Photo: PTLD Apung.

Introduction

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Banda Aceh is the northernmost capital in the northernmost province in Indonesia. Tragically, it gained worldwide recognition on December 26, 2004 when a massive earthquake rocked the city and surrounds, and a subsequent tsunami claimed the lives of more than 60,000 people in the city and more than 170,000 in the province.


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Prior to 2004, the province of Aceh was off-limits to visitors without prior government approval due to an armed insurgency battling the Indonesian military in order to gain greater autonomy for the region. After the tsunami, both sides laid down their arms and the Indonesian government gave Aceh its long sought after autonomy, which led to the government of Aceh introducing a modified form of Sharia law.

While in the past it would have been accurate to describe Sharia law in Aceh as Sharia light, this is sadly no longer the case. Public canings have occurred, including two men being caned over 70 times for "gay sex" in May 2017. Homosexuality is legal in Indonesia but Sharia Law takes precedence in Aceh, where Sharia law empowers local vigilantes to publicly identify and detail anyone perceived as violating the rules.

The mayor of Aceh, Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal is on record as saying she "I want to save our next generation". "Imagine what it would be like if the whole world started liking the same gender." "We don’t hate them as people, what we hate is what they do." Astounding ignorance.

Foreigners and non-Muslims are likewise (at least in theory) subject to these laws and so because of this we advice LGBT travellers to consider carefully before deciding to visit the province of Aceh. For that matter, any traveller who finds the above to be reprehensible should consider if they still want to visit.

It should also be noted that men and women are not officially permitted to stay in the same room together unless they are married or from the same family, although this is seemingly overlooked by some hotel owners.

Banda Aceh is primarily used by travellers as a transit point for Pulau Weh, with few people sticking around for more than a couple of days. Truth be told, anything more than just a couple of days in Banda Aceh is probably too much, especially when you have the beaches just west of town crying out to be visited and the magnificence of Pulau Weh just an hour away by ferry.



Orientation
Most accommodation in Banda Aceh is located right in the middle of town, a short walk across the bridge from the central mosque, Mesjid Raya Baiturrahman. Around this area you will also find plenty of eating options while most of the tourist attractions in town are within walking distance.

As a staging point for adventures down the west coast, Banda Aceh can’t be beaten. Adventurous types come here to rent motorbikes or cars to set off to explore the rarely touched beaches of the west coast, particularly now that the road has been rebuilt post-tsunami.

ATMs are scattered throughout town, 3G internet is patchy but workable, and all services such as medical and police are available within town.

What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Banda Aceh.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Read up on where to eat on Banda Aceh.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Banda Aceh.
 Read up on how to get to Banda Aceh.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Banda Aceh? Please read this.





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