Category - Chuuk

Chuuk (Formerly Truk) Travel Guide

Fujikawa Maru

Chuuk (Formerly Truk) Travel Guide

Date Visited: February 2017

Introduction

As my torchlight made a sweep of the dark, watery space, I could see five Japanese war planes – Zero bombers – parked side-by-side, disassembled to facilitate transportation. I was 26 metres below the Chuuk lagoon and had just descended into one of the holds of the wrecked Fujikawa Maru. Built in 1938 by the Mitsubishi Company as a passenger and cargo carrier, the Japanese Navy took possession of the Fujikawa in the early days of WWII and converted her into an aircraft ferry. Just prior to “Operation Hailstone”, the Fujikawa Maru had arrived in Chuuk where she off-loaded thirty bombers at a Japanese airfield. She would never leave Chuuk and on the day of Operation Hailstone she was still carrying the Zero bombers in her hold – the bombers that I was now diving around.

Welcome to Chuuk, one of the states of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the premier wreck diving capital of the world. In other places you can dive a single wreck, on Chuuk you can dive a whole fleet. While Chuuk is another beautiful, remote, Pacific atoll, the main reason travelers come here is to dive the plethora of wrecks which lay at the bottom of the lagoon. Chuuk offers world-class wreck diving and with over 60 wrecks, from supply vessels (Maru) to planes and a submarine, there is plenty to keep divers busy.

Truk or Chuuk? What’s in a name?  

To the Chuukese, their home has always been ‘Chuuk‘. To the Germans (who once colonised the island), Chuuk was difficult to pronounce – to them it sounded like ‘Truuk‘. Once the American GI’s arrived, they pronounced it ‘Truk‘ and that name stuck during the many years that Truk was part of the (US-administered) Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI). Following independence, the island reverted back to it’s original name of ‘Chuuk‘.

Stormy skies over Chuuk.

Stormy skies over Chuuk.

Location

Chuuk is located north of the equator, between Hawaii and the Philippines. It’s one of the four states of FSM, with the state of Yap to the west and Pohnpei and Kosrae to the east.

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At a circumference of 225 kilometres (140 mi), the lagoon is the world’s largest – it’s protective barrier reef (the remnants of an ancient volcano) enclose a cluster of small islands, which were once the mountain peaks on the volcano. All services (and infrastructure) are to be found on the administrative island of Weno, with everything being connected by one (not too long), main road. Weno is the atoll’s capital and, with a population of 12,000 people, is the largest city in the FSM. The outer islands are either uninhabited or contain villagers living a subsistence lifestyle.

Map of Chuuk lagoon

Map of Chuuk lagoon. Source: https://www.trukodyssey.com

History

The early history of Chuuk is unknown but it is clear from archaeological digs that people have inhabited the area since the 1st or 2nd century BC. The first recorded sighting of the islands were made by the Spanish in 1528. The Spanish would later claim the islands (by simply raising a flag) but never established any permanent settlement. In 1899, the Spanish sold the islands to the German empire, but following Germany’s defeat in WWI, the Japanese where given control of the islands under a mandate from the League of Nations.

During WWII, the Japanese used Chuuk as their main Naval base in the South Pacific. From here, they launched operations against Allied forces in the region. Japanese military engineers converted Chuuk into a formidable fortress, with roads, trenches, bunkers, caves, airstrips, seaplane bases, a torpedo boat station, submarine repair shops, a communications centre and a radar station. All of this came to a spectacular, fiery end on February 17, 1944 during Operation Hailstone (see following section).

Following WWII, Chuuk was made one of six districts of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI), which were administered by the United States under a UN charter. Independence was finally granted to the Federated States of Micronesia (Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk & Yap) in 1990.

More recently, a ‘Chuuk Independence’ movement has gained popularity which, if successful, could see the break up of the FSM.

Operation Hailstone 

Operation Hailstone

Operation Hailstone.
Source: Wikipedia

If it wasn’t for Operation Hailstone, Chuuk would be just another quiet, remote backwater. On February 17, 1944, the island’s place in history would be ensured forever when American forces commenced a three day bombing campaign, the aim of which was to completely destroy the naval base and all ships in the lagoon. The relentless aerial bombardment resulted in the sinking of more than 60 warships, planes and a submarine. A 10 minute propaganda film – Yanks Smash Truk (filmed by an embedded cameraman aboard one of the bombers), provides you with a sense of the ferocity of the bombardment.

Diving

Franko map of the Chuuk Lagoon Wrecks

Franko map of the Chuuk Lagoon Wrecks

As a result of Operation Hailstone, Chuuk lagoon is the world’s largest ship graveyard, with the wrecked Japanese fleet now known as the ‘Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon‘. The fleet was first brought to the world’s attention in 1969 when Jacques Cousteau and the Calypso team explored the lagoon and it’s wrecks, producing the TV documentary “Lagoon of Lost Ships“. The documentary put Chuuk on the world diving map and changed the fortunes of the island.

