The Beautiful Rock Islands of Micronesia Palau
Sunday, March 21, 2004
Palau is a country of beautiful rock islands located southwest of Guam and east of the Philippines. When my wife first mentioned Palau for this year's vacation spot, I had never heard of it. Palau is located close to the Equator so the climate is regarded as tropical. The weather is quite humid and hot and you should be dressed accordingly should you decide to make a visit to this beautiful spot.
|Palau's one terminal International Airport
First off, I flew to Palau by departing from Taiwan. The flight took about 3 and half hours from Taipei, Taiwan to Koror, Palau.
Upon arrival it was quite interesting to see how small the International airport of Palau was. It literally consisted of 1 terminal and 1 runway.
When we stepped off the airplane we could immediately feel the heat and humidity of Palau's island nation.
We had joined a Palau tour hosted by the Mandarin Travel Agency. Our guide from the tour agency, James Yeh, greeted us at the airport and we started off on
the tour right away. We boarded a bus and proceeded to drive through Koror, the small capital city of Palau. Our guide James proceeded to tell us of some
fun facts of the nation such as the fact that there are only 5 traffic signal lights in Koror, and only 2 of them work. Our bus finally stopped at a dock,
and we proceeded to do our first activity of the day. We boarded a boat and went far out into the ocean to do some deep sea fishing. We used hand reels which
literally consisted of a spooled fishing line with a weight and hook at the end of it. We used small chunks of squid as bait to try and catch whatever we could.
The first catch of the day was Yellow Fin Tuna by another couple on the tour which was fairly small in size coming in at about 8 inches. As we were taking
pictures of the Yellow Fin Tuna that the other couple caught, I suddenly felt a tug on my hand line. I proceeded to hand reel my line in, and to my surprise,
I caught the biggest ugly looking fish I have ever seen in my life. This thing had ugly looking teeth and looked like it needed to visit the dentist. It was
about 18-20 inches in length and maybe around 8-10 pounds. Our guide informed us that the fish was a "Titan Triggerfish", and that despite the extremely ugly
appearance, the meat of the fish was quite good and tasted like chicken. We proceeded to take pictures with the fish, and the guide stored away the fish in a
cooler to cook for lunch on our next day. As we were fishing we were hit by a light rainstorm, which was actually quite soothing in the hot humid weather.
After a few more minutes the same couple that caught the Yellow Fin Tuna, caught another one of roughly the same size, and that concluded our day of deep sea
fishing. We headed back to shore to our hotel stays.
|Big Ugly "Titan Triggerfish"
For our first 2 nights in Palau, we stayed at the hotel resort Papago. When we got to our hotel, we immediately participated in a buffet dinner that they had
there for their guests. The food consisted mostly of Taiwanese style food. Papago is supposed to be a 5 star stay of Palau.
Of course the standards of Palau
are probably quite different from other areas. Papago had fairly normal amenities for their guests. Some of the amenities of Papago include an exercise room,
spa, archery range, driving range, and a strolling path to the shore. Although there were quite a few amenities, we didn't bother to really use any of them.
The rooms were pretty bare and sparsely furnished. After we had finished our buffet dinner we decided to retire for the night, because our first full day of
activities would begin the next day.
|Papago International Resort
The next morning we woke up and ate the buffet breakfast, and waited for our guide, James, and the tour bus to arrive. Once all the participants of the
tour were present, we boarded the bus and headed to the dock that we went to the previous day. Our first activity was to take a boat ride to our picnic
spot for lunch. At the picnic spot, we practiced snorkeling in the shallow waters for roughly 30 minutes. Afterwards we proceeded to eat our picnic lunch.
Our guide James cooked the fish that we had caught on the previous day for us to eat. Much to our surprise the "Titan Triggerfish" tasted just like chicken.
Not only did it taste like chicken, the texture and thickness were also similar to chicken meat. The tour also provided us with small lunch boxes to eat to
go along with the fish we caught. A little after we had eaten, we practiced snorkeling some more near the picnic area and James proceeded to throw in some
bones from our lunch meal into the water to feed the fish, so that we could see the fish swimming around while we practiced snorkeling. Immediately we were
introduced to the beauty of the tropical fish of Palau.
|Grilled "Titan Triggerfish"
When we finished our second snorkeling practice, we proceeded to board our boat and leave the picnic area for our first actual snorkeling spot.
We proceeded to head directly across the channel of the first picnic area. There we all hopped into the water to take in our first site of the giant
clams that inhabit the bottom of Palau's waters. The giant clams were enormous and were literally 4-5 feet wide. James proceeded to show us around the
spot and made a few of the clams close shut by touching the lip of the shells. After spending about 30 minutes taking in the sight of giant clams, we
proceeded to head to our next snorkeling spot.
We were headed towards a spot with hard corals. Our next snorkeling spot was amazing, and we were able to see the various life forms that inhabit Palau's
hard coral reef areas. We proceeded to spend the next hour or so snorkeling in that area and taking in the beautiful view. There were many types of fish
to see as we fed them bread to have them gather around us.
