Exploring Palau Part 3: Trying Bat in Micronesia, History Lessons from Peleliu and the Best Views of Palau

If you’re reading this, you probably have been following along my trip to Palau. This last post is about the second half of my time there, let’s dive in!

On my third day in Palau, I went on a tour of Peleliu, which is one of the more remote islands in Palau. Peleliu, along with two small islands to its northeast form one of the sixteen states of Palau. The island is most famous for being the grounds of one of the most fierce battles of the second world war, the Battle of Peleliu.

Day 3: History lessons from Peleliu

As mentioned in my previous posts, after WWI, the Japanese fought the Germans and conquered the islands. Peleliu became one of the leading military bases for Japan, and it was one of the most fortified among all of the island bases.

The Battle of Peleliu was a major battle between units of the United States Marine Corps and the United States Army against the Imperial Japanese Army. It took place from September to November 1944. During this battle, the U.S. forces fought to capture an airstrip on the island.

This battle was particularly brutal because, by this time, the Japanese military had evolved its island defense tactics, including strong fortifications in the island’s caves and rock formations, making it difficult for the U.S. to get through.

Initially, the U.S. had predicted the island would be secured within four days. However, Japan’s new defense extended the battle for more than two months. The outnumbered Japanese defenders put up a very stiff resistance, often fighting to the death in the Emperor’s name. For this reason, the island became known in Japanese as the “Emperor’s Island.”

Both sides suffered high losses, with more than 2,000 Americans and 10,000 Japanese killed. Interestingly enough, I visited this island with an entire group of Japanese tourists. I was the only other foreigner in the group. Even our guide was Japanese, but he was really nice and spoke English to me. Thankfully, there were also lots of English descriptions as well.

Peleliu is approximately 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) northeast of the island of Angaur and 40 kilometers (25 mi) southwest of Koror. So to start the excursion, we embarked on a speedboat ride through the Rock Islands and some other islands and reefs. It all took about an hour, so quite a long trip.

Once we arrived in Peleliu, I boarded the Japanese tour bus and went off to see all the war sites and bunkers around the island. Keep in mind that Peleliu is a limestone island, so it has a vast system of caves where the Japanese bunkered down and waited to ambush American soldiers.

We visited some of the main bunkers, which were part of the Japanese headquarters. We also went to see the airport, which was the main piece of land the U.S. army wanted to secure during the war.

We basically went all along the island. We even stopped to see the beaches where the U.S. marines arrived and began to fight the Japanese. Finally, we went to the location of the central battle zone. It was this hill with limestone formations right in the middle of the island.

We walked through some more caves, which are considered quite dangerous actually. This area has lots of active land mines still lying around. Worry not, there is a path you can take that is quite safe, and we used it to get to the top of the hill.

I will gladly obey… this time

The trail led to a viewing point from where you can see the whole island from above – quite the vantage point.

Top of Umurbrogol or Bloody Nose Ridge as the U.S. marines called it – No Japanese holdout in sight

We enjoyed the scenery for a bit and then went to visit the war memorials. These were interesting because they pay tribute to both the American and the Japanese dead. However, because I was part of a Japanese tour, we focused mostly on Japanese things like their graveyard and weaponry.

Japanese cage and cannon

I actually learned about the chief commander of the island during this time. History goes that on the last day of the battle, as the Americans were gaining ground and taking over the island, he performed harakiri (Japanese for “abdomen/belly cutting”), a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment.

We visited his grave, and all the Japanese tourists were there to bring flowers, bowing and paying tribute. Apparently he’s very famous in Japanese culture, with an almost cult-like following.

It was only me and 18 Japanese visiting Peleliu. They brought flowers and ignited candles for their long-forgotten soldiers. Only 37 of 10500 Japanese survived the invasion of Peleliu. This is the tomb of their general – who performed Harakiri or Seppuku (suicide by disembowelment) at the very end, rather than surrendering to the enemy.

Before leaving Peleliu, we went into some of the other caves on the island. This part wasn’t too pleasant for me as I had to duck-down quite a lot, and even crawl to get through – so not much to say about that!

The whole island could be considered one big war museum. There are still ruins of many military installations of the era – other things such as the airstrip, are still intact, and shipwrecks from the battle remain visible underwater just off the coast. The tour of this island was pretty much one big history lesson, maybe that explains all the tidbits of history woven into this post!

