Trip Report Palau (January 2013)
Replies: 9 - Last Post: Mar 27, 2013 7:09 PM Last Post By: Laszlo
Feb 23, 2013 1:59 AM
Trip Report Palau (January 2013)Following are my impressions of Palau as a non-diver (I did some snorkelling, though). I am quite prepared for people to ask me why the f&*%# I even went to Palau when I don’t dive - no offence taken :-) I used the 2006 LP guide.
Palau is to East Asia what the Canary Islands are to Europe: An easily reachable, possibly overrated, and definitely overrun package tourist destination that is pretty but not more. Not every landscape that is pretty or geologically unique passes the threshold of "stunningly beautiful". Bora Bora, Rarotonga and Aitutaki are all prettier, some are cheaper, all are more easily explorable. The Palauans are happy to milk tourists as long as they come. $ 5 for entry to even the most insignificant historical sites, a whopping $ 10 to visit the small museum in Koror, $ 100 for a few minutes at Jellyfish Lake (compare that with fees charged at Petra or Angkor), $ 50 departure tax at the airport, some of it masquerading as an environmental fee, when the only people damaging the environment are the locals, who have wholeheartedly embraced American lifestyle and drive every yard in gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs... Perhaps more than any country in the world, Palau has succeeded in promoting itself by selling visitors deceptive packaging. You will note that nearly all photos of the Rock Islands are taken from the air, and many feature the Seventy Islands sub-group. As far as I know, very few tour operators visit Seventy Islands and from ground level the Rock Islands quickly become monotonous because the delightful green/blue puzzle effect is completely lost. You just see an always-identical wall of green vegetation in the distance, sometimes closer, sometimes further away. What makes the Rock Islands so stunning is their sheer number and the weird arrangement of them on a map, which you cannot appreciate from ground level. (In fact, scenic helicopter flights are now available from a single operator, but I imagine they must be absurdly expensive.)
I came on United Airlines from Manila. Immigration at Koror was not particularly friendly (though these officials were the only grumpy Palauans I ever saw) and agonizingly slow: several minutes per passenger. Everybody had to show a return/onward ticket.
I stayed at Palau Marine Club/Antelope Dive Shop on Malakal Island: Its cheapest room category (“Club House Singles”) is excellent value at $ 25 for a simple, small, clean room with AC, fridge and shared bathroom. You can book by e-mail. Bag yourself one of those and a holiday on Palau becomes affordable. Airport transfers cost $ 10. It is an easy half-hour walk to Koror along the main road, with nice views along the way. Coming out of the hotel, there is a little supermarket on the main road, which has a much smaller selection but exactly the same prices as the big supermarket (WCTC) in Koror, so no need to drag drinks and heavy groceries all the way from town.
A good food kiosk with open-air seating is Chian Chian next to the post office. They have burgers, fried stuff, shakes, bubble tea. A meal costs $ 4-6. Portions seemed to be getting bigger for repeat customers! This is one of the cheapest and most active snack shacks in town; many others looked dilapidated or comatose. Red Rooster Cafe is now at T-Dock in one of the West Plaza Hotels.
Most shops sell prepaid cards for WiFi access through Palau’s state telecom provider. $ 5 gets you 2 hours online, to be used within 5 days (in multiple sessions if you wish). There is one hotspot near (not at) Antelope; I had to sit outside to get a strong signal.
Rental bicycles are only available from the AIC bike shop across Koror’s main road from WCTC. The manager is only available from 7.30 to 8 p.m.! Rent is $ 15 for 24 hours. You can return the bike when a souvenir shop on same premises opens around 4.30 p.m., but it is still a wholly ridiculous arrangement, unless you stay nearby in the centre of Koror. I chose to walk.
