Trip Date – January 2015
| 🇵🇼| Palau has gotta be where Microsoft takes their screensaver photos. Despite occupying less real estate than Scottsdale, Arizona, this tiny island nation pushes the gorgeous meter to the brink. Located in the western Pacific 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) east of the Philippines, Palau’s tourism has surged in recent years, largely due to Japanese and Korean tourists capitalizing on an increasing number of direct flights.
After traveling between New Zealand and Hawaii to celebrate New Year’s twice in the same year, some creative flight booking led to me stopping in Palau en route back to Singapore. United Airlines dominates much of Micronesia, especially when coming from the US, and was the best option from Honolulu. Upon arrival in Koror, I was provided with arguably my all-time favorite passport stamp.
I booked a room at an economical but satisfactory bed and breakfast in the middle of the Koror, Palau’s largest city. With only 24 hours on the ground, I wasted no time locking in a full-day Rock Islands tour with Impac. The cost was roughly US$125, which included breakfast, lunch, snorkeling, kayaking and a Rock Islands (+ Jellyfish Lake) permit. Palau’s Rock Islands are a collection of limestone stacks whose world-renown lagoons have become popular attractions. We spent the morning snorkeling in likely the most incredible water I’ve ever experienced.
Following lunch on the beach, we set out for Jellyfish Lake, a marine lake on Eli Malk Island and a ‘must-do’ when in Palau. Over years of erosion, the surrounding rocks have completely enclosed the lake, with the exception of some short and narrow tunnels. The lack of exposure to Ocean water has altered the evolution of the lagoon’s native species, most notably, the golden jellyfish, who, in the absence of natural predators, have lost their ability to sting. Intimately swimming (and even touching) thousands of jellyfish was a unique experience and one that I’m not sure can be replicated anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, as of 2016, I believe it has been closed to tourists due to the environmental harm caused by so many visitors. Hopefully it can be safely reopened soon!
The day ended with kayaking and a visit to the Milky Way Lagoon, another one of the most well-known sites in Palau. At the bottom of this lagoon is a layer of muddy clay, a substance that is said to be beneficial to skin. Regardless of whether that’s fact of fiction, we enjoyed coating ourselves with what feels like smooth, creamy cement. After waiting about 15 minutes for it to dry, we jumped into the water to clean off. This was the final stop before the scenic cruise back to the main docking pier.
Palau is the 4th least-populous nation in the world and among the most remote you will find. It is home to a well-balanced ecosystem and exceptional marine settings. If traveling in Asia, it is worth the effort to visit, even if only for a short time. The majority of flights to Koror originate in Manila, Tokyo and Seoul. Good luck with your planning. I hope you can make it work!
Have you been to Palau? Is it one of the most gorgeous places you’ve seen?