All in all, this trip was super exciting, with lots of impressive sights. There were many cool spots, a lot of history, and both American and Japanese relics – quite unique.

Sightseeing war remnants in Peleliu

As you can see, all this stuff was very interesting for me, so after Peleliu, I ended up doing some research and learning more about it on my own. It is all really quite fascinating to learn more about what happened.

For instance, I learned that from the U.S. standpoint, this battle was very controversial. Not only because of the island’s questionable strategic value but most of all because of its high casualty rate. This battle was basically one of the bloodiest of the whole war. The National Museum of the Marine Corps called it “the bitterest battle of the war for the Marines.”

I also learned that Peleliu was one of the only islands in the Palau archipelago to be occupied by the Americans during the war. Koror, being the capital at the time, remained under Japanese control until the end of the war.

Today, all of Peleliu is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Peleliu Battlefield, and it has also been designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

COVID inspired dinner

The Peleliu trip marked the halfway point of my stay in Palau. So I still had two full days of exploring ahead of me. That evening after getting back from Peleliu, I went to dinner with Achim and his wife, and it was quite an interesting dinner. They had chosen a Chinese restaurant next door to our hotel that was famous for serving bats. Yes, you read that correctly.

Keep in mind this was mid-February, and the whole world already knew that COVID-19 came from a bat. So naturally, we were all very curious to try some – I mean, I’d never eaten bat before. So, we went to a Chinese restaurant in Palau to eat bats.

In Palau, bat is a local delicacy, so we were in for a treat. I mean, even during COVID times, they were still making bat all around the island. You could also find other kinds of unique animals such as massive coconut crabs, yum!

We arrived at the restaurant, and the first thing we see on the menu is a big sign that says, “we serve bats!”. By that point, we were pretty much sold on the idea that we would have bat for dinner.

So we ordered a traditional bat soup and patiently waited. The meal was a big bowl of soup that comes with a full bat in it. After bringing it to the table, the waiter takes the bat out, and you continue to eat the soup.

Did you know that fruit-bat is a local Palauan delicacy?

At first, we thought the full bat was for presentation only. We assumed that really tiny pieces of bat inside the soup (which you couldn’t feel or taste) was all the bat we would get.

However, as we were finishing the soup, they brought the bat back – It turns out that when they take it out at the beginning, they’re just taking it to the back to cut it up and serve it split open, look:

Tastes like chicken

They expected us to eat all the flesh, so we had to try it at least. I wasn’t too eager to do it, but I still did it, and it wasn’t that bad at all. We didn’t eat any of the wings or the insides like the liver or brain, just the muscle, which tasted pretty much like chicken. Not like a super tasty chicken, but nothing too bad either.

Regardless, it was all fine since my main course was actually pretty good, I had a proper steak of course!

After dinner, we just had a few drinks at our hotel lobby to end the night. We got a little drunk with some tasty vodka Achim provided.

Ok, I feel like I should clear this up, I could have never been patient zero with these bats. You see, in Palau, there is only one kind of bat, it’s called the Mariana fruit bat, also known as the Mariana flying fox, and the Fanihi in Chamorro. This is a megabat found only in the Mariana Islands and the Caroline Islands.

Palauan delicacy: Mog Mog

So these bats look more like a small monkey rather than a traditional bat; they are more closely related to a rabbit, piggs, or something like that. Of course, there can still be some health risks associated with eating it. It may carry some parasites if not cooked properly, but it definitely would have never given me COVID-19.

Day 4.1: Private charter flight over the Palauan archipelago

Day four on the island was a little more relaxed, well, sort of. I had reserved a rental car from 10-5 pm to drive around the main island and do some solo exploring at my own pace. But before that, I was in for a special treat! You see, I’d heard that Palau was even more impressive and beautiful when looked at from above. So, I chartered a plane to myself and took an aerial tour of the archipelago.

What would be life without flying? Chartered a plane again to show me beautiful Palau from the air 🙂

Early in the morning, a driver picked me up and took me to the airport. From there, I boarded a little tiny aircraft, and for one hour, it was just the pilot and me flying all over the land. Keep in mind this wasn’t exactly a ‘cheap’ excursion, but it surely was worth every penny.

We flew all over Palau and Peleliu – seeing the entire territory from bird’s-eye view. All the places I had discovered first on land, now laid out for me to see from the skies at 500,000 meters up.

