Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that enforces Islamic law, also known as sharia. The province capitol Banda Aceh was completely ruined by the well-known 2004 tsunami. I decided to go anyway.
The people in Aceh are at least as friendly as anywhere else in Indonesia. One of my local hosts told me that treating their guests well is an important part of the acehnese culture, which of course makes it a good place to be a visitor. She said the locals don’t expect tourist women to cover their hair, but she thought a lot of them did it as a part of the Aceh experience. She was wearing a stylish black hijab, I have no idea how she didn’t get a heat stroke. Most locals will probably appreciate your effort of respecting our culture, she said while pouring me a glass of ice cold German Juice (local code word for Bintang, the Indonesian beer brand).
Many of the tourist attractions in Banda Aceh are related to the 2004 tsunami that killed over 130.000 people in the area. It’s probably impossible to imagine how it felt like being in Banda Aceh that day: First they were struck by a 9+ earthquake, and then 30 minutes later hit by a massive tsunami. The tsunami museum takes you through the emotions and impacts of the horrible event, and the technical aspects of earthquakes and tsunamis. They also left some parts of the city untouched as a reminder of how powerful the forces of nature can be. Seeing all this was both interesting and frightening at the same time. Don’t mess with mother nature!
Sabang is the northern- and westernmost city in Indonesia, it is located north of Banda Aceh on the beautiful island Pulau Weh. On the northwest tip of the island you find Kilometer 0, which is where Indonesia starts, apparently. On any day except Friday before Friday prayer, you can go snorkeling and diving in Pulau Weh. I didn’t know about the no-playing-in-the-ocean-on-Fridays rule when I planned the trip, so I spent my day there cruising around on a motorbike looking at monkeys, caves, and beaches instead. The dive master at the resort said this is the best place in Indonesia for diving, but I have a feeling they say that no matter where you go.
The plan was to have one day of surfing on the beaches west of Banda Aceh, but things don’t always turn out as planned. The swell period was too short and there was a constant strong onshore wind that made it too messy to surf. I will be happy to go back and try again later. There is so much to see and do in Aceh, I would recommend it for almost anyone. I only stayed for four days, but I could easily have kept myself busy for at least a week. You can go diving or snorkeling, surfing or hiking, all in beautiful surroundings. You can drink delicious acehnese coffee, visit interesting historical places and meet the most friendly people in the world.
Here are some pictures from the trip:
Terima kasih, Aceh!