PLTD Apung

This is the second most important tsunami-related sight in Banda Aceh (after the Tsunami Museum).  It is a large floating diesel generator vessel that was carried far inland by the tsunami and got stranded right in the middle of a residential area of the city. It was left there as a monument and is now quite commodified, with a whole "tsunami theme park" around it, including a few house ruins, an observation tower, and a striking memorial monument. 

The prosaically named PLTD Apung 1 was an electricity-generating vessel, basically one giant floating diesel generator. It weighs a whopping 2600 tonnes! Yet when the tsunami of 26 December 2004 came, it not only ripped the vessel from its mooring but carried it some 2 miles (3 km) inland right into the city.  


When it was finally deposited by the receding waters in a poor residential district of Banda Aceh it landed right on top of two houses. 

There are still believed to be victims under the boat that crushed them together with their homes. So the site is also a very surreal graveyard of sorts. 

  

After the tsunami the huge hulk of this vessel became one of the symbols of the disaster and an early visitor attraction. People came to see this unlikely sight to get a feeling for the enormous powers at work during the tsunami. 

It would probably have been pretty much impossible to move it again, short of laboriously dismantling it and taking it away piece by piece. So it was decided to leave it in its stranded location, even though it also blocked a road.   

In 2012/13 the site was even developed into something you could only call a "tsunami theme park" – i.e. it was heavily commodified, with the addition of a monument, a landscaped park (incorporating ruins of houses), an observation tower, elevated walkways around the vessel and access stairs so that visitors can clamber aboard. Even souvenir stalls have sprung up by the entrance to the park. So it is clearly a visitor attraction of the highest order (at least by local standards). 

 
NOTE that this site sometimes gets confused with the Tsunami Museum, e.g. on Trip Advisor or even Google Maps. But they are two quite distinct sites at different locations (even though they aren't far from each other). 

What there is to see: First of all you get to see the very unlikely dramatic sight of the huge steel hulk of the PLTD Apung 1 itself. At first it doesn't even look like a boat at all. Partly because it isn't really a boat. It's more like a giant black barge, rectangular in shape, with a diesel-powered generator station on top – housed in a white, window-less box and with a thin smokestack poking up at one end. 

  

This squarish block just sitting there is indeed a surreal sight to behold, located as it is right in the middle of a residential area. It no longer looks quite as bizarre as it used to in the first few years after the tsunami, though, because the site is now so heavily commodified and accompanied by other elements. 

First of all: you now have to go through a gate (and pay a small admission fee) to enter the "tsunami park", which is now also completely fenced in. Once inside you see that there are elevated walkways all around the ship, even a tall observation tower with a spiral staircase leading up. The former street that the boat sits across has been repaved, as well as the whole area, and turned into a kind of landscaped garden or park with cobblestones and concrete design elements as well as various plants. 


To the right stand the hollow ruins of a house destroyed by the tsunami (presumably). Next to it is the approach ramp leading to the ship's deck. Once on board you can just go exploring the different levels of the vessel, but not the inside (at least as far as I could make out). 

There are bits of rusting technology, winches, pipes, etc., along with new additions: in particular the coin-operated telescopes on the top deck – of the same sort you find all over the world where there are viewpoints, be it on the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building.
When I was there it was Hari Raya (or Eid, the end-of-Ramadan public holiday in the Muslim world – cf. Tsunami Museum) and there were hundreds of other visitors about, mainly locals (from what I could gather). This gave the site a strange theme-park kind of atmosphere. 

(Those telescopes were popular – people were queuing for them!) It was all a bit out of keeping with this actually being a place of tragedy. This was brought home by my guide when he pointed out that the vessel sits on top of what would have been two houses - presumably with the remains of their equally squashed inhabitants still inside them. At the site itself, however, this aspect isn't particularly pointed out as far as I could tell. 

Once you've finished clambering around on the vessel and used the walkways/towers around it you can also take a look at a kind of monument that's been added next to the ship. It consists of a kind of cenotaph with inscriptions on it and a sculpture on top that looks like a ship and a wave.
Behind it is a semi-circular red wall with elaborate reliefs depicting scenes from the tsunami: houses engulfed by water, debris and cars floating around. 

One section of the relief shows the shape of the PLTD Apung 1 still being carried along by the floods. In a way this monument captures the drama of the disaster better than the original vessel does these days. 

Personally I found the commodification around it too much. Instead of adding to the site it detracts from its role as a memorial. But maybe that's just the Indonesian way.

  

Another element of the touristification of the site are the many souvenir stalls around the entrance area. The vendors can be a bit intense in their efforts to make you buy something. 

But I didn't spot anything that would have been tempting so we just had to push our way through them on our way back out. 

On balance: even though the site has become a bit too much of a tourist trap of sorts it is still essential sightseeing when in Banda Aceh.     

  

Location: In the middle of a low-lying residential area in the western part of Banda Aceh, ca. a two-thirds of a mile (1 km) east of the Tsunami Museum and about a mile (1.45 km) from the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque.  

 

Access and costs: The boat sits in what would normally have been a rather hidden location within a residential area, but it is now well signposted and thus easy to find; a small admission fee is now levied too.  

  

Details: from within the centre of Banda Aceh you could just about walk it to the PLTD Apung 1,  it's only about 20 minutes from the heart of the city (the Grand Mosque) and from the main road (Jl Sultan Iskandar Muda) it is signposted. 

Otherwise hitch a motorbike ride. When I went there it was as part of a longer tour of the city and its environs – see under Banda Aceh. 

The compound that the boat is the main part of is now fenced in and you have to use the official gate to get in. There is an admission fee, but I can't recall how much it was (my guide paid it anyway as part of the tour charge) but going by what other places charge in Indonesia it can't have been more than a couple of thousand rupiahs or so, i.e. a minimal fee equivalent to a few cents. 


Distance Information
  • Drive : ±20 minutes
  • Walk : ±45 minutes