I have never heard of Pulau Weh until I started diving early this year, when I was told of the beautiful reefs and marine life surrounding the island. So during the monsoon season (Oct-Feb) in South East Asia that usually sees most of the islands on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia close-off to visitors– I wanted to dive, and somehow, Pulau Weh seemed like a very attractive choice. Apart from the diving; it’s relatively unknown, almost untouched by mass tourism, and offers some much needed peace and quiet.
About Pulau Weh
If you want to travel as far up north of Indonesia as you can go, Pulau Weh is the place to head to. It is situated in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra island, and is part of the Acheh province.
The main religion of the province is Islam, and shariah law was applied here a few years ago– after the province was hit hard and suffered massive destruction from the tsunami of 2004. Though the law is observed moderately on the island, it is respectful to dress appropriately when visiting Weh Island.
There is an airport at Pulau Weh, but it seldom, or never offers any commercial flights. The nearest airport to get to the island is at the Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport in the capital city of Acheh, Banda Aceh. I got there from Kuala Lumpur by Air Asia, that has daily flights to the city, twice a day.
From the airport, it is a half an hour ride to the Ulhee-Lheue Port to board the ferry to Pulau Weh.
Unfortunately, the flight times and the ferry times don’t align– so upon arrival at Banda Aceh at 9am, I had to wait for almost a day for my ferry to Pulau Weh at 4pm. There are only two daily fast ferries to the island, the other trip is at 9.30am. It costs Rp.105,000 (US$7.5) per way for the VIP seats (cheaper for return) and takes an hour to reach. The slower ferries take 2 hours. The ferries stop at either Pulau Weh’s Balohan Ferry Terminal at the south side of the island, or at the main town’s Sabang Port.
I used my free time in Banda Aceh to get to know it a little better. Read about it: A Half Day Stopover in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
Pade Dive Resort
There are no luxury resorts located on the island– most of them are lodges and backpacker chalets. However, I wanted a little more comfort with certain added amenities like the air-conditioner and perhaps, a television; so I opted for the Pade Dive Resort (Book with AGODA). It is rated a 4-star resort, perhaps the only one on the island.
The Pade Dive Resort is located on the secluded Lhong Angen beach, in between the tourist areas of Iboih and Gapang, so transport is needed to get around.They have 14 rooms facing the sea or the garden; and all are small and thankfully, clean.
Don’t expect too much from the Pade Dive Resort, I honestly thought that it was not worth the price (approx. IDR1,000,000 / US$75 per night)– the hotel is pretty rundown and does not have many facilities, the restaurant was a disaster, and the beach was rocky and rather hard to access.
The resort did serve its purpose for me, though– I was diving for most of the day; and it provided me the privacy I wanted the rest of the time. Just me, the view and the sound of the waves hitting the beach.
Steffen Sea Sports
I did my dives at Steffen Sea Sports. The dive center has a no frills, laid back atmosphere that fits into the chill-out vibe of Pulau Weh. It is own by fellow Malaysian-Chinese Steffen Ng; a simple, honest and fun character who is living the life of a beach boy. With a quirky tag-line that says, “Divers, move your ass, please!”, I knew that I was in for a good time.
Steffen Sea Sports is located just a short drive away from Iboih Beach, and offers homestay lodgings as well. I especially love the hangout area of the dive center– Steffen has liven it up by placing self-made wooden structures and sculptures made up of branches and unused dive materials all around the place. Great for pictures!
When it comes to diving, Steffen and his divemasters are very professional. Dive times are flexible– we did 3 dives a day, and decided what time we wanted to head out and where we wanted to go (of course, with due advice).
As a new diver, I learned many things just talking to Steffen during surface time. Diving is the main focus here, and I always felt save and comfortable.
Diving in Pulau Weh
Most of the dive sites in Pulau Weh are centered around the north portion of the island; close to the Iboih and Gapang beaches– so it only takes a few minutes to get to them. After every dive, the speed boat returns to the dive center.
During my visit in November, the entire sea was filled with jellyfishes… and they stung! Visibility was pretty good so I could avoid them; however, the currents were quite strong at several sites and it made some of my dives a little daunting. Thankfully, all went well– and here are some of the dive sites I visited while in Pulau Weh.
My dive at East Seulako came with moderate current. This site is at the eastern part of Seulako island just off the coast of Pulau Weh, and has a slight slope down to about 25m. It is filled with corals and volcanic rocks; and is home to large schools of fishes and many honeycomb moray eels. During this dive I spotted huge tunas and an eagle ray.
The topography of this dive site is almost similar to East Seulako with its volcanic rocks, but it is on the western side of the island. It also has a gentle slope down to the depth, and houses many moray eels, trigger fish and puffer fish. The current here is mild, but can occasionally get strong.
This dive site is located towards the south of Seulako. It was a very unnerving dive as the currents ripped through all directions– I felt like I was in a washing machine! To prevent myself from being swept away, I had to hold on to the volcanic rocks and boulders. I saw some small rays here, as well as a whole cluster of eels.
I aborted my first dive at Batee Tokong as the strong circular currents were too much for me to bear. I tried again the next day, and it is now my favorite dive site in Pulau Weh. It centers around a set of pillars sticking out from the sea, and goes deep down along a sloping wall. It is covered with beautiful corals and huge sea fans; and is home to the small stuff, as well as numerous eels, octopuses, and really huge fishes– there is a resident gigantic grouper here.
This is one of the more popular dive sites in Pulau Weh, and drops to about 60m. The canyon starts from an overhang that leads to a set of twin pinnacle walls. The walls help break the current, and the canyon channel provides a leisurely dive to view some of the small critters and majestic corals. I also spotted triggers, puffers, trumpets, crabs and lobsters.
This popular dive site is also one of the furthest– but boy, is it worth it. Penateung is the place to see the big’uns, and I was lucky enough to see eagle rays, black tip reef sharks, as well as the gigantic fishes (barracudas, trevally, groupers) in schools. This site is more suited for the experience divers; it goes down very deep and has ripping currents too. After my dive, I heard that another dive group got drifted away.
Other Interesting Sites:-
With only 3 days to explore the dive sites; I had to miss several interesting ones. There are a couple of wrecks around the island to explore, as well as an underwater volcano with thermal activity. I heard that the water is warm, and it bubbles. These are sites to visit the next time I go back!
This dive trip to Pulau Weh has put me in several situations that I don’t ever want to be in. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed each and every one of my dives and learned something from it. The drift dives were particularly hard for me– I am still not stable enough underwater, and being pushed around by the currents got me all panicky. I aborted a dive because of this; and it got worse because the waves were so high that I got drifted off into the open sea upon resurfacing. Luckily they found me and my buddy– bobbing around aimlessly in the ocean. Now, that was an experience.
I’m up to 36 dives now, but I am still a very nervous diver (it’s alright to admit that!)– so I must remember to always remind myself to stay calm, collected and alert underwater. Always.
There many other things to do in Pulau Weh as well, click here to find out:- Mynn’s Top 10 Things to do in Pulau Weh, Indonesia.