Palembang does not quite rank high up on our Indonesian holiday destination list, as compared to Bali, Bandung, Yogyakarta or Jakarta. It’s probably because we know very little about this city, apart from the fact that it’s one of the oldest cities in Southeast Asia.
Palembang is actually the capital city of South Sumatra. It’s the second most populous city in Sumatra, after Medan and the ninth most populous city in Indonesia. Recently Palembang’s Jakabaring Sports City became the highlight of the region as a venue for the 2011 Southeast Asia Games and 2018 Asian Games. Gelora Sriwijaya Stadium, one of the biggest stadiums in Indonesia is situated within this complex.
From our history textbooks, we know that Palembang was the capital to ancient Buddhist civilisation Srivijaya. Parameswara, founder of Malacca is also said to be from Palembang.
Last month, we managed to fly out to Palembang for a quick 3-days 2-nights trip and discovered that the city has so much to offer and is an underrated holiday destination. In this first part of our Palembang article, we would like to share some of the must-go to places in Palembang.
As it turns out, Palembang has a plethora of tourist attractions, from historical sites to nature. We just wish we had more time to explore the city.
For tourists, getting around Palembang with public transport is very easy with the efficient Palembang LRT (light rail transit system), and Transmusi bus system. Popular e-hailing companies such as Gojek and Grab operate well here too. But the best part of this city that was once called The Venice of Sumatra by the Dutch is the Musi River and exploring the places along this river using local boats need to be on your list.
Rumah Limas Azis
This very well made model of rumah limas (traditional house) sits on Jalan Demang Lebar Daun and blew our minds at first sight. The gold accents on the carvings gave the house the feel of opulence. Inside, the well-preserved antiques and carvings adds to the luxuriousness.
Here, visitors can also play dress up and get their photos taken in Palembang’s traditional costume (available for male, female and children!) for a small fee. If you’re here with a group and interested in trying local delicacies, do ask for their ‘Ngidang’ menu. The owners are more than happy to arrange a beautiful lunch spread for you and your friends to have at the house. Just make sure you inform them ahead of time. Don’t forget to drop by the gift shop too take a look at well-curated selection of local crafts and fabric.
Another Rumah Limas that you should include on your list is the Rumah Limas at Museum Balaputra Dewa. This house is THE Rumah Limas image seen on the 10,000 Indonesian rupiah note. While not as well maintained as Rumah Limas Azis, its stately size of the house should tell you immediately that it was a home for a noble family.
Do ask for guides for both houses as these traditional houses come with deep history and fascinating architectural philosophies.
There’s a legend that surrounds the formation of this island. One of a Chinese prince, a local Palembang princess and disguised jars of gold that was thrown into the river. To know more about the legend and the myth surrounding the formation of Pulau Kemaro, you’ll have to read the full story on the plaque on the island. Here, visitors can visit the graves of the prince and princess as well as the landmark pagoda.
We visited the island on Cap Go Meh night and what a celebration it was! According to our guide, visitors local and foreign from as far as Hong Kong, flock to Pulau Kemaro once a year for this celebration. The pagoda was beautifully lit up, the air filled with smoke from joss sticks, a lot of people praying ardently, and of course, fireworks and firecrackers were everywhere. On normal days, Pulau Kemaro is not open to visitors at night. To get to Pulau Kemaro, just take a speedboat or the slower perahu ketek from the Musi River Jetty.
What was a labour of love of a local politician is now the biggest wooden Al-Quran in the world . The location of Al-Quran Al-Akbar is a bit out of town but the travel there is worth every minute. We were in awe as to how big each wooden ‘page’ is, and how they were beautifully carved out of precious tembusu wood, true to the pages of an actual Al-Quran.
Here visitors are brought in by groups, therefore everybody will get to hear an accurate explanation of the entire project. According to our guide, it takes about 40 people at one time to finish a wooden page, from tracing to carving and lacquering. Not all 30 juzs is on display here yet but whatever’s on display is enough to make our jaws drop. Al-Quran Al-Akbar is open to visitors of all religions, just make sure you are appropriately dressed.
Musi River Cruise
The mighty Musi River is about 750km long. It’s deep enough for large ships to dock at the ports on the banks, and the heart of the Sriwijaya empire. The Musi River cruise can seriously give the Mekong River cruise a run for their money. Not only is Musi cleaner than Mekong, it’s also less touristy. The riverside life is also more interesting.
For the cruise, pick a boat– the smaller and slower ‘perahu ketek,’ or the faster speedboat, and go along the river with your guide. We recommend that you bundle this cruise in together with a trip to Pulau Kemaro. This will also be a great opportunity for you to see the landmark of Palembang, the Ampera bridge. This bright red bridge connects the two sides (Seberang Ilir and Seberang Ulu) of Palembang. You’ll also get to see Kuto Besak, the only fort in Indonesia that is built without the help of the Dutch. On this trip, stop by at Kampung Arab Al-Munawar too. It’s a settlement for Hadrami Arabs in Palembang for centuries long. Some of the structures within this village are about 300 years old and still well maintained. Like Al-Quran Al-Akbar, you will need to be appropriately dressed to visit this village.
Kampung Tuan Kentang
Fabric lovers, this one’s for you! Set your e-hailing drop-off point to Griya Kain Tuan Kentang and start from there. You can start your visit at the Griya itself or venture into tiny alleys and take a peek at houses that doubles up as production workshops that make traditional songket, tenun (weave) and jumputan (local tie-dye). Come in the morning and you can see multicoloured jumputans hanging out to dry, and the sound of hand-operated weaving machines filling up the air. We recommend that you buy the songkets, tenun, and jumputan from these small producers. They’re cheaper in price.
While you’re at Kampung Tuan Kentang, from the Griya Kain, walk out through its back door towards the river and you’ll get to Rumah Kembar (Twin House). You can’t miss this powder blue wooden house by the river. It’s a great example of a rumah panggung (house on stilts) and it was built in the 1920s!
If you have the luxury of time, please visit the grand Great Mosque of Sultan Badaruddin II, and do the Ancient Tombs Route that covers Kawah Tekurep, Makam Sabo King King, Ki Gede Ing Suro, all tombs of great rulers and Sultans of Palembang. Don’t rush your visit and hear the stories from the caretakers of these tombs. Fascinating! If you’re a nature buff, Punti Kayu Tourism Forest is your thing.
In our next article on Palembang, we’ll talk about the delicacies of Palembang and a few other tips on visiting this city. Check back again soon.
Story and photos by Ili Farhana (Instagram : @ilitinyadventures)
Thank you Charming Palembang for making our trip possible.