Palau

This isn’t Muck Diving!  True, but that doesn’t mean those in the Midwest cannot treat themselves to some of the more exotic diving experiences.  Because the traditional Muck Diver doesn’t dive in paradise everyday information on dive ops, hotels, what should I do and not do become essential when planning a trip to paradise.  Because of all these questions, we thought we would give everybody a one-stop place to go to learn about these places and hopefully help with planning your next trip.  Once again, the success of this relies upon those that have taken the journey.  So, please help out and tell us about your trips and what worked and what did not work.

2 Responses to “Palau”

  1. snagel says:

    Palau trip report: Tropic Dancer, Fish’n'Fins, MAML Divers
    January 2012
    Original post by BackPacking Diver on ScubaToys

    Hi everyone– this is my first trip report, and I realize it’s long, but I dove with a bunch of different operations & thought the comparison might be useful to someone, so here goes!
    I arrived in Palau from Tokyo on Nov 25th to be greeted at my hotel with “Here’s your flashlight!”—for the moment, Koror has no power from 8PM to midnight (Malakal has none from noon to 5PM). The upscale hotels have generators, apparently, but I was at a budget place, the Guest Lodge Motel, which was clean and certainly quiet from 8PM to midnight! I kicked around Koror for a day (loved the museum, but the aquarium was hugely depressing, tiny cages for the crocodiles & never cleaned…) and then the next day got picked up for the Tropic Dancer at 4PM… the time is to accommodate folks flying in that day but is a bit of a pain for everyone else—if you check out, it’s a long time to hang around, but if you go diving it’s barely enough time to make the pick-up (forget showering).
    For what I’m about to say, I should probably note first that this was my 3rd liveaboard (I’ve also done them in Australia/Cocos Island) and I have about 170 dives—so I have some basis for comparison and am not a *total* newbie. The trip was a disaster in every way possible. First, the diving was terrible—one of the main subjects of discussion among us over the week—very few fish or any life, maybe one or two sharks– but it was clear as well that we were often getting put in at the wrong places/missing the drop-in spots. The guides—well, they aren’t dive guides on the Dancer, they’re dive “supervisors,” which is about right and as fun as it sounds—often didn’t seem to know where we were—at one point in Peleliu we left the wall (where we actually were seeing some sharks) to spend most of the dive crossing the barren, current-swept plateau, which was *much* wider than the guide seemed to expect. We also got a “tour” of the Rock Islands in which the guide let one of the passengers steer the boat, which was loads of fun for her but of course we didn’t see anything b/c she didn’t know much about the Rock Islands (unsurprisingly). One of the guides, Ike, knew his stuff, but the two American divemasters seemed clueless—well, one of them, Melissa, was only there getting her visa sorted for Papua New Guinea, and not only didn’t know Palau but made it very clear that she wished she were in PNG, that she thought PNG was much better than Palau, that we’d all wasted our money coming to Palau rather than PNG… overall, that was a bit of a bummer over the week. The dives were at the same time every day, so we weren’t timing the spots for tides etc., which certainly had an impact on what we were seeing and where we could dive (the rigid schedule adherence came to be a massive headache) but over the week there was a lot of discussion among us of whether Palau’s reputation was based on how it was five yrs ago etc.
    We also talked a lot about the damage being done to the coral—we were given reef hooks along with a half-hour PowerPoint on how to use them (!) but if you hesitated trying to find some dead coral to hook to, the guides grabbed it out of your hand and hooked it to the live stuff. The boat photographer, Ben, was all over the coral, and I saw another guide clambering hand-over-hand on it, which was a bit disappointing. More worrying, safety seemed not to be much of a concern once we were in the water—generally, the dive guides would all be on the boat first. It was a long wait for pick-up with 16 of us in the water, understandably, esp. since we dove all together in a giant herd, but at one point when my buddy and I were waiting 15 minutes for pick-up I gave the OK signal