Category - Marshall Islands

Marshall Islands Travel Guide

Stormy skies over Majuro as seen from MIR.

Marshall Islands Travel Guide

Date Visited: January 2017

Introduction

Yokwe! Welcome to the very remote Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Located across the International date line, five and a half hours flight west of Hawaii. RMI is the first stop on the epic United Airlines Island Hopper (UA154) – a 14 hour, all stops, meander through the central Pacific from Honolulu to Guam. For more on UA154, check out my Central Pacific island hopping blog. The official currency of RMI is the US dollar.

Marshall Islands Passport stamps.

Marshall Islands Passport stamps.

RMI has a total population of 60,000. The capital and main hub, with a population of 27,700, is Majuro. Here you’ll find the international airport, shops, restaurants, hotels and all services. The highest point on Majuro is at a giddy 3 metres – this can be reached by walking to the top of the Majuro Bridge. There is just one road on the atoll so you will not require Google maps.

Majuro Bridge connects Delap island to Long island

Majuro Bridge connects Delap island to Long island. Source: TripAdvisor

The real attractions of RMI lie offshore on the myriad islands where you’ll find great diving, snorkeling and fishing.

Location

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Transit

Located in the middle of nowhere halfway between Hawaii and Australia and north of Kiribati, RMI is made up of two parallel island chains; the Ratak (sunrise) and the Ralik (sunset). The country consists of 29 atolls and 5 islands – the tops of ancient, submerged volcanoes.  RMI is the most easterly part of Micronesia .

The largest piece of real estate in this part of the world is Kwajalein Island. ‘Kwaj’ is a restricted US Army base, built on land the US government has leased from the RMI since pre-independence days. UA154 makes a stop here but non-military personnel are not allowed to disembark. The island is home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.

UA154 departing from Kwajelein.

UA154 departing from Kwajelein.

 

History

It is believed the RMI was originally settled around 1,500 B.C. by Micronesians, migrating from the west. The first Europeans to make contact with the islands were the Spanish in 1529. They were passing through on a return voyage from their colony in the Philippines to Acapulco, Mexico. The British were the next visitors – mapping the islands in 1788 under the direction of British naval captains Thomas Gilbert and John Marshall, for whom the islands are named (Kiribati to the south used to be known as the Gilbert Islands).

The islands remained largely untouched by Europeans until the Germans arrived in 1878 and set up a coaling station. They declared the islands a German protectorate. The Japanese seized the islands in 1914 and held onto them until WWII at which point they became major battle grounds until US forces prevailed and liberated the islands.

In 1947, all former Pacific islands occupied by Japan were grouped together to form the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands  – administered by the United States. The Trust Territory included Palau, Guam, The Northern Mariana islands, Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.

In 1978 the Marshallese voted to leave the trust territory, declaring independence in 1979 with Amata Kabua being elected as its first president.

For a more comprehensive overview of the history of RMI, you can refer to Wikipedia.

Bikini

From atomic bombs….

Atomic bomb test at Bikini atoll.

Atomic bomb test at Bikini atoll.

Following WWII, US President, Harry S. Truman, issued a directive to US army and navy officials that testing of nuclear weapons would be necessary to determine the effect of atomic bombs on US warships. Due to its remote location, well removed from international flight paths and shipping lanes, Bikini Atoll had the misfortune of being selected as the site for such tests. The only problem were the 167 local residents.

On a quiet Sunday in 1946, the then US governor to the Marshall Islands, visited Bikini and, after the local church service had finished, asked the islanders if they would be willing to vacate the island temporarily. They have never been able to return home.

Once the island had been vacated, the US military relocated 242 warships, 156 aircraft and 25,000 radiation recording devices to Bikini ready for testing. Between 1946 and 1958, 23 nuclear devices were detonated at Bikini, some underwater, some on land and others in the air. The largest detonation was from ‘Castle Bravo‘, which resulted in a staggering 15 megaton yield (a megaton is equivalent to one million tons of TNT). The bomb was 1,000 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki. In total, the 23 tests yielded a combined 42.2 megatons of explosive power. The tests completely destroyed and contaminated this once pristine tropical paradise, rendering it unfit for habitation.

In the meantime the islanders, who had been transported on a US Navy boat 200-km to Rongerik atoll, were struggling to survive as the island offered no arable land for farming nor a reliable water supply. They were eventually relocated to another atoll, but not before some had died from starvation. Today you can visit the Bikini atoll town hall on Majuro.

…to skimpy swimsuits.

Bikini Model

Source: Vogue Magazine

Meanwhile, in 1946, a Parisian engineer by the name of Louis Reard, had just created a skimpy two-piece swimsuit and was looking for a catchy name. In the headlines at the time was news of the nuclear testing at Bikini atoll. The rest is history.

Majuro

Traditional Boat Building workshop in Majuro.

Traditional Boat Building workshop in Majuro.

Majuro is a quiet, relaxing place. Apart from one tiny museum, there are no sights to visit, but the experience here is to soak up the ambiance of the atoll and plan trips to the nearby islands. I rented a scooter, which allowed me to explore the entire atoll.

