In 2004, the region of Aceh, included its capital Banda Aceh was devastated by the second largest Earthquake ever recorded in history, which resulted in what we know today as the Boxing Day Tsunami. Of all the areas affected, Aceh was the most devastated area, with the size of the tsunami reaching 30 meters.
After years of rebuilding with international and local aid, the region of Aceh has bounced back and has worked hard to put the Tsunami devastation behind them. The area now boasts many new homestays and hotels, along with an array of cafes and restaurants sprouting around the city.
After years of meeting people who were part of the Tsunami reconstruction and hearing stories of what the locals went through, I finally made a visit to Aceh. The region of Aceh is located in the northern part of Sumatra, with Banda Aceh being the capital of this region. Lhoknga is a small coastal village located about 20 minutes from Banda Aceh and is best known for its surfing and beautiful beaches.
I found Aceh to be a beautiful part of the world. It has picture perfect beaches, especially around the Lhoknga area, and further inland is home to lush jungles and beautiful rice paddy views.
Aceh is for travellers who prefer a simpler way of life, and love natural landscapes and beaches. If you are an avid surfer or keen kite surfer, then Aceh is definitely a great spot for you. The area is still relatively underdeveloped, so don’t expect 5 star hotels or luxury restaurants. If this is what you are looking for, then somewhere like Bali or Phuket is more suited for you. But if you are after a town that is untouched by mass tourism, with natural beauty, and possibility for some great surf in Aceh, then this is a great spot.
If you are planning a trip here, I would recommend staying in Lhoknga. It is a quaint coastal village with a variety of homestays you can stay at, and the people here are laid back and friendly. You’ll find many overseas visitors between November to March, who are visiting Lhoknga for the Banda Aceh surf season.
Table of Contents
- Grab a board and go surfing
- Go Kite Surfing
- Visit the Kapal Tsunami
- Visit the Aceh Tsunami Museum
- Watch the Sunset at Lhoknga Surfing Beach
- Visit the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque
- See the Boat on the House – the Lampulo Boat
- Explore the Nature
- Stay Healthy & Buy Some Fruit
- Try a Terong Belanda Juice
- Try Nasi Campur at the Local Warung
- Get Around on a Bicycle or Motorbike
- Eat Masakan Minang Food at Restauran Bunda
- Speak to the locals
- Sail out to Pulau Weh (Pulau Sabang)
Grab a board and go surfing
Lhoknga is the main spot if you are looking to surf Aceh. There are 3 main waves – the peak and the left handers are the most popular and consistent, and would suit medium to advanced surfers. If you are lucky, you may get to surf Cemara Right, which is a world class wave on its day.
The Banda Aceh surf season in Lhoknga is between November and March, with February being the most popular month. During this time, the homestays in the area do book up so if you are the kind who like to arrive and book, it’s best to book accommodation in advance if you plan to visit during the surf season.
Go Kite Surfing
The kite surfing season is between May & September, and kite surfers can experience the strong westerly winds while kite surfing along beautiful lagoon waters. Lhoknga is a great spot for kite surfing, with great views of mountainous terrain in the distance.
If you are interested in Kite Surfing, Yudi’s Place houses the Seabreeze Kite Club, which offers kite rentals.
Visit the Kapal Tsunami
If you want to learn more about what happened in Aceh during the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, then the Kapal Tsunami Museum is the best place for it.
The Kapal Tsunami was a 2,500-ton barge that that was dragged 5 kilometres inland by the Tsunami, destroying pretty much everything in its way. It is now left in its end position and has been converted into a Tsunami museum as a reminder of the devastating impact left by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. The visit to this museum is an emotional one, but I believe an important lesson in what really happened.
If you are short on time, I would recommend visiting this museum over the official Aceh Tsunami Museum. It is free to enter, but be aware of prayer times as they do close during these times. There are money boxes around the museum, which are requests for donations to the local mosque, not for the museum. There is no obligation to donate and it is entirely up to your discretion.
Visit the Aceh Tsunami Museum
The Aceh Tsunami Museum is another place to learn more about what happened during the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. The museum showcases images, videos and visual representations to help give you an idea of the impact of the tsunami. The building itself is also a shelter should the area be ever hit again by a tsunami.
The architecture of the museum is quite impressive and was designed by an Indonesian architect by the name of Ridwan Kamil.
It is completely free to enter, and similar to the Lampulo Boat, there are money boxes around the museum and most times it is a request for donations to the local mosque. Again, no obligation to donate and it is at your discretion.