several times to our skiff, but none of the guides would return it, so there was no way to tell if they’d seen us (we sketched out a screenplay for “Open Water 3: In Sight of the Dive Skiff). More seriously, at one point one of the divers came up and the guide, on the boat as usual, said, “You all right?” “No, really not!” she said (she’d gotten tangled in a piece of gear she was trying to get off). He walked away. To do him credit, I don’t think he heard her and ignored her, I don’t think he bothered to listen to the answer. Happily, another diver on the line assisted her. At one point, at sunset, 7 of us were in the water watching the 3 supervisors hanging out on the skiff; again, no acknowledgment of okay signals. Some of our funniest discussions occurred while we were floating around wondering if we’d been spotted…
    This was all the more surprising b/c the dive briefings were rather forbidding, with “Your body will wash up in the Phillipines” being said more than once in warning us about currents, not doing deco stops, etc. Melissa explained the last night that the Dancer’s policy is to “intimidate the divers a bit” so that we all behave. Great policy! I think they should put that one up on the website!
    Nitrox—well, you pay $150 to use it for the week, and it’s at 26%. Y’all reading this will know better than me if that’s normal, since I just got my Nitrox cert in Cocos last year, but there and later at Fish’n’Fins it was 32%; despite this, we were forbidden to go into deco, so most people took the Nitrox option, altho’ the air folks just did a 1-3 min. deco stop (we weren’t diving deep) and just concealed it from the dive crew.
    Finally, there was the crew. The cook, Mani, was incredible (I’m vegetarian and he was from Nepal = best spicy veggie curries I’ve ever had, plus I never needed my Sudafed) and the Palauan and Filipino workers on board were lovely. The three American dive supervisors never cracked a smile. We were required to go on board the skiff before each dive, with a crew member, and get a Nitrox reading on our tanks to sign off, but there were never any crew members around until the dive briefing began; finally I corralled Melissa and, while we were reading my tank, I asked if there was a particular time we were supposed to do this. “Everyone else seems to be managing it without a problem,” she snapped back. Interestingly, not true: most people skipped the reading and just copied down the last number in the log, except for the people who skipped the dive briefing to get the reading. I dutifully wrote in the log, “No crew member available” until Thurs., when Melissa finally relented and scheduled a time we could all go to the skiff and get the numbers read out. I also asked if we could, even once, go swimming, and Melissa explained it was a lot of trouble for the crew. My roommate, Ana, asked if we could go to a beach, even once, and got the same answer. Spending a week in Palau and never getting to swim or step on one of the pretty beaches we could see flat-out sucked. Finally, and for what it’s worth, if for some reason you decide to go on the Dancer, ask for a cabin away from the damn generator; no one in the two cabins nearest it on either side got a full night’s sleep that week.
    So… with a vast sigh of relief, off the Tropic Dancer after the worst week I’ve ever spent on diving. Ana had scheduled a day with Fish’n’Fins (land-based) and asked if I wanted to go with her, and I figured why not, I’d enjoyed diving with her… and damn! We had an amazing day. After a 45-min. ride on the skiff, our Palauan divemaster Emerald took us down to Blue Corner and suddenly I was seeing everything I had hoped to see but never did on the Dancer—we had schools of game fish, grey reefies everywhere, small schools of barracuda… and garden eels. The last doesn’t sound exciting but we never did see those with Dancer, and while you could argue that the total absence of fish/sharks on our Dancer dives might not be about being put in at the wrong place, Emerald did seem able to show us lots of critters that stay put as well, that our dive supervisors on the Dancer seemed unaware of. From there, to a gorgeous beach for lunch. We hung around since our schedule was flexible to the tide for the best diving, went down to German Channel and it was heaven—three mantas, all of whom came down for cleaning and then went up and did those slow graceful cartwheels through the sea above us, and two turtles—I realize that’s not a lot, but one of my best