Tsunami & Disaster Mitigation Research Centre
A complex clustered around a new tsunami escape building that doubles up as an education & community centre, but also including some of the most stunning ruins of houses damaged in the 2004 tsunami
that are still in existence in Banda Aceh
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
for general tsunami background see under Banda Aceh
The area out here near the seafront, called Ulee Lheue, has been dubbed the tsunami's “ground zero”. This is an apt description in that it was the first district of Banda Aceh to be hit by the tsunami and one of those hit the hardest. Here the tidal waves rolling in were literally as tall as houses – or even higher in many cases. Almost everything was swept away – including a sizeable hospital!
Given the exposed location right by the low-lying coastline, it was decided after the tsunami to build a series of escape buildings here, in case another tsunami
hits (and given the ongoing tectonic activity in this part of the world it is more than likely that one day another will
come). There are now between five and eight such buildings. Numbers vary according to who you ask – I personally managed to count four, including this one, which also serves as a research centre of sorts.
I didn't see much evidence of any active research going on, but it certainly had elements of an education centre – mainly in the form of information panels and safety instructions for all manner of disaster scenarios (volcanoes included, even though Banda Aceh doesn't have any active ones, as far as I am aware).
The escape buildings were apparently sponsored and designed by Japan
(which has had its own share of catastrophic tsunamis
). The buildings all follow the same principle: allowing quick and safe access to higher levels through ramps that zig-zag up to as high as four or five storeys. That way even panicked masses should be able to advance up relatively safely and swiftly, whereas steep stairs could have led to falls and deadly accidents in a pushing mass of people. The upper two floors are equipped with kitchens and sanitary facilities, so people could hold out here for a while in comparatively comfortable conditions until help arrives. The roof also has a helipad.
The lower floors are basically redundant and just there to support the higher levels, but the space available there is used as a sort of community centre. The building also functions as an education/research centre. Furthermore, for the visiting tourist, the upper floors allow views over the adjacent memorial grounds and ruins – see below. Just across the grounds is also one of the best-known mass burial grounds.
What there is to see: From the road, the building looks like nothing out of the ordinary, like just another one of those faceless concrete functional boxes you see all over the world and especially Asia. Walk around to the other side, though, and the primary function of the edifice becomes visible:
Wide, zig-zagging ramps lead up at a low angle all the way to the top floor. This allows safe and quick access to higher grounds in the event of another tsunami. There are several such buildings around, so in theory the inhabitants of this exposed coastal part of Banda Aceh
should have a much better chance of survival next time around (whenever that may be). As a visitor you can simply walk in and go all the way to the top. The views are such that you can see all the way to the city centre in the one direction and over to the coastline and the ocean in the other.
Directly below, on the lawn in front of the building stands the mangled mess of a wrecked police helicopter that was destroyed in the tsunami (another one can be found at the Tsunami Museum
in the city centre). And just beyond there are two larger house ruins. Some sources say these are remnants of the hospital that was swept away in the tsunami, others claim that at least one of them was actually the home of one of the wealthiest residents of Banda Aceh. Whatever the truth may be, they surely convey an impression of what forces must have been at work here. Apparently the houses were completely submerged in the highest of the tsunami waves – and this means up to three storeys high!
Beyond the ruins you can make out the Meuraxa mass burial grounds, though its main monument is hidden by one of the ruined buildings when seen from this angle.
“Inside” the building, that is: along the walls as you make your way up the open walkways to the top, you can see a number of educational info panels. One provides general instructions on how to use the escape building both during a tsunami disaster and at other times. Another shows the “new face of Banda Aceh” listing all the new sights and attractions, a good proportion of which are linked to the tsunami. Others give visual instructions on behaviour in volcano hazard areas, during earthquakes, even on workplace health and safety, and of course on tsunamis
(e.g. how to read early warning signs). This is complemented with some well-known images of the devastation after the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004.
In addition there are panels suggesting big plans for the future; plans of expansion and development at this site to turn it into a large-scale, hi-tech heritage park. They look very ambitious indeed, including a tall observation tower, a 4-D “Oceanotarium”, an event hall, school and “disaster heritage boats”. To me it all looked so overambitious that I really cannot imagine that these plans will ever have a chance of being turned into reality. But who knows. I wish them luck.
Intriguingly, at the bottom of the panel there are six round spaces with photos, of New York
, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo
, the 101 in Taipei, Taiwan
and … wait for it: the Taman Pintar Lapindo – that's the Sidoarjo mud flow
! Whether that is to indicate similar plans for that site too, or what this can possibly have to do with those other five places, is beyond me.
Despite such minor mysteries, I found visiting this escape building, seeing the ruins and the views one of the absolute highlights of my day tour of Banda Aceh
. It is a bit out of town, but absolutely worth making your way out here!
in the north-eastern Banda Aceh
district of Ulee Lheue near the new seaport (with ferries to Pulau Weh), some 3 miles (4.5 km) from the city centre.
Access and costs: some distance out of the city centre, but not too tricky to locate; free
the location is a bit out of walking distance when coming from the city centre, so some form of transport is required, be it a taxi, motorbike, or: by including the site in a more extensive guided tour. This was the case when I visited. I hadn't even known about this superb site before I got there and am very grateful to my guide for including it in the tour – see under Banda Aceh
If you have to make your own way to this place then it's not too difficult either: just follow the main Sultan Iskandar Muda boulevard all the way from the city centre (e.g. from the Thanks to the World Park
) to its end at the roundabout opposite the shiny mosque (with a sturdy octagonal free-standing minaret) and just before the bridge to the new ferry harbour. At the roundabout take the first exit to the left and carry on for about 300 yards.
Admission is free, and there are no official opening times, but it would only really make sense to come here during daylight hours.
Time required: about half an hour to 45 minutes, depending on how long you want to spend on taking in the views ...
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Banda Aceh
By the bridge leading towards the new ferry harbour some tsunami
ruins can be spotted (some of the graffiti even marks them as such). Also on that peninsula is supposed to be a monument commemorating the Japanese
landings during WWII
, but I did not see this for myself.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: This site is practically just by the road leading to the ferry harbour, so it could easily be slotted in en route to the boat to Pulau Weh – which is the main draw for tourists interested in the exceptional snorkelling and diving at that tropical island.
Less exotic and far less adventurous aquatic fun can be had in the water park just down the road from the escape building/research centre. You can see the incongruous sight of a tall water slide from a distance.
- 1 - tsunami escape building
- 2 - rules
- 3 - view down
- 4 - ruined house
- 5 - wrecked police helicopter
- 6 - view over the edge of town towards the sea
- 7 - big ambition
- 8 - big plans
- 9 - big changes already achieved