city and capital of South Sumatra Province, Indonesia

Palembang (IPA: [paˈlemˌbaŋ]), also called Pelembang (IPA: [pəˈlemˌbaŋ] or [ˈplemˌbaŋ]) by the locals, is Indonesia's provincial capital of South Sumatra with 1.7 million people (2020).

Understand edit

History edit

Kampung Kapitan, one of the oldest Chinatowns in the city.

Palembang is one of the oldest continuously inhabitied cities in Indonesia and even Southeast Asia (perhaps second only to Hanoi). The foundation of Palembang can be dated as late as the 7th century when it emerged as the imperial thalassocratic city-state of Srivijaya, one of the largest and most important Buddhist polities in ancient Indonesia. The city played a vital role in the regional cultural and economic landscape. Srivijaya controlled important chokepoints such as the straits of Malacca and Sunda, with Palembang acting as an entrepôt for commodities from all over the Archipelago and beyond. At the same time, it was also a thriving centre of religious education, with pilgrims from as far as China stopping there along the way to India to study Buddhist scriptures with local monks and scholars.

The original 18th-century minaret of Palembang's Great Mosque.

Following the sack of Palembang by Chola in the early 11th century, the city's importance began to wane. Palembang underwent a series of transformations, primarily under the influence of various Java-based polities, starting from Majapahit in the 14th century. In the early 15th century, the city had briefly fallen into the hands of Chinese pirates, but they were swiftly crushed by the fleet of Admiral Zheng He, who installed a Chinese administrator to govern the city. The 16th century saw the influx of Javanese royals establishing a new Palembang dynasty after a succession war, though nominally still under the suzerainty of Java-based kings and sultans. By the middle of the 17th-century, however, the rulers of Palembang had started using the title "Sultan" for themselves, proclaiming their independence from Java.

The Sultanate of Palembang controlled trade along the Musi River and nearby islands such as Bangka and Belitung, making wealth out of pepper and tin exports. This wealth are then used to build lavish buildings, such as palace compounds (keraton) and a grand mosque. The city itself begun to expand along the riverbanks, with older inhabitans mainly remaining on the northern side (Seberang Ilir), while newcomers, including Chinese and Arab migrants, were given permission to settle on the southern side (Seberang Ulu). The Sultanate continued to thrive up until the early 19th century, when a multilateral conflict involving internal factions as well as the British and Dutch colonial forces brought it to an end.

Following the Sultanate's abolition in 1825, the city became the capital of the Residency of Palembang, which had roughly the same boundaries as today's South Sumatra province. Palembang witnessed economic rejuvenation in the late 19th century with the rapid development of the petroleum and rubber industries, leading to unprecedented economic growth, increased urbanization, and the influx of migrants. It was formally incorporated as a municipality (gementee) in 1906, and by the 1930s, it had became the most populous urban centre in Dutch East Indies outside Java, with Medan and Makassar trailing behind. The pressure from the rapid urbanization led the city to to expand its infrastructure, from building a new potable water distribution system to reclaiming waterways for road transport. However, global economic downturn in the 1930s led to stagnation, with many projects having to be shelved.

Palembang was part of the Pacific Theatre during World War II. The Japanese occupation forces swiftly took the city for its oil refineries, and the Allies conducted multiple bombing raids against them. During the Indonesian National Revolution, the city also became the site of a major battle between the republicans and the returning Dutch force. In the aftermath of the Indonesian independence, the city continued to evolve into the modern city as we know it today. The construction of the iconic Ampera Bridge crossing the Musi in the 1960s marked a significant milestone in Palembang's development, facilitating urban development further away from the Musi River along a north-south axis. More recently, Palembang has gained recognition for its holding of international events, including the Southeast Asian Games in 2011 and the 18th Asian Games in 2018, both jointly hosted with Jakarta.

Orientation and navigation edit

The LRT Palembang crossing the famous Ampera Bridge

Originally, the development of Palembang spreads along the Musi riverbank, which splits the city into two sides, namely Seberang Ilir ("Upper Side") to the north and Seberang Ulu ("Lower Side") to the south. The Ampera Bridge is positioned very prominently in the heart of the city, and is almost always visible from anywhere along the Musi banks (within the city limits).

