Tailana is an uninhibited island in Aceh province, in Sumatra, Indonesia. It's part of Pulau Banyak (translates as The Many Islands) archipelago, and Google maps doesn't know it exists. It's so small that you can walk around it in 15 minutes. There is no electricity, no regular facilities, no transportation except small fishing boats - it's all just white beach, crystal clear water, palm trees, hundreds of crabs and coconuts.
It's difficult to travel to Tailana, but that's the point - the difficulty of travel protects it against mainstream tourism and rewards only the most patient and persistent travellers. Charlie, an amazing local guy who hosts travellers on Tailana, says that the island sees only about 20-30 travellers a year.
So the travel to Tailana starts in Medan which is already the worst place ever. If you are on budget you'll need to arrange a local minibus that can drop you off at Singkil. Singkil is probably the second worst place ever. It's a half ruined, gloomy ghost town sitting on the banks of a shit river - it's literally a shit river because people poop and pee into the river. Toilet there is a cabin built on stilts on the river with a hole in the floor. Children make it less official - get ankle deep into the river, squat and poop. This is Singkil.
And this is coffee they serve there. Looks like it's been scooped out of the shit river.
The minibus that takes you there is a nightmare - quite literally as well because it's a very scary night bus. The road from Medan to Singkil is curvy and really bad - all broken and damaged. Nevertheless the minibus driver drives as if he's on the F1 track, but with some style - windows open, music growling all night, having rice & chicken on the wheel, chain smoking Garam (very strong local cigarettes). At 3am in the middle of nowhere you get a flat tire, meh, typical. The driver stops the bus in the middle of the road, puts on a doughnut in pitch dark and continues driving at the same speed - in Indonesia doughnut is not a reason to slow down. At 7am you are in Singkil, exhausted.
In Singkil you have to wait for indefinite time to start your boat trip to Balai island (the main one in Pulau Banyak) The boat won't depart until there's no place to squeeze in any more people, boxes and motorbikes, it may take 1 hour or it make take 4 hours.
When you finally start your journey through the Singkil's shit river it's hard to believe that there is anything remotely worthwhile to see ahead. But in about 4 hours squeezed on the boat's floor you start to notice what you came for - small scattered islands popping from emerald waters all around waving at you teasingly with their palm trees.
Approaching Tailana look like this (you can see our hut in the right corner)
When you get off the boat in Balai you'll be directed to pretty much the only backpackers accommodation in the village - small half empty house right on the shore. Even though most Indonesians see the sea as their natural garbage disposal place, the water on Balai is blue and transparent so you can see all the little fishes near the shore. The village itself is old, rusty and beautiful, when we walked around in the evening we got to talk to some very friendly locals and got stopped and questioned by very curious and cute local children. Knowledge of beginners Indonesian helped a lot.
We met Charlie in Balai, and he spent the day gathering food, water, petrol for our trip to Tailana. It was the end of Ramadhan, the food was limited, so all we could take with us was basically rice, noodles, some flour & eggs, some spinach and tomatoes, a pineapple and we could theoretically hope for local fishermen to pass by the island to sell us their fresh catch - usually red snapper or tuna. Here is me with a red snapper.
We stayed on Tailana for a week, and during this time we got fish twice, so it was a very vegetarian stay which was nice and made us 1) appreciate our food (in fact availability of any food) 2) understand what is food scarsity 3) realize that we really should be eating to live vs. living to eat 4) free up our minds from choices and decisions because on Tailana you don't choose what to eat or what to do, you just go with whatever is available.
Our normal diet was pancakes with coconut and on the last day we got condensed milk with it (see below), noodles with egg (sometimes with tomato), rice with spinach and twice with fish, occassional pineapple or papaya, fresh coconuts from the local palm trees (you either need to find fallen ones, punch them till they fall with a long bamboo stick or ask Charlie nicely to climb the tree)
All food and water you share with Charlie, occasionally visiting fishermen, 2 cats, some chickens, and our absolutely most favorite dog ever - Poppie. When we have a dog, we're gonna name him Poppie :)
Our home for a week was the entire island and we slept in a small & humble wooden hut on stilts with emerald sea 20m ahead greeting us every morning. The hut costs $7 per night. All you get inside the hut is a window, 2 matrasses, ancient bed sheet, 2 pillows and mosquito net. Here's our hut.
During our stay we experienced our first ever earthquake - 4.5 points (6.7 on the mainland) We woke up in the middle of the night feeling like our hut is rocking on waves, we thought it was a dream, in the morning Charlie told us it was a real thing. We also experienced a tropical storm one night which is quite scary considering that you are on a tiny island in the Indian ocean.
Most days we just relaxed on the beach, wandered around the island picking huge shells and scaring away crabs, snorkeling around. Snorkeling in Tailana and on the neighboring islands is fantastic: white sand + huge rocks with hundreds of colorful fishes living in and around them + underwater cliffs + emerald absolutely transparent water makes it a perfect place for those who love snorkeling. Charlie can arrange local fisherman boat captain to pick you up and cruise around neighboring islands and visit local village on another island for $10. Some evenings after sunset when all we were left with was one kerosine lamp and candles we and Charlie made bonfire on the beach from driftwood and spent time just talking and watching fire.
We enjoyed Tailana like probably nothing else yet seen. It frees your mind, it calms you down, in comparison to civilization there's nothing to decide, to choose from, to consider, to bitch about, to worry about, you filter out all this noisy trash that usually runs through your brain and you have meaningful thoughts or conversations with yourself in your mind that are true and down to the point, you start to at least vaguely understand what it's like to see only what matters.
Charlie and Poppie made our stay amazing as well, and we know we'll be back to see them again one day.
Tailana is a priceless treasure. I'm happy it's still a lost paradise.