A Day Trip to Peleliu with Impac
Our 3rd day in Palau was a dry one which was a nice break to have from the diving. For those of you that know, I’m pretty interested in World War II history and after watching the Pacific I knew that we had to see Peleliu – a little known island part of Palau that was the main stage for one of the bloodiest battles in WWII between the Americans and the Japanese. We originally wanted to do this with Sam’s Tours but we needed at least 4 to run a tour and 8 to do a day tour plus diving. After two days on the board to see if we could drum up some interest we relegated to the fact that there wasn’t any interest so we started calling up a few other tour companies to figure out our options. Eventually we landed on this company called Impac that was willing to run a tour for just the two of us on Sunday for $150 USD and guarantee an English speaking tour guide. Of course this company focused on Japanese clientele so they were used to large groups of Japanese tourists and most of their staff were Japanese speaking. Some of the other companies we contacted either didn’t run on ideal days, needed a strict minimum or charged more than $150.
I can’t remember if we had breakfast at our hotel or what but our pickup was 8:40AM. After paying Impac and waiting around at their next door restaurant Jive we were guided to our boat with captain Manaseh at the helm. They passed to us our cooler for drinks and bentos and we started zooming south towards Peleliu. This was the first time I was able to pull out the SLR to take some photos since I had not been able to so thus far. The rock islands of Peleliu sure are something else. Photos really can’t do it justice. The weather was also cooperating on this day as we were finally past the gloomy, cloudy days and into a full-on sunny day. This also meant finally some sun-tanning time. It was TOTALLY worth it to get our own boat and just chill at the front of the boat with the wind blowing in our faces and sun beating down.
After about an hour we pulled into the Peleliu dock and was greeted by a van waiting for us and our tour guide Harlan. We soon learned that Harlan actually works for Peleliu Divers where we made our washroom pit stop. Summer time is when the island for the most part shuts down and Peleliu Divers was on hiatus until September. Impac simply contacts the land-tour stuff to guys like Harlan. Harlan also told us that Peleliu has some of the best diving during high season – another reason to come back to Palau to see even bigger fish. Our big man Harlan is also a local of Peleliu.
Peleliu World War II Memorial Museum
After our pit stop we made our way to the Peleliu World War II Memorial Museum which is in an original Japanese ammunitions bunker. Surprisingly we actually spent quite a bit of time over here looking at all the artifacts (Japanese machine guns, beer bottles, canteens, pistols etc.), articles and plaques that their local resident expert Tangie helped organize and collect all the artifacts on the island. I had read about Tangie on TripAdvisor and it would’ve been cool if we got a tour with him because he knows the area inside out. Harlan told us after that he even has extensive knowledge of the tunnel systems which he can take people into.
Japanese HQ on Peleliu
From there we passed by a Japanese water reservoir and power supply generator building and straight to the Japanese HQ on Peleliu. Surprisingly the HQ was mostly in tact. It was an eerie feeling walking through the ground floor of the building, hearing the echos of your own footsteps and seeing some of the office rooms, barracks, stairs to the second floor and heavily reinforced doors to some secret room and all the twisted steel jutting out of the concrete.
Tanks, 81st Marines Monument & Orange Beach
Next we made a quick stop to check out a Japanese tank in the middle of the road. From there we went to the 81st Marines Monument by Orange Beach. At the end of the battle, the Americans buried their soldiers in a plot of land in this area but at the request of the locals they later moved all the bodies elsewhere. What remains is a cross to mark the original cemetery, the two original memorial markers, a platform for the flag pole and what is left of the chapel. A short walk down the tank ditch took us straight into the opening of Orange Beach where the Americans started their invasion and many lost their lives. The beach is now overgrown with trees and quite peaceful but I stood there trying to picture how it was on the day of invasion after the area was heavily bombarded and that was there was charred stumps of trees and machine guns mowing down the oncoming invaders.
Peleliu Peace Memorial Park for Lunch
We then quickly drove around a dry dock area that was man-made by the US Navy before reaching our lunch spot – Peleliu Peace Memorial Park. There wasn’t much to see or do here so we just ate our bentos at one of the benches. Meanwhile Harlan was popping his 5th or 6th betel nut. Harlan literally carries around this waterproof box with him everywhere he goes with his betel nut supplies and is almost constantly chewing on it. I didn’t mention this before but this whole betel nut thing is gross. It’s pretty much like chewing tobacco so you get that addictive high from that but what’s nasty is that it leaves this black stain on your teeth after repeated chewings. What I noticed was that at least 60-70% of the people (guy or girl) I met in Palau had this stained teeth problem.
