Exploring Vanuatu

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By June Ramli

After visiting Tahiti and New Caledonia last year, my next journey in the Pacific led me to discover Vanuatu this month, completing my visit to the three French-speaking countries in the Pacific.
This year, I seized the opportunity thanks to Virgin Airways’ sale, allowing me to fulfill my dream of experiencing Vanuatu’s unique charm.
Arriving on June 19, I quickly noticed that Vanuatu lagged behind the other countries.
Their airports lacked connected terminals, and upon landing, one had to walk across the tarmac.

Discover the Tropical Paradise of Vanuatu: A Serene Haven of Natural Beauty and Cultural Richness
Coffee in Port Vila, anyone?

The airport itself was modest, lacking upscale restaurants, with only a disappointing duty-free shop in sight. After a short wait, we collected our bags and searched for a taxi to take us to the Holiday Inn.
To my surprise, our taxi driver, Joseph, did not attempt to haggle or inflate the price.
His quote matched the amount previously mentioned by the hotel receptionist, indicating a straightforward and non-negotiable fare.
Taxis in Vanuatu, like in New Caledonia and Tahiti, are old-school, without meters, and accept only cash payments. It’s essential to have the local currency on hand, as other options are limited.
After a 15-minute ride, we arrived at the hotel, which welcomed us warmly.
Numerous staff members greeted us, offering shell necklaces and refreshing coconut drinks.
The unexpected change in our accommodation plans, from Ramada to another hotel, turned out to be a fortunate choice.
However, upon check-in, Linda, the receptionist, requested full payment and informed us that credit card payments would incur a four percent surcharge.
We had no choice but to comply.

Discover the Tropical Paradise of Vanuatu: A Serene Haven of Natural Beauty and Cultural Richness
Discover the Tropical Paradise of Vanuatu: A Serene Haven of Natural Beauty and Cultural Richness.

After a brief exchange of details, settling the payment, and heading to our room, the staff member accompanying us sensed our dissatisfaction and offered to switch rooms.
Grateful for the gesture, we agreed, to relocate to a room on the same floor as the reception.
We encountered a newly employed Fijian staff member, who was curious about our origin.
Learning we were from Malaysia, she inquired if we were Muslims and assured us that the hotel served halal meat imported from Fiji.
Although I opted for a vegetarian and seafood diet during my stay, this information provided a sense of relief.
Overall, these French-speaking countries in the Pacific—New Caledonia, Tahiti, and Vanuatu—differ from one another.

The writer at Port Vila.
The writer is seen here taking a stroll at Port Vila.

While New Caledonia and Tahiti share a common currency, Vanuatu does not. Despite being a French-speaking country alongside English and Basalamah (the local language), some individuals in Vanuatu do not speak French at all.
English remains the preferred language for communication among the locals. In certain regions, native languages dominate, with no French or English spoken.
Vanuatu’s beauty captivates, yet it requires some adjustment.

Vanuatu International Airport.
The Vanuatu International Airport.

The country’s public transportation system has room for improvement, and its heavy reliance on cash can hinder one’s full enjoyment.
However, each country possesses its unique charm, and it is unjust to equate them as one. Vanuatu, with its distinctive qualities, deserves exploration and appreciation.
Despite the risks associated with unpredictable weather, including annual cyclones, I urge you to disregard these concerns and visit this hidden gem when you have the chance.
Vanuatu’s natural beauty and allure make it a destination worth discovering and embracing.

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