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The Most Beautiful Island In the Pacific

Kepirohi  Waterfall Vertical HDR - Pohnpei, FSM
Kepirohi Waterfall

Pohnpei is the most beautiful place I’ve visited in my trip so far. Hands down, no questions.

I was completely taken aback at the flowers, birds, lagoon, mountain, and the reef. The place I stayed was the Village Hotel, which is exactly what you think of when you dream of living on an island.

All the buildings were made of nothing by palm frond thatching and wood. No glass windows, just screens. There were no “rooms”. All rooms were individual bungalows made of mangrove timber and palm fronds. You could hear the birds outside chirping. I had a giant gecko in my room. My view overlooked the lagoon and its islands. It was awesome. If I ever get married, I know where I’m going on my honeymoon. (they had water beds too. I never slept so well..)

I’m amazed that more people don’t visit Micronesia as a tourist destination. Micronesia lacks any large resorts or chain hotels. As far as I know there are zero in the entire country. They use the US dollar, drive on the right, have US/Japanese electrical systems, speak English, and even use the US Postal service. (believe it or not, the banks are also FDIC insured too)

Given how beautiful and affordable Micronesia is, you’d think there would be more tourists, or at least more attention given to it. It suffers from being in the middle of nowhere more than most of the Pacific and having tourists destinations on either end of the flights that come in (Hawaii and Guam). Micronesia is 5-7 hour flight from Hawaii which is itself 5 hours from Los Angles. Getting anywhere in Micronesia is commitment and most people prefer to take short trips to Mexico or the Caribbean for vacation.

Nan Modal Tomb HDR
Tomb Ruins at Nan Modal

In addition to the beautiful scenery, Pohnpei also has some ruins which are on a par with Easter Island: Nan Modal.

I would guess that the majority of the people reading this have never heard of Nan Modal. I never heard about it until about a week before I saw it first hand. Despite its lack of fame, it deserves to be listed alongside other wonders of the ancient world including the maoi of Easter Island, Machu Pichu and Stonehenge.

Nan Modal (meaning the water in-between in Pohnpeian) is the ruins of an ancient religious complex on Pohnpei. The total area of the complex is about 200 acres and sits on 92 small islands with canals running between them. Think Venice meets Machu Pichu. The only fully intact structure are the royal tombs. The structures of Nan Modal were mostly built with long pieces of volcanic rock that look like hexagonal logs.

It is the basalt logs which makes this place a real wonder. You’ve probably read or heard about the “mysteries of Easter Island” and how archaeologists have tried to figure out how the moai (stone heads) were moved from the quarry to the sea. Having been there, I never really thought it much of a mystery. Yes, the moai were big, but I could come up with several solutions which involve nothing but manpower, wood and rope. They might not be the most efficient, but I think they would work given enough manpower and time. In fact, they have tried and succeeded with at least five different methods of moving the moai that I know of.


Nan Modal Wall at angle HDR
The walls of Nan Modal

Nan Modal seems like a much more challenging construction project. For starters, the complex is surrounded by water. I was told a team from the Discovery Channel came out last year and tried to build a raft to float the stones, but it didn’t work. Even if there was a network of bridges connecting the islands (which I think is the case. Some of the islands looked to have small broken bridges between them), I still don’t think enough men walking in a straight line could carry a single basalt log. Using the exact same methods they used on Easter Island wouldn’t necessarily work either, because unlike Easter Island, Pohnpei is still covered with thick forest which would make dragging the logs that much more difficult.

Furthermore, once the logs got to the complex, some had to be lifted into place up to 20 feet in the air, whereas on Easter Island they just had to be tipped upright. The largest of the basalt logs at Nan Modal are estimated to weigh 70 tons, which is as large as the largest moai on Easter Island. The moai are all made from a volcanic tuff which is much lighter than a regular basalt. The Nan Modal logs are very dense. Also, some of the pieces of the structure at Nan Modal aren’t logs but are just large basalt boulders.


Pohnpei from sea - Pohnpei, FSM
Pohnpei from the lagoon

For the most part, the Pacific is devoid of ancient structures. Aside from Easter Island, I’ve only herd of a few other places which are nothing more than mounds and are pretty unspectacular. If you put some amazing, accessible archaeological ruins on top of a beautiful island, you should have a tourism winner….but that isn’t the case.

I don’t usually give travel advice on this site but I have to say, if you want a trip to someplace unspoiled, adventurous, and affordable, consider Micronesia. I’d recommend it higher than anyplace else I’ve been in the region.

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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