memories of Palau is one turtle going up to breathe, the sun bursting blindingly aound his silhouette, and then coming back down past Ana, who never took her eyes off him as she slowly turned upside down to keep him in view. Back on the boat, Emerald encouraged us to have a final swim if we wanted (ok, so we could pee before the ride back, but a swim is a swim J Then on the way back the captain gave us a REAL tour of the Rock Islands—we kept veering into what looked like a sheer rock wall and it would be a tiny channel—Afterward, Ana and I were talking about how stunned we were. It was the Dancer that sucked, not the diving in Palau. I had another full week (happy days!) Ana had two more days and was pissed off beyond belief that she’d wasted that time and money on the Dancer. And for good reason.
    Unfortunately, I had booked a trip to Peleliu for a few days since I had given up on the diving on the Dancer, so off I went. The weather had turned lousy (apparently there was a typhoon in the Phillipines) and I stayed at the Storyboard Resort, which was a lovely place to while away some time watching the rain & reading a book. I did go out diving, tho’, with MAML divers… and that was NOT good. They had us descend through a cut, which would have been fine except two divers tried to squeeze through at once and jammed. I was waiting for them to clear the cut—and there was no current, everything was copacetic—and the dive guide came over and offered to take my hand, pointing to the cut (which was full of asses & fins). I gave him the okay signal and pointed to them. The next thing I knew he landed on top of me, with his full weight, and jammed me down into the cut. Luckily the diver in front of me felt my face hit her fins and stopped kicking. I pushed him off, he grabbed for me again, and, yes, I’m having a slap-fight with a guy at 20 meters. Finally the other divers cleared the cut, I descended with no problem, and we finished the dive. Up above I told them I was done for the day & then had a discussion with two of the other divers, both women, who had seen what happened. They both said they’d seen stuff over the week that made them scared to dive with MAML but their husbands liked them, so they had no choice (!) I told the folks at Storyboard what had happened and later that evening the diveguide showed up and started by accusing me of lying, then said “And if I did do that it was only to keep you with the group.” Mm. The next morning MAML had scheduled a 5AM pickup to take everyone to see a spawning event, and I declined to go; as it turned out the MAML guys didn’t show until 6AM and then got the wrong drop-in point. There was a screaming fight about all this at the resort and guests were threatening to head over to Peleliu Divers, so MAML promised to bring in a new divemaster from Koror. I asked if I could go back on that boat (a day earlier than I’d planned, but there is a serious sandflea issue on Peleliu). Answer: there’s no boat. Because they weren’t really getting a new divemaster, apparently. I hitched back to Koror that afternoon with a Japanese tour group…
    …and spent the rest of the week diving with Fish’n’Fins. I know some people here are Sam’s fans and I never heard a bad word about that outfit, but I had a great time with F’n’F; the divemasters were all Palauan and knew the sites backward and forward, and did their best to accommodate requests. (They were also safety-conscious but kept everyone relaxed and enjoying themselves—it can indeed be done, Dancer Fleet.) We dove Ulong Channel (my favorite dive—we must have had 15-20 reefies at one point, with whitetips in and among them, and then going up the channel there’s the largest cabbage coral I’ve ever seen, gorgeous anemones etc.), Blue Corner (which turns out not to suck if you are in the right place for it, but lives up to its reputation, everything from sharks to schools of bumphead parrotfish), and some stunning walls. Full moon showed up and finally we needed the reef hooks—we had one dive in a 5-knot current, and I saw a reef shark struggling with it… it was like being on a whitewater rafting trip, if you were under the boat instead of in it. Palau’s so gorgeous I enjoyed the ride back and forth every time, even when we were all freezing (if you have something windproof and warm you might want to bring it), and the beach time every day as well (good veggie lunch from F’n’Fins!). And then back to Tokyo.
    I hope this is helpful and/or interesting to any of you! Thanks for reading!

