Well, like most of our previous trips, I didn’t research this destination at all! There was a work conference for my husband and for $60AUD return; I thought it was a great opportunity to explore for the day.
We were up at the crack of dawn – actually, before that. We were so early we even beat the Morning Prayer call from the mosque next door. An upside of this is that an airport run at this time of day only takes 40 minutes. We were on the road 45 minutes before our flight closed. Should be good timing I thought. It was then that my husband tells me he has to drop by the office to pick up some materials he needs for his conference! I should have questioned why he was ready to so early as it was out of character ? A quick stop to pick up his things and we were back on the road with 25 minutes until our flight cutoff…
Usually when the driver is overtaking like a mad man, travelling at 100kms/hr and weaving in and out of traffic, I would ask him to slow down. Not this day. I put my seatbelt on and closed my eyes pretending not to hear the honking from other drivers at our erratic driving.
We made the airport with a few minutes to spare so we casually headed through security expecting at 4.45am there would be hardly anyone else around. How wrong we were! As we entered the terminal, there were hundreds of people. Each counter, of which there were about 12, had at least 20 people lined up. I had a quick scout around looking for an airline representative that may be waiting to usher latecomers to a check-in counter. Nobody. My eyes darted around looking for the information counter. Bingo! But it had a huge line up too! Pete and I looked at each other and shruged, conceding defeat. We pick a line and decide to wait it out, we would get the next flight out if required. After standing in line for a few minutes, Pete swears he heard the word Palembang come over the ‘loud’ speaker. There are constant announcements which are mostly in Indonesian and are barely audible, but, he heard it. We turn and see a few people exit their line and hurry to a counter. We follow suit and 2 minutes later we have our boarding passes and are on our way to our gate.
By the time we pass security, our plane has already been boarding for 5 minutes so we hurry to the gate on our boarding pass (B3). As we reach that gate, I see our flight isn’t on the notice board. An announcement informs us that our gate has now changed to B1. We turn back and head for B1 and see our flight is listed on this gate. We line up ready to board and I notice that nobody else in our line has the same destination on their ticket. I casually ask the attendant at the information desk if this flight is for Palembang. He looked quite concerned and said no while holding his hand out for my ticket. He pointed to the big black writing under ‘gate’ that said B3. I’m sure he was thinking I was a dumb westerner as it clearly states the correct gate on my ticket! So we turned back and headed back to gate B3. We were ushered along with a few other stragglers onto the bus that was waiting to take us to the plane. It’s quite common in Jakarta to catch a bus to your plane. We checked in at terminal 1, got on a bus and travelled about 2 kilometres back to terminal 3 where our plane was parked!?
We take our seats – it is at this point we realise we aren’t seated together – take a deep breath and relax in ready for the hour long flight. A lot of excitement for one morning. I glance at my watch – it’s only 5.20am.
Wedged between 2 burly blokes for the 45 minute flight, I surprisingly manage to get a few minutes of shut eye. We touch down and again I am impressed by the airport. All airports in Indonesia seem to be much better than all 3 of Jakartas terminals!
We only had carry on luggage so without the usual painfully long wait for our bags, we headed for the taxi queue. This experience always makes me anxious as we generally have to barter the price and still get ripped off. This time however we were pleasantly surprised that the taxi had a working meter. We soon found out though that the prices are exorbitant when compared to Jakarta prices – nothing compared to Australia!
The roads in South Sumatra aren’t any better than those ones in the North. Travelling at an average of 40kms/hour on relatively traffic free roads, we arrived at the conference about 30 minutes later.
There was a few minutes to spare before my husband headed off, so I decided I might do some research into what I would do for the day. After a quick look on TripAdvisor I decided on a few places to try. There are a surprising number of tourist attractions in Palembang which is ideal considering I had 10 hours to fill.
At the top of my list though was breakfast. There aren’t many breakfast options at 8am and I’m not big on street food, but I did notice right next door was a Jco store (local donut chain). I went all out and ordered the ‘big breakfast’ – iced chocolate, complete with cream, and a glazed donut. Breakfast of champions ?
After scoffing down my delicious breakfast, it was time to get on the road. As luck would have it, a taxi drove past just as I walked out. I would soon find out this was the most easily accessed transport of the day!
My first stop was Pasar Cinde. A local market with everything from fruits & vegetables, fresh meat and seafood to clothing and plumbing supplies. This market was fantastic and a truly local experience. It wasn’t overly busy which made it easier to get some photos, which mind you, everyone was only too happy to pose for! In fact, I had people yelling “photo, photo mister”, in one instance while shoving a live, squirming eel in front of me!
I expected a little bit of attention at this market being a foreigner, and the huge camera around my neck didn’t help, however the attention I received throughout the entire town during the day was completely unexpected. Unlike Jakarta, ‘Bules’ (a word Indonesians use for foreigners) in Palembang are quite uncommon. People stopped what they were doing to say hello, or ask for a photo and in one instance a gentleman saw me walking down the street, disappeared down an alley and reappeared with his young son. He pointed me out to his son who was extremely shy and hid away from me! It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. With that being said, I was never afraid or in any danger. Indonesians are renowned for being extremely lovely and friendly people. They were just amazed at this ‘other-worldly’ creature in their environment. Frankly, I’m surprised I don’t get the same attention back home ?
The next place on my list was Monpera. Only a 1.5km walk from where I was, I set off on foot. Of the 200 odd people I passed on my way, approximately 198 said hello to me as I walked past.
