Palau – kayaking the Rock Islands

Palau – the worlds best diving and super friendly people at the heart of Micronesia……..
Palau is an interesting place….if all you ever saw was the main street of Koror, you would think you were in some dodgy craphole.  All but the extraordinarily expensive tourist hotels are little more than grubby doss houses, largely catering to the migrant Philipino and Bangladeshi workers who are here en mass serving the largely asian tourists.   The number of Chinese  tourists has increased ten fold in the past five years and as a result there has been rapid growth in chinese businesses.   40% of visitors come from mainland China, 25% from Japan and 15% from Korea and Taiwan.      Similar to Yap, the antagonism towards the chinese tourists, who are perceived to only ever spend money in chinese establishments, runs high.  By contrast the Japanese are very popular (and they did own the country up until after ww2, where Palau had one of the bloodiest battles in th pacific).   The government has cut the number of charter flights from china by half since last year, and is focussed on attracting only high end tourists from now on.
Mens house in Elechui

Its a slightly weird place.   Koror has some charm, a couple of decent coffee shops, several supermarkets (each and every one with out of date dairy products for some reason), and some decent restaurants.  But it isn’t somewhere you would want to spend a lot of time.

Rock islands 
Things to do
Kayak the rock islands
  • I did two kayak tours with Sams Tours, though there was a lot more snorkelling and sitting on the boat than paddling.   Apparently they used to do real kayaking tours for 6-8 hours but the tourists used to be exhausted after an hour so they changed to a lazier approach.   It is a nice day out but not a work out
Rock islands
 snorkel and dive
  • Snorkel – even if you don’t dive the snorkelling lets you see plenty of fish and wonderful coral.  If you don’t want to go out on a boat, the snorkelling under the Japanese bridge in Palau is excellent
  • Diving – I don’t dive, but Palau is apparently one of the best places in the world to do so.
Japanese cannon (right hand side)
Take a land tour of Babeldaob island
  • See the Badrulchao monoliths and stone faces – these have been here for 2000 years and no one actually knows what they are for
  • Visit the Bai – men’s house at Elechui.  Note that unlike most of the Pacific, Palauans have a matriarchal society.   They still have men’s houses, and the chiefs are men, but importantly the chiefs are chosen by the women and will be fired by the women if they are not doing a good job.   And while the men have a men’s house, normal houses are actually referred to as ‘Blai’ which is the feminine version of the word for men’s houses i.e. all the normal houses are women’s houses and the men are only in charge in the men’s house
  • Swim under Ngardmau Falls – if you fancy you can pay $40 to ride the ‘monorail’ down, but it is only 15-20 minutes walk each way
    If you go with Malahi, you also get the botanist tour, we stopped for soursop, limes, kalamansi, imsur (a type of star fruit).  She was awesome – it was like been driven around the island by a friends mildly eccentric granny
  • If you have time you can also take the Land tour to Peliliu – I didn’t go but you can get a local ferry there and back for about $5, although it requires an overnight stay.   Apparently it is super interesting for history buffs
Decoration – men’s house at Elechui
Decoration – fruit bat on men’s house at Elechui


  • Work out on the track –

By far the most fun thing I did in Palau was go to the free fitness class at the track behind the community centre (Mon, Tues, Thurs at around 5.15pm).  The locals were incredibly friendly and welcoming, which was great as busting out burpees in 90% humidity is easier with company.   For the rest of my time on island people I met at the class kept saying hello in the street. Alternatively the track is the place to run in Palau, as the roads are a bit dangerous.

Ngardmau Falls
Badrulchao monoliths
Additional Notes
  • Palau is eye wateringly expensive. I stayed at Pinetrees hostel, $80 for a room with shared bathroom (one shower for up to 17 people).  I would recommend it, as it is the best value on the island – get used to Palau pricing.
  • Sams tours are good for everything you need but assume every tour will cost $150.  If you are canny you can find a cheap kayak to rent at a gas station for ten bucks a day, you can also find rental cars for $30 per day, ask a local or Baba at pinetrees
  • Eating is overpriced – best supermarket was Surangel & sons, although also try Payless for rotisserie chicken.  Thursday morning market next to gymnasium for fresh fruit.   The sashimi and bento boxes at Yanos were also good.   Every meal I ate out was disappointing at best and vile at worst (and pricey), and this included three of the top five restaurants on TripAdvisor

The Milky Way – for palauan skin cream
Kayaking the mangroves on Long lake

January 20, 2017; Koror, Palau

Micronesia….Yap yap yap

Stone path on the Tamilyog trail

Yap is one of the rare places in the world where instead of going to on a tour to ‘see what life used to be like in the traditional culture’, you can walk around the island and experience the traditional culture alive and kicking…… go now while you still can. 

