I don’t know anyone out of my friends that has ever visited the Solomon Islands. Why would you in the first place? It’s not an easy destination to get to and costs money and once there, the standards are pretty much crap. I had to go there to see what it is like for my own eyes and to conquer all the Pacific Island countries. International flights only fly into Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal. If you are an American, I’m sure your grandfather or grandmother has told you about the Pacific war during World War II. This was the place that was hit badly and famous for the Iron Bottom. So many ships sank along the coast of Guadalcanal.
I sent a couchsurfing request to Helena in Honiara and she and her roommate gladly accepted my request. I took Solomon Airlines from Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea to Honiara, Solomon Islands. The flight was a mere two hours and we flew over the ocean (of course). In no time, I got to Honiara.
Arrival at the Airport
There was nothing unusual about immigration or customs, so I will not write about it. One thing to note is to keep your boarding pass. If you do, you will be able to get a free SIM card from Vodafone. Otherwise, it costs around $5 USD. For some reason, I threw away the boarding pass as I was leaving immigration and had to ask some Chinese guy to give me his boarding pass to get my free SIM. The boarding pass can be exchanged at the Western Union counter. The guy will insist that you have a boarding pass, otherwise, he will not be able to exchange it for you. Thus, I had to ask around a few people in doing so.
The counter, just like its name also does money exchange. I found out later that this place had the best exchange rate, even better than in town. I changed $100 USD for 800 Solomon, while the going rate over the internet was 7.7 SBD for one US dollar.
Once out of the airport, there will be a few taxis waiting for you and will most likely charge you around 200 SBD into town. I decided to walk out of the airport and took the cheap option, which was the local bus that cost only 4 SBD into the city center. It was not a far ride, only around 12km into the city center. I got off at Chinatown and met Selena, who was living right in the heart of Chinatown. The place did not feel like a Chinatown in the developed world, since the only people that were Chinese were working in the shops. They basically owned the little shops and there was only one Chinese restaurant.
Speaking of my host Selena, she was from Taiwan and was teaching Chinese and English at the Chinese school, about a five-minute walk from her place. She was really sweet and cooked dinner for me a few times. Her cooking was really amazing and now I have a new deck of dishes that I can make under my sleeves. I especially liked the canned tuna with veggies in coconut sauce. Yum! Many thanks to Selena for her warm hospitality during my stay in Honiara and hosting me for over 5 nights. I based myself at her place and decided to do a few trips around the island when feasible (not raining!).
I had an entire week on Guadalcanal Island so I broke up my days of sightseeing and planned a trip to Savo Island for a couple of days. The weather was a hit and miss, some days raining all day and some days a bit of sunshine. When it was not raining, I made my way down to the city center, which was only a five-minute walk from Chinatown. Don’t expect a city center with thousands of people, I would say a maximum of 5000 people or so. It was a nice one to two-hour walk to go around the city center. My recommendation is to visit the following places:
Central Market – I enjoyed visiting this place to get fresh fruits and coconut juice. Anything local was very cheap, while the imported products were expensive. I drank at least two coconut juices per day and it was definitely worth it. The market sells them for 3 SBD, but the street side vendors will send them for 5 SBD. It was a pretty big difference if living in the Solomon and your income is in SBD.
National Museum – The museum was right across the information booth. It was a small museum, but free entrance. It gives you an overview of the Solomon culturally and during the wars.
Art Gallery Craft Market – It was located diagonally across the National Museum and there were artists selling artwork, crafts, and knitted materials. I usually never buy anything during my trips, since I have very limited space in my backpack, but if I did, I would have liked to have purchased a painting.
American War Memorial – The museum was located up a hill and it only took around 15 minutes to climb up. The street was very quiet and it could be a little shady, so be careful when you go up there. Solomon was generally safe, but you never know what happens. When I got to the memorial, there was no one there except for the guard. The guard will let you in and then you put your name down on the registration sheet. It was an outdoor museum with plaques and information on certain battles during WWII. It was definitely worth a trip out there, the view out to the ocean was ok. It could be better, but the view looked more like a favela (in Brazil) with the ocean in the back.
Visiting the beaches to the West
On one day, I went west from Honiara towards White River. Past this area, there were supposed to be some shipwrecks from WWII. I took the normal bus from the city center towards White River for 3 SBD (15 minutes) and then switched to another bus that was heading towards Bonegi. The bus stop at White River was called 02 bus stop. It did not even look like a bus stop, just a bunch of huts selling beetle nut and random things. If you stand there and hang out around there, a bunch of vans will pass by. Stop the one that yells out “Aro Aro” and take that one. It costs 10 SBD until Bonegi.
When I got to Bonegi, some random guy came up to me asking for money. The land was owned by someone, so there was an entry fee per person or per car. I paid 10 SBD to enter the beach complex, but they did not even have a bathroom. Basically, the land owner had done nothing to the complex (not even a complex, just a patch of sand in front of the ocean) and it was just a virgin beach with people hanging out. I heard it got busy during the weekends with locals just hanging out doing barbeques and drinking. That day was a week day and there were only two people there.
Speaking of drinking, on my way to the west, I passed a lot of little shops selling alcohol and the usual beetle nut sellers. I was told that alcohol was a serious problem in the nation and almost 50% of the people drink regularly. The locals do not enjoy the taste of the alcohol, but drink to get drunk. On top of this, there were a lot of signs with “do not drink and drive,” but locals don’t seem to care and traffic deaths were common. If you plan on drinking in the islands, don’t drive!
At Bonegi Beach, I checked out the famous shipwrecks, Mbonege 1 and 2. It was possible to snorkel right around the ships, but I was a bit worried about the fresh water alligators in the Solomon, so I passed. I was not going to risk going in there. Near there, there was an old noncommissioned tank as well.
While I was at the beach, I befriended two locals, since they were the only other people on the beach. They were a couple from another island in the Solomon but were studying in Honiara to become a doctor. The two of them (Neno and Junior) were celebrating their graduation, of course, drinking beer and rum/coke mix. I hung out with them for a while, learning more about the Solomon, since they spoke very good English and got a better understanding of their culture. I felt like an elementary school boy, asking so many questions.
The three of us picked up some more booze and ended up going to another beach closer to town and met up with two other doctors, Hendrick and Vinny. I had a really good time hanging out with them and they were so hospitable! Thanks to them, I have a better and positive image of the Solomon.
· Currency – Solomon Islands Dollars
· Money Exchange – The best exchange was at the Western Union at the airport. The next best exchange was at the casinos in town. Make sure to change back to hard currency since most of the other islands trade the currency for an extremely bad rate (you lose about 20%). ATMs can be found quite easily.
· Internet – there was one restaurant in town that had free internet, but it was awfully slow. Imagine taking 5 seconds to get to Google.com website. It will be best to purchase a SIM card at the airport and get data about 1Gb. It was not cheap.
· Language – English is the official language, but they speak a strange slang called “Pigeon.”
Where to stay
I stayed with my couchsurfing host and stayed at one of the guesthouses on Savo Island, but there were plenty of places to stay. They have the higher end hotels for more than $100 USD, but don’t expect quality like the Western world. You are in the Solomon Islands.
Where to eat
There were plenty of places to eat in the city center. They had international restaurants, hotels had good food, and there were hole in the wall Chinese outlets that had decent food. You can self-cater at the super markets.
If you can, bring snacks and food from abroad, but it’s not necessary. The supermarkets in town sell the usual imported goods from Australia, although, they are expensive.
Make sure to stay a few days in the capital and check out the outer islands. I heard that the islands are the true experiences. There are several ferries running to these islands.
Visited in February 2017.