Time Zone: GMT/UTC +9
Driving side: Drivers drive on the right-hand side oof the road.
Languages: English, Palauan, Japanese.
Religion: Christian (33%, including Catholic, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Assembly of God, Liebenzell Mission and Mormon), Modeknegi (indigenous faith)
Emergency #: Police: 911
The people of Belau, as the islanders call their homeland, may appear to be among the most Westernized of all Micronesians in their casual American togs and baseball caps. However, they still frown upon skimpy beach attire away from the water, and most homes and many public buildings require that you leave your shoes near the door. Furthermore, many traditional rites have been retained over the years, such as those for a first-born child, and village chiefs still command an important role in the social hierarchy.
Most Palauans are Christian, with the Catholic and Protestant churches well established and Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists and Bahais gaining in membership. Modekngei is a revived form of the indigenous religion, which also shows up in traditions such as leaving a light on to ward off spooks. Staples of the traditional Palauan diet include coconut milk and meat (copra), cassava (tapioca), sweet potatoes and all sorts of fish and seafood. Japanese and American mealtime influences are common. Although not as prevalent as it is on Yap, many Palauans chew betel nut, which when mixed with lime powder produces copious amounts of bright red spit. Old-time chewers are noted by their red teeth, newcomers by the stains on their chins and shirts.
Palauan is spoken at home and in casual situations, while English is more common in business and government. Schools teach both languages, so most Palauans are bilingual from an early age. The South-West Islanders speak some Sonsorolese and Tobian languages. Islanders have borrowed the Hawaiian term haole to refer to foreigners.
Palau Popular Destinations
Koror - Capital of Palau, and home to two-thirds of the republic's population. It is a much less vibrant town than it was when the Japanese called it theirs, with a Micronesian pace and no particular penchant for hustle and bustle. Visitors will still find remnants of a more traditional past, but at best it is good for a day or two of exploration. Beyond that, use Koror as a jumping-off point for trips to the Rock Islands, Peleliu, Angaur and the other islands. On Koror Island, the Belau National Museum is a good place to firm up your understanding of the nation's culture and history. It is packed with exhibits ranging from the mounted head of a 5m crocodile, to Palauan bead and shell money, intricately carved storyboards and other local artifacts and crafts.
Babeldaob - The largest island in Micronesia after Guam, thickly jungled Babeldaob, has a land area of over 400 sq km, which is more than four times the total area of all the other islands put together. Its population is small, as most young people make their way to Koror in search of jobs. Babeldaob is a high, volcanic island of gently rolling hills, with beautiful stretches of sandy beach on the east coast and mangrove forests on the west. Parts of the jungly interior are virtually unexplored, and many of the villages are still connected by ancient stone paths. Many of the island's hillsides were once terraced into steps and pyramids, as archeological research suggest they were probably begun around 100 AD. Their purpose remains a mystery, and even more curiously, only one village was built anywhere near them. The town's most visited attractions are its two bais, one old and one new. The northern Ngaraard State has some of the island's prettiest beaches.
Peleliu - Peleliu was the site of some of the bloodiest battles of WWII. Many of the island's residents today are survivors of that campaign. During the fighting, Peleliu's forest were burned to the ground, but now they ring again with songs of birds, who thrive in the second growth jungle. The island's main attractions are its war relics and underwater sights. There is a small war museum in the main village, Klouklubed. The Peleliu Wall, southwest of the island, is one of the world's finest dive sites, with an abrupt 300m drop and scores of sharks, hawksbill turtles, mammoth gorgonian fans and an amazing variety of fish. Both White Beach and Bloody Beach are good for snorkeling.
Rock Islands - The Rock Islands are Palau's crowning glory. More than 200 of these jungle-topped knobs of limestone dot the waters for a 35km stretch south of Koror. Their bases, having been worn away by tidal action and grazing sea creatures, are narrower than their tops, causing them to look like emerald-hued mushrooms rising from the turquoise sea. It is the waters surrounding them that make the Rock Islands unique. Dive in and you will find some of the most abundant and diverse marine life in the world. The Ngemelis Wall is widely considered to be the world's finest wall dive. Inland, Jellyfish Lake is a marine lake, popularised in the National Geographic TV special Medusa, wherein millions of tiny stingerless jellyfish float and bob in unison. Some of the Rock Islands have soft, white-sand beaches to laze about on after a dive, while others boast attractions, such as caves with dripping stalactites, rock arches and underground channels, ancient rock paintings, and half-carved Yapese stone money.
Palau's Best Beaches - For sun seekers, Palau's best beaches are found on the Rock Islands, Babeldaob and Peleliu, but most islands have a few lovely spots to toss down your towel. Local sport fishing catches include marlin, sailfish, tuna, mahi-mahi and wahoo. There are also tennis, running and kayaking possibilities on Koror, if underwater water sports are not your bag.
Moving Around Palau
Continental has daily flights to and from Guam. Far Eastern Air Transport has twice-weekly flights to Taiwan and another option, if traveling from the USA, is a Circle Micronesia air-pass. Other connections are through Guam. The airport is a 25-minute drive from the capital Koror, and travelers leaving Palau must pay a 20.00 departure tax.
There are inter-island boats within Micronesia, but it is rare to find any sort of passenger vessel going to Palau from countries outside the region, aside from the occasional private yacht and live-aboard dive boat. Organized tours focusing on diving and snorkeling. A few hotels provide airport transportation for their guests. Otherwise, there is a shuttle bus service, taxis and car rental available at the airport. Because Koror is the nation's commercial centre, Palauans commonly commute by private speedboat between Koror and their home villages on other Palauan islands. You can sometimes hitch a ride with them by offering to chip in for gas. Ask around at the gas docks. Otherwise, there are occasional flights aboard small Cessnas and weekly trips by government boats from Koror to Peleliu and Angaur.
Visitors are allowed to drive in Palau for 30 days with their home country's driver's license. Driving is on the right, and the speed limit is a doddering 40km/h (25mph).
National festival and holidays
Spring - This season is a busy time around the islands. During the last week in April, or the first week in May, the Palau Sport Fishing Association hosts their Annual Fishing Derby, attracting anglers from all over the region. The islanders' attentions are brought back to shore on 22 April for Earth Day. On 9 July, the Belau Arts Festival highlights the islands' best artists and artisans. The third week of November brings Tourism Awareness Week, an extra dose of haole consciousness, to Palau.
Independence Day - Celebrated on the 1 October each year, it is the most celebrated holiday of the year. It commemorates Palau's independence obtained October 1, 1994. Events include traditional canoe and boat races, swimming contests, and ceremonies.
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