Indonesia, Sumatra, Banda Aceh
Banda Aceh airport is primitive to say the least however getting the $25 visa on arrival was a doddle compared to the circus in Vietnam. After two flights and lots of queuing we just wanted to get into town, it had been a long day, so we actually went with the first guy that approached us offering a taxi, turns out he only charged 5000 rupiah (about 45 cents) over the going rate. This we soon discovered was because his taxi was a 20 year old Toyota with no brakes or windows!
Banda Aceh town is a melee of motorbikes, though nowhere near the scale of the chaos in Vietnamese cities. The roads are barely wide enough and unmarked but traffic seems to just ebb and flow as it pleases, there are far fewer cars here than in Thailand and the town center has some clean palm lined roads – a lot of NGO dollars poured into Banda Aceh during the tsunami cleanup.
After checking in at the very average Medan Hotel hunger had surpassed tiredness so we hit the streets as the call to prayer rang out and night fell. Our first feed was a little kebab stall offering some meat on a skewer labeled as ‘turky’, tasty it was … whatever it was. Next stop was the local night market where we could get amongst it and chow down on street food with the locals at local prices. Dishes here tend to cost about a dollar though I had yet to see a beer for sale anywhere in this deeply religious town which is still under Sharia law.
I wanted to have a look at the tsunami museum as I came closer to it than most. The ordeal I witnessed in Thailand was nothing compared to what happened to this city which was virtually wiped off the face of the earth on December 26, 2004. Over 30,000 lives were lost in the city alone and the museum is a testament to them and those that survived to re-build Banda Aceh into the thriving hub that is it today. It is a somber and humbling reminder of the power of mother earth and the fragility of human life; we are but specs on this big rock.
Pretty much everyone in Indonesia smokes, it is practically encouraged. Adults will smoke in the faces of their kids and consequently the kids are smoking before they’re in their teens. Maybe it makes up for the lack of alcohol … not sure which is the lesser of the two evils, actually I am – it’s the cigarettes.