Weh Island in Sabang. (JP/ Sita W. Dewi)
Here is where Indonesia officially starts. This small island is the northernmost point of the country and offers everything you need for adventure.
One cannot ignore the tsunami when talking about Aceh province. The province was devastated by a magnitude-8.9 quake and tsunami in December 2004. Hundreds of thousands were killed in one of the worst disasters in history. Most coastal parts of the province were destroyed.
When I visited Banda Aceh for the first time in August, I was stunned by how the city had been rebuilt over the past few years. I still got a sense of misery from the loss of family, friends and homes, and of the struggle to put the ruins behind and rebuild everything that was destroyed.
On my second visit to the province in December, I went straight to Weh Island in Sabang.
Sabang, a city of islands including Weh Island — the largest island — and other islets, including Rubiah, Seulako, Klah and Rondo, was much less affected by the tsunami than other parts of the province, such as Meulaboh and Banda Aceh.
Kilometer 0 Monument, Weh island. (JP/ Sita W.A fisherman unloads his catch, netted in Sabang waters off Aceh, early morning. (JP/Hotli Simanjuntak)
Visitors can still spot many colonial buildings and huge trees brought from Suriname by the Dutch, as well as enjoying Weh’s pristine beaches, which were barely developed as tourist areas before the tsunami.
Sabang has several beaches popular for diving and snorkeling that offer emerald-green waters and breathtaking underwater landscapes, including Gapang, Iboih and Sumur Tiga. Rubiah Islet is also among the best-known world-class diving spots in the country.
Sumur Tiga Beach, which has white sands stretching along 3 kilometers — is relatively close to the Balohan ferry terminal. It takes only about 15 minutes by car to reach the beach from the terminal, while it needs about an hour to reach Iboih and Gapang by car. At Sumur Tiga Beach you can find accommodations that provide beach-view bungalows.
Iboih and Gapang Beaches, where there are a lot of fine lodging options, are closer to the statue that was built to mark the country’s kilometer zero point, called the Kilometer Nol (KM 0) monument. The monument was inaugurated in 1997 by then research and technology minister, and later president, B.J. Habibie.
Setting foot on kilometer zero is one experience you should have when visiting Weh Island. It was built right at the point where the country starts, geographically speaking.
Besides taking pictures, you might ask for a certificate as a memento. The certificate, signed by the Sabang mayor on behalf of the Republic of Indonesia, recognizes your visit to the northernmost point of the country. I was listed as the 60,372nd visitor.
Sumur Tiga Beach, Weh island. (JP/ Sita W. Dewi)
The journey to the monument is another story. While meandering, you better watch your surroundings. Mesmerizing sea views from the cliffs, caves from the colonial era, a lake, islets, and beautiful beaches are among the objects you will find along the way.
Approaching the monument you will pass through a protected forest, north of Iboih. Colorful butterflies, birds and wild monkeys will welcome you as you get nearer to KM 0. You may even run into a wild boar inside the monument compound, but don’t worry, it should be harmless. Sunset is said to be the best time to visit KM 0.
On the way back (or probably on the way, if you choose to enjoy sunset at the KM 0), take your time and visit the beaches nearby. Hang out in a local coffee shop and take a sip of Aceh’s famous coffee, popularly known as kopi gayo. Snacks and cakes will be served as complementary.
If you are lucky, you will probably run into the legendary Mama Donut in Gapang beach.
Mama Donut is a brand established by Nilawati, a lady in her 60s, who sells donuts and fried snacks favored by divers and beachgoers. If you have a chance to meet her, don’t think twice before buying. Those small boxes of donuts sell out fast.
Tourists return with speed boats to Ulee Lheue Port, Banda Aceh, from Sabang. (Antara)
How to get there
Take a night bus from Medan, North Sumatra, or a flight from Jakarta, Medan, Penang or Kuala Lumpur to Banda Aceh. From Banda Aceh you can take a fast or a slow ferry from Ulee Lheu port to Balohan ferry terminal in Sabang. The trip with slow ferry will take up to three hours while the fast ferry only needs 45 minutes.
Banda Aceh – Sabang
Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 1 p.m.
Friday at 4 p.m.
Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Sabang – Banda Aceh
Monday, Tuesday Thursday and Friday at 8 a.m.
Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Express ferries (Express Bahari and Rondo)
Banda Aceh – Sabang at 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., except Friday at 4:30 p.m.
Sabang – Banda Aceh at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Aceh is a province with special autonomy that upholds sharia laws. Local residents will tolerate the behavior of tourists, but it is always better to respect their way of life, by, for instance, wearing appropriate outfit while getting around the city and talking with local residents. There are, however, tourist areas where you can freely put on your swimsuits and sunbathe. While rarely available in Sabang, alcoholic beverages can be found in western restaurants and resorts.
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