Recently I had the opportunity to visit Aceh, Indonesia. It was an easy destination to get to from Singapore. Both Silk Air and Garuda Indonesia offer flights from Singapore to Medan, Indonesia with a connecting flight to Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport.
Located on the northern tip of Sumatra, Aceh is believed to have been where Islam was first established and has a rich history. During the seventeenth century the Sultanate was the wealthiest and most influential person in Indonesia making Aceh one of the most powerful states.
If the city name rings a bell with you it’s because Aceh was the epicenter of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and Tsunami, which rocked the city to its core on Sunday, 26 December. Once devastated and barren, Aceh has developed into a safe, peaceful destination and is eager to share it’s lush rainforest mountains, vibrant blue seas, and historically rich city with the rest of the world.
What to do in Aceh
The crystal clear water and miles of white sand beaches are a paradise for swimmers, snorkelers, and scuba fanatics. One must visit beach is Lampu’uk just 15 km from Banda Aceh. While there I enjoyed the breathtaking background of dramatic cliffs and, since I was there during the week, virtually empty beaches. I’m told that locals flock there on the weekend with family and friends, as the area is a perfect location for surfing, family picnics, and friendly gatherings. There are several small stalls and shacks that sell water, coffee and local snacks.
Must See Mosque
During my stay I visited The Mesjid Besar Baiturrahman Mosque. Located at Jalan Taman Wijaya Kusuma, DKI Jakarta 10710 Indonesia, it’s one of Aceh’s heritage sites and a must see tourist attraction. The mosque was built during Sultan Iskandar Muda’s reign in 1612. The Dutch destroyed the original mosque in 1873 during their invasion; its reconstruction was completed in 1883. An Italian who took its design from the North Indian Moghul style fabricated the intricate detail and unmatched architecture. Hundreds of people took refuge in the mosque during the 2004 Tsunami and many Muslims see it as a gift of their faith as it was only minimally damaged. I happened to have visited during the Muslim New Year so I was able to mingle with hundreds of people as they celebrated this special event. The children where happily playing on the massive lawn that surrounds the mosque while their families picnicked nearby. I felt extremely humbled that they happily allowed me to join in the festivities.
Scuba and Snorkeling
I’m a scuba and snorkeling enthusiast and the small islands off of Banda Aceh are a snorkeler or scuba diver’s paradise. There are a plethora of dive sites where giant sea fans, friendly fishes, shipwrecks, and huge collections of corals can be seen in the clear waters of the Andaman Sea. The must dive spots near Aceh are Sabang, and Weh Islands. Travelers and divers will find several reputable diving centres with knowledgeable staff happy to show you the best dive sites the islands have to offer. I took a glass bottom boat ride over to Sabang and was rendered speechless at the sight of the turquoise blue of the water and multitude of fish just under the boat.
A must see and a humbling experience is the Aceh Tsunami Museum. Located at Jalan Sultan Iskandar Muda, Banda Aceh, Aceh 23125, Indonesia, the museum offers visitors a visual and audio representation of the devastating events and experiences of the 2004 Tsunami that wiped out the entire city of Aceh and left hundreds of thousands of people dead, lost, or homeless. It explains how the earthquake and Tsunami destroyed the city and what is being done to prevent such a disaster from happening again. It is also a tribute to the strength, faith, and determination of the people of Aceh and their will to make a better life for their families and a tourist attraction for the rest of the world.
Aceh Coffee ~ A Must Try
I can never get enough coffee and I love trying new versions of the strong, caffeinated beverage. I was told that Aceh is known for its amazing coffee and I noticed that the delicious aroma permeates the air wherever you go. Luckily there is a coffee house, café, or stand on nearly every corner of the city so I eagerly grabbed a delicious cup of this home grown treasure as soon as I got there. To my extreme pleasure the accolades where correct. The coffee grown in Aceh has a distinct, rich flavor I have not experienced elsewhere. I drank my fill and brought back a few pounds to enjoy until my next trip.
