Palau – the perfect tropical tourism destination

Day 3,039 since October 10th 2013: 195 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic! 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).

It’s hard to argue against it

panoWhat a week this has been! Both the good and the bad. Such extremes. It is easy to promote Palau on its beauty alone! And it is hard to get certain things done. Well, here we go…

Last week’s entry: Palau: a silly experience in a beautiful place

Palau is astonishing beautiful and very rich in flora and fauna. Palau is home to nearly 100 different species of native orchids. More than 30 are found nowhere else on Earth! The list of the bird species recorded in Palau include a total of 185 species, of which 12 are endemic! Yet for those who have heard just the slightest about Palau, which the locals sometimes call Belau, it is all about diving and snorkeling. And every influencer who made it this far out into the Pacific went to the “Jellyfish Lake” and made a stunning video and captured unique photos to bedazzle the world. It is one of the “Eiffel Towers” of Palau. I had a good long conversation with Lee from Fish’n Fins, who compared Palau’s famous spots with other world-famous landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, Petra, the Pyramids of Giza and the Eiffel Tower. And much like in the countries of such well known wonders…there is much more to be discovered. The “Eiffel Towers” of Palau would be the ‘Jellyfish Lake’, ‘the Rock Islands’ and the amazing dive spots. I think we have done pretty well with the short time allotted here in Palau. Of the 14 days between the arrival of the good ship ‘Kota Ratna’ and the departure of the good ship ‘Kota Ratu’, eight were spent locked into a room within a quarantine hotel. So that offered six days in Palau. What can you do in six days? A lot as it turns out!


The Japan-Palau Friendship Bridge. Connecting Koror Island with Babeldaob.

As soon as I left quarantine, I was hosted by Roel, who laid out all the groundwork for our collaboration with Palau’s Government. Without Roel it would have been a lot harder to get the results we did. And then he simply invited me into his home and offered to pay for nearly all my costs? Does anyone out there doubt the legitimacy in the Saga’s motto: ‘a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before’. I did manage to buy Roel dinner at one point…but that was about it. Apart from all the bureaucracy he had dealt with to open our way to Palau, he also brought me extra food and snacks during my hotel quarantine, he offered that I could sleep in his guestroom, he chauffeured me around Koror, he offered that I could borrow his car, and he paid for my meals. He even cooked a few of them. Then one morning he was sick and told me that I better keep my distance! But we will get to that later.


Roel in the back. Left to right: Ivy, Vera and Bench. My stupid grin is because I pretended I was doing a countdown from 100.

Roel is from the Netherlands, has lived in China for many years and speaks mandarin. As such he has made friends with a couple of Chinese living in Palau (Ivy and Vera). Vera is together with Bench who’s from the Philippines and together the three form a band of brothers with an interest in diving and having good times. The four of us headed out to take a look at the main island called Babeldaob which I have yet to discover the etymology of? The ring road around the island is 78km (49mi) and the road is for the most part really good. I have been to 11 of Palau’s 16 states and from what I can tell, Palau is very green and very lush. The vegetation is quite dense and there isn’t much to worry about in Palau in terms of harmful animals. Perhaps nothing to worry about at all? It is on the other hand stunningly beautiful nearly everywhere you go. And while the rock islands are definitely otherworldly and live up to the hype, there is simply so much more which will take your breath away.



Badrulchau Stone Monoliths. A mystery within Palau. They outdate Palau's 3,000 year history. Who put them there and how?



Japanese Lighthouse bombed by the USA during WWII.


The four of us headed out on a typical Palauan day. Sometimes the sun was out and sometimes it rained. The locals say it’s impossible to predict the weather in Palau and the country is green all year round. The leaves do fall off the trees but others immediately replace them. The country stretches across the equator with some islands south and others north of it. So, night and day is pretty much divided equally. One day simply looks like the other all year round. We stopped at a few sites which were guarded by friendly Palauan’s whom I got to chat a bit with. Up until then I hadn’t had much of a chance to speak with any locals. And the trend would continue. But the ones I have spoken with have all been quite relaxed and really pleasant. I have been really curious about how people entertain themselves in a relatively modern society, which is too small to have cinemas, theater, operas etc. It turns out they mostly just hang out with friends and have a good time. Some people fish. Internet is quite good so you also have people staring into the phones like anywhere else.