A local diver, Kimiuo Aisek, who as a 17-year-old witnessed Operation Hailstone, opened the islands first dive shop in 1973 at the Blue Lagoon Resort. Today the dive shop is one of two on Weno offering dive trips. A museum at the resort displays artifacts salvaged from some of the wrecks. Today the island is a magnet for divers with the majority of wrecks being within recreational diving limits (30-40 metres / 100-130 feet) and close to shore. For those who prefer zero commuting to their dive sites, a few live-aboard options are available, these include the SS Thorfin, Odyssey and the Truk Master

The boat jetty at Truk Stop hotel.

The boat jetty at Truk Stop hotel.

An excellent map of the wreck’s is printed by Franko Map’s (see above image) and is available for purchase on Amazon. The Truk Lagoon Dive Centre offer an online, interactive map, which provides detailed information on various wrecks. I did four dives with Truk Lagoon Dive Centre, these were:

Heian Maru

Heian Maru wreck.

Heian Maru wreck.

The largest wreck (11,600 tons) I dived was the giant Heian Maru – this was featured by Jacques Cousteau in his original documentary. Located between 12 metres and 33 metres, the Heian carried supplies for Japanese submarines. We explored inside the forward hold’s, where we saw long lance torpedoes and then into the companionways, where we saw periscopes and other equipment.

Yamagiri Maru

Yamagiri Maru wreck.

Yamagiri Maru wreck.

On the Yamagiri Maru (located at a depth of 15 metres – 33 metres) we explored a hold which contained a supply of huge 18.1″ armor piercing shells, with each shell weighing 1,400kg. Also on-board was a steamroller and other construction equipment.

Fujikawa Maru

Fujikawa Maru wreck.

Fujikawa Maru wreck.

Located at a depth of between 9 metres and 34 metres, the Fujikawa Maru is considered the best dive site in Chuuk – this is a ‘must dive’. The main smoke stack is reached at just 6 metres, with her deck at 18 metres. On the bow of the deck is an impressive (coral encrusted), 6-inch (152 mm) bow gun. In one of the forward hold’s are four disassembled Mitsubishi fighter aircraft along with machine guns, shells and other ammunition. Other structures we explored included the galley, engine room, staterooms, bathrooms and the pilothouse. The entire ship is covered in an abundance of soft corals, which attracts a wealth of marine life. A magical diving experience.

Shinkoku Maru

Shinkoku Maru wreck.

Shinkoku Maru wreck.

The Skinkoku Maru is one of the most popular dives in Chuuk. The ship served as a naval tanker and offers a myriad number of rooms (all largely intact) for the diver to explore. The ship was sunk upright with a large bomb hole visible in her port side. She lies between 12 metres – 38 metres, with her main deck at 18 metres. During the dive we explored the crew quarters, engine room, sick bay, wheelhouse, the galley (complete with porcelain dishes, stove, utensils and other kitchenware) and the deck. The deck is covered in an amazing array of soft corals which attracts a huge amount of fish.

Island Sights

The terrestrial attractions on Chuuk are limited, which isn’t a problem since most visitors are here for the underwater attractions. A walk along the main street will hold your interest for about 1 hour, during which time you can check out the shops, purchase super cheap local coconut oil ($2 for a 1L PET bottle) or buy some fresh fruit. All Chuukese ladies wear the traditional Chuukese dress, which are sold in shops along the main street.

Shop on Weno selling traditional Chuukese dresses.

Shop on Weno selling traditional Chuukese dresses.

Outside of town there are some walking trails which will take you up onto the surrounding hilltops. The trails are rough and poorly marked so a local guide is recommended. You can also visit neighbouring atolls for the day, however there are no services or facilities available on these.

Coconut oil for sale on Chuuk.

A bottle of local coconut oil costs $2.

Accommodation

UA154 on the runway at Chuuk International Airport with Hotel Level 5 in the background

UA154 on the runway at Chuuk International Airport with Hotel Level 5 in the background

There are just a few hotels on Weno, but these are more than enough to cater to the small trickle of travelers who make it here.

Directly opposite the airport is the Level 5 Hotel. I stayed here and I’m glad I did. I visited every hotel on the island and, in my opinion, this is the best. The spacious, comfortable rooms are newly renovated and the ground floor features the best cafe/ restaurant on the island. The hotel also features the only elevator on Chuuk but interestingly the locals avoid it – they are either afraid of it or just not use to using one. When it comes time to leave, the airport is across the road. Despite its close prximity to the airport, the hotel offers a shuttle service and will be waiting to pick you up when you arrive – the shortest shuttle connection I’ve ever had.

Also within walking distance of the airport is the High Tide Hotel. This family-run hotel offers older style rooms and a good restaurant, which serves reasonably priced, generous portions of local seafood.

For divers who prefer to stay somewhere with an onsite dive shop, there are two options:

  1. The closest to downtown is Truk Stop Hotel. This is a family run hotel, whose American owner has been a key proponent of the local tourism (i.e. diving) industry for many years. The 23 hotel rooms are old and dated but a new wing was under construction during my visit (Feb 2017). Besides being home to just one of two dive shops on the island, the hotel offers a restaurant and two bars. If you wish to socialise, this is the only real option on the island.
  2.  The other option, Blue Lagoon Resort, is the most upmarket property on the island and the most expensive, although rooms here are in need of renovation. The resort dive shop was the first established on the island by local diving pioneer Kimiuo Aisek. The resort is located 8 km south of the airport away from the downtown area. The shared ‘town’ taxis (which regularly shuttle along the main road) do not travel this far south (the road is in terrible condition) so you will need to hire a taxi to reach the resort.

