Happy New Year (2014)!!! It is embarrassing that it took so long to publish this blog entry (there were too many photos to process)… Just received the WordPress 2013 report, it says that I have only published 1 miserable post last year… :-( So, here it is…
We had wanted to visit Palau, ever since she became a shark sanctuary in Sept 2009 – it was the FIRST nation to do so. http://www.sharksavers.org/en/get-active/dive-to-help-sharks/ecotourism/ Such a small Micronesian country with about 23,000 people but all of them are equiped with wits & determination. Shark & ray ecotourism brings in US$18 million to Palau, every year! http://www.sharksavers.org/en/education/the-value-of-sharks/sharks-and-ecotourism/ This scientific blog sums up our sentiments http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/expeditions/2013/06/12/an-interconnected-environment-and-economy-shark-tourism-in-palau/ & from looks of it, this amount would increase – there are new chartered flights from Korea, we saw high-school Korean “kids” in Palau everyday during our trip. Furthermore, we have watched so many of the Taiwanese travel shows featuring Palau (yes, there are quite many of them ;-) )… M & J were quite happy to hear that we had finally took the plunge to plan for a holiday in Palau, they have been there many times… It is high on their recommended list, especially as our dive skills improves…
We flew Cebu Pacific (CP) from Singapore to Manila, it was quite convenient, CP has several flights to MNL everyday… & it uses the new terminal – 3…
Singapore to Manila: 5J 800 Fri 23 Mar 2012, 1420H Singapore Budget Terminal -> Fri 23 Mar 2012, 1755H Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3
Manila to Singapore: 5J 805 Sat 07 Apr 2012, 1325H Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 -> Sat 07 Apr 2012, 1655H Singapore Budget Terminal
Base Fare: 396.00 Fuel Surcharge: 101.04 Passenger Security Service Charge: 16.00 Aviation Levy: 4.40 Passenger Service Charge: 15.60 Web Admin Fee – manual: 20.00
BAG25: 50.00 BAG20: 30.00
Total Amount: 633.04 (for 2 pax)
The airport staff at the boarding area of UA/Continental was very serious about their work, footwear had to be removed, carry-ons were thoroughly searched – every small pocket was searched. Guess it was the requirement of the US immigrations? That was the first time we had to go through it and it was not enjoyable.
It was quite an expensive short flight… :-P
At Palau’s airport, we were greeted by a poster of a shark & it says “Welcome to Palau, the first shark sanctuary!” – Nice!!! Immigration at Palau was okay, the staff was quite friendly. The terminal was quite nice, there was a nice ceiling mural depicting the underwater scene – beautiful reef, mantas, eagle rays, sharks etc. We got to see all of them during our stay. Our dive operation was Fish n Fins (FnF) http://www.fishnfins.com/v2/en/welcome.html the scuba pioneer in Palau & M & J have always been diving with them. FnF sent their staff – Norman & van to meet us & some other divers & sent us to our accommodation West Plaza Desekal, about 30mins from the airport. It was within 15mins walk to FnF. West Plaza Desekal was basic, maybe 3 stars, rooms are of good size, clean and beds were comfortable, beach towels were provided for the day trip, we were happy with the choice. 1 of the front desk staff was a Chinese lady, who had came to work in Palau more than 10 years ago, she was happy to have us to speak Mandarin with and the other was a Filippina. :-) So, we were always the earliest to reach FnF in the morning, before the morning peak hour started… ;-) It was nice to walk past the school & the policeman who policed at 1 of the busier junctions…
We signed up for 3 dives a day at FnF, for the 1st few days, they returned to “dock” to pick tanks after the 2nd dive, then we would go to 1 of the nearer sites for the 3rd dive. Gradually, there were more people who joined us for the 3rd dive, so we were able to skip the ride back and did those “better” dives at the outer atolls. The staff did a good job and got us to most of the dive sites in those 11 days.
The dives at Palau were all nice http://www.fishnfins.com/v2/en/dive-sites.html. My favourite was Blue Corner, having done that site, we were no longer virgin (reef) hookers! M gave us custom-made reef hooks, they were indeed handy and it was comfortable to use the reef hook.. With the aid of the rope connecting to the reef hook, our depth was only about 15m, so it felt quite safe. It wasn’t very difficult, except to remember 1 rule – remember to deflate all air from the BCD before loosening the reef hook, or risk being blown away (or worse, up!) The guides were on hand to help move us to better vantage points for shark watching. Except on the day that there was exceedingly strong current blowing from the depth, when we felt like our masks were in the danger of being blown away and we struggled to keep our cameras in hand, we had a good experience with the reef hooks. Having said that, I wouldn’t recommend this site to new divers, or a high new divers to guide ratio and the experience of the guides to read the site was very important too, I could see myself freaking out if that day was the 1st time the whole group was deploying the reef hook. We didn’t have much luck with the manta at the German Channel. M had been trying to get Malsol to do the Ulong Channel but the tide was always not right, until the last diving day. There were a few sharks at the mouth of the channel, I was so reluctant to leave and start the channel discovery… I felt like diving in a small drain – the sides were covered with hard corals, the bottom was sandy, spotted a few small sharks along the way, the specular sight was the huge school of soldier fish “standing guard” at their cabbage coral fortress – they were actually resting.