Swingly "Swing" Aguon. Great man! :)


Back in 2018 I met Jessi in Oman. She is Canadian/Taiwanese and has since moved to Hong Kong. Last year she invited me to join her for dinner and introduced me to Vivian, who’s married to Swingly “Swing” Aguon, who’s Palauan. You see how nicely it all connects! Vivian reached out and told me to call Swing to join a boatride north of Babeldaob. I called Swing who laughingly told me that his wife had ordered him to treat me well. And that he did! I joined him on ‘Swings Palau Tours’ along with his son S.J. (Swingly Jr.) and Ricardo (from Venezuela). Great team the tree of them. Seven U.S. soldiers had booked a fishing/snorkeling trip and away we went.


Swing's family island is called Ngerechur which translates to "laughter island". Because you laught when you arrive according to Swing :)


Swing's son S.J. chilling after lunch.


Swing giving his guests a history lesson as the sun sets.

Swing is a mountain of a man and he looks like he could throw a cow over the moon with ease. However, he has a giant heart and easily finds his way to laughter. What makes Swings Palau Tours special is that he has access to a family island just north of Babeldaob and brings visitors to the island, where he shares the Palauan way of life with them. Stops are made along the way which opens up for spearfishing, regular fishing and snorkeling. If any fish are caught then they will be prepared and consumed on the family island where Swing grew up in his youngest years. The soldiers were super cool and knew how to enjoy a day off. Music, sunshine, sand, turquoise water and good times. As we returned to Koror later that day, I asked one of the soldiers if he had enjoyed it? He replied that it was exactly what he pictured a day in paradise would be like. Yes – it was a very fine day and I burned my back pretty bad spending too much time snorkeling under the sun because I’m an idiot :)


Palau is rarely hit by typhoons. But when they hit, they usually hit hard!

My friend Phil lives in Hong Kong and I was introduced to Phil by my former Hong Kong hiking buddy Andrew who returned to Chicago. Anyway, Phil is bigtime into diving and connected me with his friend Dieter at Fish’n Fins. You see, this isn’t a small world which we live in. It is a well connected one. One thing led to the next and I was soon set up to go kayaking, which is one of the many, many things Fish’n Fins offers visitors. I’m very comfortable with kayaking and have done a fair bit of it in the past. This was however simply outstanding and came to be a truly treasured moment within the Saga. My back was still rather burned from snorkeling so I covered myself well and used factor 50 sun protection. Dieter and Tova work together at Fish’n Fins and they assigned Lee to be my guide. Great fellow who was born and raised in Palau.


Lee, my kayak guide and co-adventurer for the day :)


Lee and I headed out on a seven-hour kayaking tour between Rock Islands which appeared completely illogical too me?! How can something so otherworldly be a part of this planet? They were very beautiful! Massive islands made of rock sticking out of the ocean and nearly completely covered in lush green vegetation. For those who have seen James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ movie I can say there’s some resemblance between the “Floating Mountains” and the Rock Mountains in Palau. On a completely calm day when the Rock Islands mirror themselves in the ocean it must be simply bonkers!! Some countries have been favored with incredible beauty and Palau tops it off with an array of uniqueness.


We made a stop within this cave which had stalactites, stalagmites and bats.

Well, two thirds of the way both Lee and I were feeling the sun coming right at us from a clear blue sky. I added some more factor 50 protection but I had a feeling it was too late. I was right. Hours later when we reached Fish’n Fins again I was so happy! I was a brilliant experience and a great way to get close to nature and explore the landscape. That night I was in a lot of pain. I remember a time more than twenty years ago when my back was so sunburned that the skin cracked. That was painful. But I could handle it. I struggled a lot with the pain from my sunburned legs and feet! I believe it may have been the most sunburned I have ever been and I had to take painkillers that night to cope with it. The following days when I went from having my legs up horizontal to standing up, the blood would flow to my feet and I would feel pain and discomfort for a while. What can I say? Protect yourself from the sun and don’t be an idiot. Oh – and it was still worth the kayaking! :)


Hmm...I wonder how my legs and feet got so burned! I should be wiser by now.