In December 1946 Palembang came under attack from the Netherlands. 5 days and 5 nights of fighting ended with a great part of the city being destroyed. Monpera is a monument erected to commemorate this occasion and was completed in 1988. The monument is 17 Metres in height, has 8 floors and 45 sectors. These figures represent the date of proclamation of Independence in Indonesia – 17 August 1945
Right behind Monpera is the Museum Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II. I’m not normally one for museums, but with a whole day to fill I decided why not. I’m glad I did as I learnt quite a lot about the history and customs of Palembang. There was a guided tour that cost just $2AUD and the tour guide spoke in quite good English which was fantastic.
The museum is right next to the Ampera Bridge. A mechanical bridge that was planned during the reign of Indonesias first president. Funded by the Japanese war reparations, the bridge opened in 1965. It was only operated a few times and by 1970 could no longer be opened. The reason stated is that the time taken to fully open was 30 minutes and was deemed to cause unacceptable delays. By this time, silting in the river had made it impossible for large ships to pass anyway, therefore there was no reason to open the bridge. It is supposedly quite a pretty site to visit at night but left a lot to be desired during the day. I took a few snaps and was on my way.
I spotted a few cafes beside the bridge and decided to stop and have a drink. I was only sitting for a few mintues when I heard giggling behind me. I knew without even looking that it had something to do with me. I turned around and there were 3 young ladies looking at me. I said hello and one got the courage to ask me for a photo. When I said yes, all 3 came over and spent the next few mintues taking photos in as many different stances and poses as they could with me.
Another 2kms down the road and another 2000 “hello misters” and I arrived at Kambang Iwak. This is a very popular place that locals go to exercise. Indonesia isn’t known for its smooth walkways and pedestrian friendly roads, so this is a safe, shaded place they can come. In the centre of the ~500m track is a small lake. As well as the running/walking path there is various gym equipment scattered around. There is also a childrens play area. Being 11am on a weekday, I was the only person there, however I can imagine this being extremely busy in the early morning or evening and weekends.
I did 2 laps, mainly because I was keeping an eye out for a taxi to hail down. After I still hadn’t seen one at the end of my 2nd lap, I decided to walk in the direction of my next destination, assuming one would pass shortly. 1km further down the road, still nothing! I came to a mini-market so I popped in for some water, oreos and a quick air-conditioning break. I then had the great idea to order a taxi using my smart phone app. I was at a recognisable location and if I needed to I could pass my phone to the friendly cashier to direct the driver to me. I opened my app, which for some reason had logged me out. Of course, I couldn’t remember my password and after trying every possible combination I thought it could be, I reset it. I waited for the verification code to be sms’d to my phone. Nothing. Resend code? Yes. Waiting, waiting. Still nothing!! 5 resend verification codes later and still nothing! Argh! I’m tired, I’m hot and I’m hungry! I had a quick look at my map and could see a big shopping centre not too far away. I decide to change my plans. I pull on my big girl panties and start walking again!
25 minutes later I walked in to the glorious air-conditioned shopping centre. Another thing that I had failed to come across all morning was a toilet and at 5 months pregnant, that was my first priority. Always an experience in Indonesia, I was pleasantly surprised with the cleanliness, toilet paper and a locking door!
Next stop. Food! A few levels up I found a place called Nanny K’s. Offering a mix of western and local food and buzzing with other lunchgoers, I decided this would be a safe option.
I ordered lunch and pulled out my notebook to make some notes. There was familiar music playing in English which always puts a smile on my face and I learnt during this lunch break that Elsa has indeed infiltrated every corner of this earth. The familiar ‘frozen’ tune came on and a little Indonesian girl, all of about 4 years old, started singing “Let it Go” at the top of her lungs, complete with the best dance moves she could muster while sitting. She knew all of the words and sang them as if nobody was watching. It reminded me of just how innocent and careless children can be.
After lunch I walked a little further down the road to another shopping centre which was targeted more at the locals. I was looking for a foot massage for my poor tired feet! I had only done one lap constantly looking at my shoulder for a growing head (which would explain the pointing and staring) when my husband called to say he had finished. As it would have it I had ended up right back near the convention centre so I headed up to join him.
There were a few other things which I would have liked to get to, particularly the Al-Qur’an Al-Akbar, if I had have been able to get the transport, but as soon as I sat down I was done.
We spent a few hours in the hotel lobby chatting before being invited to dinner by some of Petes new found work contacts. We headed to one of the citys most renowned restaurants, River Side, which is an old wooden boat moored near the Ampera Bridge. The bridge is much prettier at night! We were late getting to dinner so we didn’t have much time as we had a flight to catch. Dinner had already been ordered for the table and was ready almost as soon as we arrived. We scoffed it down and apologised for having to rush off when we were offered a lift by our hosts. Knowing the dramas trying to find a taxi earlier in the day we gratefully accepted but like most things in Indonesia, there was no hurry to go…
We managed to get on the road eventually and when our driver realised he only had 25 minutes to get us the 40 minute trip, he got moving! Again, we had albeit resigned to the fact we would miss the flight – the last one out of Palembang for the night. We arrived at the airport 10 minutes after our flight check-in closed. The driver waited while we went to check if we could still get on the flight, which indicates he thought we had missed it too! The front doors of the airport were locked…we knocked and someone came running over to let us in. We rushed through security, both of us beeping but nobody dared to stop us. We sprinted over to the only check-in counter, threw our ID at the airline staff at the desk and although out of breath, managed to say Jakarta – like there were any other flights waiting!! He promptly printed our boarding passes and told us to run to gate 3. We waved to our driver as we ran past the door, up the elevator, through more beeping security stops and to the gate. They ushered us onto the almost empty plane and into our seats. 4.5 minutes from drop off to seated ready for take-off. A new record for us!
I was exhausted and had just closed my eyes when my phone received a few messages. My taxi application verification codes arrived!