I have a desire to do Blue Corner everyday. It was nice to enjoy the sight of so many grey reef sharks (resting – in the current), white tip reef sharks, big eye trevallies, moon snappers, red tooth triggerfish enjoying the current. Then, the cute Napoleon wrasse/s that are friends of the local guides and they sometimes play with our bubbles… :- ) I kept wondering how many sharks were there (that I missed), whenever I wasn’t there. I would also miss that Napoleon wrasse…
The day that we did the Jellyfish Lake, we took the transport back to the hotel, we were too tired to walk back. To get to the Jellyfish Lake, we had to climb up a steep hill and then climb back down, it was like visiting a crater… We wished we had brought our fins with us, it was tiring to swim to the middle of the lake, where more jelly fish congregated. The sight of millions of jellyfish was surreal, Kent mentioned that the amount of jellyfish had decreased over the years and the smell of ammonia at the Lake is overpowering and he had since stopped visiting the Lake. Although the permit to visit the Lake isn’t exactly cheap but most tourists wouldn’t miss it, having gone that far. M & J did their part by not participating, as they had been there, done that…
We made sandwiches for breakfast and bento set lunch was included in the dive package. One of the benefits of staying at West Plaza Desekal was that we could walk out to get our dinners at a variety of places and also there was a minimart at the ground floor (but Desekal had no passenger lift, it only had a luggage lift). We have a list of favourites (based on taste and value-for-money) and they are: 1. Suriyothai (Thai food, of course! Pad Si Lew was yummilicious, tom yum was good too. Nice A/C restaurant), 2. Palm Bay Bistro (for the fresh Palau National Beer! & good pizzas & other western cuisines) 3. I Love Noodles (small stall near to the supermarket that sold Thai food prepared by Thai chef, Green Papaya Salad was nice! & prices were very reasonable but no A/C) 4. Emaimelei 2 (Filipino – large portions, milk fish soup was yummy) , 5. Flamingo (“next” to West Plaza Desekal, facing the main road. Nice Japanese inspired dishes – soba/udon & Filipino dishes – Adobo, ask for less salt for the Adobo dishes). All these were within 20mins slow walk from Desekal, I Love Noodles was the furthest. Although West Plaza wasn’t within walking distant, the food and beer was scrumptious and not too expensive, the service was good and the view of the harbour is very nice too and we got to know a cop who drives the “cab” part-time.
We also tried Little Beijing (non a/c) for the yuan-yang steamboat buffet, just for the heck of it, M & J hadn’t tried Chinese style steamboat but I don’t think they were particularly impressed by it… ;-) The Taj Indian Restaurant – food was quite delectable but the prices were on the high side… Little Italy Restaurant was quite nice too, quaint Italian countryside kitchen deco (with A/C), prices were on a high side… We had bad experience at the Drop-off Bar & Grill – very slow service and we waited 30mins for the 1st dish to be served, then another 10 – 15 mins for each of our order to stagger in, food was ok though.
For the last day/off-gassing day of our trip, T & I did a full day Polaris ATV (all terrain vehicle) 4WD tour! It was exhilarating! http://www.fishnfins.com/v2/en/off-road-jungle-tours.html We were glad to have Kent as our guide for day, he was a very experience guide, who worked as a dive guide previously and he was from Peleliu. It was pouring for parts of the day which added to the sense of adventure. We had a nice time eating local snacks at a pavilion (try the banana glutinous rice cake) while waiting for the rain to mellow… One of the locals treated us to some clam sashimi – very nice and fresh!
Kent asked ” do you want an eco-tourist who spend US$500 a night, or do you want a mass-market tourist who spend US$100? Which is better for the environment?”
News: 28 Mar 2014: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/palau-sharks-ban-commercial-fishing-tuna-industry
“banning commercial boats simply appears to be in Palau’s interests.
Even though the bulk of commercial fishing in the region focuses on tuna, sharks are frequently hauled in as bycatch. Yanking sharks out of the sea directly hits Palau’s biggest moneymaker: the $85m dive tourism industry.”