To Aceh With Love

Aceh is known worldwide after the 2004 tsunami that killed around 170,000 of its people, thousands left homeless. International aid poured in. Global attention has helped the people of Aceh back on their feet. Now, most of its breathtaking beaches restored, tourists flock not only to see the natural wonders but also what’s left by the tsunami. Aceh is now a major tourism province in Indonesia.

I lived there for a couple of years. I witnessed the pain in the eyes of the widows. I saw tears streaming down the cheeks of mothers who lost their children. Yet, I saw also hope.

I used to be a humanitarian worker, I wrote reports on how the disaster had affected the lives of these innocents. I wrote on how the supports from all over the world had helped Aceh regaining stability, improving its economy, and empowering its people. Now, I sound like the old me with all those jargons.

But now I am more a travel blogger. So now I report on something else. Let me take you to the beautiful province of Aceh. Mind you, I lost my laptop in a robbery just a few days before my leaving Aceh for good. So, the pictures here are credited to my dear friend Cynthia Maharani, whose anomaly personality is reflected to the way she takes pictures. Yes, correct, not straight!

The beaches

Virgin beaches along the west and east coasts are just stunning. The most well-known beaches – which of course lost their virginity long ago – are in Banda Aceh and Aceh Besar areas. Lhok Nga and Lampuuk are among the most popular.

My favorite coastline view is along the road from Lamno to Calang. It used to take 7 hours drive to Calang from Banda Aceh in a very bad tsunami-affected road. Now I believe it’s better (thanks to USAID?). The view is just mindboggling. Blue water surrounded by lush forest is just unbelievably pretty.

If you don’t have too much time, try to take a drive from Banda Aceh to Lamno (approx 2 hours). You’ll see beautiful sights of the ocean. Have a quick coffee break in a traditional stall on Mt Geureute (did I spell it right?).

The islands

Pulau Weh or Weh Island is major attraction to tourists. The sea around the island is very clear, perfect for swimming, snorkelling, and diving. You can spend your evenings enjoying grilled fish and, again, Acehnese coffee. Iboih and Sumurtiga are the places to find accommodation. Dive centers are available in the island.

Pulo Aceh is another series of small islands off Banda Aceh. Pulo Breueh and Pulo Nasi are the ones inhabited. Here you cannot find hotels but you can always ask locals to provide you rooms to rent. Alternatively you can stay in Pulau Weh and have a day trip around Pulo Aceh.

The mosques

Aceh Grand Mosque should not be missed. Located in the heart of Banda Aceh, Baiturrahman Mosque is the center of the city’s life. It is grand, beautiful. You have to dress conservatively, in an Islamic way! You may want to experience Acehnese daily life by visiting Pasar Aceh (market) just beside the mosque.

Another mosque you may want to visit is in Lampuuk. This mosque stood strong amidst the giant waves that shattered its surrounding. You may visit the mosque on the way to the beach, just be respectful!

The history

One place you probably interested in is a Dutch cemetery from colonial era. Honestly, I passed this place for so many times but never stopped by. Many visitors are from the Netherlands, visiting their ancestors buried in the Land of Rencong.

The tsunami

Have I told you that the disaster has also a glimpse of blessing in disguise for the future of Aceh tourism? It is certainly.

One favourite object is PLTD Kapal Apung, a hugh electricity-generator ship that washed away 3 km from the seashore. It is impossible to move the boat. Now the massive boat is standing in the middle of newly-built houses. I remember that during 2006-2008, I’ve taken journalists from the UK, France, Spain, the US to visit the boat. All were very impressed. I was and I still am.

Aother sight is in Lampulo, not far from the fish market. Here, a fisherman’s boat is stranded pn the top of a house’s roof. It becomes a monument, its photos have circulated by the media worldwide.

Mass graveyards are another thing. Be respectful to the dead, be respectful to the living.

They are only a small piece of my memory about Aceh. Next year, I will make my comeback and have a full report. Let’s go to Aceh with love.

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