  2. Snagel says:

    Palau Trip Report: April 16-23 (2011) with Sam’s Tours
    Original Post by rkj1969 on ScubaToys

    The Plan: This was our trip to celebrate DH returning from his latest deployment to Afghanistan! We are both Rescue cert with about 150 dives, all in Micronesia. We booked everything thru our local dive shop travel guru, Dianne @ MDA. Just like pushing the “easy” button….she arranged everything I asked for and it was super simple. When I priced it out, she also got us a much better deal than I’d have managed on my own – like $500+ pp better!! Yay, Dianne!

    The Flight – We got to the hotel around midnight Saturday night, but since it’s only a 3 hour flight from Guam (with a weird stopover in Yap*), it was no problem to jump up for diving on Sunday morning.

    *The plane landed in Yap to drop off a few passengers/pick up a few others. The strange part was the “security check”! Passengers in seats A-C (left side) had to deplane with all their carry-on baggage…..the rest of us had to get our carry-on bags down and sit with them in our laps. Three women jumped onto the plane and searched the left side seats for who knows what (were we supposed to have been manufacturing weapons or meth in midair?). Then we had to get up and move, with our bags, to the left side of the plane while they searched the right side. Strangely, they didn’t rescan our bags. It was 40 minutes of pointless insanity! Reportedly, they only make this stopover a couple of days a week – so I was pretty happy to avoid this bit of fun on the 2am flight back to Guam!

    Sam’s – We came in from the dock, since we were picked up by boat – it was pretty easy to recognize where everything was, having reviewed the pics of the shop on Facebook! We headed to the board to see what boat we were assigned to and our guide, Barrington, found us right away and whisked our gear off to the boat while we registered in the office. Dianne had given us our paperwork to complete in advance, so it was a super quick process! (don’t forget to go ahead and grab a reef hook – strangely they are in the office instead of rental where you will get your weights)

    We dove Nitrox for all the days. Dives were all between 50-60 min each (we were told that 700 was the min psi and that we would end the dive as soon as the first person reached that mark – luckily we had no airhogs in our groups). Had our awesome guides, Barrington (English) and Danny (American), for the first three days – not so awesome guides, that shall not be named, for the last day. The group of 10-12 divers was a really fun mix of dive pairs from Finland, Switzerland, Kuwait, the States, and us – from Guam. It seemed that they tried to keep the group together for the week, working around departure dates and special dives, of course!

    First Day: Our boat was split pretty evenly between Nitrox and air divers – so they split us up between the two guides on that basis. We did Ngerchong (an easy checkout dive: sharks and leaf fish!), German Channel (turtles, sharks and black snapper – no mantas), and Jake’s Sea Plane. This was one of the days where we dove two and had our picnic lunch out in the Rock Islands, returned to the shop and went back out for the third dive. Very exciting day! I really had a sensory overload on the first dive, experienced some buoyancy issues and had to give myself a “talking to” before the second dive. Just couldn’t believe how beautiful it all was – but I was solid again after my “talk”!

    Second Day: Everyone was on Nitrox this day, so we divided up between the camera people and non camera people. This was great, since I’d gotten kicked in the head a couple of times by a careless old guy with a gigantic camera the day before. He would just barrel right over us to get to whatever the guide was pointing at! Our “three outside” dives were Siae’s Corner (a lot of great macro and Danny was really great at finding cool stuff, like mating flatworms), Ulong Wall (sharks!), Ulong Channel (RIPPING current, loads of sharks). Seriously, we had to quit counting sharks after the first dive.

    The reef hook business was pretty easy to figure out, though the current was so hard at Ulong that we about wore ourselves out trying to get to the hook in spots! Dive fitness is no joke! Lunch was on the boat this time. Had a nice snorkel during the down time

    Third Day: Three outside dives (no trip back to the shop!) with lunch on another island. We divided up between “team Switzerland” and everyone else ; ). We did Blue Corner (not very much current, sharks, giant humphead wrasse, eels), Blue Holes (beautiful, but most of the life is outside on the wall) and the Jellyfish Lake snorkel. The hike to JL isn’t too bad, we did it in our dive booties – only about 10-15 minutes each way – just take your time as it is slippery! Don’t forget your permit, they won’t let you in without it.

    The jellyfish were just amazing. Since we got there around 4, the sun (and the jellyfish) was close to the dock and we had just a short snorkel out. We took a million pictures! So incredible – you just can’t imagine how beautiful it is – you just have to see it!