It’s a long drive to the last village of Laura (named by US GIs in honour of Lauren Bacall). On the way, you will pass through the equally sleepy village of Rita – (also named by US GIs after Rita Hayworth). You will also pass a Copra processing plant which you can visit (weekdays only).

Adjacent to the Marshall Islands Resort is a traditional boat building workshop. Early Micronesians were skilled boat builders and navigators who made long canoe journeys among the atolls. Navigation was made by way of ‘stick charts’. At the workshop, you can observe the art of traditional boat building and have someone explain how to use a stick chart. Who needs Google maps?

A 'Stick chart' - used for navigation purposes.

A ‘Stick chart’ – used for navigation purposes.

If you wish to rent snorkeling gear or arrange diving, there is a dive shop at the Marshall Islands Resort, operated by a Japanese dive master.

 

Around Majuro

Enemanit Island, Marshall Islands.

Enemanit Island, Marshall Islands.

There are various offshore islands you can visit from Majuro. Arno island can be reached using the ferry from Robert Reimers Hotel (see the ‘Getting Around‘ section below). There is one basic guest house on Arno.

A highlight of my visit to Majuro was a Sunday trip to nearby Enemanit island. The island was once used as an R&R base for US soldiers and it’s said Bob Hope once performed on stage here. The remains of the stage are still visible. Today, Enemanit is a private island owned by Jerry Kramer, a local businessman – originally from the US – who,  over the last decades, has built up a collection of successful businesses, which now span the Pacific. Despite his success and the fact that he owns his own tropical island, Jerry is very unpretentious and grounded and is a great personality. Spending a day with him, his family and friends was a memorable experience. I was treated to a BBQ lunch, lots of beers and great conversation on the beautiful sandy beach. Jerry runs a boat every Sunday morning from the dock of his shipping company (PII) to the island. Friends and visitors are welcome to join him. If you are interested you should inquire at the office of Pacific International Inc (PII) on the northern side of the Majuro bridge.

Enimanet Island - a short boat ride from Majuro.

Enimanet Island – a short boat ride from Majuro.

A highlight of a visit to Enemanit Island is the opportunity to snorkel above the remains of a wrecked passenger plane, which lies in shallow waters 100 metres off the beach. A few metres in front of the plane is a wrecked helicopter – all great stuff. Ensure you bring your own gear.

Wrecked plane off the beach at Enimanet Island.

Wrecked plane off the beach at Enimanet Island. Source: Huffington Post

Accommodation

The view from Marshall Island's Resort.

The view from Marshall Island’s Resort.

There are few hotels on Majuro – the largest, with 80% of beds on the island – is the Marshall Islands Resort (MIR). Being the biggest fish in a very small pond, most tourists (including myself) end up staying here. Formerly an outrigger resort, the hotel has seen better days. The rooms are old and tired, the pool is permanently closed due to problems with the filtering system, service is very lax, staff are less than enthusiastic and not very helpful. The hotel restaurant is the largest on Majuro and hence is THE place for celebrations/ functions. Food and service is hit and miss. Anywhere else this hotel would not be so busy but there are few other choices on tiny Majuro.

One other choice is the much smaller Hotel Robert Reimers. The staff here are much friendlier and more helpful – this was my ‘go-to’ place whenever I needed information. The hotel is conveniently located downtown and includes the best restaurant/ bar on Majuro – Tide Table (see ‘Eating Out‘ below for more). You can book either of these hotels using Booking.com

Eating Out

The best bar and restaurant on Majuro is Tide Table, part of the Robert Reimers Hotel complex. With an array of flat screen TV’s on the walls, it has the feel of an American sports bar. The menu could also be best described as Sports Bar cuisine. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the burgers and pizzas are especially good. Happy hour is very popular and a great way to meet local expats.

The offerings at the Marshall Islands Resort restaurant are OK. This is the biggest restaurant on Majuro so you’ll probably end up here at some stage.

There is a weekly farmer’s market held every Saturday morning in downtown Majuro. On offer here, is fresh local produce grown on farms at the northern end of the atoll near the town of Laura.

Weekly farmer's market in Majuro.

Weekly farmer’s market in Majuro.

Visa Requirements

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

Getting There

By Air

Arrival at Majuro airport.

Arrival at Majuro airport.

All flights to Majuro arrive at Amata Kabua International Airport. For more details on the airport, refer to my Central Pacific island hopping blog.

The following airlines provide connections to/from Majuro:

Getting Around

Bus

There are no public buses on the island. Hotels operate minibus shuttles to/ from the airport.

Taxi

Shared taxis are the sole form of public transport on Majuro. They run shuttle services along the one main road between the airport and downtown. You never have to wait too long and they’ll go out of their way to drop you off at your front door. Fares are 0.50c for anywhere downtown or $4 for the 20 minute trip to the airport.

Ferry

Ferries to nearby islands, including Arno Island, operate from the dock at Robert Reimer’s. Best to ask the hotel reception staff for the current schedule.

Car

Marshall Islands License Plate.

Marshall Islands License Plate.

Hotels and various other companies offer hire cars on Majuro. I hired a scooter at $25 per day from MJCC (Marshall Japan Construction Company) in downtown Majuro.

With my scooter in the remote village of Laura waiting out a rain storm.

With my scooter in the remote village of Laura waiting out a rain storm.

 

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, 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