After taking in the sights of the hard coral reef, we proceeded to our next snorkeling spot which was the "Rose" coral garden. This coral garden was
called the "Rose" coral garden, because the coral garden had a resemblance to a rose garden. We proceeded to spend our next hour snorkeling in this area
and again taking in the sights of fish and the coral garden.
Next on our snorkeling agenda was a soft coral reef spot called the "Soft Coral Arch". "Soft Coral Arch" has multitudes of soft corals growing in many
different colors. We proceeded to spend an hour here just taking in the sight of the beautifully colored corals, and the many fish that inhabited the area.
We had to also be careful in this area as we snorkeled about as soft corals are easily damaged and killed.
Our last snorkeling spot for the day was a sunken Japanese fuel supply boat from World War II. The boat had been sunken by Allied forces during the
Second World War and sits at the bottom of a small cove in the outlying rock islands of Palau to this day. We proceeded to snorkel around the boat and
saw what forms of marine life had started to grow on the boat since the time it sunk to the bottom of the cove.
That concluded our first full day of activities and we proceeded to head back to our hotel stay at Papago. That night our tour group ate dinner together
at a Taiwanese restaurant in Koror. The restaurant mostly consisted of the seafood diet of Palau. Having fully satisfied our appetites for the evening,
we headed back to the hotel to retire for the day to rest up for our next full day of activities.
|Milky Way Cove
Our second day started off fairly quickly. We headed out to a spot on one of the outlying rock islands for our first stop. The spot was called "Milky Way".
The reason for this moniker was that the water here is cloudy to the point it looks "milky". This small cove has "dead water" meaning that ocean water hardly
gets in to mix up the body of water trapped in the small cove. The special thing about "Milky Way Cove" was what was at the bottom. The bottom of the cove
consisted of very soft and muddy white sand, or mud. The water in this cove is supposedly very good for your skin, as is the white mud found at the bottom of
this cove. The white mud found at the bottom of the cove is supposed to be similar to the cosmetic company "Nu-Skin's" masque product.
James proceeded to
dive to the bottom to gather a handful of the white mud for us to spread all over our bodies. I decided to follow his suit and dive to the bottom as well to
"feel" the bottom of the cove. The water is quite blurry so nothing can be seen on the way down, but once I got the bottom I was able to touch the ground
and feel how extremely soft it was. It had a sort of soothing touch that I would've enjoyed trampling my feet in if the water had been shallower. The
water in that area was about 12 feet deep. Once everyone spread the white mud all over their bodies, we let it dry and jumped back into the water to rinse it off.
|Picture of me holding the white mud
Our next spot was reef further out in the ocean called the "German Dropoff". On our way there we were able to see a man-made channel called the
"German Channel" that the German administration created by blasting through the reef. This channel was created to allow ships from the southern islands
of Palau to pass through and reach Koror. When we got to the "German Dropoff", we hopped into the water, and James proceeded to show us the life forms
in that part of the ocean. As we were snorkeling in that area, we had the chance to see the big ugly Titan Triggerfish that I had caught on our first
night in Palau. We also got to see more of the deep sea fish which were enormous in size and make up a large part of Palau's fishing industry. These
fish included the Napoleon Fish and Yellow Fin Tuna. When we had finished snorkeling in this spot, we proceeded to our barbecue spot of the day for lunch.
We had lunch at one of Koror's state parks, nicknamed "Long Beach". This area was rather special since something spectacular happens during the low tides.
During low tides this area has a half a mile long sandbar that exposes itself and creates a long stretch of beach that separates the channel of water into
two. This is what gives the area the nickname "Long Beach".
When the beach had exposed itself, we proceeded to take a stroll across the beach, and took in
the many life forms that had made their homes in the bottom there. We happened to find many hermit crabs, snails, and sand dollars.
Next on our list of spots to visit was "Jellyfish Lake". This peculiar spot was located on another one of the outlying rock islands of Palau. When we
arrived at the rock island, it took a small hike up a cliff to get to the lake. Having reached the lake, I was surprised to find that the lake was made
of saltwater, since I have mostly grown up around freshwater lakes. This lake is uniquely full of sting less Jellyfish. Swimming out into the sunnier parts
of the water we were introduced to the namesake of this lake. We were literally surrounded by thousands of Jellyfish ranging in all sizes from the
extremely tiny pebble sized, to the large basketball sized. At one point we couldn't even see anything but Jellyfish swimming around us since it was so
densely packed with them. One has to be careful when swimming in this lake, because the Jellyfish are so fragile that they would die if they were kicked.
When swimming in this lake one should wade with the arms and legs in a frog motion instead of using the flutter kick which could inadvertently harm the
Jellyfish. After our encounters with the Jellyfish, we were pretty much exhausted and all ready to head to our hotels.
|Palau Pacific Resort
Our hotel for our third night was the "Palau Pacific Resort" or PPR. PPR is your traditional resort with fairly nice hotel rooms, and a beach to
sunbathe at. That night, we ate dinner with our tour members again. We were brought to yet another Taiwanese restaurant in Koror. The food at the
restaurant did not disappoint. We were treated to everything from sashimi to lobster. It was basically the seafood connoisseur's delight.
