8 Reason to Visit Aceh

Published: Garuda Inflight Magazine, May 2012

Political turmoil and a tsunami once removed Aceh from a list of ten favourite destinations; however this beautiful province, which lies at the northwestern tip of Indonesia, has now made a full recovery. Yudasmoro recommends eight reasons to visit Aceh.

Seeing as this province is nicknamed the Verandah of Mecca, it is only fitting that Aceh has declared the Baiturrahman Mosque to be its preeminent icon. Built in 1612 by Sultan Iskandar Muda, the then leader of the Aceh Sultanate, this impressive house of worship has stood witness to many of Aceh’s historic events. The mosque was around during the colonial era, the quest for national independence and the 2004 Asian tsunami. In its original incarnation, this time-honoured mosque was made of wood, however the Dutch burned it down in 1873 during a period of war before finally rebuilding it two years later. Due to the steady growth of its congregation, the mosque has now been expanded in size. Whereas it used to have one dome, it now boasts five. Baiturrahman is located in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh and often hosts Islamic holiday celebrations.

Aceh has some simply amazing beaches and while visiting Lampu’uk Beach in the region of Aceh Besar, I felt like I was down at Bali’s famous Dreamland. Joel’s Bungalow Resort is the best place from which to start exploring this area and the resort, which stands on the edge of a precipice, gets plenty of foreign visitors looking to get away from it all. Lampu’uk is situated on a three-kilometre-long bay that boasts a fine stretch of beach and is also a favourite weekend getaway destination for the Acehnese.

The town of Sabang on Weh Island has a landmark which is well worth a visit. The Zero Kilometre Monument, which is located in the Sabang Tourism Forest, stands in a location which serves as the starting point for calculating the length of Indonesia. The monument was inaugurated on September 9, 1997 and the road up here ascends through twists and turns. The Zero Kilometre Monument is round like a minaret and is around 20 metres high. Unfortunately, the monument is not very well cared for. Its surrounding area is dirty and graffiti can be seen on the walls. It is from up here though that the national song, “Dari Sabang Sampai Merauke” (“From Sabang to Merauke”) derives its meaning.

The architecture of this sobering museum blends traditional and modern elements. Designed by one of Indonesia’s current architectural shining stars, Ridwan Kamil, the Tsunami Museum’s shape is a combination of a ship and an Acehnese house on stilts, and also boasts geometric reliefs that reference traditional weaving motifs on its walls.

The museum’s interior displays the names of the tsunami’s victims on a long wall. In addition to serving as a memorial to the 2004 disaster, this museum was built to serve as a vehicle for educating the public about the disasters that threaten the earthquake-zone nation of Indonesia. The museum is open every day except Friday.

The local widely known dish is crab noodle soup. This delicacy has become legendary in Indonesia and can be found in restaurants in many cities and towns across the country. It is also important to remember that Aceh is not only known as the Verandah of Mecca, but also as the Land of One Thousand Coffee Shops. Coffee shops can be found almost everywhere here, from the crowded streets of Banda Aceh to more rural areas. Acehnese coffee is usually served in two different styles: black coffee (sugarless) or sanger (coffee with milk). The real attraction here though lies in the preparation process. Coffee is filtered through a cloth lifted high over the cup—a tradition that dates back to the Aceh Sultanate era.

The historical record that surrounds the fortress which is located on Weh Island, is somewhat sketchy. Neither guides nor security guards are available here however admission is free. The only fact that people seem to agree on is that it was used by the Japanese during World War II. From the top of the fortress, visitors can view a lovely panorama of the open sea and the black sand beach of Anoi Hitam. During the weekend, people flock here to enjoy snorkelling among the rocks that lie just in front of the fortress.

PLTD Apung is the name of a power-generator ship weighing over 2,000 tons, however this steel beast no longer sails the Indonesian high seas. The 2004 sunami carried the Apung inland and eventually dumped it in the Kampung Punge Blang Cut area of Banda Aceh, which lies a full three kilometres from the coast! Instead of moving the ship, the government of Aceh turned it into a tourist attraction. The PLTD Apung can be reached by bentor (motorised pedicab) from Baiturrahman.

Aceh is a special autonomous region of Indonesia which has now enacted legislation based on Islamic Sharia Law. One place that remains relatively permissive though is the island of Weh, which lies just off the coast of Banda Aceh. Down on the island’s Iboih Beach, for example, tourists wear bikinis and sunbathe on the beach. Iboih is also a legendary spot for snorkelling and diving.

Weh can be considered something of an anomaly, as it is the only area in the western part of Indonesia which offers such a diversity of impressive marine biota. As such, it makes for a great alternative for divers who cannot afford to visit more expensive eastern Indonesian paradises such as Raja Ampat and Wakatobi.

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