Do you ever feel like escaping? Do you ever wish to disappear into a world that only responds to the laws and rules of nature? Such places exist, they just take a little bit linger to get to. Away from main airports and highways there stands a group of islands that gaze out onto the Indian Ocean and take comfort in pure nature, The translation of this place is Many Islands; Pulau Banyak or Banyak islands.
30 km off the west coast of Sumatra, sits a group of islands that for the most part lie uninhabited. What this means is that these islands have quickly become a safe haven for a rich variety of wildlife. There are only 2 ferries that carry the public to the out-lying islands, one from Singkil which leaves 3 times a week and one from Tapaktuan which leaves once a week. They both make stops in Palambak Besar and Balai, most of the accommodation is on these islands yet you can also travel again to Ujung Batu Island where more accommodation is available. The bungalows are basic and serve as a reminder of your quest to escape modern living.
These shores have been popular for thousands of years but not with regular tourists but with honeymooners you might say. To be more precise actually with turtles returning to the very same spot where they were born to lay their eggs and start the next generation. Green Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles are very popular here all year round. The Hawksbill is one of the smallest turtles species in the world at around 75 cm long and 50 kg in weight. If you are extremely lucky you will see the majestic and sadly endangered Leatherback Turtles, which also lay eggs in this area. How will you know the difference, easy, these turtles are around 180 cm long and 500 kg. If you are fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of one remember to show your elder some respect as these great great great grand parents are reported to live up to the age of 150 years old.
If you are not lucky enough to see these magnificent animals in the water then you can see them on land at night. Amandangan beach is open to the public yet under strict supervision of course. The beach lies on the most western island, Pulau Bangkaru and is famous for its turtle nesting beaches. The experience is thrilling as you quietly hide with your guide waiting for the sound of the turtle lumbering up the beach. You can make out the silhouette but you still have to contain your excitement until the turtle feels completely comfortable and secure then it digs a hole and leaves its eggs to mature. It is a truly wonderful experience and to see the little baby turtles making their way down the beach to the waters edge is somehow a spiritual act.
Getting back in the water you can enjoy wonderful reefs especially north of Haloban and south of Palambak Kecil where you are witness to colours and shapes that keep you there all day. It is possible to enjoy a spot of diving around the islands yet we recommend trying to swim unaided (not scuba) as it forces all your senses to truly appreciate all that is around you.
After you dry off the next places you should visit is Tuangku Island, which is the largest in the area, and the western coast is uninhabited. On the west coast you will find a series of caves to explore. Goa Tambego is a cave filled with stalagmites and stalactites and has a very different world experience. There are more caves at Pasir Panjang including the bat cave and a very famous cave where the nests of the Swiftlets are. These nests are famous as they are sold and made into gourmet soup dishes in Singapore and Hong Kong, yet this is only for the brave and foolish as there are reported to be crocs in the area.
At the end of the day no amount of modern entertainment can take away from the simplicity and splendor of a sunset over the Indian Ocean, welcome to a hidden paradise!
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