Pulau Weh and Banda Aceh

Old Nov 25th, 2012, 03:16 AM
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Pulau Weh and Banda Aceh

I thought I'd get started on this trip report for ya. I've been on Pulau Weh for two full days now and just finished the second great day of diving.

For those that don't know it, Pulau Weh is just off the northern tip of Sumatra. At the northernmost tip of the island is a monument to "kilometer zero" - the northern and western most point in Indonesia. Getting here is actually rather easy, although owing to connections I had to spend a night in KL to get here from Bangkok. The other option from Bangkok would have been Penang, but KL was cheaper. We flew in to Banda Aceh airport, had a car and driver meet us to take us to the ferry for a 30 minute high speed transfer to Pulau Weh, and then another 30 minute drive to the Lumba Lumba resort on Gopeng Beach.

Lumba Lumba is one of a half dozen or so resorts on the island, most of which cater to divers. The diving - four dives so far - has been amazing. I'd say it was better than Similans is now, and almost as good as Komodo. The diving has been a little easier, on the whole, than Komodo. Haven't seen anything too big, except moray eels. They have some of the biggest I've ever seen, and there have been both green and honeycomb morays on every dive. I've never seen so many of them, and on the last dive one about six foot long was swimming free, and I swam along with it for about five minutes.

The resort is very nice, although there's no AC in the room, which is an adjustment for me. There are other resorts more luxe than this though. The place is very laid back. It seems almost deserted at times, even though there are about 20 people staying at this resort, and others around the island. We've been sampling the food, which is mostly local style. It's generally very good, although the service is very slow, so when ten of us show up it can take two hours to get all the food served. Last night we went to a special dinner at a new Italian place two beaches up. It was very good, and the tiramisu was really excellent (but no alcohol in it).

I've got three more full days of diving, and then I'm staying in Banda Aceh a couple days before going home. We saw a few things on the drive through town, so it looks interesting. I'll report more about Pulau Weh again before then, I hope.
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Old Nov 25th, 2012, 03:27 AM
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Hi Michael, always glad to hear more about parts of Indonesia I haven't visited even though I'm not a diver.
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Old Nov 28th, 2012, 06:58 PM
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Just packing up to leave Pulau Weh. The Internet connection is a bit iffy here at the edge of the world, so I haven't updated as much as I planned. Every dive has been fantastic, including the house reef just in front of the dive resort where I'm staying. Yesterday we did an easy wreck dive over in the harbor of the main town, and then came back to dive on an underwater volcano/hot spring. That was an amazing experience. There weren't many fish around the vents, but the ones that were there were very docile, so I got a lot of good picture.

We took an afternoon off from diving to see a few of the sights of the island, and there aren't many. There was a waterfall, which was pretty although not spectacular, but the walk there was really enjoyable. It started out going through some small farms of palm, coconut, cocoa and herbs, and then transformed into a deep jungle ravine that took a little agile stone hopping to get through to the waterfall. We also went to the main volcanic vent, which was smaller but similar to the one on the Dieng Plateau. The sightseeing ended up at a small resort on the east coast. As there isn't much diving here, the resort caters more to those just looking for a relaxing beach holiday. The beach here is very nice, and the resort sits on the side of a steep hill going down to the beach, so there are wonderful views out to the east (e.g. sunrise).

We had a big feast last night at one of the best places on the beach where we're staying. The food here isn't fancy, and the service can be glacial, but it can still be quite enjoyable. I'm off in a few hours to catch the ferry back to Banda Aceh. I'll be staying there a few days to look around before heading back to Bangkok. I'll post more about the city soon, but you can see a few pictures of around the island here:

http://asiaforvisitors.com/blog/2012...ion-pulau-weh/
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Old Dec 1st, 2012, 02:23 AM
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Just back in the hotel after my second day wandering around Banda Aceh. In truth, there's not a lot to see here. You could probably see the main sights in a half day or so, but I'm finding that it's a nice place to linger and just hang out. I've been traveling all around Indonesia for most of 10 years, so I'm used to Indonesians being so much more outgoing that Thais, but I have to say the Acenese are extraordinarily friendly. I'm greeting almost everywhere I go, especially places like the fresh market (where, in Thailand, I might as well be invisible.) Of course, part of that may be due to the extreme rarity of tourists. In two whole days, since my dive buddies departed, I've seen a grand total of exactly ONE other westerner.

Sadly, the friendliness doesn't mean you can have a friendly chat. Their English tends to run out soon after "Hey, mister!" But, I'm getting by on my smattering on Indonesian.

So far, I've seen the center of town, the tsunami museum and the Aceh museum, as well as the few significant buildings that are still around. There wasn't much before the tsunami, but what was left is well preserved and restored. The new tsunami museum is really impressive and touching. There's one room, like a little domed masjid, where the walls are covered with the names of the dead, while a prayer is constantly said for them. Tomorrow I'll go see the two big boats that were washed far inland and left as memorials.