Walks & Viewpoints
To reach the viewpoint (communication hill) on Malakal Island, turn into the uphill road a few 100 metres before Ice Box Park. The road is cement first, then gravel. You pass Palau’s animal shelter, then a huge water tank on the left. A few steps on the road flattens. There is a big satellite dish and a green utility building on the right. Turn left here. The road soon swings right and becomes a narrow grassy path. After a few steps when you look left you can see a corrugated iron shelter uphill, in the field. Turn left at this spot (North 7° 19.883’, East 134° 27.146’) and take the path that leads to the shelter. Continue straight, past the shelter, uphill, to the edge of the forest. At this spot (North 7° 19.884’, East 134° 27.126’) the actual path to the hilltop begins. It is moderately clear, but you have to climb over fallen trees and ascend a rock just before the mobile phone antenna on the hilltop. Rough steps are hacked into the rock – climb only when it is dry and don’t take your grandmother along... Overall walking time from Ice Box Park is 20 to 30 minutes.
A walk with beautiful views is on Arakabesan Island along the main road, approximately from the two hideous white apartment block (?) monstrosities to the Palau Pacific Resort. I found Arakabesan Island much nicer than Koror or Malakal because is is quieter than Koror, more residential, and has colourful houses and flowers everywhere. From the two ugly blocks to the Cliffside Hotel and a little further on along that branch road there are fantastic afternoon views. (The Cliffside Hotel is wrongly shown on the LP 2006 map: It is further west, in fact west of Carolines Resort!) There is yet another hill with a communication mast on Arakabesan Island: Take the mountain road to Carolines Resort, continue that road past Carolines up to the gate of a private compound. Ask if you can enter, then continue in same direction (the road circles the hill as it climbs). You cross a private garden, then enter the forest where the road becomes a drivable path. A few minutes uphill is the hilltop, but there is no view due to tree cover. The mast up there has steel ladder steps, but I am certain that climbing it would be illegal, plus dangerous if you have no safety harness (you would have to climb 10 to 15 metres high to clear the trees, definitely not recommended).
Babeldaob by Car
To explore Babeldaob I rented a car. IA Car Rental must be one of the cheapest operators and has vehicles from $ 25 + $ 10 for optional insurance for 24 hours. Nobody asked for my driving licence or demanded a deposit. (They did ask where I stayed, though.) IA Car Rental is diagonally across the Visitors Center along the main road in the „Business Center“ multi-storey commercial building. Opening hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They will deliver the rental car to your hotel. I did a full day driving around Babeldaob, but you can easily explore the island for 3 to 5 days by testing all the side roads (plenty are asphalted). The east coast has nicer scenery than the west because the western road is mainly inland. There are good signs as well as state information boards with tourist sites indicated (but note that many are extremely insignificant – every public building, foundation fragment or single artifact is listed). The monoliths (Babeldaob’s main site), or rather the site’s ticket office and some nearby picnic tables, have a fantastic location overlooking the coast below and the turquoise sea. It’s a stunningly beautiful spot. Entry is $ 5. The same amount is charged for the Todai Japanese HQ ruin. Continue north along the main road past the monolith turn-off until you see a Todai sign on right. Take that branch road uphill. You could even drive; parking is available because no Palauan and no package tourist would dream of walking more than a few steps... Again, there is a nice view from the top. I found out to my utter disbelief that at the much bigger Japanese ruin (former communication HQ) in Airai in theory it costs $ 25 if you want to take even a single photo - for a building alongside a public road that is unfenced, unmanaged and unguarded...! This fee is payable a considerable distance away at the Airai State Office on the road to the airport. This is of course patently ridiculous. Neighbours of the ruin may alert you of this rule. Plead ignorance and say you will get the permit after your visit. Or visit the ruin at a time when the State Office is likely to be unstaffed (after 5 p.m., weekends?).
