Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by indohoyindohoy on 22 September 2010 • Itinerary
We’re so happy that more and more of our friends are contributing their stories throughout Indonesia. And now it’s Stania‘s turn, telling you about Aceh. Go Stan! *bodywave*
Being a journalist from Indonesia, I felt imperfect before I visit Aceh. The place keeps numerous stories: it has been rampaged by civil war for around 30 years and wrecked havoc by the great Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. The citizens are open to foreigners, but sensibilities to Islam culture is highly respected as shariah law is implemented in the province. Nevertheless, Aceh remains one of Indonesia’s natural beauties ready to explore.
I made a trip to Aceh in November 2008 and December 2009, one for research purpose, the later for job assignment. This writing is a compilation of the places in Aceh I visited during those two occasions. Surely there will be changes once you visit Aceh as the region dynamically develops, but I hope it gives you a hint on the land of Rencong*.
*) Aceh traditional dagger which is closely associated with the province.
There are a lot of sightseeing places in Aceh. The number one must-see place is Baiturrahman Mosque. It’s the Banda Aceh icon and was the only building that stands through the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004.
The great mosque was built in 1612 during the reign of Sultan Iskandar Muda, or some say, even earlier in 1292 by Sultan Alaidin Mahmudsyah. In 1877, The East Indies Governor General offered to rebuild the mosque and the refurbishment completed in 1883. Many Acehnese initially refused to pray at Baiturrahman because it was built by Dutch infidels with ambitions to conquer Aceh, but today it is the pride of Banda Aceh.
The Tsunami Museum
The Tsunami Museum was built to remember those who died in the tsunami disaster in 2004. Aceh is one the most devastated area caused by tsunami with total number of victims more than 220 thousands lives all over the world.
The museum design was inspired by all Aceh local entities with its wall adorned by people performing Saman and the ground floor is modeled on the traditional Aceh house. The museum also serves as history center, education center and a refuge for future tsunami. God forbid there is more to come.
When I visited Aceh in 2008, the museum hasn’t completely been built; however when I return in the end of 2009, it has been inaugurated by the President and was ready to open.
If you want to see physical evident of how big tsunami disaster was, you have to see PLTD Apung. It’s a boat that used to generate electricity from diesel power and weighted 200 tons. Tsunami wave relocated the boat 4 km away from its original station in Aceh sea. Its current location in Gampong Punge, Blang Cut has become a tourist attraction.
“Noah’s Ark” in Lampulo
Another ship that was stranded onto the land (or precisely, a roof top) due to tsunami wave is located in Lampulo, Banda Aceh. The 25-meter long fishing boat has saved 59 lives, including the neighbors to where it sits still now. During my job assignment, we used the location as a discussion site for current affairs program on 5th tsunami commemoration. The place is inaugurated as tsunami monument and has been taken care by local residents.
The War Cemetery of Kerkhof Peutjoet
Just beside the Tsunami Museum, lies a Dutch cemetery which was established in 1880. It’s a place for Dutch soldiers who died during Aceh War in the 17th century. More than two thousand soldiers are buried there, including General Koehler who led the first invasion against Aceh. The architecture of the cemetery is very much Dutch style.
Sabang is a must-see place if you ever visit Aceh. It has beautiful beaches, with natural gradation of a range of blue colors and white sands. I have the chance to visit the island during my second trip. Along with my producer and cameraman, we took a roundtrip daily boat from Uleelheu port to Sabang port.
* Local custom*
Aceh applies shariah law for its Muslim citizens. Muslim women are obliged to wear veil and non-Muslim ones are encouraged to do so.
In some beaches, you can read billboards that contain prohibition of khalwat (close proximity) or public display of affection. The sanction can vary from small fines to canning.
You haven’t been to Aceh if you haven’t stepped in a local coffee shop. Aceh is famous for its coffee shops, where people meet up and talk about daily life. During tsunami rehabilitation period, many NGO staff and activists spend time here. If you’re lucky and know where to look, you can taste ‘Kopi Gila’ (crazy coffee) where it’s mixed with a small amount of “grass”… if you know what I mean * wink * It surely can make you laugh all night.
Famous coffee shops include Chek Yukee, located about 100 meters from Baiturrahman mosque on Jl. Tepi Kali opposite Krueng Aceh river and Jasa Ayah Ulee Kareeng in Solong, while the new one is Café Bohnen in Jl. A. Yani, next to the Regent Doorsmeer. (Click here to see how the coffee’s made)
Other Acehnese special culinary is Aceh noodle or mie Aceh. It’s made out of special Aceh recipe, a bit spicy and usually accompanied by emping crackers. I ate at Mie Lala, Jl. Syiah Kuala in Lamprit junction.
When you’re in Sabang, I recommend Freddies resort at Pantai Sumur Tiga for a nice eatery. It serves salad, chicken, beef, rice, several kinds of chips, a nice bread pudding dessert and fruit juices. For foreigners who can’t stand spicy local food, they can go here. Beer is also available.
Both of my trips were made when I resided in Malaysia, so I went there with direct Air Asia daily flight from Kuala Lumpur (KL) to Banda Aceh. But there are plenty of flights going to Aceh, especially from Jakarta.
For those outside Indonesia, flight transit point to Banda Aceh will be Jakarta and Medan. Alternatively, the Sabang port can also serve as entry point to the province through seafarer.
Unfortunately, there is still administrative glitch on the port management between local government and Jakarta at the present. It’s a pity since accessible Aceh will bring more betterment to the province’s tourism.
It is easier to rent a car to go around as some interesting places in Aceh are located quite far from one another. However, if you plan to go around the town, you can do it either by walking or taking public transportation called angkot (abbreviation of angkutan kota or city transport, more about it here). There are quite a number of alternative modes of transport, such as ojek (motorcycle taxi) or becak motor (motorcycle rickshaw). Click here for ojek and here for angkot.