The nice thing about this town is that when you want to take a break, you can just pop into a coffee shop. When you order a coffee here (and Aceh is famous for its coffee) they automatically give you a plate (or two or three) of sweets. They're included in the cost of the coffee, which is just 75 cents to maybe a dollar or so. They make coffee the old fashioned Asian way, with a big fabric bag of coffee soaking in a pot of water. When you order, they pull up the bag and pour a little fresh hot water into it, letting the coffee filter into the cup. It's strong and delicious. There's not a lot of fancy places for food, but what you find is generally pretty good, local fare.
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Old Dec 1st, 2012, 03:42 PM
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Sorry I wasn't able to stop in Banda Aceh when I visited Indonesia 10 years ago because of the unrest. It's still on my list.
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Old Dec 1st, 2012, 05:17 PM
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Funny you should mention that. I was sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for the afternoon rain shower to finish, when a couple came up to me. They were giving away free cigarettes for a promotion. I don't smoke but they wanted to talk to me anyway. "Aren't you afraid of the tsunami or fighting?" the guy asked.

"No, those things were a long time ago," I answered.

"But you aren't afraid they'll happen again?"

"They can happen anywhere," was my answer.
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Old Dec 1st, 2012, 05:46 PM
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Good answer, Michael. I had someone ask as me in Java if I wasn't afraid of being bombed. I said I was more likely to be caught up in something in my own country than in Java.
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Old Dec 1st, 2012, 06:05 PM
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The agent (Indonesian) was unwilling to book the trip to Banda Aceh. In the end I trusted her judgement, but I think the trip wasn't nearly as interesting as it might have been.
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Old Dec 2nd, 2012, 03:58 AM
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LOL, Kathie, you were in Jogja with I don't know how many cubic miles of ejecta still waiting to slide off Merapi, and the guy thought you'd be worried about a bomb?
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Old Dec 2nd, 2012, 08:28 AM
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So true, Michael!
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Old Dec 3rd, 2012, 09:01 PM
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Just got home last night, after a loooong day of travel, so time for a little wrap-up:

First, for the trip home. Unlike getting there, it was possible to make connections in KL for a same-day flight from Banda Aceh to Bangkok. I booked flights that gave me a four-hour layover in KL, but as the travel time grew near I began to worry if that was enough. If there was any delay in the incoming flight, the long lines at baggage drops that seem to be inevitable at the LCCT might make me miss my flight. I started hearing from one or two other travelers who had tried Air Asia's new "red carpet" service, and thought it might be worth giving it a try for the return leg of my trip from KL to Bangkok.

The Red Carpet service basically provides all the ground-side amenities you would expect in business or first class travel - dedicated bag-drop line, lounge access, special queues at immigration and security, priority boarding and a buggy ride to the aircraft. I thought the idea of not waiting in line for a half hour or more seemed worth it, so I booked the red carpet service for the KL to Bangkok leg of my trip for about US$30.

Of course, given the way life works, once I paid for that little bit of 'insurance' everything that could go right, did. Three days before I left Banda Aceh I got an email from Air Asia saying my flight to KL had been moved up almost an hour earlier. The new flight not only took off on time, it landed in KL early. Even though it seemed several international flights had landed at the same time, it looked like another queue opened at immigration just as I got there and I was able to walk right up to an open counter, where the officer stamped my passport without the usual extensive thumbing through it looking at all the other stamps. By the time I got my bag, I still had five and a half hours to spare.

I checked in at the kiosk and then dropped my bag at the red carpet counter, which had absolutely no queue. From there I was *escorted* to the Plaza Premium Lounge. When I booked the service, there was a note that lounge access was only for two hours, but the lady said I could stay as long as I liked, and could even go out to eat and come back if I wanted. The lounge, which is run by the same people who run the lounge in the main terminal as well as several other airports around Asia, was not too fancy but comfortable enough. There was lots of room to sit, plenty to eat and drink, and a fairly good wi-fi connection (better than the free one of the airport).

I eventually got bored with the lounge and left to wander around a little before making my own way to the departure lounge. Outbound immigration and security have never been very long at LCCT in my experience, so I didn't really need the red carpet treatment for that. When the scheduled boarding time came around, I was standing in the line when one of the AirAsia ladies came up to me and told me the flight was delayed (they hadn't made any announcement about that, and never did). She invited me to take a seat and said she would come get me when the plane was ready. As it happened, the plane was almost an hour late, but they did come fetch me and took me to the plane before anyone else. The plane was parked in the bay closest to the gate, so we didn't even use the buggy.

I'm not sure if I'd use the service again. I didn't really need it, as things turned out, but it was probably worth it. Considering that a one-off lounge access on its own is around $20 or more, the cost isn't unreasonable (the lounge also has showers, so for a long layover it might be handy for that).

The other new 'thing' from Air Asia you might wish to note is consolidated travel 'packages' in Thailand. For example, through their web site you can book travel from Bangkok to Phi Phi which includes the flight, ground transport and ferry, all in one booking. They work out which flights to which airports work best and only present you with the ones that work.

As for the destinations: I would definitely like to go back to Pulau Weh for more diving, and perhaps a little more sightseeing, although I don't think there is much more to see. I would have liked to spend some time exploring Iboih, the more developed beach area (though still not very developed) and of course the diving is right up there almost with Komodo. The place would appeal to non-divers who really want get away from the bustle of most typical beach destinations, and don't mind 'rustic' accommodations. There are a couple of fancy places on the island, but no name brands.

As for Banda Aceh, I really enjoyed my time there, but I have to admit there's little there to make it destination worth putting on your itinerary if you're not already in the area, whether it's on your way to Weh for diving or swimming, or to the southern side of Sumatra for surfing (saw lots of surf boards on the flights there and back.) It's a rather pleasant place to be, but there isn't a lot to see.
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Old Dec 5th, 2012, 06:31 AM
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I really enjoyed your report, Michael.
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