Aerial dream to be a pilot among these ladscapes

Before we got on the plane, the pilot took off the side door, so the entire trip was made without a barrier. I had a free line of sight to everything below, and best of all, no windows to ruin any of the photo shots.

Flying without doors: Aerial therapy to treat fear of heights

To be perfectly candid, in the beginning, I was actually pretty scared of flying without the door. Considering the unlikely scenario of falling out (despite being fully and securely strapped in) makes anyone worry! But the fear only lasted a few moments, and then the excitement set in.

Aerial view of the German Channel – Famous dive spot

I had my GoPro and took quite a few photos; I even held it out of the plane in a few risky whims. I almost lost a hand a few times from holding the camera too far out of the plane. The air pressure at that altitude was pretty intense. The airspeed alone is pretty strong, and you should be very careful not to put your hand, arm, or camera too far out; you could easily break a limb or lose your gear – I almost did.

I found the spot where I will anchor my future catamaran on the next apocalypse

The route we flew covered all of The Rock Islands. We also flew over the Friendship Bridge, which I was scheduled to see by land later that day. It was so cool to see Peleliu, the Milky Way and JellyFish Lake, and all the big coral reefs from the sky. It was a surreal experience.

You know what, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

It’s quite hard after all these travels to find a honeymoon destination that adequately contends against Palau (not that I was looking for one…)

Jellyfish Lake from above

Aerial angles

No words Necessary

Koror – the main town of Palau. Did I already mention they have territorial taxation and getting an Investor visa is relatively straightforward?

Day 4.2: Solo car ride around the main island

After the aerial tour, I was taken back to my hotel, where the rental car was waiting for me, and off I went. Even though the main island is of a substantial size, in the 7 hours I had the car, I was able to drive all around to various attractions I wanted to see. I was also able to cover all the main roads and off-roads of the land.

I started my journey driving counterclockwise and continued to follow the main roads all around the island. There were some sites I couldn’t visit since they were closed by the time I got there, mostly some really old and ancient Polynesian/Micronesian ruins. However, I still got a lot done and found some cool spots along the way.

While still in Koror, I first checked out the Belau National Museum, which was established in 1955 and is the oldest museum in Micronesia. It was a surprisingly nice building, and I learned a lot—for instance, the things I mentioned before about Palau being a German Colony back in the day.

In this museum, there was an exhibit about the German colonial times, and to my surprise, it actually speaks quite nicely of that era. It was interesting to learn there is still German heritage in Palau; for example, there are some German words in Palauan, like “H-A-U-S” german spelling for “house.” Who would’ve thought?

After the museum, I drove to the capital of Palau, Ngerulmud. Also known as the hamlet of Melekeok, it is the seat of government of the Republic. It replaced Koror (the largest city), as capital in 2006. The settlement is located in the state of Melekeok on Babeldaob, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) northeast of. Fun Fact, Ngerulmud is the smallest capital city in the world.

I also visited some other nice sites in the capital, such as the Capitol of Palau. The Capitol is the palace of the Palau National Congress.

National Congress – Palau is one of the few countries that still has a strong allegiance to Taiwan. They say Palauans descended from the native tribes of Formosa Island.

National Capitol – Quite unexpected for this small Pacific nation of 17,000 people

Its design is based on the United States Capitol, which it resembles quite a lot, just in a very miniature way. The city has a bit of a weird feeling, but it is ultimately pretty cool; you can walk freely everywhere and go into the sites freely everywhere—typical small island country vibe with very friendly natives.

Same National Capitol – Different views

From the city, I drove on to a lake where there are supposed to be lots of saltwater crocodiles. I bet you didn’t know that Palau is home to lots of saltwater crocs – I definitely had no idea before this trip.

Well, I drove to this place and went on an hour-long hike along the forest towards the lake. The walk was nice; I got to spot lots of different birds along the way, eventually arriving at Lake Ngardok. It is the largest natural freshwater lake in all of the islands of Micronesia. The lake and the marshes surrounding it are a refuge for the endangered saltwater crocodile, and it is an important breeding location for them. The Ngerdorch River serves as a route that connects crocodiles with the sea.

Biggest freshwater lake of the small Pacific Island nations – Didn’t spot any crocs, unfortunately

The lake is approximately 493 hectares with an ecosystem that provides a habitat for plants, wildlife, and birds, some of which are found only in the Palau Islands. These include the endemic Palau fruit dove, Micronesian imperial-pigeon, Pacific black ducks, and a fruit bat (yum!) species, among many others.

