FINDING SERENITY ON PANDANG ISLAND

Text & Photo by Yulin Masdakaty @youleeneith

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The island is perfect if you want long lazy days throughout which to indulge in your own sacred ‘me-time’.

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Welcome to Pandang Island

MARINE tourism has for a long time been the pride of many parts of the Indonesian archipelago. Wakatobi and Raja Ampat spring to mind as stunning major players, yet they’re not the only ones. A friend of mine hauled me along on a daring adventure to Pandang Island some time ago. Though I’d never heard of this place before, I was curious about the somewhat odd moniker, Pandang, which actually means “to see” or “to look” in Indonesian.

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From Medan, the capital of North Sumatera, we took a minibus to Batubara Regency, while another ride brought us to an unnamed dock in Bogak Village. It didn’t take long for me to figure out how we were going to get to Pandang Island. A fishing boat, one used by fishermen to earn their daily catch, was the only available means of transportation. There goes plain sailing, I thought. Furthermore the rental was a whopping Rp. 2 million per boat. Tough luck. Travelling in large groups I reckoned was the best way to go, with the bill equally shared among the passengers.

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It took four long aggravating hours to reach the island, swayed and buffeted by strong waves. But the ungodly journey paid off once I had stepped onto the fine white sand shore. The pristine natural sprawl was majestic, comprising many contrasts: grey limestone, emerald greeneries and azure sky beyond the ivory hill. Sounds of rolling waves, rustling trees and tweeting birds provided an ethereal soundtrack to this lost paradise. No pestering vendors or aggressive porter boys as far as the eyes could see… we had arrived on our own “private” island.

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Pandang is a small island. Sizing over three hectares in total, anyone can walk around it in less than a day. The island sits in Tanjung Tiram District within the Batubara Regency, approximately 145 km on the southeast of Medan. What Pandang lacks in permanent inhabitants, it makes up for in commuting fishermen, and marine officers who guard the border region between Indonesia and Malaysia. As such, no inns or cafés are yet established here, making a trip to the island practically a camping adventure.

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Fishermen and the salty morning

We brought along our own food and cooking utensils and some tents. If you’re the intrepid type, you can always lay a mattress down on the beach and sleep with the star-studded sky as your ceiling. For solid indoor comfort, you can rent one of the official residences of navy officers, which cost around Rp. 200,000 to Rp. 250,000 per night.

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Enjoying Sunset

The weather is pretty humid and sultry here. According to some fishermen I ran into, this was due to the island’s geographical position between two large land masses: Sumatera and the Malaysia peninsula. In the morning, the island sees fishing boats returning from the sea. During this time the saltiness of the ocean smells more pungent, yet that’s part of Pandang’s charm. In the evening, you can enjoy the warm breeze over a bonfire party.

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The island is perfect if you want long lazy days throughout which to indulge in your own sacred ‘me-time’ – at least that’s what I did. Let loose and sync to the laid-back pace of the island life. Time seems to go mysteriously slowly, making it hard to keep track of time here. Even after the snorkeling and trekking I did, it was still only 2 pm; I still had the whole day ahead of me. I guess you can say the days are all yours here.

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Trekking

Walk around the island, let the sand tickle your toes while you enjoy the beautiful ocean view, the gentle breeze, the salty air and the sound of waves crashing of the reef. You can also trek to the eastern part of the island to enjoy the view from the top without having to take a challenging climb. If you have strong legs, climb up to the 200 stone steps to get to the top of Batu Belah – which can be loosely translated as “split rock”. At the top, you’ll find a large rock that looks like it’s nearly split in two.

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Snorkeling

You don’t have to swim far out to sea to enjoy underwater beauty. You can easily see fish swimming around the shore, tempting you to take a dip. If you are interested in snorkeling or diving, don’t forget to bring your own equipment since there’s nothing available for rent here. I really enjoyed taking in the magnificent underwater scenes – following the Nemo-like clown fish or other beautiful creatures that like to play ‘hide and seek’. Once in a while some wild anglers take part.

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Tarik tambang, a game which give fun to everyone
Tarik tambang, a game which give fun to everyone
Getting there

From Medan, you can take the public bus (roughly Rp, 50,000 per person) to Bogak Village in Batubara District. However, because the island is located in the vicinity of the border, sometimes you have to obtain some kind of permission from the marine officers.

When to go

Any time is best time. The waves on the Malacca Strait are not as fierce as those in some other Indonesian seas, so the waters are considerably safe the whole year round.

Where to stay

There are no hotels, inns or the like here. But the official navy residences can be rented. The rates are around Rp. 200,000 to Rp. 250,000 per night.

What to eat

You can purchase seafood fresh from the ocean from the local fishermen. There’s nothing like grilling fish on the beach while enjoying the sunset.

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