Unlike many Indonesian cities of its size, Palembang does have a fair share of large roads and streets, sometimes as wide as 4 lanes on each side. However, most of the older neighbourhoods in Palembang were built along hundreds of former small waterways which have long been reclaimed. This leads to very chaotic, unorganized grids of small alleys and lanes criss-crossed by large roads and streets. For this reason, addresses are often given with double road/street/alley names, with the larger one coming first, followed by the smaller one to clarify where the actual location is, then unit number, administrative divisions, and postal code.

Talk edit

See also: Palembang phrasebook

The main spoken language variety in the city is Palembang or Palembang Malay, known locally as baso Pelembang. It is related to, but still quite distinct from, various Malayic varieties spoken throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei, including Standard Malay and Standard Indonesian, Betawi, Musi, and Minangkabau, among others. The Palembang dialect differ from the standards mostly in terms of vocabulary, with it having heavy Javanese influence, but also slightly in terms of phonology and grammar.

As with many other places in Indonesia, this vernacular Palembang variety is often used together with Indonesian in a spectrum of diglossia, where the more formal the situation, the closer to the Standard (or to Jakartan Indonesian) the language will be. In the most informal situations, Standard forms may not be used at all, and the language will be harder to comprehend. Still, regardless of its limited usage in speech, Indonesian is practically understood by almost everyone, and is almost the sole language used in writing.

On the other hand, English is not widely spoken, especially considering that Palembang is not a major tourist destination for people from outside Indonesia. Some younger people may understand English better than most, though they may not as comfortable speaking in it. In addition, people working in hospitality and tourism-related businesses have higher chances to speak decent English.

Get in edit

By plane edit

  • 1 Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II International Airport (PLM  IATA), Jl. Bandara Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II, Talang Betutu, Sukarami 30761 (  Bandara SMB II LRT). Built in 2005 to replace an old airport. There are tons of flights daily from Jakarta, as well as an international flight each from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The Palembang LRT connects to the city with a special fare of Rp10,000. Taxis can be hailed and will take you to the city in 30 minutes for roughly Rp100,000. You can also use the TransMusi to Terminal AAL, and then transfer to other lines that can take you to the city proper, all for only Rp5,000!    

By train edit

Palembang's rail network is serviced from 2 Kertapati Station, 2 km south of the city centre along Jl. Kemang Kertapati road. However service is limited to trains from Bandar Lampung in Lampung, to Lubuklinggau in western South Sumatra, and a railbus to Sriwijaya University at Indralaya. From Lampung, there are two trains daily, one daytime express economy class train, Rajabasa and one overnight executive class, Sriwijaya.

By bus edit

Palembang is connected by bus from other cities in Sumatra (Jambi, Padang, Pekanbaru, Medan and Lampung) as well to Jakarta in Java. The main intercity bus terminal is 3 Alang-Alang Lebar Terminal (locally known as AAL) north of Palembang.

Get around edit

It is quite easy to get around in Palembang since there are a lot of public buses, modified vans (Angkots or Angkutan Kota) and for short distances there is always becak. Don't be surprised if they keep packing the buses and angkots with people even though they are full. Short trips should be no more than Rp5,000. Taxis are scarce, far between, and often refuse to use meters and insists on fixed price for certain distance. Just like other Indonesian cities, the most reliable and safe taxi in Palembang is Blue Bird. On land, motorcycle taxis, ojeks, are cheap, quick, and everywhere. Boats can be hired on the river.

By light rail edit

To support the 2018 Asian Games, a light rail system was built. The single line has 13 stations connecting the airport, the city centre, and the Jakabaring stadium complex from north to south. Trains run at least every 17 minutes daily from 05:05 in the morning, and takes up to 49 minutes from end to end. The latest train from DJKA Station is 19:01 and from the airport is 19:55. Tickets cost at a flat rate of Rp5,000, except for trips from and to the airport, which costs Rp10,000 (regardless of distance).