Born to be wild ;)

Back to Swing! As it turns out, Swing and his son S.J. enjoy cruising around Palau on their Harley Davidson’s. And when Swing got notice that I had a motorcycle license he immediately set me up. How could I resist?? The three of us were joined by Lee (from Dalian in China), who rented a Harley out to me. And away we went. This was the first time I rode a motorcycle in ten years and the very first time I got to ride a Harley!! Spectacular!! We sat out from Koror and rode all the way up to the north of Babeldaob. We made a stop at a beautiful plot where Swing was building his new house. The vies from there, over the lush green landscape, down the hill and across the multicolored ocean, would be hard to beat. At the plot we met Swing’s older brother and together we sat and chatted for a while before continuing the rest of the way around Babeldaob’s ring road to Koror. Who could have known I would be riding a Harley in Palau?


Yeah baby!! Thanks to Swing, S.J. and Lee for the company! :)


In an effort to symbolically unite and promote the movement globally I had the pleasure of meeting the "skeleton crew" of the Palau Red Cross. They are a passionate team who aim at making a real difference. They have an excellent website which I recommend you take a look at. Left first row: Health & Social Services Coordinator Michelle Ueda (in white & jeans), Executive Director J. Maireng Sengebau (orange), Resource Mobilization & Fundraising Coordinator Loma Ngemaes (woman in vest), Disaster Management Officer JB Victorino (the only other guy). Left 2nd row: Health & Social Services Program Assistant Raegeena Termeteet, Administrative Services Manager Stephanie J. Minor (in pink), Administrative Assistant II Wendy Renguul (face kind of hidden), and Finance Assistant Amy Andres (big bun).  

Now, let’s look at some bureaucrazy and some rudeness, and some kindness as well. I needed to secure a negative PCR test 48-hrs prior to boarding the good ship ‘Kota Ratu’ back to Hong Kong. 1Unfortunately, my host and friend Roel had suddenly contracted COVID-19!! Darn it!! He had been super careful as had I. Fortunately neither Roel nor I are people who constantly touch people (hugging, high-fives, hand on shoulder etc.). I think the only time I touched Roel was the handshake I gave him when we met. And I immediately used hand sanitizer after that. But somehow, he was sick and tested positive. I packed my bags, apologized for being so cautious, and booked myself into a hotel. Roel perfectly understood and we both cursed the situation. Could I have been infected? I was feeling fine but it could be asymptomatic? If I tested positive then there would be no way I could join the ship, risk the crew and risk having the entire ship quarantine at a port. The night before I had to get my PCR test woke several times fearing the outcome of it.


These rocks look blue to me?

The ship was scheduled to arrive Wednesday and possibly depart the same day or Thursday. So, to arrange for the 48-hour window of my PCR test I had to get it done Tuesday. According to information I had received, I could get the PCR test done at the old morgue behind Belau National Hospital. I got up early hoping to be one of the first but the test center was jam packed already. As I write this, cases are still rising in Palau. Palau virtually went free of the virus until a month ago and now numbers are rising swiftly within the population. Fortunately, 96% of Palauan’s have been vaccinated. At the test center I located a sign which instructed me to get in line and wait my turn. When I reached the healthcare worker, I asked for a PCR test a lady pointed towards a waiting area and said that I should wait for her there while she asked around. There was a free chair among some fifty socially distanced chairs which were otherwise all occupied – so I sat down and waited. Then the woman sitting next to me began giving me attitude. But weirdly while assisting me somehow? In a rude way she told me I had to get a number. I explained that I had spoken to the staff and was told to wait for a while. She insisted, with some attitude, that I should get a number!! I kindly replied that I had been instructed to wait where I was. Then she said it was her son’s seat!!! I got up and said no problem, he can have it, and stepped aside to stand up next to the chairs while I waited. She kept insisting that I needed to go and get a number and finally the healthcare worker came over to get me. In hindsight I can easily understand some aggression from a mother in a stressful situation in the baking heat.


Near the old morgue I spotted this Maersk container. A bit of home far from home (Maersk is a Danish company).

