Palembang - Day One

Palembang Travel Blog

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Inside Palembang Square Mall with the stage in the centre court.

When I told a few friends I was planning to go to Palembang in South Sumatera, Indonesia for four days, they had this look on their faces like they just saw Elvis back from the dead. Not that Palembang is so remote or it is at war or it is full of cannibals, but no one ever thought of going there. There is no blog about it (I found only one) and only two people listed on TravBuddy who are going there this year, Wessel (wrfcvankleef) from Haarlem, Netherlands and I. Even I am perplexed why Wessel wanted to go there.

When I was in school, we did learn a thing or two about Palembang (it was mentioned twice). First, the founder of the city of Malacca, Parameswara, was a Hindu Prince from Palembang (he established his settlement around the year 1400 and that is the date where the history of Malaysia starts) and second, it was said to be where the Malay people originated.  This is what I was told. The story goes like this, a long time ago in Palembang , in a place called Bukit Siguntang, there live two slightly old maid (in their early 30s I assume). They were sisters who owns large amount of lands in that area where they planted rice. One night, during the darkest night of the week, in the wee hours of dawn, they woke up by a bright light in the sky. The light in the sky became brighter and brighter and it hit the earth with such force, destroying much of the rice field which they work so hard for.

Benteng Kuto Besak and the becak man waiting for customer
In the morning, they both went to investigate. They found a large meteor (or was it an alien spaceship) and besides it, to their surprise appear two dashing young man. They  wed the two dashing young man soon after (obviously) and lived happily ever after. The descendent of these two marriages is thought to be where the Malaysian Malay originated. So they say.

So, on the 7th of Feb, I took an Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur departing at 1150 hrs which I bought online a few weeks ago at RM 189 (about USD 52.5) return with tax (All airport taxes departing from Indonesia must be paid directly at the airport with Indonesian currency. The price is varied according to destination. For Palembang airport it is Rp 25,000 for domestic and Rp 75,000 for International). The flight departed on time. It was only a short flight, 1 hour and 20 minutes. I haven’t finished gossiping about Angelina Jolie with my seat mate when the flight attendance announced that we have arrived.  I did not know that Angelina Jolie has 6 kids, I should buy National Enquirer more often.

It was a new airport, Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II Airport. When I was at the immigration, I was asked to produce a return ticket (which I did), funds (which I did produce) and the purpose of my visit because according to him, I look like someone who wish to settle down here to work (I don’t). I was cleared after I promise him that I am not here to work, just to visit a friend. I took my bag and screened them at the immigration. They let everyone passed except me (obviously). I was told to open my bag (I did), they are curious about something I wrap in a plastic bag (a gift I brought for a friend).

A few months ago, a friend from Palembang, Veronica, came to visit me in Kuala Lumpur. I took her for lunch at a local restaurant. She likes the Indian popadam (vegetable crackers, you eat it with rice) so much that I promise I would bring some when I visit her, which I did. I brought nine plastic bags of it. They examine it for quite a long time and when they realize that I would never give them one, they let me go.

Stupid me in-front of Ampera Bridge
I was out, and Eddie, a friend, was waiting for me outside. There are a lot of people outside offering taxi service. I don’t need one, but if I do wish one, a ride to town would normally cost about Rp 75,000 �" Rp 80,000. Negotiate first with the taxi driver and if they ask you more that Rp 90, 000, it is a rip off.

Since it was almost 1 pm, Eddie took me to lunch to a nasi Padang (Padang mixed rice) restaurant called Restoran Sederhana Nasi Padang , which is only 20 mins drive from the airport. We took our seat on the first floor. First, they brought a bowl of water with slice of lemon, it is for you to wash your hands with (I almost drink it). Later, they brought the boiled rice, still hot from the rice cooker. Then, the assortment of dishes in small plate spread every inch of the table. There is vegetable, chicken, beef and fish cooked in every imaginable way. You picked whatever you want and they only charge you on the thing that you eat. I choose carefully even though I wanted to eat them all. Since Eddie is paying, I don’t want him to end up with a hefty bill. It was one of the best nasi Padang I ever had especially the beef rendang.

Eddie dropped me at my hotel, the Horison Hotel. I assume it is new, it is not even on google map yet. It was a beautiful looking hotel inside and out. The first thing you notice when you stay at a hotel, any Indonesian hotel for that matter, is the service. They have one of the best services ever, from the bellboy all the way to the manager. You can’t help but go blushing and force to say “oh gosssh”. It is that good.

Eddie left, he has to go back to work and promise to pick me up for dinner. I left my bag in the room and went out to explore.  My mother always said, when you are lost or do not know in which direction to go, always go right, which I did. I went right and walk aimlessly and within mins I was at the mall, it was called Palembang Square Mall. They have KFC and the French shopping giant Carrefour. OK, let us go inside.

It was a Saturday. Malls are always crowded with people on a Saturday and this one is no exception.