By bus edit

TransMusi is the best public transportation so far. For a flat rate of Rp5,500 (April 2016) you can hop on along its 11 lines in operation:

  • Corridor 1 : Bus stop below the Ilir part of Ampera Bridge - Alang Alang Lebar Bus Station (KM 12)
  • Corridor 2 : Perumnas Bus Station - PIM (Palembang Indah Mall)
  • Corridor 3 : Plaju - PS Mall (Palembang Square Mall)
  • Corridor 4 : Jakabaring - Karya Jaya Bus Station (Kertapati)
  • Corridor 5 : Alang Alang Lebar Bus Station (KM 12) - Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II International Airport
  • Corridor 6 : Pusri - Palembang Square (PS)
  • Corridor 7 : Kenten - Letkol Iskandar
  • Corridor 8 : Alang Alang Lebar Bus Station (KM 12) - Terminal Karya Jaya (Kertapati)
  • Pangkalan Balai Corridor : Alang Alang Lebar Bus Station (KM 12) - Pangkalan Balai
  • Indralaya Corridor : Terminal Karya Jaya - Indralaya
  • Unsri Corridor : Unsri Bukit - Unsri Indralaya

See edit

Main landmarks edit

  • 1 Ampera Bridge (  Ampera LRT). Open 24 hours. The first bridge to cross the Musi River in Palembang, and was the longest in Indonesia when it first opened in 1965. Originally a vertical-lift bascule bridge, its central span stopped being lifted only several years after opening. The bridge is the most prominent landmark in Palembang, being located right at its heart, connecting the two sides of Musi River. Free of charge.    
  • 2 Great Mosque of Palembang (Masjid Agung Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin Jayo Wikramo), Jl. Jend. Sudirman, 19 Ilir, Bukit Kecil 30111 (  Ampera LRT). This grand mosque was first opened in 1748, and has been renovated and significantly expanded a few times. The original praying hall and minaret are located on the western side of the compound (away from the main street), showcasing a mix between Palembang Malay, Chinese, and European architectural styles. The expanded praying hall is built around the original building with pyramidal roofs as well as a taller and slimmer minaret. Free of charge.    
  • 3 Kuto Besak (Benteng Kuto Besak), Jl. Sultan Mahmud Badarudin, 19 Ilir, Bukit Kecil 30113 (  Ampera LRT). 06:00–22:00. A walled compound from the Sultanate era on the northern side of Musi River. Originally completed in 1797, it is now used as the headquarter for the regional command of the Indonesian National Forces. The compound is closed to public due to its military use, though an enormous open plaza right in front of it functions as the city's main square. On the plaza there lies the 4 Belido Fish Monument, dedicated towards a protected endemic species that used to be the main ingredient in local delicacies. Free of charge for the plaza area.    
  • 5 Palembang Mayoral Office (Kantor Ledeng), Jl. Merdeka no. 1, 22 Ilir, Bukit Kecil 30113 (750 m/12-minute walk from   Ampera LRT). First built in the early 20th century to serve a dual function as both a water tower and a city hall. It now hosts the city's mayoral office.    
  • 6 Kemaro Island (30-minute motorboat trip from Kuto Besak piers). A riverine island which has seen various uses throughout history, from hosting an outpost of the Sultanate and a detention camp for political prisoners, to being a destination for cultural and religious tourism. The island hosts a Buddhist compound consisting of 7 Hok Tjing Bio Temple and the 9-story 8 Kemaro Island Pagoda. The city's annual Lantern Festival (Cap Go Meh) celebration is centered around the compound, during which the northern side of the island will temporarily be connected with a pontoon bridge to the mainland.  

