(Travelnews=William Harlow) Whenever I’m in Korea, I like to take a regional trip. Having tired of China, Japan, Thailand and the like, I have started to enjoy visits to various Pacific Islands. I try to limit flight time to about five hours. Previously, I’ve been to Guam and Saipan in the Marianas Islands and enjoyed the visit very much. During this visit to Korea, the wife and I decided to take a tour to the island nation of Palau. I would like to say up front that this was one of the best getaways we have ever been on.
It was early spring in Korea, but the weather was still chilly and the winter had been cold. The same is true for our home base in New York. I am not normally a beach guy but my wife is and I was lured by the hopes of seeing some historical sites such as World War II battlefields. So we signed up for a five day tour from a Korean company that included five days and three nights. Of course two nights you spend on the plane enroute and returning so you have basically three full days on the island. What follows is my description of Palau and the great time the wife and I had during our visit.
Palau is an independent republic about half way between the Marianas Island and the Philippine Islands and a little south. It is about a four and a half hour flight from Incheon. It is tropical, consists of hundreds of small islands and a few big ones.
The government really looks out for the environment and it is a great place to either scuba dive or snorkel. Its history mirrors Saipan more than Guam and has been governed by the Spanish, Germans, and Japanese. After WWII it became and United States protectorate under United Nations mandate until independence in the middle 1990’s. While independent it still has a close relationship with the United States and uses U.S. currency, voltage, and road signs.
You fly into Koror, the capital and central province scattered on a series of small central islands. There is pretty much only one main road through the city and most places are on or off this main route.
There are lots of small shops and restaurants. Hotels were nice and relatively modern. Food varied from burgers and steaks to Korean, Japanese, Pilipino and Thai. During the entire trip I never had a bad meal there.
My original hope was to arrange a tour to Peleliu, and island in the southern part of the Palau chain and where the major fighting during WWII took place. Unfortunately, we were there during the off season and few boats were headed down there during our time there so I wasn’t able to get down there this trip.
Instead, we decided to go with the tours offered by the tour company and these focused on various boat cruises and snorkeling expeditions. This turned out to be a good idea and the general rhythm of the tour turned out to be delightful.
After a brief nap at the hotel upon arrival we took off on a brief tour of Koror we had lunch and then went to an orchard on the main island of Palau. Enroute I saw the remains of a downed Japanese Zero getting some of my WWII fix. The orchard was originally a Taiwanese agricultural station for Palau turned tourist location. It was actually a nice day trip. Upon return to Koror we had dinner and went back to the hotel for the night (the wife got some spa stuff done).
The second day we signed up for one of the island tours and this is where the nice tour rhythm really took hold. We would get up, have breakfast (included at the hotel) then at 10 A.M. meet up with the tour and get on a boat to the outer islands. You’d take the surf boat out for about half a hour (sometimes a little rough but fun).
Palau has designated islands with nice beaches for the tour boats. (Other islands and areas are protected to safeguard the environment). We arrive at one island beach and had about an hour or so to practice our snorkeling over a nice coral garden while they prepared a barbeque lunch.
The water was wonderful. The water was clear, warm, and easy to swim in. The coral garden was breathtaking and this was just the practice beach. The food was great on the beach and then we were off to another snorkeling location. We then snorkeled on and old sunk Japanese oil tanker.
I through this was the best snorkeling of the trip though my wife didn’t like this one very much. Next stop was another even more breathtaking coral garden. Every time you went in the water you were also surrounded by hundreds of fish in varying and colorful variety.
Then it was back to Koror and we were back at the hotel by 4 P.M. We cleaned up, the wife did some more spa stuff (always a mystery to me), then we were off for another great dinner. After dinner we sat near the beach drinking beer and watching the world go by.
Written by Mr. William C. Harlow/The Travelnews
Photo by Howard Jungchan LEE/The Travelnews