While most people have never heard of the Palau island chain in the Western Pacific Ocean, those that have probably know it for its diving. Palau is made up of nearly 350 islands, most of them uninhabited and untouched. These remote Micronesian islands are barely 1000 kilometres southeast of the Philippines, so you can imagine how beautiful they are. Join me on a whirlwind visit to the untouched pacific paradise of Palau and find out that the scenery isn’t all that’s beautiful about the place!
Planning a Trip to the Untouched Pacific Paradise of Palau
I had a long weekend and wanted to go somewhere new that was close to home. That was a bit of a problem seeing as I had been to almost every country within a 5 hour flight from home. Except for Palau that is. This beautiful country is only served by 3 airlines, so it required a little more planning than my normal trips.
First I looked into taking a charter flight with Palau Pacific Airways from Hong Kong to Palau’s only international airport in Koror. The problem was that this charter only ran on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That meant I would’ve had to stay for one day longer than my holiday. Plus it was HK$5000 for a 4 hour flight. The budget traveller in me was horrified at that price. I’ve flown twice the distance for less than that before!
I also found flights from Incheon in South Korea and Taipei in Taiwan, but they also came with a huge price tag and only ran once or twice a week. It was almost time to give up. Until I found regular flights to Koror from Manila in the Philippines.
That Moment You Realise Your Only Option is an Airline With a Terrible Reputation
The fare was reasonable and even with a flight to Manila factored in, still came in at under half the price of the charter. The problem was that the flight was operated by United Airlines. At the time they had a terrible reputation from a couple of incidents on their flights in the US. As it was my last resort to get to Palau, I bought the ticket hoping that United Airlines operated differently in Asia. It seems that they do.
Arriving in the Untouched Pacific Paradise of Palau
As you can imagine, the Palau International Airport in Koror is rather small. Only 3 airlines, United Airlines from Manila, Asiana Airlines from Incheon and China Airlines from Taipei, serve the airport. Palau Asia Pacific Airways (PAPA), the 2019 replacement for Palau Pacific Airways which became defunct in 2018, also runs charter flights from Hong Kong and Macau.
After alighting from the plane, I entered the second floor of the terminal building and had to walk downstairs to pass through immigration. When I received this form, I had a terrible feeling that things were going to take a long time.
I mean, do they really need to know my annual salary? For a weekend trip? Luckily, the officers were really friendly and barely even glanced at the form. That meant it was a rather quick and painless process.
Getting into Town
I had decided that I was going to walk the six kilometres into the town from the airport. I like walking and an hour of walking is not a big issue for me. I barely even made it to the road before a local picked me up and drove me into town.
His name was Lamz and he was a lovely man. When we got into town, he took me to the address of the place I had booked for the night, but it wasn’t there. It turned out that my accommodation was actually across the road, but the booking company had sent me the address for the admin building, which was of course empty in the early hours of the morning. Even though I had advised them of my arrival time. Besides that, I’m sure they would be aware of flight arrival times seeing as they run a guesthouse!
Settling in for the Night?
Lamz tried calling the phone number that I had for my accommodation, but there was no answer. He then searched the internet and found another number which also wasn’t answered. He then called some friends to see if they knew who ran the place. It was 3 am by that point, but nobody seemed to mind. He tried calling yet another number. Finally, someone answered and said that they would come and let me into my room at 8am, when they opened. Umm, okay.
Lamz offered to take me to his house to wait out the hours and rest a bit. I accepted, after I checked that I wouldn’t be in anyone’s way. When we got there, one of Lamz’s housemates was still awake and started trying to fatten me up with local food. I was pretty sleepy by that point so after a short chat Lamz showed me to a bed I could rest in for a while.
A New Day, A New Adventure
When I woke up, Lamz took me back to my accommodation where I was finally able to check in. Lamz said that he would take me to the airport for my departing flight the next day because he had a long weekend as well. He also offered to be my chauffeur and take me anywhere I wanted to go. I had already planned to meet someone that day, so he just took me to the pre-arranged meeting place. He also gave me his old phone to use to call him in case I needed help. What an amazing guy, right?!
Before heading to Palau, I’d gotten in contact with a lady named Yawen. She visited Palau once and loved it so much that she decided to go back there to live. I had planned to meet her at ‘the mall’. Koror is so small that everyone knows that ‘the mall’ means the WCTC Shopping centre. Yawen had been able to borrow her work van to drive me around for the day.
Driving in the Untouched Pacific Paradise of Palau
There are a few quirky things about driving in Palau. Firstly, they drive righthand drive cars, mainly imported from Japan, on the righthand side of the road. While it felt super weird to be sitting on the ‘driver’s side’ as a passenger, it didn’t really feel unsafe as the maximum speed limit in Palau is 40km/h. Plus the roads are quite wide with great visibility.
Due to the size of the islands of Palau, there aren’t many roads. This is illustrated quite amusingly by the directions given by the Belau National Museum on their website.
“From the Palau Community College, follow the Belau National Museum signs uphill toward Koror Elementary School and continue beyond the school until you reach the museum”
If you don’t need to use street names in your directions then you obviously don’t have many streets, right?
Belau National Museum
Yawen thought that the museum might be an interesting place for me to see, so we headed there. It was unfortunately closed for the day. By mid afternoon! The gift shop was still open though. It had some interesting artifacts for sale.
You wouldn’t believe how many questions I had after seeing this. So many! But I figured it was better to just keep looking around. I eventually found this interesting sign that explains how the Palauan flag came to be.
The gift shop lady had let us in as she was getting ready to close, so we got back on the road and headed towards a waterfall!
The Tallest Waterfall in The Untouched Pacific Paradise of Palau
As the tallest waterfall in not only Palau, but also Micronesia, the Ngardmau Waterfall is a bit of a local icon. The waterfall is named after the Palauan state in which it is located and has an interesting origin story. Local legend tells us that the waterfall was created by a spirit that took the form of an eel. The spirit laid down on a cliff and fell into a deep slumber that it couldn’t wake from. Its body became a river and its head became the waterfall.
Getting to the Ngardmau Waterfall
After paying the exhorbitant entry fee of US$10, you’ll pass an historic railway site.
Before heading down some stairs towards the river.
First, you’ll hit some rock pools.
Then a mini waterfall.
After that, the trail changes from wide and open to a thin risen boardwalk along the forest floor. Eventually, the boardwalk disappears and you’re walking on a narrow forest trail.
Then a losely formed trail of logs appears until you hit a bridge across the river.
That’s when you know you’ve finally made it.
The Ngardmau Waterfall is known for its rainbows. There was a rainbow clearly visible at the time I was there, but the camera didn’t see it so well. If you look really hard at the centre of the picture, you may be able to spot part of it.
Or perhaps you can see the little rainbow in the bottom lefthand corner of this one.
Back to Town
It was getting late and Yawen had to get the van back to her work, so after the little hike, we drove back to ‘the mall’ where I met Lamz.
By the time we got there it was dark so Lamz just took me back to my accommodation. We chatted there for a while until it was time for bed. Lamz came back to pick me up the next day around my check out time. To my surprise, he had bought some food for me! He was worried that I hadn’t eaten enough and refused to take any money for it. Such a caring soul.
Lamz took me on a little drive around town then grabbed me a small Palauan flag for my collection, before taking me to the airport for my flight back home. If I didn’t think so before, I definitely would’ve left Palau thinking that islanders are the most awesome people in the world.
Check out other Oceania posts:
Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji
Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga
The Captivating Cook Islands
Discover the Real Vanuatu
Papua New Guinea
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