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Heading to Aceh

View 2010 Colombo, Lebanon, Syria & Aceh on alexchan's travel map.

large_5550_12802214056541.jpgFrom the air you can see that quite a chunk of Banda Aceh is low lying.
Fashion Crisis Takes a New Meaning

It was a midday departure from Kuala Lumpur to Banda Aceh [Banda-Aceh-travel-guide-861194] on a short flight of 1h25min. I had time for a leisurely curry breakfast (rendang, tempeh, cucumber and pineapples) after dropping off my bag at the baggage drop.

The implementation of Sharia law in the autonomous Aceh province is different from that in neighbouring countries like Singapore or Malaysia (eg. covering inheritance, marriage, proximity etc). One can supposedly be stoned to death for adultery and men (local Muslim men, anyway) cannot wear shorts.

So I wasn't sure whether to wear my long shorts or my jeans. Fashion crisis takes a new meaning here!

I made a brave move and opted for my long shorts as they had handy cargo pockets.large_5550_12802214053656.jpgThe maroon and blue roofs are new homes on higher ground.At the boarding gate, I noticed a few men with long flowing robes ... I felt underdressed.

Strangely they boarded the flight to neighbouring Medan at the next gate ... strange because that is a rather Christian city.

Held up at Immigration

Upon arrival I chatted up a couple of Norwegians to share a ride to the Banda Aceh's port of Ulee Lheu (pronounced like Eulalie). I whisked through as I didn't need a visa.

Unfortunately for them, the Bank counter collecting visa payments ran out of receipts and they were held up for about 2 hours while more receipts were requested from town. It didn't help that the runner bringing the receipts got involved in a car accident!

I don't think it is some kind of bribery scam eg. hoping people would say "I don't need the receipt" as the payment is collected by a bank rep while immigration sights the receipt before stamping the passport.large_5550_12802214056160.jpgGreen padi fields (sawah) just before touch down.

Looking on the bright side, foreigners couldn't even have got Visa-On-Arrival at Banda Aceh airport a couple of months ago ... this is very new. They would have had to apply to the embassy in their home country or fly into anothe airport like Medan.

At 2:30pm I couldn't wait any longer for fear of missing the boat from Eulalie to Sabang on the island of Weh. So I left the airport by myself shouldering the full fare of the taxi ride (about USD10).

It was sad talking to the taxi driver as he had lost his entire family (including wife and 3 kids) in the tsunami ... they were all at home together but he was the sole survivor.

Ferry to Sabang and onwards to Gapang

Fortunately my new found Norwegian friends made it on to my 4pm ferry by just a whisker. Things got strange again upon our arrival at Sabang ... I managed to get a local minivan to my dive resort (Lumba Lumba) at Gapang beach. They weren't permitted to join me but had to go in a taxi at the same price per head.

Apparently the minivans and the taxis have a rostered responsibility for the transport of white people to Gapang beach even though there's no price difference. I had the privilege of getting honorary local status.

I find the Acehnese very easy to understand as they have a similar accent to my fellow countrymen. They are also very gentle, kind and friendly. Their opening price is always the price indicated in the guidebooks and there seems to be no overcharging or bargaining ... so far.
I had dinner at a beach shack with my Norwegian friends chatting and swapping travel stories.

There had been a storm and the weather was actually quite cool. The last thing on my mind was being in the sea! I was surprised at how cool it can get at sea level in the tropics!

More on Sharia Law

On paper the upper limits of the Acehnese Sharia law seems severe ... but the day-to-day look-and-feel is no different from, say, Malaysia.

Women, young and old, ride around on their motorbikes wearing fuschia headscarves. Men wear long shorts and take their shirts off on the beach. In the rural areas, women literally let their hair down (and out) without a headscarf.

They even have dogs around ... which is really unusual for Muslims. I often associate dogs in Indonesia with Christian villages where they are a delicacy!

Beer is available at selected places, though I'm not sure if it is legal.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Indonesia

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