Some of the best places to grab a cup of this rich, luscious drink are:
Premium Coffee Tower, is located at Jl. H. Dhimurtala (samping Pante Pirak), Banda Aceh, Aceh. This unassuming place with sofas, clean floors, and good service caters to the coffee lover. The atmosphere is quiet during the day but bustling at night. Spend some time in this shop and you’re likely to make fast friends with the locals and learn some interesting inside facts about Aceh.
Five Corner Café is located at Banda Aceh, Indonesia 23128 a shop house in the heart of the city with free Wi-Fi inside and a view of the bustling city outside. To experience it at it’s best you must go at night when the streets are busy and conversation and music are at their best.
One of the most famous coffee shops in Banda Aceh is Solong Coffee located at No. 13-14 Ulee Kareng. The clean, friendly atmosphere brings locals and travelers alike back for more. You can watch the barista strain the coffee through sock like sieves and then pour the delicious, steaming liquid directly into your mug. The homegrown coffee is available for purchase and will have you soon forgetting the more popular chain coffee shops.
Where to Stay
Aceh has several choices when it comes to accommodations. There are numerous Guesthouses, Hostels, and Hotels to choose from depending on budget and taste.
I stayed at the Hermes Palace Hotel located at Jl. T. Panglima Nyak Makam, Banda Aceh, 23117. It’s the city’s only 4 star hotel and has an excellent buffet breakfast. I indulged daily on local Indonesian dishes, as well as American, Asian, and Continental choices. The hotel also has a nice bakery and lounge where guests can enjoy homemade coffee, local delicacies and free Wi-Fi. The rooms are large, comfortable, and clean with plenty of amenities like cable TV, toiletries, in room dining and laundry services. They have a very nice spa, which I had to try, and was very pleased with. The staff and service are very good and the hotel rates are reasonable.
Other choices for the budget conscious are:
The Wisma PMI located at Komplek PMI Provinsi Aceh, Jalan Jeumpit Ajun No.58, Darul Imarah, Aceh Besar, 23352 is an unassuming Hostel with free airport shuttle service, simple, clean rooms, and it’s within walking distance to most attractions. As with the majority of hostels, the bathrooms and toilets are shared and it’s advisable to bring your own toiletries. Their low rates, free Internet service, and air-conditioned rooms make it an ideal place to lay your head after a long day of touring.
Another great option is the Crystal Guesthouse located at Jalan Sultan Iskandar Muda, Aceh 23231 which is also within 5 minutes walk to most tourist attractions the facility offers basic rooms with air conditioning, shared bathroom, toilet facilities, and free Internet services. They also offer in room massage and laundry services upon request. Their rooms are clean and the staff speaks English. The Crystal Guesthouse is an excellent, cheap option when travelling through Aceh.
What to Eat
Aceh is a perfect destination for a person like me, a food junkie. With its delicious blend of Arab, Indian, Siamese, Dutch, and Spanish cultures and spices Acehnese food offers something for every palette. The dishes that I absolutely enjoyed during my stay are:
Mie Aceh (Acehnese Noodles) is a curry paste based dish with fresh spicy shrimp and crab with noodles. You can enjoy it either in a soup or fried. The spices and enticing taste has made is renowned throughout Indonesia and especially Aceh.
Ayam Tangkap is a chicken dish with a tantalizing aroma. The fresh chicken is marinated overnight with traditional Indonesian spices and coconut water. It’s fried with curry leaves, green chilies, and sliced shallots. The explosion of flavor for your taste buds keeps you coming back for more.
Curries are popular throughout Indonesia and in Aceh you can find them mixed with a variety of meats. Duck, Mutton, Tuna, and Chicken curry are commonly found in most cafes, street markets, and restaurants. The perfect combination of coconut milk, spices, and vegetables create a delicacy that can only be enjoyed in Indonesia.
Aceh is a destination that is still greatly unexplored by travelers and untainted by commercialism. It is perfect for the explorers at heart who crave a cultural and relaxed vacation accompanied with a tinge of realism as well as a reflection on the locals’ resilience. SeriouslyTravel highly recommends giving Aceh a try…we guarantee you’ll want to keep going back. Aceh, Indonesia ~ seeing is believing and believing is love.
This article was first published on TripZilla Magazine