Eating Out

Options are limited, with the few hotels providing the only restaurants. My favourite place (and the ‘go to’ place for the best coffee) is the restaurant/ cafe at the Level 5 Hotel. This is a sister operation of a cafe in Honolulu and features the only espresso machine on the island. The cafe is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is a popular spot for those waiting for the (often delayed) United Airlines Island Hopper.

The restaurant at Truk Stop Hotel is very popular, with a good selection of food and drinks and always a good ambiance. There’s a restaurant at the Blue Lagoon Resort (the only dining option at this end of the island) and at High Tide Hotel.

Visa Requirements

Some nationalities require visas for the Micronesia – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Getting There

UA154 on approach to Chuuk International Airport.

UA154 on approach to Chuuk International Airport.

By Air

Chuuk International airport.

Chuuk International airport.

Flights to Chuuk arrive at Chuuk International Airport on the island of Weno. This sleepy airport is a short walk from the downtown area and several hotels. For more details on UA154 and Chuuk Airport, refer to my Central Pacific Island Hopping blog.

UA154 departing from Chuuk.

UA154 departing from Chuuk.

The following airlines provide connections to/from Chuuk:

  • Air Niugini – flights to Pohnpei and Port Moresby with connections onto Australia and other destinations.
  • Caroline Islands Air – charter flights to Fais, Houk, Onoun, Pohnpei, Ta, Ulithi, Woleai and Yap
  • United Airlines – flights to Guam, Honolulu, Kosrae, Kwajalein, Majuro, Pohnpei
Asia Pacific Airlines (seen here at Chuuk Airport).

All freight in Micronesia arrives courtesy of two companies – Matson Shipping Line or Asia Pacific Airlines (seen here at Chuuk Airport).

Getting Around

Bus

There are no public buses on Weno.

Taxi

Taxi’s on Weno cost between $1 to $2 depending on distance traveled. The distance from the airport to the Blue Lagoon resort (one end of the island to the other) is about 5 miles.

Car

The Level 5 Hotel offers expensive (US$70 per day) car rental but there’s no need to hire a car on an island with one short road, which is covered by frequent (and cheap) shared taxis.

Chuuk license plate.

Chuuk license plate.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guam Travel Guide, Palau Travel Guide, Pohnpei Travel Guide, Kosrae Travel Guide, Marshall Islands Travel Guide, Kiribati Travel Guide, Central Pacific Island Hopping

Central Pacific Island Hopping

Island Hopping Route: Source - Great Circle Tracker

Central Pacific Island Hopping

Date of Island Hop: 26th of January 2017 – 3rd of March 2017

Introduction

Taking the United Airlines Island Hopper (UA154) across the central Pacific has long been a dream. I recently got to live the dream when I incorporated UA154 into a longer journey from Los Angeles to Manila. This was a meandering odyssey from one side of the Pacific to the other, one which would take me to eight remote islands.

Along the way, I detoured from United’s network by making a side-trip with Nauru Airlines from Majuro to Kiribati. I’m glad I did – the people of Kiribati are the friendliest people I encountered on my journey. More on them and the atoll when I publish the Kiribati Postcard blog.

This blog provides an overview of air services in this remote region and describes my travel experience. I will publish separate ‘postcard’ blogs from each destination shortly.

Air Services

The following airlines offer services throughout the Central Pacific region:

United Airlines

United offers the most comprehensive network in the region. The Island Hopper (UA154) travels three times a week (Mon/ Wed/ Fri) on a 14-hour milk-run from Honolulu to Guam with 45 minute stops at Majuro, Kwajalein, Kosrae, Pohnpei & Chuuk. The same service operates in the reverse direction from Guam (UA155) also departing on Mon/ Wed/ Fri.

From Guam, United offer connections to other Pacific islands such as the Northern Mariana islands of Rota & Saipan, Yap (FSM), Palau and also Asia (Manila, Hong Kong, Shanghai and various ports in Japan).

United Airlines Micronesia Routes

United Airlines Micronesia Routes.

Nauru Airlines

Nauru Airlines offer a weekly service every Friday (ON33) from Nauru to Pohnpei with stops on Kiribati, Majuro and Kosrae. The return service departs from Pohnpei on Sunday (ON32). From Nauru, you can connect to Brisbane or Fiji.

Nauru Airlines Route Map.

Nauru Airlines Route Map.

Air Niugini

As of December 2016, Air Niugini have commenced a weekly service connecting Port Moresby with Chuuk and Pohnpei every Saturday (PX072). The flight returns to Port Moresby every Sunday, with connections onto Australia and other Pacific islands.

Star Marianas

Star Marianas is a small airline offering a once-daily service between Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands (Rota, Tinian and Saipan). Their fleet consists of 12 single-engine Piper planes. Their office at Guam airport is located inside the freight building between the main terminal and the United ticket office.

Travel Costs

Not cheap!

Apart from swimming or building your own raft, almost the only way between these islands is via the thrice-weekly United Airlines Island hopper service. United operate largely in a monopoly environment and like any monopoly player they can charge what they like. There are no ‘deals’ on airfares in this part of the world. I paid just over US$1500 for a one-way economy class ticket from Honolulu to Manila. Ouch! You can get better pricing if you book a round trip.

