Asia

A Half Day Stopover in Banda Aceh, Indonesia

The city of Banda Aceh is located on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which is the biggest island on the western side of the country. Surrounded by tropical rainforests and the sea– Banda Aceh suffered major devastation from the Tsunami in 2004. The city has since been rebuilt and reconstructed, but the remnants of the disaster can still be seen from boats washed ashore, abandoned skeleton houses, and the tsunami barriers built along the coast.

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Though Sharia law is in force in the province of Acheh, the capital city has a laid-back atmosphere; and except for the merciless scorching sun and humid weather, I had a pleasant and educational visit in the city.

I arrived in Banda Aceh at about 9am on the Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur. The purpose of my visit was to dive in Pulau Weh (Read about it here: Diving in Pulau Weh, Indonesia), and since the wait for the ferry to take me to the island was almost half a day (at 4pm)– I decided to use the free time to explore Banda Aceh. Never waste a chance to get to know a new city, right?

Half Day in Banda Aceh

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10am:
Brunch at Sup Sumsum Kutaraja
I was famished upon arriving at Banda Aceh– so it was time for food! The driver who met us at the airport suggested that we try the sup sumsum, which translates to bone marrow soup. Bone marrow! I excitedly agreed and he brought us to the Sup Sumsum Kutaraja.

The restaurant was not yet open (they open about 10.30am till late), but the owner was kind enough to serve us anyway. We ordered the specialty bone marrow soup; as well as the tail and ribs soup. Each bowl costs about IDR45,000 (US$3). They also serve beef and chicken soup, which are half the price. The meal was absolutely delicious– the bone marrow flowed through the straw and was soft and flavorful. As I write this, I am wishing I was back there for another bowl.

Address: No. 24 Jalan Imum Lueng Bata, Kota Banda Aceh.

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11am:
Boat on the House (Kapal Di Atas Rumah)
After brunch, it was time to get to know the city. During the 2004 tsunami that hit Banda Aceh, many boats were washed ashore– including a fisherman’s boat that landed on top of 2 houses, saving the lives of the 59 people who took shelter in it. The 25m-long boat is an extraordinary sight and can be found at Lampulo Village. It now serves as a memorial to the disaster, and is a popular attraction on the tsunami tourist trail.

There is an elevated walkway to view the fisherman’s boat from above. The place is free to enter, however there is a donation box at the entrance if you want to give a little something to the local community. The family who was saved by the boat still lives next to it.

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11.30am:
Museum Tsunami Aceh
After visiting the boat on the house, we dropped by the Aceh Tsunami Museum in the center of town. The huge museum is built in the shape of a ship with a traditional Aceh house architecture; and can also serve as a emergency tsunami shelter if needed again.

The entrance is lined by two high walls of water along a narrow corridor that recreates the sounds and panic of the disaster. It was pretty scary walking through the dark rumbling lane. The two floors of the museum has several small exhibitions on the tsunami that hit the city; including pictures before, during and after the disaster. I felt that the museum could use a little more in-depth information about tsunami– to further educate the locals and tourists as well.

The museum is open daily from 9am-4.15pm, except Fridays when it closed for prayers from 12-2pm. During my visit, entrance was free.

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12.30pm:
The PLTD Apung 1
Driving up to this sight was really something– a huge generator vessel nestled in the middle of a huge compound in between small residential houses. The PLTD Apung 1 is a 2,600 ton ship that got swept 2-3 kilometers inland during the 2004 tsunami.

This enormous vessel is now one of the main tsunami tourist attractions in Banda Aceh. It was a feeling of mixed emotions exploring the ship and looking over the many houses surrounding it– just thinking about how people have rebuilt their lives after surviving such a horrific disaster. A walkway leads up to the ship, and there are also several house ruins, a monument and an observation tower around the area. Entry is free.

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1.30pm:
Lunch at Mieso Hendra-Hendri
After a few hours of visiting the several sights around Banda Aceh, it was time for some good old Indonesia food for lunch– bakso. Our driver told us that one of the best places to have it in the city is at Mieso Hendra-Hendri, a small restaurant hidden in between a narrow lane.

Bakso is a dish of meatballs (usually beef, but is served with chicken or fish as well) and vegetables in a hot flavorful broth of rice vermicelli or yellow noodles. The bakso served here is the chicken bakso, and each bowl costs about IDR12,000-17,000 (US$1). It was so good, I had 2 servings with extra meatballs!

Address: No.31 Jalan Mohd. Jam, Kota Banda Aceh.

2.30pm:
The Baiturrahman Grand Mosque
Just a short walk from the restaurant is one of the most famous landmarks in all of Banda Aceh, the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque. This religious structure from the early 17th century stands in the center of the city– and has survived throughout the years, even withstanding the tsunami disaster of 2004.

You are allowed to visit the mosque with its majestic black domes, as well as beautiful white minarets and towers, or you could be like me and admire it from the outside.

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And that ends my half day tour of Banda Aceh, before heading to the Ulhee-Lheue Port and boarding my ferry to Pulau Weh at 4pm. I’d say the wait wasn’t that bad!

For more fun things to do in the Acheh province (specifically the gorgeous Weh Island), head on to: Mynn’s Top 10 Things to do in Pulau Weh, Indonesia.

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