Billed by many as the Raja Ampat of Sumatra, Mandeh Bay and its surrounding islands are a tropical escape contrasted with epic history and ancient mythology. Fatris explores this true hidden gem for holidaymakers seeking peaceful respite in harmonious nature.
On the eastern-facing coast of one of these islands is a bay with calm waters lapping its shore. It was on these waters, in this pastoral scene of tropical Indonesia, that a erce battle broke out and two hulking Dutch ships met their demise. The year was 1942, and the global calamity of the Second World War was in full swing. The KPM Van Imho and Boelongan Nederland were the unfortunate vessels. The former was bombed beyond recognition, reduced to aming twisted metal and splintered wreckage scattered across the sea. The latter sank to the bottom of the ocean oor tens of metres deep, just o the coast of Mandeh Bay.
Seventy-three years later, the Boelongan Nederland has become a popular wreck dive. Its origins as a erce naval vessel are now in stark contrast to the bright ourishing coral life that clings to its hull and the schools of colourful sh that frequent the area.
I travelled here together with the intrepid photographer Fadli, and it was here that we met a Japanese man who came to explore the dive site. Akio, who wore thick-framed glasses and had a habit of apologising after every other word, was not here for lessons. He was here for a diving holiday, and the oceans were making his wishes come true. Akio and I were guests at the Cubadak Paradiso Village, a private island resort with just 14 bungalows facing Mandeh Bay. Cubadak Island itself is surrounded by smaller quiet islands: Setan (Demon) Island, Sironjong Island, Ular (Snake) Island, aptly named after its healthy population of snakes, and several other unusually named islets. These small islands are often compared to Raja Ampat in Papua. Akio was one of many visitors who had decided to holiday here after hearing the comparison.
Just 60km from Padang, the capital of West Sumatra, are the small coastal villages and access point to Cubadak. A drive along the winding roads from the city to Sumatra’s western coast split the view from the windshield in two, with the sparkling Indian Ocean on the right and the sprawling Barisan mountain range on the left. As soon as we arrived in the subdistrict of Koto XI Tarusan of the South Pesisir Regency, we caught a motorboat from the traditional wet market to take us to our island getaway.
Dominique was our host on the island. After welcoming us at the dock, she escorted us to a wooden hut made of sago palm and facing Mandeh Bay to enjoy an afternoon cup of co ee. I was simultaneously calmed by the stunning surrounds and energised by the fresh cup of Joe.
Afterwards she showed us to our serene bungalow. The silence was wonderfully deafening, with only the occasional breeze blowing strong enough to rustle the tree leaves.
Together with her husband Marco, Dominique, who hails from La Rochelle, France, manages the resort, which covers an impressive 17 hectares of rented land on the eponymous island, which itself measures roughly 1,500 hectares.
The other guests on the island included a honeymooning English couple, a German couple and an elderly couple who collected snail shells. This is de nitely a couples’ kind of resort. It doesn’t get much more romantic than this, especially for those into tropical seclusion.
The resort enjoys a steady stream of guests despite any economic downturn. “Weirdly enough, the number of guests has actually increased. We once had 4,000 nights booked in a year,” said Dominique, mentally counting the average of annual visitors. It’s an impressive number considering the resort only has capacity for 35 guests. Since its establishment in 1993, the number of local guests remains low, so it’s still something of a secret holiday island among Indonesians.
Days here are spent without the sound of televisions or the dull blare of tra c. Diving, snorkelling or simply oating around the shallow shores, watching the sh under the sea, feels like entering another world: one that is quieter, balanced, peaceful. Dinner is a communal a air, bringing guests from around the world together to converse and share the adventures they had that day.
Mornings, as you would expect on a healthily forested tropical island, begin with the singing of birds. The sun looks like a reball, a dramatic crimson orange glowing through a veil of seasonal haze. Wild deer and pigs graze and scavenge the forest oor, troops of monkeys swing from tree to tree, while ocks of small colourful birds utter between them.
After taking in the panoramas of life and nature around me over breakfast, I decided to explore further. We hopped into a small motorboat and crossed an estuary lled with mangroves towards the remote village of Kapo Kapo, where hundreds of people live with no electricity or any form of modern technology.
Every morning, a boat takes the village children to school on the Sumatran mainland to return in the afternoon. On Tuesdays, the women pack up and take the boat to the market behind the waves in Tarusan. From Kapo Kapo, we crossed Mandeh Bay. In the distance a village emerged. It was Mandeh, the village that had been growing in popularity in the last few years, with roads now being built to connect it to the subdistrict capital and provincial capital.
The village is known from ancient local myths of the matrilineal land of Minangkabau. Its name comes from the tambo, the verbal ‘holy book’ of ancient Minangkabau matrilineal customs. According to mythology, Bundo Kanduang (a holy woman) vanished into the sky from this village. The sky in the context of the legend refers to her home or origin.
On this bay, she was called mandeh, meaning ‘mother’, hence Mandeh Bay. This is the particular area that has garnered the comparison as the ‘Raja Ampat of West Sumatra’. It sounds like an exaggeration, but it is indeed a beautiful area. Nevertheless, I nd the two incomparable. Isn’t every land, every place visited, unique for its own histories and culture, its nature and wildlife? I didn’t come here to nd another Raja Ampat; I wanted to discover something di erent, experience something new, and Mandeh and Cubadak certainly delivered.
It’s quiet now, but soon the surge of holidaymakers exploring Sumatra’s Minangkabau Highlands will set their sights on Sumatra’s stunning coasts and the magical islands strewn across Mandeh Bay. I’m grateful to have enjoyed this peaceful place, but now, like Mandeh herself, it’s time for me to vanish into the sky (on a plane!)and return to my place of origin.