Peleliu Airport Landing Strip & American LVTs
For the rest of the afternoon we made pretty quick work of the other main sites. The first was a ditch where two American LVT vehicles were left behind and rusting. We then drove right through the Peleliu Airport landing strip which was nothing like what I expected. The runway was in poor shape of course but surrounding it was a jungle of trees. There was literally nothing to see except this drag strip so we didn’t even stop anywhere. When I asked Harlan about the show The Pacific he said he was a bit bitter because Steven Spielberg didn’t even visit Peleliu before filming. I was amazed by how quickly the land has healed since the days of the war. Minus the pieces left behind, nature has taken over Peleliu and shows very few battle scars.
Hidden Japanese Howitzer
We made quick work of the Japanese howitzer hidden on the side of a hill (apparently it was never fired because the Japanese thought the Americans would land on the other side of the island) and the 1st Marines Monument + Japanese Shrine next door. Funny story though, Harlan told us that every year Japanese come to this shrine to pray to the gods and give offerings ($$$). After the Japanese leave, the locals come in and take whatever offerings they leave behind and divy up the cash.
Bloody Nose Ridge
After that we finally got to the area known as Bloody Nose Ridge which was the last stand for the Japanese during the battle for Peleliu. This ridge was probably the most difficult fight the US military had to fight during the entire WWII campaign. The 1st Marines took extremely high casualties (lost 60%) moving through the ridges. Eventually the 1st Marines were pulled out completely and replaced with the 81st Infantry Division. It took until November (2 months) until they finally secured the entire island. Today, the 81st Infantry Division has its own monument since ultimately they were the ones that were able to take the final ridge. At the top where there’s a great 360 degree lookout of the island. Harlan walked with us a bit to get to the bottom of the stairs. He took us through a shortcut and had a pretty nasty fall too so I felt bad for the big fella. From the top it looks like nothing ever happened here with lush green forests spanning the top of the ridge to the bottom. We took some quick snaps at the top where the sun was unbelievably strong and then headed back down to the comfort of our A/C van.
One area that we passed by on our way to the stairs was a trail that was just recently cleared by the resident “bomb squad”, a British couple who have been living around the area for the purpose of clearing unexploded armaments from the war. They come from a mining background and dig up what they find after clearing an area and then detonate it in a special area. What’s scary is that there must be thousands of remnants of now either deep underwater or covered by soil. Harlan was telling us that as kids they used to roam the jungles here and toss around grenades they found on the ground. Luckily no kids got hurt…that I know of.
Our final quick stop was a Japanese bunker that was recently dug up. There are supposedly many more of these but need to be either discovered or dug up. I took a quick look around but dared not go inside the bunker doors.
We were supposedly late for our 3PM rendezvous with our captain so he gunned it back to the dock with bathroom break at the dive shop again.
The boat ride back was pretty awesome. Instead of busting out the camera it was the sun screen instead. The water wasn’t rough at all and so the way back was completely relaxing as we sat at the front of the boat.
Once we got back to Impac we told them to give us a lift downtown so we could do a bit of shopping along the main street. I really just wanted to find my Palau flag patch. After walking from one end to the other (ended up at Palasia hotel and its DFS store) and back I knew it was pretty much hopeless. I did however manage to buy a magnet and a small laminated sheet of all the aquatic life of Palau.
B’s Izakaya Yume for Dinner
On our way back we stopped by a little burger shack for some food where I got a taro bubble tea (extreme taro powder attack and terrible tapioca) and a plate of calamari. We stopped by the post office but of course it was closed. We then had dinner at this Japanese restaurant called B’s Izakaya Yume which was oddly enough close to Lehn’s. The food here was average but for Palau I didn’t even expect to find izakaya.
After dinner we grabbed a cab back home.
- It’s pretty much impossible to buy stamps in Palau because the post office is the only place that sells them and closes by 4:30. By the time you finish diving and get a ride out to the main strip it’s always past 4:30. For mailing out postcards we ultimately asked the hotel receptionist to help mail it for us. She charged us a premium of $0.10 or $0.20 cents per stamp but we really had no choice. It’s a good idea though. If you’re ever in a jam to find stamps and out of time, just ask the hotel and they might just be willing to do it for you.
- 8:40 pickup to Impac HQ
- Speed boat ride to Peleliu
- Harlan picks us up
- Peleliu World War II Museum
- Japanese HQ
- Japanese Tank
- 81st Marines Monument and Orange Beach
- Pass by Dry Dock
- Lunch at Peleliu Peace Memorial Park
- Stop by American LVT vehicles
- Drive through the airport landing strip
- Check out a Japanese howitzer
- 1st Marines Monument and Japanese Shrine
- Bloody Nose Ridge
- Japanese Bunker
- Speed boat ride back to Koror
- Ride to main street to walk around and shop
- Snacks at a food shack
- Dinner at B’s Izakaya Yume
Check out the next day
To read about our last 2 dives of the trip, check out Day 70 – Palau – Last Day of Diving.
Curious what else I did on my trip to Asia? See the full itinerary and all 89 days.