Afterward we headed to one of a few shopping markets in Koror to buy things we needed for the next few days, and retired for the night soon afterwards.
|Animals at PPR
On the fourth day, we spent the entire day at PPR. In the morning we ate the buffet breakfast offered at PPR. The food was excellent and having
stuffed ourselves, we took a quick nap and headed to the beach afterwards. The beach at PPR isn't your typical sandy resort beach.
It's rather a snorkeling beach in itself also. The beach was full of coral, fish, and giant clams. We spent some time snorkeling in the area and
taking in the sights of the ocean once again. When we were done snorkeling, we headed back to our rooms and happened to pass a small zoo like cage
by our rooms. In the 4 cages were a Sulfur-crested Cockatoo, Palauan Fruit Dove, a Mangrove Monitor Lizard, and a Fruit bat. The Mangrove Monitor
Lizard was hiding up on a ledge so it was barely seen, but we got great pictures with the Sulfur-crested Cockatoo, the Palauan Fruit Dove, and the
Fruit bat. Later that evening PPR had a small welcoming party for their new guests, and we were treated to a native Palauan tribal war dance.
That evening we once again had the PPR buffet for dinner. Once again the food was excellent, and left us ready to retire for the night.
|Palauan tribal war dance
On our final day of the trip, we again started out with the buffet breakfast at PPR. Next we headed towards a small quarry used to make money in Palau.
The money consisted of large saucers or millstones made out of stone. We took a short trek upwards along a path that started at the edge of the water.
Many people from our tour were regretting not bringing sturdier sandals at this point. Along our trek, we saw a big stone saucer that had tumbled down
from the top.
We proceeded to take pictures, and then continue along. When we got to the top we saw the area where the stone was extracted to make
this stone currency. The stone itself had some sort of mineral like property to it, much like quartz. After we had taken pictures of the area, it was
time for us to leave.
|That's a big chunk of change
After the stone quarry, we set out to visit some limestone caves found at various rock islands around Palau. We headed out towards the other side of the islands
which took about 20 minutes. One thing to note during these excursions is that it takes some time to get from place to place by boat. When we reached our
destination, we immediately noticed the cave at the side of the rock island. Our boat proceeded to enter the cave, and we stopped there while James went about
with his dialogue for this particular spot. The caves had stalactites at the
ceiling, as well as roosting bats. I wondered what must be at the bottom of the cave. There certainly must be quite a bit of potassium buildup from the
bats that roosted in there. After taking some pictures, we headed to our next spot of the day.
Our next stop of the day was the Palau Aquarium. At the aquarium, we got a look at most of the sea life that we had seen while we were snorkeling.
The aquarium had a big model map of special sites around Palau that we all were able to use to see where we have been during the tour.
Afterwards, we strolled through to look at the various tanks of different sea life that could be found at Palau. They had everything from coral gardens
and their inhabitants to deep sea dwellers and their inhabitants.
We went ahead and took some pictures of some of the animals they had there that we didn't have the chance to see when we were snorkeling.
They also had some educational info on the formation and state of the rock islands of Palau. We proceeded to take a look around, and shortly thereafter
headed to the Palau national museum.
|Palau Aquarium animals
|My wife and "Palauan Men's Clubhouse"
|Diorama of early native Palauan life
The Palau national museum was under expansion while we were there, but we got to see the items in the current and rather small national museum.
First we took pictures with a native Palauan styled men's clubhouse that used to be used by the native Palauans. The house was quite interesting as it was
decorated with meaningful art at the top of the crest. James proceeded to give an explanation on the art at the top of the house. It was related to
the day to day life of the early Palauans as well as societal roles that the men and women took in their clans. He also went on to explain that the
clubhouse was used for men to gather together and chit-chat without the presence of women. Afterwards we went into their small showroom
to see Palauan works of art as well as Palauan artifacts of history.
James gave us a short history lesson on some parts of Palauan history, and we
visited the gift shop soon afterwards. Next we headed back to Papago for lunch.
After having one last lunch at the Papago resort, we shortly found ourselves back at the one terminal airport of Palau. We took a group picture of
our tour, and thanked our guide James for the great time we all had. Although we saw many things on our tour this time around, there were still many
more things that we didn't get to see. James let us know that if we call him up next time we're in Palau, he would be glad to take us to the other
great spots of Palau. I think we may take him up on that sometime in the future. Palau is definitely one place where I would visit again. And next time
I'll remember to get an underwater camera case for my digital camera. An underwater camera is highly recommended for this trip, as you will see many
beautiful things in the sea. Palau is not so much the usual spread under the sun vacation spot that Hawaii is. Palau is rather a spot for those that enjoy
activities such as snorkeling and diving. It is not a coincidence that Jacque Cousteau said Palau is one of the best diving spots in the world. The
abundance of underwater sea life here makes Palau an incredible aquatic experience.
|Our tour group. James (front center), my wife (red), myself (next to wife in yellow and white)
- Papago Internation Resort
- Palau Pacific Resort
Things to bring:
- Comfortable clothing for hot tropical weather
- Rugged Sandals or Aquasocks
- Sunscreen, lot's of it!
- US Dollars is the currency in Palau
- Underwater capable camera (a must!)
- Swimming attire