The healthcare worker brought me to another uniformed woman who looked stressed. This woman told me that PCR tests were scheduled for certain days and that day was Monday and not Tuesday as it was. I explained that I cannot follow that schedule which is in place for the weekly flight to Guam as I was departing on a ship and needed to observe the 48-hour window. She made a call, returned to me and repeated her schedule to me. I tried but she shut me down saying that this day was community testing but I could try one of the private clinics down the road. In hindsight I can understand she was stressed with the hundreds of people needing testing. Somewhat disappointed I walked away from the test center pulled out my phone, made a quick video explaining that I was at the test center located at the old morgue. Then I put my phone away and went on to look for a clinic. I hear a man behind me shouting and as I turned around, I saw him waving me over. In my optimism I thought he was going to inform me that I could get the PCR test after all. Well, in fact he was upset and told me that I couldn’t just show up and bother people. What? I calmly explained that I stood in line like everyone else, I waited at the area I was told too, I was instructed to go to a private clinic and I was now on my way. The man now aggressively went on to ask if I took any photos? Somewhat perplexed I asked what that had got to do with anything? He replied: “DID YOU TAKE ANY PHOTOS OR NOT?!!” I calmly asked him who he was and he replied "security" and repeated his question with passion. I did not feel threatened and I felt in control of the situation. I replied that I made a short video. He insisted that I should delete it in front of him. I looked over the man’s shoulder and said that I had not seen any signs stating that video or photos was not permitted and suggested that I had done nothing wrong? With as much authority as he could muster, he repeated that I should delete it in front of him! I decided to humor him, took my phone out of my pocket, began to unlock it and then, while looking somewhat unsure about the situation he walked off before I even deleted it? What was going on?


A screenshot of the video the security man wanted deleted. In the back you see some of the test center operated by MHHS.

I found a clinic and quickly learned that they had run out of PCR test and did not know where else I might find them if not at the testing center where I came from. A few people at the clinic began to take interest and now I suddenly felt the warmth and kindness of Palauan’s trying to help me. A man said that it wasn’t right that the test center turned me away. And a woman provided me with the number of Palau’s COVID-19 hotline. They were both really kind and supportive as I usually find most people tend to be. I spent the next hours calling and emailing a variety of people. The woman at the hotline was super kind but couldn’t help me after calling the lab and being told no. Palau Red Cross quickly got hold of a private clinic which could help me and but wouldn’t open until 5pm. Emails went out left and right. Eventually I received an email from Mrs. Sherilynn Madraisau, Director of the Health Ministry, who had arranged for a PCR test at the test center at 2pm. This would cost me USD 200 which I had to pay in advance. The test is free for Palauan’s and normally costs USD 35 for foreigners. I suppose the much higher price was because everything had to be arranged out of the ordinary. I shared this on Instagram and instantly received a donation of USD 200 from Andy who has silently been a long-time follower. Well, that worked out! Thanks Andy :) At around 2.20pm I had the test done to the amazement of the woman who earlier had sent me away to the private clinic. Everyone was really kind to me at the test center during the testing and it was swift and professional. Now – was I going to test positive or negative? I would only know 24 hours later.

This is going to be a really long entry. I hope you are enjoying it. Let’s look a little at the finances. Once Upon A Saga operates on a USD 20/day budget which covers transportation, accommodation, meals and visas. This is an average cost. Some countries are more expensive than others. Palau is on the costly side. This has been Palau:

Eight days hotel quarantine: USD 1,000 (fifty days in the budget)

Palau departure tax: USD 100 (five days in the budget)

PCR test: USD 200 (ten days in the budget)

Rock Island permit: USD 50

Jellyfish Lake permit: USD 50

3 nights at hotel: USD 300 (could have been a bit cheaper but had to act fast)

Harley Davidson: USD 75

It took 15-days to reach Palau, and as a guest onboard the good ship ‘Kota Ratna’ I did not have any costs, meaning that I arrived with a USD 300 head start (15x20). The voyage back to Hong Kong on the good ship ‘Kota Ratu’ is a similar situation so another USD 300. I spent 16-days in Palau which is another USD 320. Andy donated USD 200 and my friend Ryan in Florida, USA, donated USD 100 to cover the permits (as he wanted me to experience the Jellyfish Lake). Roel hosted me, I was a guest of both Swing (Swings Palau Tours) and Tova (Fish’n Fins), and I even received a few donations to help out with the hotel quarantine (USD 150).

So, the overall picture would be:

Expenses: USD 1,775

Cover: USD 1,220

Difference: USD 555

That means Palau has in this case been USD 34.69 (555/16-days) too expensive per day for the budget and the daily costs has been USD 54.69. That’s not a complete disaster for 16-days out of now 3,339-days. And I would like to use this moment to thank our financial partners Ross DK and GEOOP for their contributions throughout the years keeping us afloat. They have covered more than 70% of the project.


