Introducing Banda Aceh
Indonesian cities are rarely coupled with pleasant descriptions, but Banda Aceh breaks the mould. The sleepy provincial capital is an extremely pleasant spot to spend a few days. The village-like atmosphere and dusty, unobtrusive streets make for a laid-back, easily explored town filled with cheery faces. The proud folk rarely betray the tragedy that they must have experienced during the Boxing Day tsunami; looking at the reconstructed city today it's impossible to reconcile it with the distraught images of 2004. In Banda Aceh alone, 61,000 people were killed and development outside of the city centre was reduced to a wasteland in a matter of a few hours. Today you'd hardly guess that anything had happened.
For a few years the city was awash with aid workers, who not only helped rebuild the town you'll find today but also kick-started the economy to catering to nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). Prices soared and the local economy boomed as foreign expense accounts paid for taxis, steak dinners and overpriced hotel rooms. Now that the NGOs have pretty much gone and the reconstruction is complete, the miniboom is over. However, Aceh has greater control over its resources, in particular oil, so the town is relatively affluent and the streets, the homes and especially the mosques are well maintained and looked after.
Banda Aceh is a fiercely religious city and the ornate mosques are at the centre of daily life. In this devoutly Muslim city, religion and respect are everything. The hassles are few and the people are easy going and extremely hospitable to visitors.