I did two organized day-trip excursions with IMPAC Tours. Again, it was nice, you cannot see the Rock Islands any other way, but it wasn’t a unique experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. The tours cost around $ 100 each, excluding the Rock Islands and/or Jellyfish Lake permit. IMPAC is no longer across the road from Maml Divers, but on Koror mainland, just east of the bridge between the mainland and the Maml mini-island. IMPAC is on the northern side of the road, across the road from a Shell Station. Follow the sign to Palau Conservation Society. IMPAC tours are basically for Japanese, but all nationalities are welcome and Palauan staff (or English-speaking Japanese) will take care of westerners. My first tour did a little bit of everything: Mud-splashing at the Milky Way as a novelty item for the Japanese (thank you very much, I’ve been to the Dead Sea, same thing). Short snorkelling stops. An hour of kayaking along a pre-defined route, with all participants chaperoned carefully by the guide. Lunch at an IMPAC-operated beach somewhere in the Rock Islands. A rushed and crowded visit to Jellyfish Lake. (Not IMPAC’s fault; there are just too many tour groups – a new one arrives every 15 minutes or so). A second day-trip took me to the southern Rock Islands, with stops at the German Channel, more snorkelling (including at the mindblowing Big Drop site) and a very long middday break at the Carp Island Resort. The highlight of the circus was a stop at an iconic mid-ocean sandbank, 50 metres long and 2 or 3 wide, which was crowded with tourists from three or four boats that had arrived simultaneously. Mercifully my group was the last to leave and since I was the last person back on our boat I had the whole sandbank and its background Rock Island scenery for myself for about a minute! :-) Between stops, tour boats drive too fast to enjoy the scenery, but as I explained above the scenery does not really change that quickly, so I guess it does not matter (except that your photos will be a bit shaky).
Procedures at the airport upon departure are relaxed. Checked baggage is x-rayed at check-in. The departure tax must be paid in cash.
Feb 23, 2013 3:37 PM
Feb 23, 2013 4:56 PM
2Great report - wish we had this information when we were there in '09, especially about Babeldaob. We found no signage on our tour of the island - tried finding things on our own - not much luck - good to see they have rectified that problem! We used Sam's Tours for our trips(snorkelers only) - very good guides, small numbers and no one else around - must have been lucky! We are glad we made the effort to get there but will probably not return, especially as we have found snorkeling in other places that match that in Palau.
Feb 23, 2013 5:40 PM
3Great post with very valuable details.
Probably made me toss Palau quite a bit backwards on my list of places to visit though.
Indonesian friends who have been to both said Raja Ampat was far better - what do you think, newfie?
Feb 23, 2013 8:43 PM
Feb 24, 2013 7:13 PM
5I think it will still stack up pretty well.
It is almost unfair to compare them on a whole country level, as Indonesia is so much bigger.
If you got to Wayag and/or SE Misool on your Raja Ampat cruise, how would you rate their scenery compared to Palau's Rock islands?
I certainly think these 2 areas of RA are pretty spectacular when seen from sea level, too.
Feb 25, 2013 4:48 PM
6OP did not visit the same Palau I did :).
Some strengths I would like to point out:
1. Kayangal. It has pretty beaches and friendly natives. It is a good place to just kick back and relax, with no worries of seeing another tourist on the island because you are the only tourist.
2. Peliliu. Major WW2 battle site with wreckage everywhere (air planes, landing vehicles, bombed out buildings). Our half-day tour for 2 was only $100 with Tangie. The bird song there is the most beautiful I've ever heard.
3. Talking to locals. I had incredible conversations about issues such as the Palau constitution, the difficulties of obtaining a high school education off the main island, and the like.
4. Giant clams! I haven't seen those things anywhere else, they are incredible. Also, giant blue coconut crabs and if you scuba dive--a disco clam at 80 ft in the Blue Hole dive.
5. The rock islands have stunningly beautiful beaches and are uninhabited to boot. You can rent a kayak and camp on the islands.
To summarize: Palau's strengths are in the beauty away from the main islands and in the friendly people. I will go back again.
Mar 26, 2013 10:27 PM
7Dang, what a post. Palau is top 5 on my travel bucket list. I will be one happy man if i get it in this year! Here is my bucket list. Now i am in Estonia, figuring out whats next
Mar 27, 2013 11:30 AM
8Hey Laszlo - sorry about not replying to your question - we left on the 24th for 2 weeks in Cuba - didn't bother with the internet there- hence I missed your post. We got to Wayag - the scenery was similar to Palau but I found the islands in Raja Ampat to be closer together creating more lagoon areas - one in particular was like being on a lake as it was surrounded by hills - just awesome! RA was a little more diverse which I found more interesting. I would like to see the Misool area as well - then there is Wakatobi!! Indonesia definitely has the edge when it comes to places to put on our wish list!
Nomadjustin - that is a great bucket list - best of luck with crossing places off it!
Mar 27, 2013 7:09 PM
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