The heart of an ancient Buddhist kingdom
Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra, was once the centre seat of the ancient Srivijaya Empire. For more than three centuries, the Buddhist kingdom was a powerful trade hub with merchants from China, India and Java trading in gold, spices, silk and ivory. Today, the legacy of Srivijaya’s golden age shows itself in the city’s museums, its traditionally woven gold and silver songket textiles and its red-and-black lacquerware.
In more recent glories, the city co-hosted the 26th Southeast Asian Games in 2011, with the opening ceremony taking place at Gelora Sriwijaya Stadium. Spanning the wide Musi River that divides the city is Ampera Bridge, a striking feature that locals often compare to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. For gastronomic travellers, Palembang’s regional specialty is pempek, a savoury fishcake served with sweet vinegar sauce.
Things to do
Cruise the Musi
On a cruise down the Musi River opens in new window you’ll pass the iconic Ampera bridge and the largest traditional market in the city, buzzing Pasar 16 Ilir (activities peak around 11am). Haggle with the local captains to charter your ride.
The highlight of a cruise down the Musi is a stop at Kemaro Island, found on a delta around 6km from Ampera Bridge. The island is home to a nine-storey pagoda, Hok Tjing Rio, and the grave of a Chinese princess who was betrothed to a Srivijaya king.
Pagaralam opens in new window, a six hour drive from Palembang, is well worth a visit. Nestled in the Pasemah Highlands, it’s famous for the mysterious megalithic stone monuments that dot the landscape. While these date back some 3000 years, little else is known about them or the civilisation that carved them.
Behind the Museum Sultan Machmud Badaruddin II, lies Palembang’s local art market where you can watch artisans at work and buy handcrafted souvenirs. Look out for the region’s gorgeous gold and silver songket sarongs and red-and-black lacquerware.
Step into history
The Museum of Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II opens in new window holds a collection of more than 500 artefacts ranging from the kingdom of Srivijaya to the Sultanate of Palembang. The building itself is a mix of Dutch colonial architecture and traditional Limas roofing.
Distance to city centre 15km
Taxi A taxi into the centre of town takes around 30 minutes and should cost about IDR 100,000; try to stick with Blue Bird, the most reliable brand.
Bus TransMusi buses (corridor 5) run from the airport to Alang Alang Lebar bus station; from there you’ll need to catch a connection to the centre of town. The fare is around IDR 5000.Back to top
When to go
Palembang has a tropical, rainforest climate with relatively high humidity and consistent year round lows around 23°C and highs around 31°C. July and August experience the least yearly rainfall while November to April are the region’s wettest months.
Every June the Sriwijaya Festival takes place at the Archaeological Park of Sriwijaya Palembang in celebration of the ancient kingdom. Come August, coinciding with Independence Day (17 August), the Annual Bidar Race (a traditional canoe race) takes place on the Musi River.Back to top
Palembang’s city bus system, TransMusi, is one of Indonesia’s most reliable. There are currently 11 lines in operation; take corridor 2 for the Palembang Indah Mall and corridor 6 for Palembang Square. Taxis can be scarce and tend to refuse to use the meter; try to use the most reliable, Blue Bird opens in new window taxis. Otherwise, there are always plenty of ojek (motorcycle taxis) around the city.Back to top