The Palauans are a very tough people. They are stubborn, proud, and aloof. Respect and ‘status’ are important to them It is a part of their culture to cultivate a kind of brotherhood with the Yap islanders, which is great because these are my two favorite island chains in the Pacific.
The first piece of advice I’d give to anyone is that, whatever happens, look for accommodation only and exclusively in the ‘Koror’ area. (My personal recommendation is the Penthouse Hotel). This is where essentially all life is, including all the shops and tourist services. Almost all hotels are located here, along with restaurants, the harbor, and the nightlife.
I had to arrange this trip in a hurry (four days before departure), and in high season, so I didn’t have much choice when it came to accommodation. The only hotel left at a reasonable price was the Airai Hotel. It turned out to be beautiful, but also in the middle of nowhere, and if you wanted ANYTHING it involved a minimum twenty-minute drive. There are no taxis, so going out to drink and party from here would be difficult to arrange, and no tourist agency will come out this far (though they will if you stay in a Koror Hotel and pay for a tour).
There’s a restaurant, a water park that might give you half an hour of fun, and a bar. That’s it.
To go fishing you need a permit from a tourist shop, which is valid for one week. You need separate permits if you want to go diving, or if you wish to enter a protected natural environment. I have to say, though, that the Palauan government has understood clearly that tourism is their most promising source of revenue, and they reinvest the money they make in improving infrastructure. They clean and renovate popular locations, and there are ever more signs for tourists, as well as brochures printed in many languages. They also have a sort of tourist police force, which keeps an eye out for unlicensed fishing, diving, and kayak tours… They also sometimes have to eject ‘lost’ Chinese fishing boats from their rich coastal waters. And believe me, they’re far better off being escorted out of Palauan waters by the police because if local fishermen find them, it invariably means trouble.
Three Chinese fishing boats were recently seized by locals… They release the live fish they’d caught, divided the dead fish among themselves, then “explained the situation” to the Chinese fishermen, before depositing them, tied together, at the door of the Chinese embassy. As for the boats… well, two of them ‘caught fire’ and were burned to cinders, while the third, which was built of metal, ‘sank’. To the great delight of divers, it sank in a place where there was nothing of interest before, and now you can dive to the wreck… The Chinese government naturally tried to play the victim and sent some warships to the area in a show of force, but South Korea, the USA, and Japan all decided to hold a training exercise around Palau, which is strategically important. Nothing happened, but Chinese boats still don’t enter Palauan waters without permission.
A piece of advice: always ask if you need a permit for any of your planned activities or destinations, either from a tourist agency or a local. You need special permits to go diving, fishing, or for visiting the jellyfish lake, the shark sanctuary, the islands of stone… (l.h., 2017)