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Tsunami Museum, Banda Aceh

    
  - darkometer rating:  7 -
 
The main site in Indonesia for commemorating, and educating people about, the disastrous 2004 tsunami that laid large parts of Banda Aceh to waste. The architectural design is such that it can also serve as an escape building should another tsunami hit. The exhibitions inside the museum took a long time to be developed but today are definitely worth a good look. 

>More background info

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

     
More background info: in general see under Banda Aceh
  
The development of this museum has been accompanied by controversy and bickering about money and responsibilities, in typical Indonesian fashion, but the outcome is now absolutely worth it for dark tourists to visit. 
  
The museum was first opened in 2009, even though at that point it was largely empty. The exhibition space is now used to reasonably good effect, though. For years there had been criticism that the exhibition was patchy, low-key, underdeveloped, poorly maintained, and so on and so forth.
  
It still isn't on a contemporary Western hi-tech level, but much closer to it than I was led to expect. OK, some interactive elements didn't work, but you can encounter that even in top-notch Western museums as well. There was certainly little space left unused, and the mix of displays and media was pretty good, especially by Indonesian standards. So I reckon lots must have been done in recent times to get it up to scratch … maybe with the 10th anniversary of the disaster in 2014 in mind.  
  
The architecture of the museum has never been much contested. It has indisputably added another key landmark to the city of Banda Aceh. Not only is it a striking design in aesthetic terms (even though that will always be a matter of taste – but I for one liked it), it also has invaluable practical merits: in case of another tsunami it can function as an escape building for people to take refuge in on the higher floors. See also Tsunami & Disaster Mitigation Research Centre
  
  
What there is to see: When I went to see this museum it happened to be on Hari Raya (end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, also known as 'Eid' in other parts of the world), i.e. a public holiday (one of the most important ones locally) and the effect of that was that this museum was absolutely packed with visitors, almost exclusively locals (it was the same at the PLTD Apung 1). On normal days I guess it will be nowhere near as busy here. So my experience of the museum was somewhat different to what other tourists may encounter. 
  
As you approach the entrance, you pass an outdoor exhibit: the wreck of a police helicopter, smashed up by the tsunami. It serves as a kind of introduction to the forces of the tsunami. 
  
Once inside you first pass through the so-called Lorong Tsunami, or 'Tsunami Alley', a dark passageway flanked by high walls down which water is dripping/flowing. This is supposed to convey an impression of being engulfed by water in a tsunami such as Banda Aceh's … but I did not feel it really delivered the intended effect all that well. It remains rather too abstract for that. But maybe there was just too much distraction through the sheer number of visitors at the time and the concomitant noise level that comes with large groups of people. Alone and in silence it may work better.
  
You then reach a low-ceilinged hall with mirrored walls (to make it look bigger, I guess), filled with a couple of dozen interactive screen stations showing photo and video footage of the disaster of 26 December 2004 and its aftermath. 
  
Next comes a memorial room. It is round, the walls are inscribed with the family names of victims, and when you look up you realize that you are underneath the tower element of the museum building. It narrows at the top towards an opening/window that has symbol in it that to me looked like Arabic script. I would guess it must be a kind of Islamic blessing or something like that. (My knowledge of both Islam and Arabic is too limited to be sure of this, though.)
  
After that you reach the main central hall along a bridge that leads diagonally up to the next level. It hovers over a large pond at the bottom in which fish swim (large goldfish or koi carp). From the latticed steel supports of the glass roof of the hall hang flags of a few dozen nations with the word 'peace' in their respective languages next to them. This is a tribute to all the nations that contributed to the relief funds and reconstruction efforts (like in the Thanks to the World Park). 
  
Finally you come to the museum exhibitions proper. You are first greeted by a large scale model of the museum building, giving you a better impression of the architectural design than the real thing in life-size does (except that the colours of the facade are wrong on the model). Panels explain the overall concept in more detail. On the wall that reaches all the way down to the entrance lobby there's a mural/relief of the Aceh province. 
  
Next to the upstairs level of the lobby is a cinema room where a nine-minute introductory documentary film about the earthquake and tsunami is shown (with English subtitles)
  
The exhibition rooms that follow are divided into separate sections, including one labelled 'temporary' which (at least at the time of my visit) consisted mostly of photos of the destruction and the relief efforts and its many successes.  Here the texts accompanying the photos are in both Bahasa Indonesia and English. 
  
This changes to a degree in the main museum part and its permanent exhibition where English translations are not always provided. Some of the time you are left guessing what the monolingual texts/labels say, but often enough that is sufficiently facilitated by what you see. 
   
First there are yet more photos of the destruction, then a few objects in glass display cases follow, including a muddy and battered motorbike. There are before-and-after photos of Banda Aceh's coastline, as well as two large scale dioramas that make the same point. 
  
