Palembang: A hidden tourism gem

A trip to Palembang, South Sumatra, can be unforgettable and fulfilling. However, the city’s tourism agency still needs to revamp its facilities to fully realize the provincial capital’s tourism potential.

When we talk about Palembang as a tourist destination, the phrase “untapped potential” — a cliché that holds true for various Indonesian regions —soon comes to mind.

The city has already been made famous for hosting various international sporting events, such as the 2011 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games and the 2013 Islamic Solidarity Games.

This year, the city serves as co-host of the 2018 Asian Games with Jakarta from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2.

The fact that Palembang has staged a number of international events should come as a no surprise because it has an array of destinations offering fun activities for visitors.

The 2018 Asian Games — which has brought thousands of international athletes, officials and journalists to Jakarta and Palembang — can be used as an opportunity to highlight Palembang’s untapped potential for tourism.

These international delegates might want to consider returning to Palembang for a holiday, but improvements need to be made to the city or it might not be able to maximize its potential as Indonesia’s next top tourist destination anytime soon.

Here are some recommended tourist spots in Palembang for those who are interested in exploring this relatively unknown hidden gem:

Pleasure cruise

River ride: A boat trip on the 750-kilometer Musi River is one of Palembang’s tourism highlights. Unfortunately, the river’s natural beauty is barely visible and pollution has turned its waters a murky brown color. (JP/Arief Suhardiman)

The 750-kilometer-long Musi River is Sumatra’s longest river, splitting Palembang into two parts with the iconic Ampera Bridge standing over it in its majesty.

Since the ancient maritime Sriwijaya kingdom — which retained power from the seventh to the 13th century — the river has been the public’s primary mode of transportation.

I woke up at 8 a.m. to rent a speedboat to cross the Musi River from Ampera Port and reach Kemaro Island, a cultural Buddhist sanctuary. I paid Rp 300,000 (US$20.51) for a return trip.

While riding the speedboat, I enjoyed the river’s water splashing onto my face while observing the people who live and conduct their day-to-day activities in the traditional market along the riverbank. Their activities were so full of life.

I personally did not mind the not-so-clean water splashing over my face, nor was I bothered by the dirty pile of trash alongside the riverbank. These issues, however, need to be addressed to attract travelers who might have more concerns over hygiene.

River ride: A boat trip on the 750-kilometer Musi River is one of Palembang’s tourism highlights. Unfortunately, the river’s natural beauty is barely visible and pollution has turned its waters a murky brown color.

The city forest

Under the pine trees: Palembang residents and tourists enjoy a picnic in the Punti Kayu tourism forest, which offers green scenery and tranquility. (JP/Arief Suhardiman)

Unplug from your electronic devices for a little while and reconnect with nature in the Punti Kayu tourism forest, located on Jl. Kolonel Burlian, and bring some snacks along with you.

Then, while being sheltered by the tall pine trees, enjoy a picnic with your colleagues and friends. The green sanctuary is a good place to escape the dusty and hectic city center for a little while. It is a good idea, too, to bring children here for some physical activity, instead of having them play with their digital gadgets all the time. The city forest can still be revamped to make it appear more attractive for tourists, as currently it looks very plain.

Enjoy the perfect ‘pempek’

Take a bite: Never leave Palembang without tasting the city’s best-known traditional dish, pempek (fishcake with vinegar and soy sauce). (JP/Arief Suhardiman)

I have never been a big fan of pempek (fishcakes dressed in vinegar and soybean sauce), Palembang’s signature traditional dish. A photographer who went with me to Palembang, however, said he once tasted the perfect pempek rich in fish meat (instead of being rich in flour) accompanied by a thick mixture of vinegar and soybean sauce.

So he went with me to kampung pempek (pempek village), a district that exclusively features dozens of pempek vendors selling thousands of pempek to thousands of diners every day on Jl. Mujahidin, with a high expectation to get the perfect pempek he once tasted. But unfortunately, he could not remember the name of the vendor.

It is easy to get lost in the village because there are so many popular — but not necessarily perfect — pempek offered there.

After searching for the perfect pempek amid so many vendors in Palembang, the one we finally settled on tasted perfectly fine.

Beautiful ‘songket’

Bright colors: Palembang’s traditional fabric, songket, is a must-have souvenir. (JP/Arief Suhardiman)

The songket, Palembang’s traditional gold-threaded woven fabric, is really beautiful to behold. Fikri Koleksi boutique on Jl. Kirangga Wirosentiko is where you can find dozens of handmade songket motifs, such as Chinese flowers and chained star. The fabrics can cost between Rp 1.7 million and
Rp 3.5 million, and are available in various colors, including bright blue, green, red, orange and purple.

“The fabric is pricey because it takes the artisan three months to complete these complicated motifs,” said Fikri Koleksi store manager Muhammad Hasan.

We were able to find a more affordable array of colorful sonket at Pasar Ilir traditional market, located along the Musi River.

In Toko Aan boutique, located in the market’s second floor, I purchased a very beautiful red songket. The prices at Toko Aan range from Rp 200,000 to Rp 1.2 million, because the shop sells printed songket, which is a lot easier to produce.

When you decide to go to the market, however, be sure to have a local watch your back because the area is infamous for its pickpockets. This is another issue that needs attention from the Palembang Tourism Agency.

The Jakarta Post


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