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Thread: Palau Trip Report: April 16-23 with Sam's Tours

  1. #1

    Palau Trip Report: April 16-23 with Sam's Tours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Pics are posted on FB if you’re interested!



    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.10150226069976514.358980.627856513&l=426f01 56fc

  2. #2
    Grouper
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    Great report and pics! Thanks for sharing!

  3. #3
    Barracuda
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    Quote Originally Posted by rkj1969 View Post
    Second Day: Everyone was on Nitrox this day, so we divided up between the camera people and non camera people. This was great, since I’d gotten kicked in the head a couple of times by a careless old guy with a gigantic camera the day before. He would just barrel right over us to get to whatever the guide was pointing at!

    :-( Well, like Larry says... there's always one bad diver on every trip, if it wasn't for him it might have been you!!! But you're totally right, some of the camera people suck....
    Some people are like a Slinky, not really good for anything but they do make you smile when you push them down stairs.

  4. #4
    Funeral Jorunna
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    Thanx for the report and pics. Glad you had a good time.
    If you get confused listen to the music play.
    To much of everything is just enough.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Defman View Post
    :-( Well, like Larry says... there's always one bad diver on every trip, if it wasn't for him it might have been you!!! But you're totally right, some of the camera people suck....
    <GASP> it would NEVER be me! LOL

    I did actually have my camera (obviously - since there are pics) but since it's just a little SeaLife, it was less of an issue.....but you're right, people just need to be self aware and keep an eye on what's outside the monitor sometimes!

  6. #6
    Shark
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    So is the diving better than Guam????...LOL...LOL! Great report!

    Glad you had a good time and this year Sam's had a couple of Dive Guides that were a little lame but overall there DG's are excellent. Too bad you did not get to dive with Daniel or Dexter they are the best.

    Surprised you did not like the Taj or Kramer's that much. Although I am not into Indian food the Taj has a couple of exceptional dishes I like and just about anything at Kramer's I like, was Renee there? usually service is always relaxed but usually very good and since I have no pressing appointments...I don't care!

    Did you ask for compacts? I know people who were diving with them in March....Glad you had a great trip....planning on going back? I'm working on my 2012 trip now

  7. #7
    haha - I would certainly say it's better than Guam! We went out yesterday to dive Asan Cut (first time back in since the trip) and kept looking out into the blue for sharks.....until I remembered where I was. sigh

    Hard to imagine better than Barrington - he was pretty darn awesome! I didn't know I could ask for compacts - I was a little heavy on the first dive, but that was easily corrected! We did dive Nitrox, as you'd suggested, and it worked out just fine...I know it's ugly, but one of my local diving pals had also suggested we dive Nitrox because it would keep us out of the Newbie groups. That was very true - on our first day the air divers only got 30 minute dives.....I would've been annoyed at that! And, as Barrington said, it's FREE, so why not!??

    Perhaps we got off nights at the Taj and Kramers - we only went once to each, so I can't say it is consistently bad or anything like that, but we didn't enjoy either place...the Thai place and Bottom Time definitely got repeat visits!

    Looks like we'll be leaving Guam in December - hopefully we can squeeze in one more trip - after that, we'll have to make those super long flights like you!!

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