The Chief Council of Melekeok State has established the Ngardok Nature Reserve to protect the watershed’s slow degradation process. The lake, however, will soon be established as a reservoir for Ngerulmud, Palau’s new national capital in Melekeok.

Sadly, the only wildlife I saw at this lake were some nice birds and some fish, no saltwater crocs. Either way, I enjoyed the time in nature and continued exploring nature after the lake.

Off-roading to find some secluded beaches

I decided to drive along some small off-roads, actually, really tiny off-roads. In some of them, there wasn’t much to see. I continued exploring until I found a super small road, which, to be honest, I didn’t even think my basic rental car could handle. But I threw caution to the wind and drove on, and it worked! I arrived at a hidden beach with some pretty nice waterfalls. I continued off-roading and got to the biggest waterfall in Palau.

Ngardmau Waterfall – Discovered Palau’s main island by rental car today. These are some waterfalls in the interior.

They were already closing the entrance by the time I got to the waterfall; luckily, they still let me in. Ngardmau Waterfall is one of Babeldaob’s premier attractions; it flows from Palau’s tallest peak, 217m-high – Mt. Ngerchelchuus. It is also the tallest waterfall in Micronesia.

It can be accessed by foot through a tough, but rewarding 20- to 50-minute hike along a jungle path. I had to walk about 300 m to get within eyesight, and then 400 m down to get to the base. It was around 2 km total to get there, quite the workout, but very much worth it. It is a beautiful and unique waterfall.

After seeing the waterfall, I made my way back to the car and drove to the south of the island to some other sightseeing spots. I took some time to properly check out the Friendship Bridge, which connects the capital to Koror. It is a block of reinforced concrete, portal frame, cable-stayed bridge with a total length of 413 m. It was built in 2002, to replace the former bridge which collapsed in 1996.

After the bridge, I mostly drove around, taking in the beautiful and varied landscapes of Palau. You can have stunning views of rolling hills, lovely shores with big coral reefs, and all the charming little villages in between. Palau is actually a bit more wealthy than most other Pacific countries, and you can really notice it on the people and in the streets; it seems as though they live quite the happy island life.

That evening, I went back to my hotel just in time to give back the rental car and took it easy. The next day I had a full day in the water planned with another kayak excursion.

Day 5: Final day in Palau

On my final day in Palau, I went on another Kayak tour to a different part of the Rock Islands. To be honest, this tour was very similar to the one I did on my first days. This time, however, we went to the opposite end of the island.

We spent the day visiting more locations on a kayak. I’m glad I got to explore the rock formations from underneath one last time, swimming yet again, literally below the edge of a limestone rock covered with mangrove trees in a turquoise lagoon.

This is the famed Blue Corner – one of the best dive and snorkel spots in the world

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that this was all happening at a lake known for having high concentrations of baby sharks? Yup, this lagoon is part of The Rock Island Lakes, which has access to the sea. It is also secluded enough for young sharks to mature a little before entering the sea.

At one point, we saw a school of about ten baby sharks; they were between .5 m – 1 m (2’ – 5’) long. As we paddled closer, they actually began to swim away from our kayaks :(. But we still got to snorkel in the lagoon with them and see some nice fish and some more beautiful coral.

All in all, it was a pretty lovely and relaxed day enjoying the peaceful oasis that is Palau. Adventuring into its magnificent and unique landscapes and snorkeling with baby sharks in its world-renowned waters… What more could I ask for on my last day in paradise?

So, by now, you probably have a better understanding of why Palau is my favorite island in the Pacific. I feel I have given you plenty of evidence, and you should definitely go see it for yourself one of these days.

Goodbye Palau 🇵🇼 This was the last Pacific nation on my list and it actually ranks first among all. Now only missing territories in this part of the world.
Looking forward to visiting all of them in 2021 🙂 New Zealand: Cook, Niue, Tokelau
Australia: Cocos, Keeling, Norfolk
France: New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna
USA: Northern Mariana, American Samoa

On my last day, after the kayak tour, I took a taxi straight to the airport, punctuating my 5-day stay in Palau. That very evening I flew to Taiwan, and even though there were rumors of it having implemented extensive and strict COVID protocols, I was still able to immigrate without any problems. #spoileralert

I even managed to enjoy a lovely two-night stay in Taiwan… but you’ll have to read about that on another post.