Like United, Nauru Airlines operates in a monopoly environment, so there are no deals here. They are the only airline connecting Kiribati with the Marshall Islands with onward service to Kosrae and Pohnpei. The 75-min flight from Majuro to Tarawa cost AUD$385 return.

Air Niugini are currently selling one-way tickets between Chuuk and Pohnpei for US$83. United are quoting $289 for the same flight!

For travel between Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, tiny Star Marianas airline offers much cheaper airfares than United Airlines.

I met few other travellers on these islands – no doubt the high travel costs deter many.

In-Flight Service

United Airlines

United offered a level of in-flight service typical of US carriers – i.e. minimal at best!

Meals

As per the itinerary below, only one meal was served on the 14-hour flight from Honolulu to Guam. On two of the legs I was served a ‘snack’ which consisted of a turkey-loaf sandwich. On the remaining legs, you are offered a small packet of almonds or pretzels.  Non-alcoholic beverages are free, however if you wish to have a beer you will be charged US$7.99. Wine and spirits are available at various (higher) prices.

Meals offered on the 14-hour Island Hopper.

Meals offered on the 14-hour Island Hopper.

The one meal – breakfast  consisted of something that resembled a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin. The over-processed offering was not prepared by United but was supplied by a 3rd party caterer and tasted awful. Best to bring your own food on this flight.

Entertainment

United’s Entertainment system is the old-style centrally controlled system, which is reset at the beginning of each hop. The only chance to watch a complete movie is on the 3-hour flight from Honolulu to Majuro. Since most hops are about one hour you will get to watch only the first hour of the movie of your choice. There are four movie channels to choose from. The flight map channel was never available. I recommend bringing a good book or providing your own entertainment.

Crew

Considering the crew on the island hopper work a straight 14-hour shift (with no crew quarters) they do a remarkable job at maintaining a friendly, professional level of service.

In order to satisfy FAA ‘flying-time’ regulations a 2nd pilot and co-pilot accompany the flight and takeover at some stage. They are seated upfront in seats 1A and 1B. Due to the fact that there are no mechanical services at any of the airports a United mechanic is also included in the crew. He is seated in the first row of economy class in seat 7C. All seats are blocked and marked ‘Crew Use’.

Nauru Airlines

Excellent service from this little-known airline. I would certainly fly with them again. Had I known they connected Majuro to Kosrae and Pohnpei I would have considered using them instead of United. Unfortunately, they only fly once a week. The airlines head office is located on Nauru but their principle place of business is Brisbane. The CEO is an Australian, maintenance is done at their facility at Brisbane airport and many of the crew have Australian accents.

Meals

A hot meal was served on all flights and all drinks were complimentary.

Entertainment

There is no entertainment, best to bring your own.

Crew

Very professional, efficient, Australian trained crew.

Itinerary

Boarding passes from the island hop.

Boarding passes from the island hop.

 

Honolulu – Majuro (Marshall Islands) – Kosrae (FSM) – Pohnpei (FSM) – Chuuk (FSM) – Guam (USA)

Itinerary - Honolulu to Guam on UA154.

Itinerary – Honolulu to Guam on UA154.

Guam – Palau – Manila

Itinerary - Guam to Manila.

Itinerary – Guam to Manila.

 

Majuro – Tarawa (Kiribati) – Majuro

Itinerary - Majuro to Tarawa

Itinerary – Majuro to Tarawa.

 

Island Hops

Hop 1: Honolulu (HNL) – Majuro (MAJ)

Honolulu (USA)

The first thing you notice when you check in for the island hopper is that the preferred item of luggage used by many of the islanders is the durable and robust Coleman cooler box. These are packed with all sorts of food and other goodies and wrapped shut with duct tape.

The most popular form of luggage in the Pacific - the Coleman Cooler Box.

The most popular form of luggage in the Pacific – the Coleman Cooler Box.

After checking in I decided to find some breakfast. Since I’d had an early departure (4:30 am) from my hotel in Waikiki, I was famished. The only dining options open on the air-side were Burger King and Starbucks. I chose Burger King and later, once on the flight, I was happy that I did. Breakfast is the only meal served on the 14-hour flight and breakfast this morning consisted of a cheap imitation McDonald’s’ Egg McMuffin.

Our flight left on time at 07:25 am. I would later learn (while waiting for a delayed UA154) that the flight is often delayed departing HNL due to the late arrival of the incoming aircraft from Guam.

Waiting to depart Honolulu on UA154.

Waiting to depart Honolulu on UA154.

Majuro (Marshall Islands)

During the flight we crossed the International Date Line into Saturday and landed on time at Amata Kabua International Airport on Majuro atoll (capital of the Marshall Islands).

Arrival at Majuro, Marshall Islands.

Arrival at Majuro, Marshall Islands.

With the exception of Honolulu and Guam, all airports on the island hop have small ‘1 gate’ terminals. There are no air bridges, instead United supplies a pedestrian ramp-way at each terminal. There are also no taxi-ways, planes make their turns at the end of the runway, which is no problem as there is almost no traffic.

Terminal at Majuro Airport.

