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Getting A-Weh 2 Jul 2009

Posted by cat64fish in Tales from the N2 bar.
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It was suggested that people might want to know about the actual travel arrangements to get to Pulau Weh, since such information might be a bit hard to come by. I’ve broken the travel bits into sectors for easier reference – our flights were all booked on Air Asia.

Sector 0: Home to Changi Airport
It is important to wake up on time! Our flight to KL was at 9am, so we needed to check in at about 7.30am. We managed to get to the airport at 8am, after battling the heavier-than-expected traffic – something to consider when you need to get to the airport during peak hours.

Sector 1: Singapore to KL
Our flight to KL (transiting at KL Low-Cost Carrier Terminal) was uneventful. Air Asia has an interesting policy on baggage – the ticket cost does not include baggage, and you only buy what you need, and there are provisions for “sporting gear”. Check Air Asia’s website for details.

We have a 3-hour transit at the KL Low-Cost Carrier terminal, which was good, because the KL LCC was quite happening, unlike Singapore’s Budget Terminal. Lots of makan places including the familiar golden M, and the not-so-familiar Old Town White Coffee Cafe. Remember to give yourself time to walk from the check-in counter to the gate … it’s a fair walking distance.

Chocolatey coffee and ice cream on waffles .. yum!

Sector 2: KL to Banda Aceh
The flight from KL to Banda Aceh departed 12nn and was only for 1.5 hours, over some heavily populated areas, but also over nice blue sea (if you like viewing the world from a higher perspective) – I just slept most of the weh .. I mean, way. We touched down at Banda Aceh Airport at 12.30pm local time. The usual (maybe not so usual for Singaporeans) scramble to get on the buses to ferry you to the exit gate, and another scramble through the tiny doorway into the airport proper.

The Banda Aceh airport, with its distinctive golden dome.

Sector 3: Banda Aceh airport to Ferry Terminal
Lots of time to spend before the 4 o’clock ferry – our driver (who also acted as a tour guide) took us to the “usual” tourist spots and we acted like tourists for a few hours. Eunice got hungry and took a chance at the “canteen” next to the ferry terminal.

The Rp67 BILLION Tsunami Museum.

The “ship” (actually a converted barge) that was pushed 5km inland by the tsunami!

Sector 4: Ferry from Banda Aceh to Weh
Fast ferry, looks a lot like the Singapore-Bintan ferries. Owned by a Singaporean, apparently. Comfortable executive class seats, the only downside is the cold cold aircon, and the karaoke video which they played. Same video on the way back.

The fast ferry.


The slow ferry (this shot was of the ferry leaving Weh for Banda Aceh).

Sector 5: Weh jetty to Lumba-lumba Resort
The only life in the fast lane you will see in Aceh .. the ride from the jetty to the resort is usually 40 mins along a winding mountain road barely wide enough for 2 cars – our driver took 30 mins! We had booked a private kijang for our journey to Lumba-lumba, assuming (and rightly so, we found) that we’d be tired out by the time we got to Weh and didn’t want the hassle of haggling with the local bus operators. The local bus would have been cheaper (about half the cost), but would stop along the way to let people off and would have taken 1 1/2 times as long to complete the journey.

All-in, the journey from Singapore to Weh took 10-12 hours. The way back from Weh to Singapore was basically the opposite of what was described: 7am – depart Lumba Lumba Resort, catch the ferry to Banda Aceh jetty, jetty to airport (there’s even time for another tour, of other interesting sites), Banda Aceh airport to KL LCC, KL LCC to Singapore and home. All in all, another 10-12-hour journey.

See my previous entry for a short write up on the diving, and mermate’s and my flickr accounts for what can be seen.

Weh out there! 1 Jun 2009

Posted by cat64fish in Tales from the N2 bar.
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Our little adventure to Pulau Weh, located off Banda Aceh, at the northern tip of Sumatra, was a big surprise! Despite the two-boat dive limit, the dive guides there were more willing than willing to tough it out with us one-and-half-hour divers, and I must say that even though we didn’t spot as many “critters”, the dive spots were so full of other things to occupy your time that we had a hard time leaving the water!

Batu Tokong was probably my favourite dive site for this trip – upon entering the water, we were greeted with clouds of fish – fairy basslets, red-tooth triggers, sergeant majors, fusiliers … it took our breath away to see the symphony of colour and form before our eyes.

Clouds of fish, especially the anthias, greeted us on almost every dive!

Schooling Collare butterflyfish …. so brilliant!

Even in the depths, reef life thrived, as the rows and rows of seafans spread out, and down, before us to more than 30m. Whip gorgonians were also plentiful and for once, the water was clear enough for me to capture a decent enough image to show how extensive they were.

Seafans, many even larger than this one, were common on the reefs.

Even the house reef, just a hop-skip-step-and jump away from the dive centre, was full of interesting creatures. Staghorn corals were everywhere (as were the urchins), and on the sandy flats in 18m of water, we chanced upon well-camouflaged seamoths and flying gurnards; but we missed the elusive mimic octopus and the “ambon” scorpionfish.

A cloud of cardinalfish covers what I called the “magic” rock.

Urchins aggregating on the sea floor at the house reef.

These two rabbitfish were usually hanging out by the anchor of the guide line that the dive resort used to guide its boats into shore.

Usual creatures roam the house reef, like this eel (not sure if it is a moray or a snake eel).

Some of the sites were not so friendly, however – Panting Penutung and The Canyons (on the western side of the island), for example, were difficult to get to due strong winds and rough seas. Some hearty souls tried for three days to get to Panting Penutung, succeeding on the third try, and rewarded with (besides the seasickness) with the sighting of a hammerhead. At another site, aptly called Arus (strong current in Bahasa), a few of the divers saw a manta.

We learned later, over an iced tea, from Aris, one of the more experienced dive guides, that whale sharks and mantas used to be fairly common before the tsunami, but nowadays, only the mantas have been spotted, and not too many at that.

Our stay was far too short to get a good feel of the dives sites. What we saw of the place was good enough that we are now planning a second trip (hopefully in July) there.

More photos can be seen at my and mermate’s Flickr.