Museums and heritage sites edit

  • 9 Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II Museum, Jl. Sultan Mahmud Badarudin, 19 Ilir, Bukit Kecil 30113 (  Ampera LRT). 08:00–17:00 (weekdays), 09:00–17:00 (weekends and public holidays). This municipal museum sits atop the remnants of Kuto Lamo, which used to be the royal court of the Sultanate before it was moved to Kuto Besak. Its current building, adopting traditional Palembang limasan architecture, was used as an office for the Dutch colonial resident. The museum showcases the history of the city, from the era of Srivijaya to the colonial period. Rp5,000 (general admission), Rp20,000 (foreign tourists).    
  • 10 Balaputradewa Museum (Museum Negeri Sumatera Selatan), Jl. Srijaya no. 1, Srijaya, Alang-Alang Lebar 30139 (700 m/10-minute walk from   RSUD LRT). 08:30–15:30 (Tuesday–Sunday), closed on Monday and public holidays. This state museum showcases the history of South Sumatra province, with displays ranging from pre-historic megaliths to Srivijayan era statues and inscriptions. The museum complex also hosts an iconic Palembang limasan house that was featured on the pre-2016 Rp10,000 banknote—they may also lend you a copy of this old banknote if you want to take photos comparing its illustration with the real-life house. Rp5,000 (general admission), Rp15,000 (foreign tourists).    
  • 11 Sriwijaya Kingdom Archaeological Park (Taman Purbakala Kerajaan Sriwijaya), Jl. Syakyakirti, Karang Anyar, Gandus 30148 (5.5 km/15-minute drive from the center of Palembang). 08:00–18:00. An archaeological site hosting remnants of an ancient settlement (probably from Srivijayan era) with networks of artificial canals. The park displays many artefacts such as Buddhist statues, potteries and ceramics, but no major historic structures, as the buildings there were most likely built from perishable materials like wood instead of bricks or stones.    
  • 12 Ong Boen Tjiet's House (Rumah Saudagar Ong Boen Tjiet), Lorong Saudagar Yucing no. 55, 3-4 Ulu, Seberang Ulu I 30124 (10-minute motorboat trip from Kuto Besak piers). 11:00–18:00. Former residence of Ong Boen Tjiet, a famous 20th-century Palembang merchant of Chinese-Indonesian background. Facing Musi on its southern bank, it features a mix between Palembang Malay and Chinese architectural elements, and hosts collections owned and maintaned privately by Ong Boen Tjiet's family. Can be also be reached through land route, though the alleyway to the house fits motorcycle only. No fixed price, but donations are accepted.
  • 13 Bayt Al-Qur'an Al-Akbar, Pondok Pesantren IGM Al Ihsaniyah, Jl. M. Amin Fauzi, Soak Bujang, Gandus 30149 (14 km/35-minute drive from the center of Palembang). Claimed to house the largest wood-carved copy of the Quran in the world, displayed page by page on the 15-metre high galleries. Reviews are mixed, with many travellers saying it is a must visit on a trip to Palembang and others complaining about a long drive on bad roads to a rural area and poor access for disabled people. Rp20,000 as of February 2020.  

Do edit

  • 1 Musi River. On the northern bank, the riverfront Kuto Besak and 16 Ilir plazas overlooking the Musi River and Ampera Bridge are popular spots for local families, youngsters and visitors to hang around and enjoy late afternoon breeze. There are also a row of warung terapung (floating eateries) boats on the east side of the bridge which offer various local delicacies. From the piers of Kuto Besak, one can also take motorboat trips to various destinations along the river (the price wildly varies depending on the length of the trip and the number of passengers). A trip just across the river or so (less than 2 km) usually costs Rp5,000 per person.    
  • 2 Jakabaring Sport City, Jl. Gub. H. A. Bastari, 15 Ulu, Jakabaring (  Jakabaring LRT). The sports complex with its grand Gelora Sriwijaya Stadium hosted parts of the 2011 Southeast Asian Games and the 2018 Asian Games. On Sunday morning it is a popular spot for locals to converge, do jogging or exercise. Free of charge, though you will need to pay for parking if you bring personal vehicles.    
  • 3 Kambang Iwak Besak, Jl. Tasik, Talang Semut, Bukit Kecil 30121 (1.8 km/25-minute walk from   Ampera LRT). A major urban park consisting of a large pond surrounded by vegetations and a nearby smaller pond. Every Sunday morning the streets around the park are closed to traffic, giving space for pedestrians to stroll around and street vendors to sell local specialties and delicacies. Free of charge.

