Exploring Banda Aceh

Banda Aceh is the capital city of Aceh province and the getaway to Pulau Weh. It’s well worth spending one or two days exploring the city and its surrounding area before heading to the island. The sharia law is strictly implemented in Banda Aceh. Almost all women wear a hijab in public, alcohol is strictly prohibited, and unmarried couples can get flogged for holding hands. It’s a huge and interesting contrast to the relaxed  lifestyle found a  45-minute boat ride away on Pulau Weh where you can see girls in bikinis and people enjoying cold beers on the beach.


Must-knows for female travelers 

I did some research before going to Aceh and found out that non-Muslim woman are not obliged to wear a hijab in public when visiting the city. You should however dress modestly with loosely fitted long clothes to show respect of their culture. If you want to blend in with the locals, I also advise wearing as simple headscarf when visiting restaurants or going for walks. Another interesting fact is that female customers are not allowed to be served food or drinks after 11:00p.m. For more details, have a look at this article publish by the Jakarta Post.

Things to do

Baiturrahman Grand Mosque

Don’t miss a visit to this beautiful landmark. Its colonial-style architecture is magnificent and its large courtyard with the sparkling clean white marble floor is a great place to sit still for a while and soak up the unique atmosphere surrounding this place. This grand mosque holds a special place in the heart of many of the residents Banda Aceh’s. It was the only building left standing in this part of the city after the devastating tsunami in 2004 and gave refuge to many people during that difficult time.

Entrance to the mosque is free but a small donation for the person who will keep your shoes safe at the entrance gate is highly appreciated. Women must wear a headscarf and a long dress or long skirt when visiting the mosque. This rule is strictly enforced. I even saw a young Muslim girl wearing a hijab and pants who was turned back at the gate.  

Apung 1 Museum

This large ship used to be a floating power plant and demonstrates the enormous strength the tsunami hitting Banda Aceh in 2004 had. It was swept almost 2km inland, destroying what was in its way. It was left there, in the middle of the city and is now a museum.


Around sunset time, the road to Ulee Lheue harbour turns into a huge outdoor coffeeshop. Lots of people sell coffee, snacks, and of course fresh coconuts out of there converted vans. We found a deck filled with tables and cool kids in front of an old, broken-down industrial building right on the seashore. It’s probably not an official coffeeshop and not on Google maps, but this is the location. It’s THE place to be for sunset. Perfect for sipping a coffee, people watching and feeling blown away by all the colours the sky can turn into.

Cureh Beach – soak up the sun at Aceh’s most beautiful beach

This beach is just 16km west of Banda Aceh and we were told that it’s the best beach in the whole province. We actually stumbled upon it when looking for a place to camp near the city. First follow the paved road to Cliff Beach Lampuuk. From there a rough dirt road leads to Cureh Beach. You can find a few simple resorts there if you fancy some drinks or food.


Enjoy some grilled seafood

Pantai Lhoknga which is close to Cureh Beach has many seafood restaurants to choose from. Have some fresh grilled fish with delicious sambal and kangkung (waterspinach). They usually offer to options: Ikan bakar bumbu, which is grilled fish with spices or Ikan bakar kecap manis, meaning grilled fish with sweet soy sauce. I’d go for the first option as the sweet soy sauce often overpowers the taste of the fish. Selamat makan!

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