    Last Day: We were sad to see that Barrington and Danny would be off on the Pelileu boat and we’d have a new set of guides. Still pretty much the same dive group, though. This was another “split” day – New Drop Off (sharks, eels, turtles) and Big Drop Off (not much – bad vis – current kept changing direction – hated this dive) outside then back to the shop and out to Chandelier Cave. Lunch was on the boat again – I snorkeled around some during the break.

    The first dive was great but we didn’t enjoy these guides as much and that really affected our dive day! They didn’t really worry about showing us anything and had a weird habit of just pointing out into the blue with their “sticks” but making no signal as to what we were supposed to see. Heck, they were so unorganized we had to return to the dock three times before we could even get going in the morning! We were really lucky to have such great guides for the other days!

    Things I remember having questions about before I went:
    (1) The tanks are AL, so if you’re used to diving Compacts like I am – you will definitely need to adjust your weight. I doubled my normal poundage for the first dive, ended up taking off 2 pounds later….better to be a little over than way under, I always say! The guides carry extra on the boat and on their persons. (2) You also really MUST carry a windbreaker in your dry bag….we had been warned by a pal, and folks on our boat were seriously jealous as we made that 45” trip in comfort! It rained 3 out of 4 days, but even on the sunny day – it was pretty chilly heading back at 5pm. (3) Wear nylon socks with your dive booties. I read it on a trip report somewhere, wish I could remember who said it to thank them! Added a little warmth and we had no issues with sand or rocks or blisters – so comfortable I didn’t even need to shed them between dives!! (4) We dove in board shorts w/rash guards and were very comfortable. Others rented suits from Sam’s, looked like 3mils, but several people shed them by the end of the week.

    Non Dive Days – I couldn’t decide between kayaking and sightseeing, so our agent added a day to our trip and we did both. Despite all the good things we’d heard about the kayaking, I think we caught the guide on a bad day. He seemed really hung over and barely spoke to anyone. It wasn’t his fault that it was a rainy day, but he hadn’t chosen the sites to work around the weather. He took us to a lagoon that was supposed to have blacktips, but of course we couldn’t see them in the rain. He took us to a mandarinfish lake that was closed and blockaded off. Seemed really unprepared and uninterested. We even got back to the shop almost 3 hours early – which was kind of ok since we were bored to death – but definitely not worth 150 pp!

    The sightseeing, however, was more than worth the price! Loren was an excellent guide and seemed really interested in showing us his island AND practicing his English. We had an awesome day seeing things I am certain we would not have been able to find if we’d just rented a car! I especially loved the National Museum. It’s just in Koror, so even if you don’t do the tour – you could still spend some time there – definitely worth the $5 admission. Upstairs there was an excellent display of the history of the island (including the Spanish, German and Japanese occupations). Downstairs was a natural history section, a room devoted to the famous storyboard art and a special showcase of Taiwanese textiles. Outside there were several other sculptures and buildings to photograph.

    Lodging:
    Sea Passion – We had a 5th floor room – a big room with a very nice sitting area and large balcony. I couldn’t believe how big the bathroom/shower was! Strange absence of hooks or towel bars – though there was a room divider under the big ceiling fan where we draped clothes to dry each night. There’s a big tv and cable, but we didn’t have much time to use it.

    The front desk staff were not particularly cheery, but were helpful when I asked for directions, etc. Breakfast was included in the room cost and we enjoyed the omelet station and fresh fruit. I also found that the hotel gift shop actually had the best prices for the famous Palauan storyboards! $70-$95 compared to $125+ in town for the same size boards. Nice selection of jewelry too. The bar is located out on the water and we enjoyed having drinks there with friends one night. They were playing hilarious 80’s hair band videos on the monitors, so we were cracking up and singing along!

