Banda Aceh: between sharia law and tsunami history

We didn’t really know what to expect from a city known for enforcing islamic sharia law. Would I need to wear a headscarf? How would be welcomed? Well, it turns out – as usual – the media makes things look worse than they actually are. People were super kind and quite happy to see us visiting their city: we had a lot of photos taken while visiting the tsunami memorial sites. I didn’t need to wear a headscarf (except when visiting the mosque, where men needed to cover their knees as well) but did dress conservatively out of respect: with a pair of long trousers or a skirt and my elbows covered. I even got a kind nod from the “women sharia police” when they saw me. So nothing to worry about as long as you’re being respectful.

The tsunami museum & the many sites with washed up boats (and tanker!) were my favourite places to visit around Banda Aceh. It almost felt like going on a little treasure hunt: walking through the little streets hoping to find them. Here’s a picture that shows the crazy devastation 10 years ago.

A special thank you to Cut who went out of her way of showing us around her city. We had an amazing time and we’ve seen a lot of places we otherwise wouldn’t have discovered.

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Banda Aceh travel information

  • Transport: We flew in from Kuala Lumpur and took a minivan out to get to Takengon (8h approx).
  • Stay: Hotel Wisata is located perfectly, close to some good street food (don’t forget to try the noodle ball soup!).
  • Things to do: Wander around town, visit the tsunami museum (which has an impressive entrance) and other tsunami sites around the city. The mosque is pretty impressive as well and there are some shopping streets around which are nice to explore.
  • Food: The food stalls in Banda Aceh don’t really have names, but we weren’t disappointed by the choices we had. Try out one of the many warungs and coffee bars.


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