Aceh Destination Guide
One of the most resilient of cities in the modern day, Aceh, still has a long way to go before it can settle into an urbane routine. Despite that, it surges on, clinging to life fervently, and working very hard at rebuilding a much stronger future for itself. Infrastructure has been repaired in most places, hospitals and places of public importance have been restored, and life is returning to normalcy. The people of Aceh continue to congregate at local warung kopis (coffe shops) to have a cuppa and a chat. Children can be seen travelling to school, carrying the torch of survival and strength, a spirit that is quite obviously not wiped out by freak acts of nature.
Though the harbour of Banda Aceh was badly affected in the Asian Tsunami, most of the city remains intact.
Our Aceh Destination Guide and Aceh Tour Suggestions will tell you all you need to know about the best places to visit in Aceh. For tips on how to get around in Aceh, read our Aceh Transportation guide.
Things to See & Do in Aceh
Tourism is now more than ever becoming a necessity here, and the people of Aceh are more than happy to be of assistance to visitors. Please bear in mind, however, that this Aceh is an Islamic country and the people take their religious strictures very seriously, especially when it comes to the dress code for women. So remember to don a headscarf and wear long-sleeved garments.
The Tourism Office at Jalan Chik Kuta Karang 3 has staff who are courteous and speak English too. Maps and bilingual booklets on the various tourist attractions are available. There are reliable banks for foreign exchange and to cash travellers cheques. Wartels provide International Telephone Facilities all over the town and there are conveniently located ATMs as well. Cyber cafes provide Internet and other facilities.
Museum Aceh is located near the Governor's Residence, in a house built by Dutch Governor Van Swart. The three-storeyed building is constructed in the traditional style and is a repository of valuable antiques, weapons and jewellery. Worthy of special mention is a huge Chinese Bell called Chakra Donya, a gift from the Emperor of China to the people of Aceh, with a Chinese inscription that is still to be deciphered!
Pinto Khop is the ceremonial gate to the Gunongan. It provides some unusual architectural insights.
Cut Nyak Dhien is a heroine of the Aceh War who fought fiercely even after she was blinded by the colonial forces. Located in Lam Pisang, which is about 6 km from Banda Aceh, Cut Nyak Dhien House is a replica of the original traditional bungalow, which was burnt down by the colonial forces. Several hundred years after her death, Cut Nyak Dhien continued to serve the Acehnese people as they sought refuge in this house during the Tsunami.
The Indra Patra Fortress was built by Sultan Iskandar Muda to defend Aceh from external invasions. However, the fortress was damaged by the tsunami and today its interest to the tourist arises from the fact that it stands as a testimony of the fury of nature.
Lhokseumawe today is being developed as an industrial township because huge LNG resources have been discovered in the area. Its historical significance, however, arises from the fact that it was the seat of the first Islamic Kingdom of Indonesia. The grave of the founder of this Kingdom of Samudera Pasai, Malikussaleh, is located 18 km to the east of Lhokseumawe. But what would really entice the tourist are the Blang Kolam Falls and the Ujung Blang beach - not at all crowded and therefore food for the soul.
Takengon, in the Central area of Aceh, is at an altitude of about 1200 m above sea level. With a temperature of about 20ºC, Takengon is almost a hill resort, very pleasant and cool.
The main attraction of Takengon is the Laut Tawar Lake, which is surrounded by soaring cliffs. At accessible heights, one can find rare beautiful orchids, while there are volcanoes further up for the seasoned trekker to explore. The Lake is filled with trout and can turn out be an angler's delight. Then there are the Loyong Koro and the Loyang Pukes caves that are definitely worth a visit.
And finally, for the ultimate family experience, there are the warm water pools close by - at Simpang Balik. A word of caution - local Aceh women swim and bathe in the pools fully clothed. It's important, therefore, for the tourist to be appropriately dressed as well so as not to offend local religious sentiments.
The Leuser National Park is one of the largest National Parks in the world, covering about 950000 hectares of virgin forestland. It contains within it the 100 km, steep and dangerous Bukit Barisan mountain range, beach forests, swamp areas with rare crocodiles, lowland rain forests as well as alpine and mountain forests.
The Leuser National Park is awesome in both its size and diversity. A day at the park would be utterly inadequate, almost pointless really. If you can set aside more than that, you could look at The Orangutan Rehabilitation Station, one of its kind in the world. Or you could delve into the mountain, alpine and rain forests and look for some of the 8500 species of flora growing there. Then go on to explore the 700 different species of mammals, birds and reptiles that have made the Leuser National Park their home.
The National Park is accessible from Kutacane or Takengon, the former route being more popular, as Kutacane is only 43 km from one of the entry points of the Park and can be reached directly from Medan by road. Accommodation at the Park is available at Ketambe. The facilities are functional and basic but nevertheless safe.
The Baiturrahaman Mosque, in the heart of Banda Aceh, is a grand monument and represents the power of Islam over Aceh. It was first built around the 12th century but caught fire many times after that, thanks to the numerous wars fought by and for Aceh. The mosque as its stands today is an imposing edifice of white walls and black domes, and was built by the Dutch military government in 1883. The Acehnese are proud of the mosque and it remains one of their best-known tourist attractions.
Kerkoff is of special interest to the Dutch visitor. Kerkoff, or graveyard, is the final resting place of General Kohler, who led the colonial attack, and also of 2000 Dutch and Eurasian soldiers. Tourists seeking to trace their ancestors' graves visit the cemetery to look for their names on the list of those buried there.
Gunongan is interesting because it is a man-made miniature mountain of stone and plaster. A gesture of love from a besotted husband to his exotic Malaysian wife, this was meant to be a water sport arena for Royalty. Gunongan was built by Sultan Iskandar Muda for his Malaysian wife, Princess Putro Phang, and is best visited at sunset.
In 1949, the Dutch launched an offensive to recapture Indonesia and met with a reasonable measure of success. Indonesia needed funds to acquire aeroplanes that would enable them to resist further invasion by the Dutch. The Acehnese people, in response to President Soekarno's request for assistance, donated gold, with which Indonesia acquired a Douglas DC-3. The Monument RI.001 is a salute to this gesture of the Acehnese people and is a major spot on the tourist map.
The Krueng Alas River that cuts across the Leuser Gunung National Park is the place for the adventure tourist. The river has numerous sharp bends and many rapids to set the adrenaline soaring!
What is now known as the governor's residence was once the Sultan's Palace. After the victory of the Dutch, the palace was converted into the residence of the Dutch Governor. It gives the tourist a view of the uniqueness of traditional Acehnese architecture.
Foreign Currency and Travellers Chq. Exchange
Bank Mandiri on JI Daud Beureueh 15
Wartel Palappa on JI Sulaiman Daud 36
City Maps and bilingual booklets
Tourist Office on Jalan Chik Kuta Karang 3
Hospital and Health Care
Rumah Sakit Dr. Zainal Abidur
BP Travel on JI Polem 75
BII Bank and BCA Bank on JI Panglima Polem
Syiah Kuala could very well be called the Confucius of Aceh. He was a great Muslim Ulama who devoted his life, first, to the pursuit of knowledge of Islam and science and then to the dissemination of this knowledge among the common Acehnese people through numerous books. The Acehnese, Malaysians and Indonesians regard his grave near the Krueng Aceh River as a sacred spot. The Syiah Kuala Grave is a high point in the Acehnese tourist map.
Ulee Lheue is an historic old port of Aceh which offers a glimpse of some typically Acehnese villages. Of special tourist interest here is the beach as well as the opportunity for fishing that the waters provide.