your tastebuds with this terrific teaser of Weh island, filmed and edited by a close friend of mine, Andy Saiden:

Weh island is most often referred to as 'Pulau Weh' but you will on occasion find locals who refer to the island as 'Sabang', the name of Weh island's largest town. The island is famous for the magnificent scuba diving sites that are scattered around the north-western tip, but the island remains relatively uncongested despite this. This is most likely because of two reasons: the area has had to be rebuilt from scratch after the devastating tsunami of 2004 (triggered by the magnitude of 9.3 Sumatra–Andaman earthquake, the epicentre just off the west coast of Sumatra); as well as the relative difficulty in getting to Aceh province from Malaysia prior to AirAsia opening up routes to Banda Acheh from Kuala Lumpur (despite being right next door).

Getting There

Once you manage to make your way to Banda Aceh, you'll need to get to the Ulee Lheu Port (Banda Aceh jetty) for one of the ferries that goes to Balohan Port on Weh Island. You basically have two options: a fast ferry (Pulo Rondo or Express Bahari) that will take you about an hour and costs IDR80k, departing at 09:30 and 16:00 (08:00 & 14:30 from Balohan Port); and a much slower ferry for vehicles that will take you two hours and costs IDR25k, departing twice a day with the times of departure changing depending on the day in question. I strongly, strongly recommend the former as the latter is absolutely agonising. Both of them tend to be very packed but the fast ferry is obviously much quicker, smoother, and has (very cold!) air-conditioning, which means that you won't end up suffocating from secondhand cigarette smoke. Be sure to board the boat half an hour before departure as there are no announcements at the jetty.

Please purchase your tickets directly from the ticketing booth in order to avoid scams, or ask your taxi driver if he could assist in getting them for you - I'd recommend Usman ( +62 813-7709-7760) if you are looking for a friendly taxi driver to get you from the airport to the jetty and back, or just to take you around the city itself. If you book a diving package with one of the dive resorts, they will normally sort all this out for you--the taxi from the airport, the ferry to the island, and the pickup from Balohan to your hotel. Just make sure you confirm all of this with them beforehand.

Transportation from Balohan to Iboih is either secured by the dive resort or hotel, or after tedious negotiations with the drivers. Expect to pay around IDR50k each for shared transport. The drive itself takes about 45 minutes, and you will find that the narrow, windy roads will showcase the hidden beauty of this small island. Keep your eyes open about 15 minutes into the journey as you will pass some dramatic landscapes over on the right.

Directions from Balohan jetty to Iboih beach

Nearest Hyperbaric Chamber
RSAL J. Lilipory Sabang

Jl. T. Chik Ditiro,

Sabang (Pulau Weh) 23511

Email: liliporyhyperbaric@yahoo.com

Telephone: +62 (652) 21302

Sulthon Hakim, Handphone: +62 87 739 510 520

Iboih Beach

Iboih is home to Rubiah Tirta Divers, the first dive centre to be established on the island. The dive centre was founded by the late Mr. Dodent way back in the 70s, and is now run by his tree sons: Iskander, Yudi, and Isfan. Mr. Dodent was one of the first to advocate for the protection of Weh's marine environment, and helped Iboih to achieve Recreational Park status and Weh island to achieve Marine Park status, ensuring the protection of the area. Mr. Dodent was even given awards in recognition of these efforts. Rubiah Tirta has a very relaxed and jovial atmosphere and is pretty affordable, offering very reasonable prices for both fun dives as well as PADI courses. Rubiah Tirta Divers can be contacted by phone on +62 652 3324555 or by whatsapp on +62 823 60002100. Bear in mind that there is no diving permitted on Thursday nights and Friday mornings!

There are plenty of eateries around Iboih to choose from, my all-time favourite being Deedee's Kitchen, a small restaurant that is run by Nurdiana and her family. The restaurant itself is set right on the beach, and the ambient sounds of the lapping of the waves against the shore just below leave a very relaxed atmosphere. The food from there takes a bit of time to arrive but it is well worth the wait as the food is fantastic! While waiting for your food, be sure to give their free WiFi a shot as it seems to be much faster than most other places around Iboih.