Yet more scale-model dioramas follow, including one of a giant breaker wave approaching a palm-lined beach from where little figurines run away in panic. It doesn't look remotely realistic (the waves came more like a surge, not like a single gigantic breaker of blue water with a white foamy crest). But I suppose it is more aimed at making an impression on the little ones (or illiterate adults). 
  
Finally there is a science section, full of diagrams, maps of seismic activity, tsunami charts and the like, with texts again partly translated into English. It is also here where you can find various interactive models and hands-on experiment exhibits. Not all of these worked, such as the water tank with a model of the coast that supposedly was to demonstrate the surge of the tsunami wave, but didn't. Some of the earthquake demonstrations did deliver their eye-opening effect, though.
  
There are also yet more screens, including one recording seismic activity, models of different types of earthquake geology, and another scale model of the Aceh coastline with LED markers to point out various individual locations. 
  
The museum also has a museum/souvenir shop but I didn't spot anything of particular interest for a Western dark tourist in it. 
  
Overall, I found the museum much better than anticipated, despite its few shortcomings. It should certainly be the first port of call for any tourist (dark or non-dark) coming to Banda Aceh. Compared to other museums I visited on my trip to Indonesia, this tsunami museum was far above average (cf. e.g. Pancasila Sakti and Monas). A must-see when in the region.   
  
  
Location: in the southern part of the centre of Banda Aceh, just across the road from the Thanks to the World Park and less than half a mile (750m) from the Grand Mosque (arguably Banda Aceh's other main landmark). 
 
Google maps locator: [5.5477, 95.3149]
  
  
Access and costs: quite easy to find, free. 
  
Details: from the centre of Banda Aceh it is walkable, just down the main road Jl Iskandar Muda from Baiturrahman Grand Mosque. From further afield you may need transport. When I went there it was part of a larger tour of Banda Aceh, which is probably a good idea in any case, as a guide can help compensate for the lack of English translations in some of the museum's explanatory texts and labels.   
  
Admission is free, but you can't take any bags in; you must deposit these at the reception desk (better take indispensable valuables such as passport and wallet with you) and on collection a small donation is kind of expected. 
  
Opening times: officially (going by the sign at the museum itself) it's open at least from 9 a.m. to 11:30 or noon and from 2 or 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. – but I've read that in reality opening times may be more “fluid”, so it might be best to enquire ahead or be flexible with your time.  
  
  
Time required: I spent about an hour and a half in the museum, but it was very full, so the going was slow at times. If it's not as busy you may get through it much quicker. On the other hand, you could spend even longer than I did at the various interactive stations (if they are working) and reading texts, especially if you can also read all the material that is in Bahasa Indonesia only.   
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: The Thanks to the World Park is literally just across the road from the museum – and provides the best view of the museum building. Also within walking distance, and thematically the most related site in town, is the PLTD Apung 1 tsunami memorial park. Just walk east along the park's southern edge and keep going until the turn-off to the left just beyond the bridge, then follow the signs. 
 
For more see also under Banda Aceh in general.    
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see under Banda Aceh – the city's other main tourist attraction, the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque is just a short walk up the main street. And the intriguing Gunongan and its park are just a stone's throw away to the south-east of the museum.  
 
   
 
  • 01 - Banda Aceh Tsunami Museum01 - Banda Aceh Tsunami Museum
  • 02 - closer up02 - closer up
  • 03 - wrecked police helicopter by the entrance03 - wrecked police helicopter by the entrance
  • 04 - dark passage04 - dark passage
  • 05 - lots of screens05 - lots of screens
  • 06 - looking up the tower06 - looking up the tower
  • 07 - main hall07 - main hall
  • 08 - multinational peace messages hanging from the ceiling08 - multinational peace messages hanging from the ceiling
  • 09 - pond with fish at the bottom09 - pond with fish at the bottom
  • 10 - map of Aceh province10 - map of Aceh province
  • 11 - model of the museum building11 - model of the museum building
  • 12 - damaged motorbike in display cabinet12 - damaged motorbike in display cabinet
  • 13 - before13 - before
  • 14 - after14 - after
  • 15 - over-dramatic tsunami depiction15 - over-dramatic tsunami depiction
  • 16 - not very realistic16 - not very realistic
  • 17 - spared mosque model17 - spared mosque model
  • 18 - earthquake damage preceding the tsunami18 - earthquake damage preceding the tsunami
  • 19 - quake physics experimentally illustrated19 - quake physics experimentally illustrated
  • 20 - tsunami simulation model not working20 - tsunami simulation model not working
  • 21 - know your earthquake geology21 - know your earthquake geology
  • 22 - interactive relief22 - interactive relief
  
 

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