Men’s house – western side of yap
Boarding the flight to Yap was a curious experience.  United called for a passenger by name to board before everybody else, as he was a ‘global services’ member.  And they did mention (loudly but in a friendly fashion) as he boarded, that he was slightly more relaxed than the average premium customer.  Visually, he didn’t appear to be the standard business class passenger – his teeth were bright red and largely rotted away, he had a flowery pair of board shorts, a faded t-shirt and some beat-up flip-flops.  He wasn’t alone, the business class cabin was entirely stacked with board shorted young dudes with red rotten teeth.  Hmmmm, it was a mystery that was solved after a few days on the island.  He was one of Yap’s most active betel nut runners who carry the world’s best betel nut from Yap to Guam, carrying the maximum legal personal allowance on every single flight.  Yap isn’t well connected, so there are only flights twice a week, and only from Guam.  Everyone in Yap is addicted to the nut, and when you first start to talk to people, you wonder why they are slurring their words….., their mouths are stuffed with the nut…. and most people over 40 don’t have a lot of teeth.

Mongyol stone money bank
Getting off was even more curious.  It was pissing down with rain, but there was insufficient space in the immigration hall for all the passengers, and not quite enough umbrellas for everybody, so half the plane stood in the torrential downpour waiting for the two immigration officers to process us at all at a rate of 1 person every 4 minutes (largely due to their inability to type or spell correctly as they manually inputted all the details into the computer).   There was no rush, as it took them an hour and a half to unload the luggage.   The delay was somewhat compensated for by the wonderful Yapese welcome from a young traditionally dressed lady who presented every arriving passenger with a wonderful lei.   It was an apt introduction to Yap.


Beach at the abandoned village view resort
For those of you not familiar with Yap – it is one of the four federated states of Micronesia, together with Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kohsrae.   Yap is extremely traditional.  Women (including tourists) are not allowed to show their thighs, but boobs are just fine.   Everyone belongs to a village and a caste.  All land on the island is owned by the villagers and while there are wonderful beaches, tourists are not allowed to access them without permission, which is rarely granted.  However, I did get to spend a wonderful afternoon on the beach when I was there thanks to Jenn at the Oceania hotel.

How to recycle cars in yap
What to do in Yap?
  • Visit the stone money banks – Yap’s is the self proclaimed “ Land of Stone Money”, and these limestone disks can be found across the island, but nowhere else on earth. The stones were brought by bamboo canoe to Yap from Palau as early as 500 CE. They remain the currency in the negotiation of marriages, land ownership, and village alliances.   The nicest example on the whole island is at Mangyol, where they have applied for Unesco world heritage status.
Stone money
  • Hike on the stone paths, including the Tamilyog trail. These traditional paths are beautifully crafted and are maintained in the mandatory monthly community clean up.
  • See the villages.  I walked a 15 mile loop of the main island one day, and was interrupted multiple times by locals offering to give me a ride or say hello.  Make sure to carry a green leaf in one hand to convey to the villagers that you mean no trouble (seriously!!!)
View of Colonia from the top of the telecom Tower Hill
  • Try and visit on Yap Day (early March)- an annual event with traditional dancing.  Note that if you go, you are requested to wear traditional dress, and yes ladies that does mean going topless (although you can pretty much cover up everything with a well placed lei).  Book well in advance as Yap fills up with those coming home plus visitors from the outer islands.
  • Go diving – I don’t dive but apparently Yap is the best place in the world to see the Manta Rays
‘Slow’ – a good description of life in Yap
  • Hang out and have a beer at the Mnuw, the famous bar in Yap on the boat in front of the Manta Ray Hotel.
  • Stay at the Oceania hotel.  It is a wonderful wonderful hotel.  Blissfully tranquil!  Mark and Jenn, the owners, are extremely cool, their hotel is the best on the island, the restaurant is amazing and outrageously cheap, and I could have stayed forever.  (see my review on trip advisor)
License plate
Truthfully there is bugger all to do in Yap, but it is a blissful place to while away a few days.  I could have happily stayed for weeks.   There is a wonderful oddball collection of expats on the island, all of them just slightly bonkers.  These included a kiwi who was literally shipwrecked two years ago, an american couple who were moving there to set up a disaster relief capability, two New Yorkers who are running the nicest hotel, several well meaning mormons from Utah, some Australian peace corp workers and a lot of passionate scuba divers.  All of them congregate at the MNUW and the Oceania restaurant. I can see the allure of hanging out in Yap, although the isolation (and lack of a wide variety of foodstuffs) would drive me bonkers.
Many thanks to Jenn, Mark, Tara, Spencer, JR, Deb, Cecelia and Mars for making it a memorable visit.
Note, if Yap is of interest I would recommend going sooner versus later.  Sadly the day I arrived, so did a fleet of Chinese long liner fishing boats, the first in over a decade.  They were fishing right on the reef with government permission and if this continues it won’t be long before the marine wildlife is decimated.  I am hopeful the locals will mobilise against this awful infringement of their traditional fishing rights before it’s too late.
Traditional yap house at the museum in Colonia

January 14, 2017;  Colonia, Yap