43: Indonesia > Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam > Banda Aceh (part 1)

Morning, Friday 11th January, 2008

A couple of weeks after the 3rd anniversary of the devastating tsunami of 26th Dec, 2004 (let’s call it “Tsunami“), we start our own journey of self-discovery to Aceh. We have been meaning to make this trip for a long time, and today, our AirAsia AK912 (Airbus A320, reg. 9M-AHD) departs on the dot at 1155h to take us to Banda Aceh (BTJ). At KLIA, our brand new Airbus A320 awaits

A shade over an hour later, the plane passes the northern tip of Sumatra, where the Andaman Sea meets the Indian Ocean, …Passing northern tip of Sumatra, Banda Aceh beyond the clouds

… and promptly makes a sharp U-turn above the water to land at BTJ from the north. We have our first view of Tsunami-ravaged coastline, now much-improved.Landing after tight 360° left turn in the sea

In blue, the actual GPS trace of the flght path from KUL to BTJ. Note the U-turn in the sea before landing at BTJ.Actual GPS track of flight path

As we approach the airport, we see new housing estates for Tsunami victims, thanks to aid money. New houses from aid money

More new houses further inland, safer from future tsunamis too. More new houses

Beautiful countryside with checkered rice-fields broken by villages hidden among lush coconut groves. The Tsunami did not get here. Beautiful country

Soon we are on the ramp, as dark clouds roll in. The ramp

The airport is named after the most illustrious ruler of Aceh, Sultan Iskandarmuda, who ruled Aceh in early 17th century when it was at its peak as a regional power (he conquered most of peninsular Malaysia then, and also fought the Portuguese). Airport named after illustrious Aceh ruler

It’s quite a long walk to the arrival hall … Quite a walk from the plane

… which is just a small building (behind the floodlight mast) providing CIQ and baggage retrieval. Soon our queue of 170-odd people from the plane spills onto the tarmac out in the open. Luckily the weather is good. Walking to the arrival terminal, straight into immigration counters

It is Friday noon and the men-folk are at the mosques for Friday prayer. Soon we are in the quiet city centre, and promptly checks into Hotel Sultan. We are on the 4th floor of a 5-storey building. That’s about as high as a building gets in this quake-prone country.Banda Aceh view from our room on 4th floor of Hotel Sultan

After a short breather, we venture out for lunch, and we spot a familiar face. Looking for lunch, we spot a familiar sight

A recently-open KFC outlet looks really hip, and maybe because the guys are still at the mosques, the patrons are mainly girls, virtually all with head-covers.Hip interior of KFC, where most patrons are ladies

After lunch, we see a ‘putu bambu’ stall. Local delicacy in the hot sun

It’s putu, a sweet cake made of coconut and rice, steamed in bamboo. Yummy local delicacy! Originating from India, must have been introduced to Aceh when the traders from the west arrived here centuries ago. Steamed coconut cakes in bamboo

Nearby, we spot an exact replica of our beloved Old Faithful in Shah Alam – been with us since 1997 – as old as Aina. 😀 Exact copy of our beloved car in Shah Alam

This is a famous Banda Aceh landmark, the ‘Simpang Lima’ – a junction of five roads. Very pretty now, but see related Tsunami video HERE. Caution: some scenes may be disturbing. The 'Simpang Lima' landmark in downtown Banda Aceh

And at this junction, we see a poignant reminder. “Giving money to child-beggars is akin to destroying their future.” Do not give money to child-beggars

There’s also an military installation between the Simpang Lima and the river, where I find this interesting old Dutch-era house.

Old Dutch-era house, now a military building

Yes, the occasional soldiers still roam the street, a relic of an armed conflict between pro-independence Free Aceh Movement and the Govt between 1976-2005, at the cost of some 15,000 lives. It took the Tsunami to bring peace to Aceh. Soldiers in the street

Although Aceh boasts of 99% Muslims and dubbed ‘The Veranda of Mecca’, Catholics are free to practise.Old Catholic Church

Icons of post-Tsunami progress along Jalan Panglima Polim, here … The new post-tsunami Banda Aceh

… and here.Huge billboard above Jalan Panglima Polim

Banda Aceh is split into two by Aceh river, and this is the main bridge which proudly proclaims: ‘Banda Aceh, City of Believers.’

Looking west as Aceh river flows towards the sea, some 5km away. This waterway was full of dead bodies, damaged boats and debris when hit by the Tsunami.Looking west as Aceh River heads towards the sea

We cross the river and head for the Grand Mosque, the famous Baiturrahman Mosque. On the way to grand mosque

Tucked at the side of the mosque, a cramped Aceh Market. Aceh Market next to mosque

A popular side entrance to the mosque compound. Note the reminder on dress code. Mosque main entrance

Past the entrance, a gent proudly gestures to a plaque. Death of a Dutch army chief when he led an attack on the mosque in 1873, but the original mosque built 13th century was burnt down.Gent proudly shows monument

Facade of the mosque with the setting sun behind. Built 1879 by the Dutch, six years after the original was destroyed by them, as a mark of reconciliation. Designed by Italian architect, with Moghul Indian influences.Baiturrahman Grand Mosque

In front of the mosque, a grand gate and lone 35-metre minaret, slightly tilting due to quakes.Lone 35-metre minaret in mosque yard

Frontal view. The Tsunami water lapped the mosque, but never went inside. The compound was full of dead bodies and debris. See related Tsunami video HERE. Caution: some scenes may be disturbing.Frontal view of mosque

Another view of the gate and the minaret.Minaret and main gate

At the periphery of the mosque, there’s a drain with continuously running water. You leave your footwear next to it, dip and cleanse your feet in the drain before taking the steps up the mosque.Footwear left at the edge of drain filled with flowing water to cleanse feet

Of course, kids, being kids, will play anywhere.Kids being kids, always play

On the verandah, an informal religious class for ladies is in progress.Mosque verandah, and a talk in session

Inside the mosque, class for kids takes place. The people have truly made the mosque the centre for communal activities, the way it should be.Lessons inside mosque

Southern side of the mosque.


We then find our way into the claustrophobic and stuffy Aceh Market.Inside cramped, stuffy Aceh Market

We spot a bargain, but soon realise that there are very little stuff made here in Aceh – most are imported from other parts of Sumatra, notably Medan. The province is still economically weak. We see a bargain

Outside the market, there are stalls selling the same stuff …Outside market, stalls

… which is a mixture of pinang, gambir, kapur, spices, etc, all wrapped inside a sirih leaf. Chew the whole thing for sheer pleasure. 🙂Selling sirih prepared with gambir, pinang & kapur

It’s getting dark and as we head for home, we pop into a cafe for a taste of local es teler, something I first discovered in Bali. It’s a heavenly concoction of coconut milk + coconut flesh + avocado + jackfruit + sweetener + other stuff, all immersed in ice flakes. Simply delicious!A quick stop for tasty cold es teler

And in the streets, ladies find their way home, some on taxi-bikes.Virtually every lady here wears head-cover

To be continued at the next chapter …


  1. Howard Yamaguchi 5 March 2008
  2. naimAuthor 7 March 2008