Last week I traveled to Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands for work. Solomon Islands was my 20th country and the 2nd Pacific Island country I visited, so I was pretty pumped to experience a different island in the region other than Fiji. I’d always been curious about Solomon Islands as I have many colleagues based in Honiara. I was hoping to write a guide for first-timers but due to the short duration of the trip (I only stayed for 4 nights and I was constantly working), I didn’t have much time to venture outside the capital or to the other islands. So instead, I decided to write about my first impression of this mysterious and little-known island in the South Pacific.
The photos were taken with my phone as I’d forgotten to bring my DSLR with me. I didn’t realize that I’d left my camera bag back home until I reached the airport. I blame the 6AM domestic flight I had to take prior to the international flight from Nadi to Honiara (I’m so not a morning person…). I’m not a big fan of phone photography despite the convenience so I really hope I get to go back with my full camera gear to properly capture the spirit of Solomon Islands.
It’s hot and humid
The heat in Honiara was actually quite bearable. It was the humidity that drove me nuts. But it’s summer here in the Pacific so I wasn’t surprised.
People drive like a maniac
Not a joke. The road is extremely bumpy and there are puddles everywhere, not to mention there’s only one road that connects the entire island so the traffic is just insane. There’s also no sense of giving way or yielding so accidents occur quite frequently. I’ve never seen my colleague scream and swear so much until I was in her car…and I don’t blame her. Cars were consistently coming out of nowhere so I’d have used colorful languages as well if I was the one behind the wheel.
Oh and there are no crosswalks so you’re risking your life every time you attempt to cross. Those cars ain’t gonna slow down for you.
Healthy number of expats
There is a pretty big expat community in Honiara. You’ll see them having lunch at the local food court or having cocktails and dinner at a hotel bar. There are ample restaurants and coffee shops that serve western food and pastries for those who are homesick.
Locals with bright red teeth
One of the first things I noticed was the locals and their bright red teeth. I soon found out that the red/orange stain was due to betel nut chewing, a popular pastime activity among Solomon Islanders. They chew betel nuts during breaks, after lunch or whenever they feel like it. What is a betel nut, you might ask? They’re the seeds of the Areca Palm, which is widely used across the world as a mild stimulant to promote digestion and relaxation. To the locals, chewing betel nuts is equivalent to the westerners going out for a cup of coffee or the Fijians drinking kava.
You’ll see signs inside almost every building banning the chewing of betel nuts. This is because betel nut chewing doesn’t just involve chewing, but also spitting it out. Chewed betel nuts can be found in the streets along with rubbish and plastic bottles mentioned above.
The cost of living in Honiara is SO FREAKIN HIGH. Yep, I had to say that in all caps for extra emphasis. The average rent is between USD 1,300 to USD 2,500 and the cost of dining out can range from USD 30 to USD 100. You can find basic groceries in the street shops but they can be pricey as they’re imported from Australia or New Zealand. The best way to save money is to shop local at the Honiara Central Market – the veggies and seafood are apparently dirt cheap. I didn’t have the time to drop by (such a shame because I love markets) but I’ve heard good reviews on the price and the freshness of the produce.
Dusty and dirty
Unfortunately, Honiara is dirty as littering seemed to be a common practice. There’s trash and discarded plastic water bottles in every corner of the streets as well as in the ocean. Honiara is also incredibly dusty – my sunglasses was no match to the dust particles flying around the city. Thank god I brought eye drops with me.
Bed bugs and roaches
They’re everywhere – unfortunately, even hotels can’t avoid them – and you’re the weird one if you make a fuss about it. I stayed at IBS Monarch, a three-star hotel that cost USD 115 per night and I woke up to bed bug bites on my arm and ankles the first day. They “upgraded” me to a deluxe room (the only difference from the standard room was that it had a full-length mirror and a bigger sink) and I was greeted by a cockroach next to my bed the next day. Thank god it was flipped over and about to die. When I reported it to the hotel staff, they just shrugged and said that the cleaners must have forgotten to spray Mortein after they cleaned the room. I guess it’s just one of the downsides of the tropics…
It’s not safe to walk around
Well, maybe not entirely true. What I meant here is that, just like in any country, it’s not safe to walk around alone in the evenings. I’ve been advised by my local colleagues to keep my valuables close at all times and to refrain from walking alone in the streets even in the afternoon. Now that I think about it, maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t bring my camera after all.
Solomon Islanders are very friendly 🙂 I found them to be quite shy compared to the Fijians but they’ll still smile and say hi.
Thriving tourism industry
To my surprise, the tourism industry is quite well set-up to accommodate tourists and visitors. Australians seemed to be the country’s main target due to the location and proximity. Specials and package tours are available on the official tourism site of Solomon Islands.
Woah, that was quite a list. I actually didn’t have any expectations prior to my arrival as I’d already been informed by my colleagues that Honiara resembles Suva 30 years ago. Regardless, I was still excited for my trip and I’m glad I had the opportunity to set foot in a new country. I’d love to go back and explore more of Solomon Islands though, such as visiting different islands, going scuba diving, trying local foods and so on.
Have you been to Solomon Islands? Would you like to visit? Comment and let me know!
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