A Woman Traveling Solo Through Islamic Indonesia

Sharia Law: Banda Aceh and Pulau Weh

January 2020

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What I expected

I had some really scary images if Banda Aceh. Beard clad men wearing long robes, bashing me over the head for not wearing a scarf. Getting arrested for doing something wrong, even if I didn’t know it was wrong.

A few questions lingered in my head. Did I have to wear a scarf? Could I go without a man escorting me? What if something happened over there, how would I get help? Would they hate me because I’m Christian?

What really happened

Nothing really happened. No one yelled at me or bashed me in the head. No one hated me for being a Christian and I didn’t have to wear a scarf.

Differences between Banda Aceh and Pulau Weh

I was too nervous to stay in Banda Aceh when I first arrived. I flew in and caught a taxi to the ferry office. I sat there for a few hours and ended meeting a really cool girl. She was on her way to Pulau Weh. She ended up joining me at Lumba Lumba and we also split the room. Worked out for us both.

Pulau Weh

I can’t describe accurately just how amazing and fun this place is. It’s western enough to make you feel comfortable but also a local vibe going for it.

I stayed at Lumba Lumba Dive Resort at Gabang Beach. This strip is Westernized but also a local hangout. Families play with kids on the beach and high schoolers conduct projects and hangout.

They ask women to not wear bikinis on the beach. Women walk around in shorts and tank tops. If you leave the area, they ask you to wear long pants and a shirt. I wore the requested long pants and t-shirt, never had a problem with it, even going into Sabang the main town.

The strangest thing you will notice is the woman will wear the headscarf sometimes and then other times they won’t. I noticed this in Sabang when the tuk-tuk driver went down small avenues in the local neighborhoods.

I saw this on Gabang Beach as well. Sometimes I didn’t recognize them because I didn’t realize they wore a scarf.

It’s a beautiful island and everyone is so lovely. Maybe I’m seeing it through tourist’s eyes. I don’t know but I loved it.

Banda Aceh

When I left Pulau Weh I stayed one night in Banda Aceh. I can’t say I loved it here, not sure I even liked it. It felt strange and uncomfortable.

My hotel was fine and they were helpful and nice. I went to get pizza next door and started a conversation with the local guys. They were really curious about America and asked a lot of questions. They were also interested in how I felt about Sharia law. They asked me if I was afraid to come to Banda Aceh and if I regretted coming. They also told me about friends that were too scared to come over here because of the law.

One guy, a spiky blonde Indonesian, yep an Indonesian guy with bleach blonde hair, was nice enough to go on the hunt for a coke with me. The looks I got while walking with him were odd, to say the least.

It was a broad range of looks, from curious to dislike. I’ve never seen so many heads swivel on a scooter. I’m not sure if it was because I wasn’t wearing a scarf, alone with a guy or because I was a foreigner. Either way, it was uncomfortable.

Final Thoughts

Yes, I was nervous and I was a little scared. In the end, I had nothing to worry about. Just be conscious of the rules and you should be fine.

You also have complete access to Instagram, Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. So they don’t regulate what you can view on the internet.

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