Touristy things to do during Ramadhan in Banda Aceh

As the capital of the province which implements Islamic sharia law, Banda Aceh offers a unique tourist destination for holidaymakers, especially those visiting during the holy month of Ramadhan.

In addition to gorgeous beaches and a unique coffee-drinking culture, it is home to many historical sites linked to the era of Islam's arrival to the archipelago. It is a good place to explore for both pilgrims and non-religious tourists alike. According to Banda Aceh Mayor Illiza Sa'aduddin, the municipality has prepared various Ramadhan activities for visitors to enjoy during their stay. Here are some that might interest you.

Culinary adventure

During the fasting month which started on June 17, devouring local culinary delights for break-fasting and sahur (predawn meals) is a must-do.

Food vendors -- many of which are not available outside Ramadhan -- can easily be found throughout the city selling Acehnese cuisine such as mie Aceh noodles and ayam tangkap (fried chicken).

"Don't forget to taste our other signature dishes like mie kocok [mixed noodles], martabak [pancake], pulut [sticky rice with meat filling] and timpan [cake made from glutinous rice flour with srikaya fruit filling]," Illiza told The Jakarta Post Travel during a recent press conference.

Mosque hopping

A trip to Banda Aceh would not be complete without a visit to the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque. Originally built around the 16th century during the reign of Sultan Iskandar Muda and later rebuilt by Dutch colonials in 1881, the 32-pillar mosque serves as the city's major landmark as well as an historical icon.

Once done touring the Baiturrahman, visitors can continue their visit to other places such as Al-Makmur Grand Mosque, Baitul Musyahadah Mosque and the Baiturrahim Mosque. The latter, similar to Baiturrahman, also survived the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami which devastated the city.

Pilgrimage trip

According to Illiza, the tomb of Syiah Kuala, one of the province's most respected ulema (Islamic religious leaders), is a very popular destination among pilgrims.

The Sultan Iskandar Muda cemetery is also recommended for those seeking to pay their respects to the twelfth sultan of the Aceh Darussalam kingdom, regarded by many as the most successful ruler of the kingdom.

Join local tradition

At the start and the end of every Ramadhan month, Acehnese families traditionally hold a ritual called meugang. It includes slaughtering cattle to be cooked into various meat dishes and then feasting together with extended relatives.

This unique tradition is said to have started in the 14th century alongside the spread of Islam in Aceh.

"We have many foreign tourists from Malaysia and some of them have joined in the meugang tradition. They insisted on doing the whole ritual, from buying the cattle, to cooking and then feasting together," said Illiza.

Visitors of the municipality are also welcome to join in other celebrations throughout the city such as the Kampung Ramadhan culinary festival, the azan (call for prayer) competition, the Quran reading contest or Musabaqah Tilawatil Qur'an (MTQ) and Qiyamullail or the late night prayer service.