Bays and Balinese air in Sumatra

Boat ride to spot dolphins

Southern Sumatra’s forked pieces of land punctuate slender and turquoise bays that face almost all directions.

Driving up from the port of Bakauheni all the way up to Teluk Kiluan (Kiluan Bay), one can pass by different bays, big and small. The journey will draw an imperfectly inverted V shape taking you upward from one fork to another while navigating around Lampung Bay, which itself is surrounded by small sub-bays. The landscape is a seemingly identical extension of Java’s Banten with its hilly roads and vegetation-filled acres criss-crossing coastal lines. Past the highway, getting into the country roads will bring you even closer to the hidden bays whose beaches provide weekend spots to tourists from Bandar Lampung and beyond. 

On the way to Kiluan

The presence of Balinese temples might bring a surprise revision in the itinerary. In the case of tropical beach-seeking travellers who might not research into cultural aspects of a place much, the sudden appearance of gopuras, the penjor (curved and decorated bamboo poles seen in front of Balinese temples) and the big-eyed, expression-filled statues of Gods and Goddesses can trigger an awkward form of deja vu. The Balinese migrated to various parts of southern Sumatra as a result of the Indonesian Transmigration policy from 1948 to around 1986 and the eruption of Mt. Agung in 1963 that left thousands homeless. Ever since the settlement, they have become a part of Lampung’s mainstream life, indulging in various forms of agriculture and trade, creating a little Bali miles away from Bali. 

Come the weekend, the tourist buses are busy running back and forth from the town of Bandar Lampung to various beach destinations like Tegal Mas island and Pahawang island which lie on the way to Kiluan. Their journey ends at a place called Pesawaran from where they turn left to reach the holiday spots. Venturing further down needs a little bit more patience and a willingness to ride the rough road and descend to the shores of Kiluan. The road after Pesawaran has many patches that need smoothening. Driving gets very tedious in these bumpy, pot-holes-filled area. The best way to survive this ordeal is to stop by at some of the beaches on the way and take in the beauty of the seascape around Lampung Bay. 

The Kiluan Bay lies facing west, not far from the Sunda Strait and the Anak Krakatau volcano. The narrow strip of water in the bay is pretty clear and green and holds an island which is called either Pulau Kelapa (Kelapa Island) or Pulau Kiluan (Kiluan Island). The former features on the welcome board on the beach, but the island’s only dweller, an old man who stays in a long house, insists it is Pulau Kiluan. He has three or four rooms in his long house that he rents out to tourists for 150.000 Rupiah per night. A five minutes ride on slender outrigger boats called jungkung will get tourists to the island from the bay. 

Pulau Kiluan

The Kiluan Bay is home to one of the calmest fishing communities I have seen in Indonesia. The long and U-shaped arch that is dotted with jungkung and some other larger fishing boats has a routine that everyone follows judiciously. The fishermen have a double business – fishing and taking tourists on a sea ride to spot dolphins. The waters off Kiluan are one of the best places in the country to spot Bottle-nosed and Spinner dolphins. The ride usually starts at 6am and lasts an hour or more. While many tourists are lucky enough to have glimpses of springing dolphins that pop out of the water without warnings, some are even luckier to have them swim along with their jungkung. However, there are some (like me) who have to be contented with views of the vast ocean and a smooth ride on a calm sea. 

Kiluan Bay

Tuna is the best catch in Kiluan’s waters. Fishermen set off at dusk to the outer sea and return at sunrise with baskets of small fish and tuna. The baskets are then kept on the beach from where vendors collect them to transport to different markets. The locals also buy directly from the fishermen as prices are way cheaper than one can imagine in a town. This is an everyday scene in the bay where there is no jostling, crowding or haggling that may produce cacophony. Then there are the dogs and the cats, some owned, some part of the community by daily attendance. They get their share too. 

My homestay owner and his wife are one of the fisher-folks too. Hailing from Java’s Banten province, they set up their business in Sumatra’s drooping southern edge a few years ago and have flourished in an encouraging style. The man goes out to fish, takes tourists for dolphin-spotting, grills fish and chicken for guests at the homestay and goes around the neighbourhood to fetch all necessary items. The lady is almost always in the kitchen, cutting vegetables, washing chicken and fish or getting the rooms and the dining place ready for guests.

Typical Lampung houses with steps seen on the way to Kiluan

A few steps away from the bay is a Balinese temple and a small cluster of Balinese houses that also have temples in their compounds. The community is engaged in various occupations. Some have their homestays on the edges of the bay and deal with distributing fish in different parts of Kiluan. I met a stationary shop owner called Made next to the temple who was born somewhere in Lampung in 1975. According to him, his father had lost his properties during the 1963 eruption of Mt. Agung and joined groups of families to migrate to Lampung. Ever since his teen years, Made has settled in Kiluan. Life is “OK” for him though he still has Bali dreams. 

A Balinese temple in Kiluan

The beaches in and around Kiluan are mostly rocky, and there are very few with sandy shores. However, some of them are very scenic like the Gigi hiu beach (translated as the tooth-shaped rocky beach) and the Laguna Gayau beach. These are difficult to reach by four-wheelers so motorcycles are the best transporters. 

Guide Notes
  • Bandar Lampung to Kiluan takes about five to six hours (if the road condition is better, the journey time can be cut short by one hour)
  • There are plenty of homestays and villas on the arch of Kiluan Bay. Prices start from Rp150,000-800,000 per night.
  • One grilled tuna costs Rp50,000 and can be shared by at least four people
  • A boat ride to see dolphins costs Rp300,000 per boat. One boat can accommodate four people including the boatman 

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