Buy edit

  • Songket. Among Indonesians, Palembang is famous for its songket handycraft. It is a traditional handwoven cloth with metallic golden or silver threads. Songkets are available in most Palembang marketplaces and even available in Palembang airport, however for richer variety and choices, several songket handycraft centres, production houses, boutique or showroom are available in the city.
  • Pempek. Although pempek can be found in most of Indonesian cities, the original Palembang pempek is said to have distinct taste and beyond compare. Unfried, packed, precooked boxed pempek is popular as food souvenir among Indonesians visiting the city. Fish based Palembang krupuk is also popular choice.
  • Palembang Square (PS), Jl. Angkatan 45. A quaint yet crowded mall at the heart of the city, attached to the Aryaduta Hotel and Siloam Hospital. While the original mall looks old, its new underground extension is more spiffy and has better restaurants.
  • Pasar 16 Ilir, Jl. Pasar 16 Ilir. To the right of the Ampera bridge is one of the most crowded places in Palembang. Some people refer to this bazaar as the Tanah Abang of Palembang. Women's clothing is widely sold. A lot of clothing sold here are in beautiful colours and embroidery with Indian/Pakistani styles. Bargaining here is a must. Pasar 16 is also good to buy traditional palembang textile called Songket. A must-buy in Palembang, you can get songket as a textile to make clothes, songket shoes, purses, cushion covers, calligraphy, art, hand fans, etc.
  • Palembang Indah Mall (PIM), Jalan Letkol Iskandar no.18, +62 711-350999. Daily 10:00 - 22:00. The classiest mall in Palembang. The most quantity of branded fashion, anchor stores, and food tenants in one building. It also hosts a lavish cinema.

Eat edit

Pempek Kapal Selam and Keriting in Kuah Cuko.

Palembang cuisine is the second most well known from Sumatra after Padang. They primarily use freshwater fish and prawn as ingredients due to the paramount role of the Musi River for the area. Spices are also generally included although not as liberal as its same-island counterpart. Malay, Indian, and Chinese culture has also influenced Palembang's culinary scene. Do try these while you are here:

  • Pempek is the dish virtually everyone in Indonesia thinks of when mentioning Palembang cuisine. It is a dough of fish cake which can be either boiled, fried, or grilled and is eaten with a sweet and spicy sauce called Cuko, topped with cucumber and prawn powder. Because it is actually a dough, locals have intelligently crafted them into shapes and sizes, as well as being creative with fillings. Examples include lenjer (long cylinder shaped), keriting (curly), kapal selam (literally: submarine. filled with egg), adakan (round and fried) and pites (filled with cooked young papaya).
  • Model are a variety of pempek with tofu fillings.
  • Tekwan are small pempek balls served with fresh shrimp soup.
  • Mie celor is a soup of thick yellow noodle served with coconut milk broth, topped with egg and prawn.
  • Pindang Ikan is a spicy smoked fish soup, similar to Thai's tom yum soup. It is normally eaten with rice, with side dishes like seluang goreng and sambal buah.
  • Pepes Tempoyak is made of patin fish seasoned with durian and spices.
  • Nasi Minyak is Palembang's version of Briyani Rice. The rice is seasoned with ghee and other spices to create the fragrant and distinct taste. Best served with Ayam Kecap (soysauce chicken) or Malbi (spiced stewed beef).

Budget edit

  • 1 Mie Celor 26 Ilir H. M. Syafei Z., Jl. Merdeka No.54, Talang Semut, Kec. Ilir Bar. I, +62 711 5630501. 06:00-17:00. The most famous mie celor restaurant in Palembang, situated at a market. The Mie Celor is similar to laksa, but less spicy and more condensed broth, with scents of prawn and coconut milk. From Rp30,000.
  • Pempek & Es Kacang Vico, Jl. Letkol Iskandar No. 541-542. A constant flow of customers are craving for pempek at this tenant across the Palembang Indah Mall. Its Es Kacang Merah (red bean ice) can neutralise the spiciness of the broth or to be enjoyed on its own on a hot day. A popular gift idea from Palembang, they do delivery across the country even by air cargo! From Rp15,000.
  • Pempek Saga Sudi Mampir, Jl. Merdeka, +62 711 314 417. While most of the pempek you see are typically either fried or steamed, this establishment has it baked or grilled, making the texture crispy outside and soft inside, without the guilt of too much oil. Recommended for its pempek lenggang (pempek filled with duck egg, grilled while wrapped in banana leaves). From Rp20,000.