Snorkeling in Palau can be like swimming in a giant aquarium.

Let’s end this novel with a brief description of the visit to Jellyfish Lake along with snorkeling across beautiful corals, colorful fish, gorgeous sharks and huge manta rays! Once again, we have Tova and Fish’n Fins to thank. Fish’n Fins has a small fleet at their disposal and decades of experience with delivering on the best holiday experiences in Palau. I don’t have to say that. That’s just facts as far as I can tell. Take a look at their website and you’ll see that they offer anything from off road adventures and skydiving to kayaking and world class diving. And Palau is definitely a very special place above and under water. I know that I will be back some day. I would love to rediscover scuba diving in a place like this. I would enjoy kayaking with Ultra-Wifey and Jellyfish Lake would have much more value as an experience if shared with someone you love. So yeah, I’ll be back.


More people than ever before have told me that they got curious about Palau and that it is now a bucketlist destination.

The weather could have been better. It was overcast but my severely sunburned skin was quite happy with that. It looked like it could rain at any moment. Fish’n Fins crew is great. They are accustomed to working with guests and provide really high service. There was a family in our group with small children and I observed how the crew interacted and entertained the children throughout the day. The dive master was super cool and so was the boat driver along with everyone else. We left Koror and headed south towards the Rock Islands where the famous Jellyfish Lake is. It is only one of 70 in Palau but the only one open to the public. I was surprised to see the size of the lake. I don’t know why but I thought it would be like a large swimming pool. It was more like a volcanic crater full of water, and quite deep as well. I imagine it is full of lost sunglasses, GoPro cameras, fins and masks, which people have dropped over the years, it is also full of more than a million harmless jellyfish. They got trapped inside the lake some 12,000 years ago and have lost their ability to sting. It is a marine lake located on the Eil Malk island and it is DEFINITELY the “Eiffel Tower” of Palau. It is a must see if you drop by this part of the world. It is completely otherworldly.


Golden jellyfish


I wonder how all of those influencers get gorgeous shots of themselves in this lake? They must have some help :)


A black tip reef shark. All I heard was: "Behind you! Shark!" Usually not what you want to hear :) But I saw it coming in my direction, readied my camera and got some nice footage of it coming around me. This is a screenshot. 

And sharks! Not completely harmless but far more passive than most have been led to believe. In my experience nature mostly leaves us alone as long as we repay the respect. Isn’t it also just like that with most humans? Palau created the world's first so-named "shark sanctuary" on September 25th, 2009. Palau forbids all commercial shark fishing within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters. The sanctuary protects about 600,000 square kilometers (230,000 sq mi) of ocean, an area similar to France or the U.S. state of Texas. So how about that. Marine life flourishes in Palau and comes in ridiculous numbers. Good for the planet. Good for tourism. Bad for fishermen.


 Majestic!! Manta rays.

The experience I, and the other guests, had with the manta rays was majestic and beautiful. We hovered far above a cleaning station at the German Channel. Oh, yeah…the Germans have been here, the Spanish have been here, the Japanese had their time and the USA dominated until Palau’s independence. Anyway, the Germans efficiently dug a channel though a coral reef long ago and it is now a great dive and snorkeling site. There we were, above the cleaning site. And all of a sudden, the manta rays which looked small from the surface, came up towards us to feed on plankton. And they were HUGE!! It looked like they were “flying” though the water and they had no fear of us. It was simply amazing.


What an amazing experience. 

I tested negative on the PCR test. As such I’ll be onboard the good ship “Kota Ratu” for the next 16 days. Less than half of that to reach Hong Kong and the rest at anchorage waiting to come along side. And I will be entering a strickt 14-day hotel quarantine in Hong Kong. More about that when I get the next entry online. This one should be long enough to keep you satisfied for a while ;)


Thanks to the Government of Palau for assisting with this visit. And a huge thank you to PIL for bringing the Saga both ways. Traveling during the pandemic is highly challenging and under the circumstances Palau has become the hardest country to reach within Once Upon A Saga. It was worth it.



I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop

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If you enjoyed this blog or think I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga still needs funding. Thank you :)


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Best regards
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - heading "home" to HK.

"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"

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