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Introducing Pulau Weh

A tiny tropical rock off the tip of Sumatra, Pulau Weh is a small slice of peaceful living that rewards travellers who've journeyed up through the turbulent greater mainland below. After you've hiked around the mainland's jungles, volcanoes and lakes, it's time to jump into the languid waters of the Indian Ocean. Snorkellers and divers bubble through the great walls of swaying sea fans, deep canyons and rock pinnacles, while marvelling at the prehistorically gargantuan fish. This is one of the finest underwater hikes you'll find. Both figuratively and geographically, Pulau Weh is the cherry on top for many visitors to Sumatra.

Don't come expecting lazy days on sprawling beaches with swaying palms, though; the stretches of sand are generally short, rocky strips met by the ocean's emerald-green coral garden. Most visitors spend their days underwater, ogling the dazzling kaleidoscope of marine life. Along the twisting island road are little villages with underwear-only kids playing in the yard, lazy cows tied up to a green patch of grass and scrappy goats looking for garden victims.

Pulau Weh is shaped roughly like a horseshoe. On the northeastern leg is the port town of Sabang, where most of Weh's population lives. The primary tourist beaches are Gapang and Iboih, which are about 20km away heading towards the northwestern leg. In the bendy-palms and sandy-toes stakes Iboih probably just outclasses Gapang, but for the best beaches of all, pack a towel and saunter down to Pantai Sumur Tiga. Near Sabang, the beach here is fabulous. Accommodation prices are often too painful for backpackers, but it suits midrange cruisers looking for a few blissed-out days.

Note that malaria has been reported on the island, so take the proper precautions.

It's always a little rainy on Weh, which has two monsoon seasons. But that shouldn't matter, as you'll be underwater most of the time anyway. Plus the rain keeps the island green and lush, and the water full of plankton, which draws in underwater giants such as manta rays and whale sharks.

A word of warning: Pulau Weh's allure is such that many a traveller's itinerary has been blown out by weeks or even months by what is regarded by many as the best diving in Southeast Asia.