Everything you Need to Know about Palembang

Palembang is the provincial capital and second largest city of South Sumatra. It is also the seventh largest city in Indonesia. Palembang used to be the centre of the Buddhist Sriwijaya Empire, whose dominance reached all the way to the Malay Peninsula. The name was derived from two words, pa (which means 'place') and limbang (or 'to pan for gold'). It is said that the wealth of the empire was rooted in the gold found in the rivers. At present, Palembang is home to almost two million people. It may be a bustling metropolis right now, but its culture is still rooted in the Sungai Musi (or Musi River).

Palembang also serves as a major port, as it is located about 80km from the river. The city became the export centre of the province when oil fields were found and bored in the early part of the 20th century. Aside from oil, other products exported from the port include rubber, coffee, pepper and pineapple. The main industries in the town are oil refining, fertilizer production and cement manufacturing.

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Palembang Attractions

Most of the attractions found in Palembang are tied into the city's rich history. The Buddhist Sriwijaya Empire may been long gone but the town has preserved its ties to the past through two museums: Museum Sumatera Selatan and Museum Sultan Machmud Badaruddin II.

Museum Sumatera Selatan is a recommended stop for all visitors. Located about five km from the town centre, this place provides the perfect introduction to Palembang's history. The museum houses many items from the Sriwijayan epoch; it is also home to megalithic pieces from the Pasemah
Highlands. Behind the museum, visitors will find an impressive rumah limas, or traditional house.

Museum Sultan Machmud Badaruddin II has some exhibits worth seeing, but the place is better appreciated for its structure; this museum is an architectural wonder, a fine example of the fusion of Malay and colonial styles. It was built by the Dutch in 1823 on the site of what used to be the Sultan's Palace.

Other city attractions to see are the Mesjid Agung Mosque, Ampera Bridge and Pulau Kemaro.

Palembang Restaurants & Dining

Dining is sure to be an interesting experience in Palembang. Most of the dishes here are served with various accompaniments. The most common of which is tempoyak, a mixture of fermented durian, terasi or shrimp paste, lime juice and chilli; it is stirred with the fingers and added to the rice.

The most famous dishes in Palembang involve seafood, which is no surprise since it is a riverine city. The renowned dishes are ikan brengkes (fish served with sauce that features spicy durian), pindang (spicy fish soup) and pempek (a combination of fish, sago and seasoning formed into balls and grilled or deep fried).

Those who want a taste of Palembang cuisine go to restaurants such as Rumah Makan Mahkota Permai and Rumah Makan Sri Melayu. The Floating Restaurant, which is located across the Sungai Musi, is also a good place to try local dishes. Tourists who want to interact with the locals can go to Pondok Selera near the Songket Village; it is an open-air establishment frequented by government workers.

Meanwhile, those who miss Western fare not need worry. Both French Bakery and Indo Cafe serve dishes and fancy coffee drinks that will cure temporary homesickness.

Palembang Nightlife

Palembang is not known for its night-time scene, but it does offer some nice options for night owls as there are a couple of bars and nightclubs in the city.

As expected, most bars and clubs are found in the hotels in the city. A recommended night-time spot which tourists should consider is the PC Club & Lounge, located in the fifth floor of the Princess Hotel (right across Palembang Indah Mall). Considered as one of the liveliest clubs in the city, this establishment has two private balconies and two bars, which serve a wide selection of liquors and cocktails. The club, which is big enough to accommodate 400 people, is open daily from 19:00 to 02:00.

It is a fact that spending the evening in a hotel can be pricey, and not all travellers can afford to splurge. For tourists on a budget, visiting the night market in Jalan Sayangan is the better alternative. There may be no dancing here, but there are a lot of noodle and sate stalls to satiate late night hunger.

Palembang Shopping

Avid shoppers will not be disappointed with the selections available in Palembang. However, while there are modern shopping places such as Palembang Indah Mall and Palembang Square Mall, the best places to shop in the city are those that sell local handicrafts.

The best souvenir to get from Palembang is the songket (a fabric included in the brocade family of textiles), and the best place to get it is Tanjung Tunpung. Located two km from the town centre, this is the village the local songket industry calls home. The storerooms feature sarongs used in special occasions and purposes, alongside more functional pieces such as scarves. The workshops are directly above the storerooms.

Another great place to buy songket and other textiles is the Pasar 16 Ilir. This was a floating market that has developed a full-blown bazaar. Here, visitors can buy batik and other textiles from Sumatra and Java. House ware goods are sold here too, but it is essentially a clothes market. The place is open from 06:00-18:00. Bargaining is not only allowed here; it is encouraged.

Palembang Activities

Aside from sightseeing and eating, there is not much to do in Palembang. Going to the cinemas is a good option, though. In Palembang, the movie theatres provide budget-friendly entertainment for tourists who do not know what to do or where to go. The ticket prices are relatively cheap but people should avoid the cinemas on Mondays; there is a discount given that day, but the theatres would be full of students and teenagers.

Those who want to stay active can also go to a fitness centre. Major hotels usually have their fitness centres, and guests can use the facilities free of charge.

However, if there is one must-do activity on the traveller's list, it would be to witness the Bidar Boat Race in Sungai Musi. This annual event is held in celebration of the country's Independence Day (August 17). The bidar (canoe) is a colourful boat that is 24 metres in length and .75 metres in width. It is raced down the river by as many as 50 men donning interesting costumes. This event should not be missed.

Palembang Information

Palembang can be reached by plane. The Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II International Airport, which is located about 12km north of town, carries flights by Silk Air from Singapore. Air Asia also has international flights. Airlines such as Garuda, Adam Air, Wings Air, Lion Air Batavia Air and Sriwijaya fly to domestic destinations such as Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Surabaya.

Getting around the city is made easy thanks to several transportation options. For shorter trips, the becak (cycle rickshaw) is the best choice, while buses and the Angkot (modified vans turned into a mini buses) are more suitable for longer distances.

Hot tropical weather can be experienced in Palembang all year round, though the wet season comes in October and lasts until April. The city can be visited at any time; however, travelling to less developed areas during the wet months can be a challenge. Tourists are encouraged to visit in August to witness the Bidar Boat Race on the 17th.

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