Ampera Bridge
There were lots of teenagers and parents with kids. A large stage has been erected at the centre of the lobby and some sort of competition was going on. Since Valentine’s day is around the corner, I guess it is quite appropriate to have an “Amateur Couple Modeling Competition”. It was very lively. Each couple was allowed a few mins to strut their stuff on stage and marks were given by a three panel of judges, constructive comments were given, very American Idol like. Fun, really.

I explore almost every shops and restaurant, examines all the goods and “ooh” and “ahh” over the prices. I love malls. Still time to spare, took a becak (rick shaw) to Benteng Kuto Besak, the place where most tourist and locals go, located near the Musi river where the famous Ampera bridge is. I did not realize that it was quite far away. On the map, it looked so near (but then again Kuala Lumpur and New York is quite near on the map). It must be tough for the becak man. The fare was about Rp 20,000 which is fair considering that I must be 84 kg. I had very little time to explore since it is already almost 5 pm. I decided to have a cup of kopi hitam (black coffee) before heading back to the hotel. I know the famous Murtabak Har restaurant is somewhere around the corner. I walk right (always) and found it, located across the street from Masjid Agung (Agung Mosque). I went inside and ordered kopi hitam and murtabak har.

It was quite disappointing. Kopi hitam was really good but murtabak har wasn’t what I expected. I love murtabak, it is bread with meat filling serves with curry and pickle onion on the side, but this is just bread with egg and it is pour over with curry instead of served on the side. Since they poured the curry over it, after a while it lost its crispiness and became soggy. Not attractive.

I did not realize it was already dark. I need to get back to the hotel. I wanted to try another mode of transportation in Palembang which is Angkut. It cost about Rp 3, 000 no matter how far the distance you traveled. It is very easy, you hailed one, get inside, it goes everywhere and when it gets to your destination, you tap the ceiling of the van, it stops, you pay and the end.

The backalley leading to the Chinese Temple.
However, I have been advice by several people not to use it. Passengers get mugged all the time inside. I called Eddie and asked him to pick me up in front of Masjid Agung and from there we can go for dinner straight away. It is good to have a friend and a phone (the whole day I was here I have never seen a public phone).

Dinner was great. It was in a nice little restaurant, clean and from the look of the large crowd, it was possible. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it is located in Jalan Dempo Luar, not far from Wisata Hotel. Eddie’s father (he stays in Pontianak in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo and was here on holidays because of the Chinese New Year) joined us for dinner. We had the famous Palembang delicacies, “Pempek”. It is made of fish with sago rice (steamed , fried or grilled) and eat it with a special sauce (vinegar, soya sauce and some combination of spices).  It is good but it is not really for everyone. I had another dish, which I really like, it is called “model”. It is actually dumpling serves in clear soup. I do not know why it is called that. Who cares, it was good.

Today happens to be a special and busy day for Palembang. Tomorrow is the festival of Chap Goh Me (it is celebrated on the 15th day after the Chinese Lunar New Year). It is celebrated in a big way in Palembang especially in a Buddhist Monastery located in the inhabited Pulau Kemaro (Kemaro Island), located in the middle of the Musi river, six kilometer upstream from the Ampera Bridge. According to local legend, there was this maiden princess who was on her way to get married, or was she  from China and arrived in Palembang to be married with the local Sultan, I am not too sure, but when her ship anchored and was ransacked and her precious porcelain was thrown overboard, she jumped in with it and drowned. On that spot arosed an island, Kemaro Island.  The island never flooded even when the water on Musi river is alarmingly high.

Eddie & his father waiting for the boat to arrive.
That is why it was called Kemaro , meaning draught island. She was later buried on the island and her grave is still there (I went to look for it the next day but couldn’t find it)

We parked our car at Benteng Kuto Besak, walk about 100 meters passing through Pasar Ilir 36 (a famous bazaar), down through some back alley and arrived at a small Chinese temple where the embarkation point to Pulau Kemaro is. The temple authority, through donations, has provided a free boat service to the island. It was almost 11 pm, there was no boat to be seen. We have been waiting for hours for a boat and the jetty is full to the brink of disaster. I know for a fact that Eddie’s father is leaving and his flight is at 5 in the morning, so, we decided to leave and head for home. I will be going to the island tomorrow morning.

To be continue….

bernard69 says:
Thanks Stupid Roslan for sharing this Stupid blog,it's Stupid but I'll miss u in Stupid Sulawesi and in Stupid Kuching this Stupid Sommer!
Posted on: Mar 18, 2009
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Inside Palembang Square Mall with …
Inside Palembang Square Mall with…
Part of Benteng Kuto Besak
Part of Benteng Kuto Besak
Benteng Kuto Besak and the becak m…
Benteng Kuto Besak and the becak …
Stupid me in-front of Ampera Bridge
Stupid me in-front of Ampera Bridge
Ampera Bridge
Ampera Bridge
The backalley leading to the Chine…
The backalley leading to the Chin…
Eddie & his father waiting for the…
Eddie & his father waiting for th…
Sultan Badaruddin II Museum at nig…
Sultan Badaruddin II Museum at ni…
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photo by: hightide