Terminal at Majuro Airport.

Arriving at Majuro: Flight arrived on time at 10:35-amPassengers line up at immigration to hand their arrival form (supplied on the flight) to the friendly immigration officer who normally grants a 30-day stay. Once you have passed immigration, you wait for your bag to be delivered through an opening in the terminal wall. Everything here is done manually so things take time but normally there are few passengers disembarking. Most remain in-transit. Once you have your bag you clear customs and hand in your Customs declaration form, which would have been handed to you on the flight.

There are few hotels on Majuro and most of them provide a shuttle transfer from the airport. If one is not provided, there are many shared taxis, which shuttle along the one, long road on the atoll.  The fare from the airport to downtown is US$4. Fares around town are just 75 cents.

I stayed at the Marshall Islands Resort, which is where most tourists seem to stay.

Marshall Islands passport stamps.

Marshall Islands passport stamps.

Transiting Majuro: Passengers are allowed to de-plane to stretch their legs during the 45-minute stop. They are free to wait inside the small departure lounge where there is a kiosk selling snacks and a nice old Marshallese lady selling local handicrafts. WiFi is available for purchase. If you want a passport stamp as a souvenir of your stopover you can ask immigration. I saw transit passengers getting stamps.

Hop 2: Majuro (MAJ) – Tarawa (TRW) – Majuro (MAJ)

Tarawa (Kiribati)

While I was in this remote part of the world I decided to make a detour from the island hopper route and fly south to another remote atoll nation – Kiribati (pronounced: Kiribass).

Kiribati is one of the least developed nations in the Pacific. Most of its inhabitants live in make-shift constructions on the over-crowded atoll of South Tarawa. This is not a destination for those who dream of holidaying on a Pacific paradise isle. This is a developing nation, where most people live in grinding poverty. The beautiful turquoise waters of the Pacific are used as a toilet by the 50,000 inhabitants and the tiny atoll (100m across in most places) is covered in litter. Things are changing with large investments being made by the Australian & NZ governments in various aid projects, which include the installation of public toilets, sewage treatment plants and rubbish collection.

If you are adventurous I would highly recommend a visit to Kiribati. Without exception the people are very warm and friendly. I spent a week on the atoll and was sad to leave. You will not meet any other tourists here but plenty of aid workers.

Nauru Airlines at Pohnpei airport.

Nauru Airlines at Pohnpei airport.

The island is served by weekly flights from Nauru Airlines and Fiji Airlines. Nauru Airlines flies every Friday from its base on Nauru to Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Kosrae and Pohnpei, returning the same way on Sundays. The airline is a delight to fly with, offering a high level of service. All flights to Kiribati arrive at Bonriki International Airport.

Fiji Airlines offers a weekly connection to their hub at Nadi (Fiji), with onward connections to other South Pacific destinations.

Arriving at Tarawa: Flight arrived on time at 10:05-am. Passengers are processed by the friendly immigration officers, who grant a 30-day stay. Bags are delivered through an opening in the side of the terminal.

Kiribati passport stamps.

Kiribati passport stamps.

Most hotels will provide a shuttle service, but if you need to use public transport there are minibuses which run frequently from the airport along the new (Australian Govt. / Asian Development Bank funded) main road. The currency of Kiribati is the Australian dollar.

Departing Tarawa: There are just three check-in desks at Bonriki Airport; two for domestic flights and one for international flights. Once you have checked in you get your passport stamped at the adjacent immigration desk then wait for security screening to open. There is just one gate which is used by both domestic and international passengers. Security staff only admit one group at a time, usually allowing international passengers into the lounge once their flight is close to arriving. Unlike other airports in the region, there is no terminal fee charged here.

Flight departed on time at 12:00-pm.

Transiting Tarawa: Passengers are not allowed to de-plane.

Hop 3: Majuro (MAJ) – Kwajalein (KAJ) – Kosrae (KSA)

Majuro (Marshall Islands)

After spending an amazing six days on Kiribati I returned to the Marshall Islands for four days to explore Majuro and one of the offshore islands. The Marshallese are much more reserved than the Kiribati folks but still pleasant. More on my experiences there in my Marshall Islands Postcard.

Departing Majuro.

Departing Majuro.

Departing Majuro: The tiny terminal at Amata Kabua International Airport offers a decent cafe (home to the cleanest toilet at the airport), a few gift shops (which open when a flight is due), a small bank branch and a single check-in desk.

The check-in process is like a two-step shuffle, consisting of the following steps:

  • Step 1: Present your documents at the check-in desk. Staff will check you in, tag your bag and hand everything back to you – except your boarding pass.
  • Step 2: Take your tagged bag to the baggage guy who is located to the left of the check-in desk. He will inspect your bag (no x-ray here) and place it on a short conveyor which leads to the baggage cart.
  • Step 3: Pay your US$20 terminal fee at the window marked ‘Terminal Fee’. This is where you will receive your boarding pass – with the terminal fee receipt stapled to it.
  • Step 4: Once you have paid your fee and received your boarding pass you proceed to security screening and then immigration.

If you are hungry at the airport it is best to eat at the cafe in the departure area. Once on the air-side your food option is limited to one small kiosk selling snacks.

Flight departed on time at 11:20-am.