Watch the Sunset at Lhoknga Surfing Beach
The sunset along the Lhoknga beach is dramatic and is best enjoyed at one of the beach shacks with a fresh coconut in hand. The best beach shack is the Joyu’s Surfer’s Rest, which is the one furthest from the entrance to the beach. During the surf season, this shack has a great atmosphere with many surfers hanging out here after a big day of surfing. You can also check out Sunset Cafe, another great spot to watch the sunset.
Visit the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque
This mosque is the largest of its kind in Aceh and is an impressive sight to see. It is located in Banda Aceh and managed to survive the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. During the tsunami, the mosque acted as a shelter for survivors. It is possible to visit the mosque, but you will need to be discreetly dressed.
See the Boat on the House – the Lampulo Boat
The Lampulo Boat was a fishing boat that was dragged inland by the Tsunami and landed on the roofs of two houses. Apparently during the Tsunami, this boat saved 59 people from drowning. Today the boat has been left as a memorial to what happened during the Tsunami. It is free to visit.
Explore the Nature
In addition to the beautiful beaches, the region of Aceh also has many lovely natural sights to visit. From rice paddy landscapes to lush jungle that lead you to a secluded bay, it’s worth taking the time to explore. Most homestays will be able to give you a bit more guidance about where to go and may even offer to take you for a small fee.
Stay Healthy & Buy Some Fruit
All along the drive from Banda Aceh to Lhoknga, you’ll see fruit stalls selling a good variety of local fruits. They are fresh and you would be supporting local businesses. If you are looking for some healthy snacks, then I recommend getting fruit. From bananas to dragon fruit to apples, you can get a good variety at reasonable prices.
Try a Terong Belanda Juice
Fresh fruit and vegetable juices is available at most warungs, cafes and restaurants. My favorite juice in Aceh was the Terong Belanda juice, also known as Tamarillo. It’s sweet and tangy, a perfectly refreshing juice after a hot day of sightseeing. Just as an FYI, there is a tendency around Asia to add extra sugar into fresh fruit juices – if you don’t want extra sugar added, just let them know.
Terong Belanada is a native South American fruit, and is now available almost everywhere around Aceh. It’ll give you a good dose of vitamins, and apparently helps with weight loss and is good for your skin. What better way to help with keeping healthy while traveling?
Try Nasi Campur at the Local Warung
I love Nasi Campur, because you get to pick dishes you want on your plate and you get to try a variety of things to try. There are a number of places around Aceh to have nasi campur. I recommend always looking for a place that is busy during lunch, because then you’ll know the place is good and the food is safe to eat.
In Lhoknga, I really like Warung Kak Rose, which is located on Jalan Raya Lampuuk, about 300 meters from Yudi’s Place. Kak Rose is only open for dinners from 6pm onwards and especially in February during the surf season, Warung Kak Rose gets really busy.
Get Around on a Bicycle or Motorbike
If you are not keen on renting a motorbike to get around, then rent yourself a bicycle. Cycling around Banda Aceh can be a bit hectic, with a lot of cars and motorbikes on the road, but it is easy to get around in Lhoknga on a bicycle. So I would recommend biking around the local villages, rather than the main city.
Cycling on a bike is a great way to explore the local areas and also see the beautiful nature that surrounds this area. Your homestay should be able to assist in arranging to rent a bicycle… or even motorbike if you prefer.
Eat Masakan Minang Food at Restauran Bunda
When you eat minang food at Restoran Bunda, they will bring out every single dish they have and you only pay for what you eat. Similar to Nasi Campur, this is a great option to try a variety of dishes. The restaurant is clean and gets quite busy at lunch, which is always a good sign. This restaurant is quite famous in the city and most locals will know it.
Dishes I recommend here are the satay, fried chicken, beef rendang, chicken curry and the green beans with grated coconut. You can also try the Terong Belanda juice here.
Speak to the locals
The locals are really friendly and happy to speak to tourists. The locals especially in Lhoknga in general speak a decent level of English, which is enough for a good conversation.
I found there were so many locals who had interesting and fascinating stories to share, especially about their experience during the 2004 tsunami. If you want to really know what happened in 2004, ask the locals.
Sail out to Pulau Weh (Pulau Sabang)
Pulau Weh is located to the north of Banda Aceh on the Andaman Sea and is best known for its snorkelling and diving. Part of the island has been protected by the Indonesian government and Pulau Weh is home to a diverse wildlife.
It is possible to fly to Pulau Weh from Medan, which will take you to Sabang. But if you are trying to get to Pulau Weh from Aceh, then you can take the ferry from Ulee Lheue Pier in Banda Aceh. It is said that the best time to visit is from April to November, which is the dry season.