Banda Aceh, Indonesia: Tsunami scars and Sharia Law

Feb 26, 2016

Just a short little post about Banda Aceh, the region of Indonesia ruled by Sharia Law and absolutely devestated by the 2004 Tsunami.

This boat came to rest on top of house and allowed the occupants and a few neighbors to escape with their lives.

In case you don’t know, Indonesia is a Muslim country. Calls for prayer ring out from Mosques at the normal times and people dress quite conservatively but it’s really no different from anywhere else. Banda Aceh on the other hand, is a little more conservative and Sharia Law is the law of the land. In fact, there are a few places in Indonesia where Sharia Law rules but Banda Aceh is one of the more strict locations. Special police who enforce Sharia Law are known to be around town “policing” and while the laws primarily only apply to Muslims, they do spill over to tourists in some areas. The only reason a tourist might get hassled would be if they were walking around in a Bikini or Speedo or, openly flaunting that they were a man and woman sleeping in the same room without being married, however one might flaunt that. Alcohol and other overly liberal things like Valentines Day are also strictly prohibited. Most people, we included, had no issue whatsoever in Banda Aceh and were not expected to conform to all of the Sharia Laws. That being said, it is respectful and advisable to adhere to some cultural norms like women covering their heads (not faces) and not wearing revealing clothing.

Banda Aceh is also one of the places devastated by the Tsunami of 2004 that wiped out damn near everything in town including 230,000 people. The waves reached nearly 10 kilometers inland and carried massive ships more than 8km from where they were moored, sometimes on top of building or in fields. It truly is a bizarre sight to see and a constant reminder for many of the people in town. The town looks very different now as everything is of course rebuilt but the memory still remains. We met several people who lost family members and one guy, our tuk-tuk driver who took us to the see the sights, showed us where he was when it happened and how he escaped. He said he never saw his family again; he was one of ten including his parents. Heavy stuff to say the least.

This was a power generator boat which washed 8km inland during the Tsunami.

Aside from the Tsunami sights and the fact that Banda Aceh is a necessary stop for most people going to Pulau Weh, there’s not so much to do. You can use it as a base to visit some remote surf breaks or volcanos further outside of town but you’re probably better off just staying closer to those attractions where the accommodation will be cheaper and more convenient. Getting to them might be the hardest part.

If you are going to Pulau Weh and passing through Banda Aceh, be prepared to spend a night there as the ferry is somewhat unpredictable even with the regular schedule as they often leave whenever they are ready or just cancel the ferry if conditions aren’t perfect. As one guy put it, they recently sank one of the ferries by overloading it and sending it out in choppy seas killing something like 600 people, so they are now being very cautious. Anyway, that being the case, you might need to build in some extra time. We didn’t and had an unexpected night in Banda Aceh which wasn’t all bad but annoying nonetheless.

Category: Places

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