Kwajalein (Marshall Islands)

The first hop on this segment of the Island Hopper is a 45-minute flight from Majuro to Bucholz Army Airfield, which serves the island of Kwajalein . ‘Kwaj’ is a restricted US Army base, built on land the US government has leased from the Republic of the Marshall islands since pre-independence days. The island is home to a small population of US Army personnel and other contractors – all of whom need authorisation from the US Army to be there. The island is home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.

In addition to army personnel, there are about 14,000 Marshallese residents who live on adjacent Ebeye island.

Arrival at Kwajalein: Only US military personnel, other authorized persons and Marshallese residents of Ebeye are allowed to de-plane here.

Kwajalein transit passengers:  Transit passengers are not allowed to de-plane. No photos are allowed at the airport as it is a US Army base.

UA154 departing from Kwajalein.

UA154 departing from Kwajalein.

Kosrae – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

Soaring up out of nowhere in the middle of the deep blue waters of the Pacific is a lush green, mountainous island known as Kosrae (pronounced ‘ko-shrye’). It is known as the “island of the sleeping lady” due to the profile of the central mountain range, which does look strangely like a sleeping lady. This is the first island of the FSM group you will arrive at if travelling from the east. FSM is an independent nation, consisting of the island states of Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk (formerly Truk) and Yap.

Kosrae is tiny, remote, wild and beautiful. With a population of just 6,600 , the island is well off the tourist radar, receiving 300 tourists a year. When I disembarked I was accompanied by five returning residents. This is a special place and if you ever get the chance to visit you should do so. More to come in my Kosrae Postcard.

Arriving at Kosrae: A dramatically located airport built on reclaimed land across a channel from the island itself. Just a few of us de-planed here. I handed in my immigration form (handed out during the flight) and received a stay corresponding to the number of days I was staying on the island (this is standard practice throughout FSM). Customs were very relaxed – happy to see a tourist.

Note: Each state of FSM takes care of its own immigration formalities. For each state you enter, you will be required to complete the same entry form and will be stamped in/ out at each airport.

There are just two hotels on the island; Kosrae Nautilus Resort and the Pacific Treelodge resort, both of which will collect you from the airport since there is no public transport on the island and very few taxis.

I stayed at the latter and would highly recommend staying there. There are just two restaurants on the island, both located at the two hotels. The restaurant at the Treelodge – Bully’s is the best choice. The setting on the edge of the Mangrove is very special as is the food, which is prepared by a local chef who worked for years in a Japanese restaurant in Honolulu. My favourite dinner was the $10 sushi platter, which included 21 pieces of freshly made sushi with a bottle of beer or a glass of wine. I was sad to leave here.

Kosrae passport stamps.

Kosrae passport stamps.

Transiting Kosrae: Like Majuro –  transit passengers are allowed to de-plane to stretch their legs during the 45-minute stop. They are free to wait inside the small departure lounge where there is a kiosk operated by a nice lady who sells snacks. I especially recommend buying a packet of the local banana chips. They are the best. If you want a passport stamp as a souvenir of your stopover you can ask immigration.

Arriving at Kosrae airport.

Arriving at Kosrae airport.

Hop 4: Kosrae – Pohnpei

Kosrae – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

After five amazing days on Kosrae it was time to take my usual seat (32F) on UA154 for the 1 hour flight to Pohnpei.

UA154 at Kosrae.

UA154 at Kosrae.

Departing Kosrae: Similar check-in process as Majuro:

  • Step 1: Upon entering the airport you present your luggage for manual inspection. There are no x-ray machines here. Once inspected the customs official will place your bag behind the check-in counter.
  • Step 2: Present your documents at the check-in desk. Staff will check you in, tag your bag and hand everything back to you – except your boarding pass.
  • Step 3: Pay your US$20 terminal fee at the window marked ‘Terminal Fee’. This is where you will receive your boarding pass – with the terminal fee receipt stapled to it.
  • Step 4: Once you have paid your fee and received your boarding pass you get your passport stamped at the adjacent immigration desk.
  • Step 5: Proceed through security screening into the departure lounge,
  • Step 6: Buy a packet of local banana chips from the nice lady at the kiosk.

US154 departed on time at 1:47-pm

UA154 departing from Kosrae.

UA154 departing from Kosrae.

Pohnpei – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

An hour after leaving Kosrae we landed on Pohnpei, home to the capital of FSM – the government enclave of Palikir. The landing here takes you over the fringing reef then past the towering Sokeh’s Rock – a huge granite plug, which is the island landmark.

UA154 on approach to Pohnpei.

UA154 on approach to Pohnpei.

Arriving at Pohnpei: UA154 arrived on time at 2:50-pm. I handed my arrival forms to immigration, received my stamp for the number of days corresponding to my stay, passed customs, collected my bag and met my hotel shuttle.

Like Kosrae there is no public transport on Pohnpei – although the island is much larger in terms of area and population (34,000). You either have your own car or you walk. There are some taxis available around the capital – Kolonia. All hotels offer an airport shuttle service. I stayed in downtown Kolonia at 7 Stars Inn, which I would recommend. This is a good option if you want to be able to walk around town. Other hotels are further out of town.

