The port city of South Sumatra

The port city of South Sumatra

Looking out of my window to the barely visible palm oil plantations below I was wondering what the hell I was doing voluntarily flying to Palembang in the midst of the great hazepocalypse of 2019. Apparently, I was arriving on a good day. It got so bad later on that flights were being delayed due to the haze. In the weeks following my visit the pollution levels reached record highs.I thought about what the process is for buying a ticket on the very aircraft that is returning to your destination of origin. Not that that would have helped, as Kuala Lumpur was being slammed with haze even worse than Palembang. In the end I figured I should rough it out for 2 days.Once I arrived at the airport and saw that I was back in Sumatra I was in a better mood, even with the bad air. I was in Palembang to see the light rail line (LRT) that was constructed for the 2018 Asian Games. Palembang was co-host of the games with Jakarta, and the light rail connects the airport to the games site, via the city centre.Walking outside of arrivals I was greeted by the usual troop of taxi touts who were trying to win my custom. As I made my way to the airport train it was such a good feeling to know that I didn't have to deal with this hassle.I didn't know what to expect with Palembang as it's not exactly a tourism hub. There was one other foreigner on the plane, who was either working in the gas and oil biz or was even weirder than me for being here.At the airport we went to the window that administers visa-on-arrivals, and there was no one there. After all of the passengers were processed by immigration, someone came over and just waved us through without having to pay the fee. That's my kind of visa waiving! Without knowing anything about Palembang I booked a hotel on the metro line and as close to the river as possible. It took 40 minutes to get from airport to Cinde (the second last stop before the river). It's not an express train, but it was still better than being in traffic.I went for a walk after checking in, and I was immediately reminded how good it was to be in provincial Indonesia. I didn’t see another foreigner while I was there, and selfie requests were happening often.Most of the interesting sites are around the river. When in a new European city I usually head straight to the principal church, and in Indonesia I make my way to the main mosque.The landmark of Palembang is the Ampera Bridge. It was modelled on the Tower Bridge in London, with a working draw bridge to allow big ships to pass. The draw bridge part stopped working not long after it opened, so the city is left with this ornate clock tower bridge instead.During the Dutch colonial period Palembang was known as The Venice of the East due to the many canals. If you’re familiar with Bangkok you may have heard that it too was referred to as The Venice of the East. In fact there are so many cities that had this title that there is a Wiki page listing places called Venice of the East.Most of the canals have long since been filled in, so don’t expect to find any picturesque waterways here. And the ones that do remain have the same problem that is common across Southeast Asia of being filled with black ooze and solid with rubbish. It was encouraging to see at least one of the canals was being rehabilitated with a pedestrian walkway being added along the side.

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