    We only took our laptop for downloading pictures, so we didn’t use the internet, but we noticed many guests online in the lobby (including an annoying skype guy in the breakfast room), so it must’ve been ok. Note – electricity is 110, but there are NO grounded plugs (3 prongs) anywhere in the room or, that we could find, in the hotel. Be sure to bring a safe/grounded converter if you will need to charge a laptop! (Or you can charge up while enjoying a beer at Sam’s, as we did.) They have a few at the desk, but they’re just little cheapos that I wouldn’t use for anything important. Camera batteries got charged in the bathroom, as those were the most accessible plugs in the room.
    Transportation – Sam’s picked us up at the hotel dock by boat every morning and dropped us back in the shuttle at the end of the day. We usually used taxis in the evening. It was only a $5 cab ride into Koror to eat and walk around the shops. (Get your taxi driver’s phone number and they can call them when you are finished at the restaurant – we loved our guy, Dennis!) We were able to easily walk to Kramer’s and Jive Cafe from the hotel on other nights.

    Food –
    Bentos on Dive/Tour days: The first day you just get a Mixed Bento Box of rice, breaded meat, omelet and fruit – after that you place your order for the following day with your guide. We don’t eat rice, so we had a good time feeding that to the fish instead. On our other days we were able to request salad instead of rice and whatever meat we preferred. Some of our group had sandwiches, others had sushi, so there was some variety available. Plenty of water, soda, etc were provided. Everything was fine, it’s just hard to get too excited about box lunches!

    Taj – Having heard everyone carry on about the Taj, we felt we had to try it! Unfortunately, it wasn’t as great as others had promised. The food was just ok – unless you’ve just never had decent Indian before, you probably won’t be terribly impressed.

    It was very pricey – every component like rice, naan and raita must be ordered as separate items. $5 for one piece of naan made me thankful that I’ve given up grains! Dinner for two with a shared appetizer and fruit plate but no alcohol was almost $90! Good thing we had vouchers from our travel agent! It was nearly impossible to get anyone to come to our table once the original order was taken and it took 20 minutes and three requests to get our check!

    Jive Café – We dropped in for beer and snacks on our last night around 8pm. There were about a dozen customers but no one paid any attention to us at all. I finally chased down a server to order – but we didn’t stay long as no one ever came back to ask if we wanted more drinks. Paid at the bar and left.
    Sea Passion Restaurant – We tried the hotel restaurant one night and it was NOT impressive. Had steak and salmon. The service was terrible, the food was very disappointing and pricey. Didn’t get a chance to try Umi (the Japanese restaurant also in the hotel).

    Bottom Time – This is the bar at Sam’s – so of course we stopped in several times after diving. The servers are very friendly and always remembered my name! We had delicious steaks one night, and on other evenings we discovered that the blackened sashimi and poke of fresh tuna were fabulous appetizers! Of course we enjoyed plenty of Red Rooster beer there as well! Prices were very reasonable and the food was tasty! It’s a little busy and loud when the dive crowd comes in, especially if soccer is on tv, but it’s a friendly place. We didn’t try breakfast there, as it was included at our hotel, but the free coffee was appreciated by DH!

    Kramers – Another place that didn’t live up to the hype. Walked over from the Sea Passion after cleaning up from diving (about 6:30) and were the first ones there! Got a table on the tiny deck outside, but had to wait an hour for the kitchen to open. Drank Red Rooster and enjoyed the sunset! Had the Fisherman’s Spear and the Peppercorn Steak. Both just ok, sautéed veggies were raw and unseasoned. More expensive than Bottom Time, but our dive shop is on the discount list so at least we got 10% off with our club card. Took a long time to get our bill – the server kept coming over and telling us to “have a great night” (clearly wanting our table vacated) and I’d remind her we hadn’t paid yet! Finally just went to the bar to get the transaction over with.

    Suriyothai – This was our favorite! A cute, quiet place right next to Taj – we ended up eating there two nights. Excellent Green Curry and Garlic Beef; plus great service from very pleasant young women in cute little satin dresses.

    I wasn’t really up for trying Fruit Bat or Coconut Crab – but if you want to, everyone recommended the Penthouse!

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