It's a predominately Muslim culture with breathtaking scenery. It's an incredibly interesting place to volunteer off the beaten track. Volunteering with IHF allowed me to get involved in the community and led to many great experiences. If you are interested, check them out online.
I chose to volunteer in Aceh particularly because I wanted to experience a vastly different culture to my own. It has been fascinating learning about the 2004 tsunami as there is a museum and there are many monuments in the city. I was initially a little nervous about going to volunteer in a predominintely Muslim community as I thought that I might do something wrong or offend someone. However, it has been very enlightening, the Acehnese people that I have met have been extremely friendly and have been keen to explain their religion and culture to me. I have made lots of friends and I love the taste of Acehnese coffee! The scenery here is gorgeous as well, they have loads of white sand beaches and towering tree-covered mountains. On days off local volunteers usually come to the center on their motorbikes and drive us round the city or to the beach.
Fondest memory: The IHF center in Aceh is primarily an Educational center, it holds free English, Maths and Computer lessons six days a week for students from the first year of Junior school to college level. It has many local volunteers who teach and help with the daily running of the center and two full-time local volunteers.
While I was at the center I taught English classes to all ages five days a week as well as helping with things such as recruitment campaigns in local underpriveliged areas and the running of events such as workshops.
As the center is small it is a great place for your own ideas and input. Whilst I was there I spearheaded a project where I created a yearly curriculum for all the English classes for the center to use. I also organised putting on a charity fundraising concert which was stressful but really easy in a lot of ways. I had the idea for it on a Monday evening and by the Saturday night the concert had started! People here are really helpful and businesses and the media are easy to reach so it is comparatively simple for your ideas to come to life when you look at all the red tape you would have to go through in many other countries.
In general I have had a great time at the Aceh center and I can’t believe that it’s almost time for me to go! I have learned a lot about the running of NGOs and the processes involved in keeping a education center like this open. It requires a lot of hard work and long hours but is also very rewarding. Through my online international work I have gained experience in other areas apart from teaching. I have also learned about the pressures of organising an event and how to use them as a fundraising tool. If you come here I reckon you will have an awesome time and come away with a new set of friends and experiences just like me!
This is more of a memory than a tip.
When I was walking around the Lampu'uk area, I came across a golf driving range. It was adjacent to the surf beach and seemed to be quite a strange recreational activity to have so far away from an urban area. Perhaps it is frequented by the more wealthy visitors from Banda Aceh.
It is certainly not 'Augusta' or 'Royal Melbourne' but I suppse if you are having golf withdrawal symptoms while travelling through Sumatra....
We make it a point to drop in at the tourist information office of a town we visit for the first time. The office of the Dinas Pariwisata Aceh (Provincial Tourism Department) is housed together with other government services.
Did we come too early in the morning? The tourist office was locked, there was some running about to find the key and a knowledgeable employee. But in the end we were served very well with a map of Banda Aceh, a comprehensive Aceh tourist guide booklet (bilingual English and Indonesian), another booklet on Sabang (English), and even a Banda Aceh culinary guide (bilingual).
Address: Jalan Tgk Chik Kuta Karang no 03, Banda Aceh.
Directions: On walking distance from Hotel Medan and Foodcourt Rex, about 700 m east.
Website: www.acehtourismagency.com (Indonesian language)
Favorite thing: Aceh in general has an interesting history. During the Dutch colonialism, Aceh was the last region in Indonesia conquered by the Dutch. And there are many heroic stories and epics about the bravado of the heros and heroines of Aceh. Aceh was also given a special status of region from the Government of Indonesia. There are only two special regions status in Indonesia; Yogyakarta and Aceh. Aceh was also under long year’s conflict since 1970s. The region became very isolated and continuously under travel warning. Only those who are brave enough and have strong nerve could travel to Aceh. Then, several peace resolutions attempts failed. Tsunami on December 2004 destroyed most of the coastal areas in Aceh. Banda Aceh and towns along the west coast became “cities of ruins”. In Aceh alone, there was around one hundred thousands live death or missing. More hundred thousands were displaced. In several months after the Boxing Day, Banda Aceh was caught to recover from the thousands of bodies. Though hurt and painful, there was historical point in Aceh long process to peace process. A peace agreement was signed on 15 August 2005 in Helsinki between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement. Another new chapter has started in Aceh.
In the beginning of recovery program, Aceh became one of the most multicultural spot in Indonesia. Almost all nationalities were found here. And many different people from different islands of Indonesia (remember, we have 17,000 islands) were found here too. Suddenly, Aceh became very international, very open for visitors after years of conflict.
No longer after that, many national and international organizations came to Aceh to provide assistance. And Aceh was surprised with visits of important people from around the world. Let say, former president of the United States, Bill Clinton and George Bush, Queen Anne of Britain, former UN General Secretary, Kofi Anan, etc.
Then, street of Aceh was filled with new branded cars with logo sticker of the organizations. The sudden open access of Aceh also brought up the prices, especially accommodation and food. Inflation rate was high. Both local and international people started complaining about the price. Many times the increase of price is not followed by the good service, and this is usually annoying.
These days, Aceh (Banda Aceh in particular) is starting to get more quiet. More and more organization close down their operation and foreigners started to leave.
Prices started to decrease. This time, the business people (such as seller, house owner) started to complain. Friends and lover who were met because of the opportunity are usually sad to see their loved ones leaving Aceh. As a coin always has two sides, there are always two sides on something.
Favorite thing: Though several years have passed since the boxing day on 26 December 2004, still, talking and visiting Aceh will nearly impossible not to talk about tsunami. Though people are moving on and they prefer not to talk again about the tsunami topic, but you will always find people who are willing to share their experience on that day. Also, if you travel on your own and decide to walk around, Becak driver will approach you and offer what they called “tsunami tour”. Usually, you will be taken to the places where you still can see the footpath of the disaster.
During an Air Trip from Jakarta to Banda Aceh, don't miss watching a beautiful Panorama of Sumatra Island. From above we could see a scenery of green Palm tree and rice fields, a mountain range of Bukit Barisan with its Tropical Rain Forest, a long and winding River stream. It was in counterfeiting a boring three hours trip up to the destination
Fondest memory: A few moment before landed at Polonia Air Port- Medan, the air line crew announce an information that the flight fly over North Sumatra Province and explained that a beautiful Panorama of LAKE TOBA could be seen from the left side windows, unfortunately my seat was on the right side. I wish I could have another chance to see LAKE TOBA from above by take a window seat on the left side for a trip from Jakarta to Banda Aceh and take a window seat on the right side for a trip from Banda Aceh to Jakarta