To finish off our two weeks in Sumatra we flew up to Banda Aceh in the northern tip of Sumatra. This area is primarily known for two things: the 2004 tsunami and Sharia law. It was the hardest hit area of the world with over 200,000 people killed or missing in the natural disaster 13 years ago. And since 2002, the province of Aceh (the province where Banda Aceh is located) has enforced the controversial Sharia law whilst governing somewhat independently of the rest of Indonesia.
But we came to visit the tropical island of Pulau Weh, just two hours off the coast.
After a night in Banda Aceh and some lovely dim sum and beef sate in a cool cafe where all the towns movers and shakers seemed to be drinking iced coffee, we caught the slow ferry to the island. It was Saturday so the ferry was packed and we resigned ourselves to sitting on the floor in a corridor, until a friendly local guy came along and offered to share his cushioned mat.
The island is mainly known for diving but we had read about a nice beach of the east coast (Pantai Sumur Tiga) where we found a lovely resort built up the hillside. It was stunning.
When we managed to pull ourselves away from the hammock on the balcony, we rented a moped and explored the island over two days. It reminded me a little of French Polynesia with its lush green countryside and hilly interior surrounded by cerulean waters.
We stopped in the main backpacker area, Iboih, for some lunch (nasi campur) and a shake in a restaurant overlooking the beautiful blue water and out to the jungly Rubia Island.
Another day we whizzed up and down the hills and around the bends avoiding monkeys, cow pats and baby goats that lined the road. It was beautiful. We broke the journey with fresh cold coconuts at a stupendous viewpoint as well as on a pristine deserted white sand beach.
On our final day, we spoke to the hotel owner, a young Indonesian woman. She was Muslim but did not agree with some of the rulings of Sharia Law and explained the difficulties she has had with running the business. She felt being a woman made it much harder under Sharia and lots of people in the community did not want her to succeed. She was also criticised for employing mainly single mothers with some people accusing her of running a brothel.
The next day we caught the ferry back to Banda Aceh and had some time before our flight so we wanted to visit the Tsunami Museum. We found a tuk tuk driver, who suggested stopping at the ‘big boat’ on the way. It was a massive 2,600 tonne ship that the force of the tsunami had washed 3 km inland, where it now rests as a sombre reminder.
The driver spoke really good English and explained that the boat had flattened his home and that his wife, baby and brother had all died in the tsunami. It was incredibly sad.
The museum itself was a bit of a hotchpotch but there was some shocking footage of when the wave came in. The building has also been designed as a safety centre should another tsunami hit.
An eye opening last few days in stunning Sumatra.
Next stop: two nights in Kuala Lumpur and then Japan