Transiting Pohnpei: Once again, transit passengers are free to de-plane during the 45-minute stop and wait inside the departure lounge, where you’ll find one cafe offering hot food, snacks, beer (cheaper than on the flight), coffee etc.

Hop 5: Pohnpei – Chuuk

Pohnpei – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

After six days on Pohnpei it was time to re-join UA154 for the next leg of the hop – onto the diving paradise of Chuuk. My flight was delayed by 2 hours. This often happens so hotels along the route will always call ahead first to confirm the aircraft arrival time so their guests aren’t keep waiting around at the airport. The next island hopper was delayed by six hours!

Departing Pohnpei: Similar process to Kosrae with a slight variation:

  • Step 1: Present your documents at the check-in desk. Staff will check you in, tag your bag and hand everything back to you – except your boarding pass.
  • Step 3: Pay your US$20 terminal fee to the attendant next to the check-in desk. He will issue you with a receipt and your boarding pass.
  • Step 4: Proceed to immigration to complete formalities.
  • Step 5: Pass through security screening into the departure lounge.

The departure lounge at PNI is the largest in FSM. It offers one TV tuned to CNN, WiFi (paid) and one cafe, which serves a reasonable selection of food and drinks.

UA154 departing Pohnpei.

UA154 departing Pohnpei.

Chuuk – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

As a keen scuba diver, Chuuk (formerly Truk) was one of the key reasons I planned this trip. During WWII, Chuuk was home to the Japanese Pacific Fleet. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, the Americans retaliated by launching Operation Hailstone. The attack took place over two days and involved a combination of airstrikes and submarine/ surface ship attacks. More than 50 major shipwrecks from WWII litter the seabed of the lagoon. Chuuk is considered the No. 1 shipwreck diving destination on the planet and has to be seen to be believed. Incredible diving and lots of beautiful islands to explore in the large lagoon.

Arriving at Chuuk:

Due to its underwater attractions, Chuuk attracts more tourists than anywhere else in Micronesia. Since it’s one stop from Guam most tourists choose to fly directly from there rather than sit on UA154 for 10 hours.

Due to the late arrival of the incoming flight to Pohnpei, we arrived 2 hours late on Chuuk. Again – very few passengers disembarked here, most were travelling onto Guam. Handed in my immigration form (same as the one used for all other FSM states), cleared customs, exited the airport and was surprised to see a hotel shuttle waiting for me. Why surprised? I had booked in L5 Hotel, which is across the road from the airport. It was the shortest shuttle ride ever. When I departed, I told the hotel I would walk to the terminal (2 mins).

You can’t beat L5 for it’s convenient location, the fact that the whole place is newly renovated and that the best restaurant/ cafe on the island is located on the ground floor. The restaurant has been established by a cafe owner from Honolulu. The food is the best on the island and they have the only espresso machine I saw on Chuuk. I did all my diving through The Truk Stop hotel, which I would recommend.

Micronesia passport stamps.

Micronesia passport stamps.

Hop 6: Chuuk – Guam

Chuuk – Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)

After 6 days of amazing diving on Chuuk, it was time to fly the last hop of the island hopper to Guam.

Departing Chuuk: To my surprise I was informed by my hotel that the flight was actually running ahead of schedule. Luckily, I had a short walk across to the terminal where I checked in. The process here is the same as everywhere else in FSM… Once you pay the $20 terminal fee you get your boarding pass.

On the air-side there is a small kiosk selling snacks. These kiosks always get busy when the transit passengers file in off the incoming flight.

UA154 departing from Chuuk.

UA154 departing from Chuuk.

Guam – USA

After almost a month on remote, tiny Pacific islands I was looking forward to the hustle and bustle of Guam. With its high-rise hotels wrapping around the emerald green waters of Tumon Bay, it’s shopping malls, outlets, American fast food chains, restaurants, bars etc – Guam is a mini version of Hawaii.

Guam is home to the native Chamorro people, a large Filipino population and a sizable US Military population who work at the two large bases (Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base). Added into the mix are 1000’s of Japanese, Korean and Chinese tourists who flock here for short breaks to spend some time shopping and relaxing in the Tumon Bay area. Here you will find all the large hotels but they are not cheap due to the islands popularity. I found a more reasonably priced apartment on booking.com.

The island is large, diverse and offers a wealth of sightseeing. Rental cars are cheap at the airport and essential if you wish to explore beyond the tourist enclave of Tumon Bay. I easily spent six days on the island. If you are in town on a Wednesday evening be sure to join the throngs for the best local BBQ dinner at the Chamorro village in Agana.

 

UA154 arriving at Guam

Arriving at Guam: If you have spent any amount of time on the other islands, the first thing you will notice upon arrival at Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport is how big and busy it is. Lots of gates instead of the usual ‘1’ and lots of aircraft movement instead of one movement every few days. This is a busy airport with most of the flights shuttling tourists from Japan and Korea and now increasingly China. Guam is also a regional hub for United Airlines.

The island Hopper was early into Guam which would have been good news for the Guam-based crew. Arrival procedures here are the same as any other international gateway- but at this airport (unlike all others on UA154) your bag is delivered on a carousel – strange to see one after weeks of receiving my bag through a hole in the terminal wall.

Entry requirements are the same as the US.