Diving Weh

Weh island is located in the Indian Ocean, so shares the same diving season as other islands along the west coast of Malaysia and Thailand. Peak season runs from November to April, since winds tend to be calmer and there is less chance of rain, but diving is definitely possible all year-round. The types of diving are very diverse here and range from spectacular reef and wall formations that have humongous gorgonian sea fans (Gorgonia spp.) scattered around, relaxed and slow macro dives, to strong drift and decompression dives for the more experienced divers.

Interactive Location Map

Hover over the dive sites to uncover their names

The Canyon
Pantee Peunateung
Bak Kopra
Batee Gla
Shark Plateau
Batee Tokong
Arus Paleeh
Rubiah Sea Garden
Tai Wreck
Gapang House Reef
Limbo Gapang
Underwater Volcano
Sophie Rickmers Wreck
Anoe Itam

My Top Three Dive Sites

1. Batee Tokong

Batee Tokong seems to be everyone's favourite dive site in Weh island and once you dive here, it is very easy to see why that is. Batee Tokong consists of a huge rocky pinnacle that breaks the surface of the ocean and drops steeply down to the seafan-littered underwater plateau 25 metres below. The scenery is spectacular and the marine life is very diverse and extremely rich, with cute yellow boxfish swimming around (Ostracion cubicus), plenty of lionfish (Pterois volitans) and scorpionfish hugging the reefs, a seemingly infinite number of redtoothed triggerfish (Odonus niger) always surrounding you, and baracudas, bluefin trevallies (Caranx melampygus), and tuna occasionally spotted in the distance.

Nudibranchs and moray eels are very common here, with almost every crack and crevice filled with either a giant moray (Gymnothorax javanicus), a fimbriated moray (Gymnothorax fimbriatus), a honeycomb moray (Gymnothorax favagineus), or a blue ribbon eel (Rhinomuraena quaesita). The occasional octopus (Order: Octopoda), other cephalopods, and peacock mantis shrimps (Odontodactylus scyllarus) can be also be glimpsed here. Shark Plateau is next to this dive site so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for blacktip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) too!

2. The Canyon

The Canyon is known for its spectacular caves, swim-throughs and magnificent rock formations. Gorgonian sea fans can be found scattered everywhere as you follow the steep walls of the canyon in, surrounded by all sorts of marine life from the occasional peculiar robust ghost pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus), massive jacks and wrasses, to lionfish and scorpionfish way down below. Plenty of redtoothed triggerfish (Odonus niger) and solitary titan triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens) are normally found here. A lot of pelagics can also be spotted when the conditions are right, and this includes an assortment of rays and sharks. Don't forget to swim through the swim-through!

3. Pantee Penauteung

The rock formations of Pantee Penauteung are as spectacular as its sister-site, the canyon, with a series of vertical drop-offs and steep walls that enclose you on both sides. Large gorgonian sea fans (Gorgonia spp.) are abundant here and make a dramatic backdrop when glimpsing larger pelagics like sharks or the ocellated eagle ray (Aetobatus ocellatus). Once you reach the channel with a sandy bottom, keep an eye out for whip coral shrimps (Pontonides unciger) hiding on strands of whip corals. There are plenty of blackspotted pufferfish (Arothron nigropunctatus) and gem sea slugs (Goniobranchus geminus) scattered around here, as well as the occasional titan triggerfish (Balistoides viridescens) and clown triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum).​

Although the Sophie Rickmers Wreck isn't included int my top three dive sites, I do think that it is definitely worth a mention. Sophie Rickmers is a 134 meters-long German World War II cargo ship that was sunk by her own crew in May 1940 in order to avoid confiscation by the British. The wreck lies at a maximum depth of 60 metres so requires a decompression dive by experienced divers only.

Next : Weh Island (Part 2)

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