Mid-range edit

  • Martabak HAR, Jl. Jend Sudirman No. 2269, +62 711 315 086. 24 hours. The HAR stands for its founder, an Indian immigrant named Haji Abdul Razak who opened the murtabak restaurant which still stands 70 years later in the same spot! One of the most famous restaurants in town, their specialty is the Murtabak filled with minced meat and duck egg, eaten with curry. You can also order a plain murtabak or prata, or other Indonesian delights. About Rp25,000.
  • Pagi Sore, Jl. Ahmad Yani No.285 B 8, +62 711 510 655. Most major cities in Indonesia have at least one prominent Padang restaurant, and this is the one that Palembang has. Famous for all-rounders of the spicy Padang food. From Rp30,000.
  • Sri Melayu, Jl. Demang Lebar Daun No. 1, +62 711 420 468. The restaurant, which is next to the governor's office, offers pindang - a smoked or steamed fish in a sweet, sour, and spicy soup - as its specialty. While Palembang primarily uses Pangasius (ikan patin) fish as its ingredient, the restaurant has other varieties such as fish head, shrimp, or other fishes, such as the second most favourite, ikan baung. Top it off with the sweet srikaya pudding or coconut water. Mains from Rp25,000.

Splurge edit

  • La Vita Bella Casual Dining, Jl. AKBP Cek Agus 284 Kenten Golf, +62 711 562 6366. A Western restaurant with an open kitchen concept. Chic and quaint British style exterior and so is the food, from steaks to pizzas, for a generally lower price than hotels. From Rp50,000.
  • River Side Restaurant, Jl. Rumah Bari, +62 711 368 222. Lunch 11:00-14:00, dinner 16:00-22:00. A dining experience by the bank of the Musi River with a fantastic view of the iconic Ampera bridge. Primary offerings include the Palembang's local delicacy, especially its pindang, seafood, and a few Chinese dishes. From Rp40,000.

Drink edit

Try local Palembang drink, es kacang merah, an iced drink made from azuki bean.

Sleep edit

Budget edit

  • Tune Hotel Palembang, Jl. Jend. Sudirman, +62 711 315 222. The no-frills hotel brand that lets you pay only for what you need, but has complete facilities such as breakfast, Wi-Fi, air conditioning and TV. From Rp200,000.
  • Zuri Express, Jl Dr. M. Isa no 988, +62 711 710 800. Budget hotel with noticeably modest but clean rooms and minimum design. Restaurant is in a separate building downstairs but don't expect a wide variety of menus. From Rp350,000.

Mid-range edit

  • 1 Aston Palembang Hotel & Conference Center. This Aston hotel is more modest than its bigger city counterparts. Provides large deluxe rooms, suites, and an option that includes Palembang cuisine for breakfast. From Rp600,000.  
  • 2 Novotel Palembang, Jalan R Sukamto No. 8A. One of the best hotels in the city. Typical Accor style hospitality with spacious rooms, generous breakfast, a wide swimming pool and jogging area. Generally suitable for business travelers and families. From Rp700,000.  

Splurge edit

  • 3 Hotel Aryaduta Palembang, Jl. POM IX, Palembang Square, +62 711 383 838. An 18-storey atrium hotel offering 174 rooms. One of the facilities they offer to guests is their the largest banquet and meeting space in South Sumatra, accommodating up to 2,500 guests reception-style. Guests could also enjoy their experience in their Pool Café that offers healthy food, snacks, and light refreshments. From Rp1,100,000.  

Go next edit

  • Travel by road to Jambi
  • Go to Lampung by train
  • Travel by ferry along the Musi River estuary to Bangka Island

This city travel guide to Palembang is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.