In the terminal, there are all the usual US car rental agents. I pre-booked a car with Alamo, which was reasonable at $30 per day. You need a car here unless you are going to spend a short time lazing around the beach. I also needed the car to get to my apartment, which was in the neighbourhood of Sinajana. If you have a craving for anything from your favourite US restaurant chain your appetite will be satisfied on Guam. From Denny’s to Tony Roma’s and many more – they are all here.

Hop 7: Guam – Palau

Guam – USA

After an amazing week on Guam it was time to move onto the next island – Palau.

Guam had been wonderful, providing all the conveniences of the US in the middle of the western Pacific. From wonderful infrastructure, large supermarkets (I self-catered a little) to all the restaurants and shops you would find on the US mainland. Where else can you shop at Macy’s in this part of the world? Although the most popular shop on the island is the ‘Ross – Dress for Less‘ outlet at the Guam Premier Outlet Mall. With opening hours from 6-am to 1-am, seven days a week, there is always a huge line of Asian tourists waiting patiently to pay for their bargains. More on Guam in my Guam Postcard.

Departing Guam: I returned my car to Alamo and proceeded to the United check-in area. The terminal is mostly used by large groups of tourists from Korea, Japan and China, with airlines from these countries providing frequent daily connections.

Exit formalities are the same as the US (i.e. no stamping of passports). There is a small food court on the air-side, which was full of diving groups from Europe waiting for a flight to Chuuk. Most of the shops close early so if you plan to purchase anything do it first. My flight departed on time at 07:55-pm but most of the airport was closed well before this time.

The flight time to Palau was 90 minutes with United providing yet another ‘snack’.

Palau

I had heard many good things about Palau and I wasn’t disappointed. Despite being an expensive destination (it was the most costly destination on this journey) the diving was incredible, the environment is pristine and the local culture is very much alive and completely different to anywhere else in the region. The government has taxes galore, which they charge tourists, including a US$50 departure tax which includes a $30 ‘green fee’. Despite the expense, Palau is definitely worth visiting once in your life.

A Bai (traditional meeting house) on Palau.

A Bai (traditional meeting house) on Palau.

Arriving on Palau: UA157 touched down at a wet Palau International Airport on time at 9:05-pm. Palau airport is larger and more modern than most in the region with air-bridges and at least two gates. The flight was half full so clearing immigration and customs was fast. I was granted a 30-day stay.

Palau passport stamps.

Palau passport stamps.

My hotel did not provide a shuttle service so I asked about car rental at the Alamo counter. They quoted US$70 per day – more than double the cost on Guam. Welcome to Palau! I decided to settle for a taxi but there were none. The kind lady at the Information Desk offered to take me instead for the same price ($25 to downtown Koror). She closed the Information counter and drove me to my hotel.

 

Hop 8: Palau – Manila

Palau

I spent a total of six days on Palau which is enough time to explore this little piece of paradise. During this time, I got to scuba dive with Manta Rays, countless sharks and other amazing marine life, drive a rental car around the main island of Babeldaob and explore the offerings of the main town – Koror. It was now time to wrap up this odyssey by taking my final flight to Manila.

Departing Palau: Due to the constant snaking line of traffic, which crawls along the one-lane main road of Koror, you should allow plenty of time to reach the airport. If you arrive too early you will find the door to the check-in area is locked. Once you have checked-in you go upstairs to pay your $50 departure tax ($20 terminal fee/ $30 green fee) then have your passport stamped and proceed through security screening into the lounge. In the lounge, you’ll find one over-priced Duty Free shop and a small kiosk. If you are hungry it’s best to eat in the one upstairs restaurant before you pass through immigration.

Flight time to Manila is just under 3 hours. United once again provided a ‘snack’. Non-alcoholic drinks are provided free of charge, anything else is available at cost.

Manila – Philippines

Arriving in Manila: Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)  has been operating over-capacity for years. Whenever I have flown in here I have been delayed while the plane is put into a holding pattern. Tonight, was no exception. After a smooth, on-time flight the captain announced we were in a holding pattern and would be delayed approximately 50-mins. NAIA has just two runways and four terminals with a capacity for 28 million passengers per year. In 2015, almost 37 million passengers passed through the airport.

United arrive at Terminal 1 which is the main international terminal. There are always long lines for immigration here.

After receiving my bag I proceeded outside to take a taxi to downtown. If you will be taking taxis (recommended in this crazy metropolis) it is worth installing the free ‘Grab‘ app on your smartphone before you arrive. This is the most popular ride sharing app in Manila (and other cities in Asia). Unlike Uber it deals with cash payments (useful in a city where a fare can be just $3) so no need to register your credit card. A regular taxi fare to Makati from the concession stand outside Terminal 1 is P650. The same trip on Grab will could less than P300. Always request the driver to use the (faster) Skyway which will cost you an extra P20 for the toll. There are Grab stands outside of each terminal, where a Grab representative will order you a taxi – so if you don’t have the app you can still use the service

Grab Taxi counter in Manila.

Grab Taxi counter in Manila.

From Manila it was onto the next adventure… more on that another time.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guam Travel Guide, Chuuk Travel Guide, Pohnpei Travel Guide, Kosrae Travel Guide, Palau Travel Guide, Kiribati Travel Guide, Marshall Islands Travel Guide