The Jakarta Post
Baiturrahman Mosque seen from a tower. (Shutterstock/File)
When people hear of Aceh, what comes to mind is a puritan area where nothing fun ever happens.
Aceh began to adopt Islamic law in 2001 after a wave of decentralization allowed provinces in Indonesia to issue regional laws. The 2005 Helsinki Agreement that ended the decades-long insurgency in Aceh also strengthened the enforcement of the sharia, but it was not until 2014 that Aceh fully embraced the Qanun Jinayat.
Aceh is not a two-dimensional place constrained by sharia rules. Here are some reasons why visitors should not be discouraged to visit Aceh:
Read also: Aceh: a guide for visitors
Cannabis is not a taboo for Acehnese people, as the substance is traditionally used as a spice in the kitchen. Cannabis is believed to add flavor and tenderness to meat-based dishes like curry. The plant was originally cultivated on coffee plantations under Dutch rule as a cheap method of keeping pests at bay.
Acehnese restaurants in Jakarta do not use cannabis for legal reasons.
Any self-proclaimed coffee lover must have heard about Acehnese Gayo, one of the most popular single-origin coffees in the world. Coffee is inseparable from Acehnese daily life, as reflected in the countless traditional coffee shops found in the province. Aceh people can stay for hours in a coffee shop, talking about anything from art to politics.
A must-visit is the legendary Warung Kopi Solong (Solong Coffee Ulee Kareng), with kopi sanger (robusta coffee and condensed milk) and espresso as favorites. The joint does not offer kopi luwak (civet coffee) as its profit is donated to mosques and it would be inappropriate to give money from excrement.
The beaches of Aceh are often overshadowed by those of Bali and Lombok, which also means they are less crowded and cleaner. The sharia-compliant beaches are closed at 6 p.m. and it is forbidden people who are not muhrim (lawful spouses or close relatives) to swim together. However, there are non-sharia beaches as well, most notably the white-sand Lampuuk Beach.
Aside from beaches, Aceh plans to develop outdoor activities to boost tourism. Alas River in Aceh is being developed by the Tourism Ministry for rafting.
Mie Aceh is your gateway food to the great culinary delight that is Acehnese food. Rich in spices, Acehnese food might take a few bites to get used to, and then hook you right in. Try ayam tangkap (fried chicken with salad leaves), keumamah (dried fish with thick curry sauce), martabak Aceh (savory pancakes) or dodol Aceh (glutinous sweet).
We get it, there are museums everywhere. But where else in the world can you relive the experience of the 2004 tsunami that paralyzed Aceh? The Aceh Tsunami Museum, designed by Bandung Mayor Ridwan Kamil, showcases photographs depicting Banda Aceh's devastation after the tsunami.
Also visit PLTD Apung, a 2,600-tonnage ship wrecked in the middle of the city that bears witness to the disastrous power of the tsunami. Now the ship is a tourist destination and education park. (kes)