Aceh: Tourism back in the limelight 20 years after the big tsunami

ACEH – Twenty years have passed by since the big tsunami swept away 170,000 lives in this Sumatra’s northernmost province, Aceh. Much has changed since then. Aceh has rebuilt itself and business is back as usual.

So, I took a trip to Aceh under the invitation of the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia, Penang to see for myself if Aceh has truly found its lost soul and how responsive is the city to foreigners after the implementation of the Islamic Shariah law.

The Light Of Asia

As a non-Muslim, my trip here has opened my eyes to know more about the big tsunami but above all, the truth about Aceh.

Dubbed “The Light of Asia”, Aceh upholds the noble values and sanctity of Islam. It doesn’t sideline the minorities and is as welcoming as any city in Indonesia with warm friendly locals and diverse places of interests.

In fact, there is a Chinatown, Peunayong which is inhibited by the Chinese for generations, reflecting the tolerance and respect of the diverse communities there.

My impression of Aceh as a peaceful city is personally drawn from my own experience. I carelessly left my bag containing valuables at the premises of Haji Keuchik Leumiek Mosque but thankfully, I found my bag back untouched after 30 minutes.

For me, I rather go for a holiday in a place that gives me peace of mind, free from crime and the rat race, and Aceh is the perfect choice.

Legacy of tsunami

Aceh Tsunami Museum

A visit to Aceh will not be complete without taking a trip down memory lane to understand more about the 2004 tsunami.

The Tsunami Museum built in 2007 is a symbol of strength and resilience of the Acehnese. A walk along the tunnel gave me a chilling experience with water dripping from the top like a tsunami wave.

I felt melancholic seeing a damaged helicopter, remnants and images of the tragedy, as well as the chamber with all the names of the deceased engraved on the wall.

If the tsunami experience is not enough, visit the mosques which miraculously survived the calamity. The Rahmattulah Mosque is still standing strong although the surrounding houses, buildings and trees were all wiped off by the 30-metre-high waves.

Baiturrahman Grand Mosque

Another mosque, Baiturrahman Grand Mosque built by the Dutch in 1881, the city’s landmark with seven domes and eight minarets was virtually unscathed. Today, its architectural marvel made the mosque a perfect place for selfie and renew one’s faith.

Being adventurous, I also explored The Stranded Ship Museum which featured a 2,600-tonne vessel PLTD Apung 1. The ship was swept away from the sea 5 kilometres to the village during the tsunami and is now preserved as a memorial site.

Island paradise

Sabang Marine Festival

Apart from the legacy of tsunami, Aceh is ideal for a fantastic time under the sun. Sabang Island, a volcanic island surrounded by iridescent corals and marine life is popular among tourists for snorkelling and diving activities.

I was lucky to capture dozens of dolphins turning the sea into a water playground. It reminded me of the movie “Free Willy”.

Best of all, I could partake in the Sabang Marine Festival 2024 surfing, flyboarding, parachuting, cultural performances, boat parade, water skiing and many more activities.

From sea to mountain, I trekked up Jaboi Volcano which is 200 metres above sea level. It has four craters and I could not help myself pretending like Gandalf of The Lord of the Rings striking a pose at the edge of the crater.

Finally, I saw the Light of Asia and seen the truth. Aceh is safe, peaceful and have so much to offer to tourists. One thing is sure, I will be back again. – April 3, 2024


Francis Yip is a fashionista and a multiple award-winning lifestyle writer and creative director. He is also the CEO of Franciswriter Dot Com and guest lecturer in The One Academy.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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